Archdeacon: Smoother future in store for this Flyer?

Tshimanga, a.k.a. ‘ Risky Roadz,’ can only hope; the past is too painful.

While looking ahead is filled with uncertainty for Jordy Tshimanga— “Right now I’m just hoping and praying we have a full season and the fans are back in the arena, but I’m also all for everybody being healthy and that’s the challenge,” – looking back is far more unsettling.

At least when he focuses one particular night.

Last year at 1:05 am on Aug. 4, a 24-year-old gunman – clad in black body armor and rapid firing a modified AR-15 style assault weapon – burst from an alley passageway onto Fifth Street in Dayton’s Oregon District. He shot and killed nine people and injured dozens more in just 32 seconds before he was killed by police.

The first three people he shot – including his sister – were at a sidewalk taco stand set up near Blind Bob’s bar.

Tshimanga and two other University of Dayton basketball players – Ryan Mikesell and Jhery Matos – had been in that same line just seconds earlier.

“Ryan had ordered his tacos and it was taking a long time to get his change back,” said Tshimanga, the Flyers 6-foot-11 senior center. “We had called Lyft for a ride, but the driver missed the taco stand and stopped a little way down the street.

“We walked to him and I had my hand on the door to open it when I heard ‘Bop! Bop! Bop!’ I thought I was firecrackers, but I turned around and saw a guy in full-armored gear with what seems to be an AK or an AR.

“He started shooting everywhere and I saw the black lady who was standing right behind us in line get shot and drop. I felt like I wanted to help, but it was crazy out there.

“Our driver panicked and ducked down under the steering wheel. Everybody was yelling and I tried to calm him down. I told him, ‘Hey, I know you’re scared, but this ain’t the place to be. You need to get back up on the seat and get us – and yourself – out of here.’ And finally he was like, ‘OK..OK …OK.’

“I don’t know how I’m still here today. It’s really, really lucky the three of us made it out of there.”

The shaken trio was transported back to campus and before dawn Coach Anthony Grant gathered his team to check on everyone, including senior guard Trey Landers, who’d also been caught up in the shooting scene, but was unhurt.

Mikesell’s parents arrived from their home in St. Henry and they took Ryan and Jordy to breakfast.

“I’ve seen violence before – when I lived in Boston – but not like this,” Tshimanga said. “This brought back some ugly memories that are tough to cope with.

“That’s why I haven’t talked about it. I try to keep my mind away from that kind of horrible stuff.”

In the months that followed the shooting, he had plenty of other things to fill his thoughts.

After a redshirt season in which he could not play for Dayton – an NCAA requirement because he had transferred in from Nebraska, where he had appeared in 62 games over two seasons – he was readying to join the Flyers on the court.

Credit: Michael Hickey

Credit: Michael Hickey

Quad and tendon issues in his right leg then sidelined him for six weeks and kept him out of the Flyers first three games last season.

He finally made his debut at the Maui Invitational and before long had become a crowd favorite. He already was one on campus, where he was known as talkative and funny, liked to dance and sing and was involved in a few leadership programs.

Hard working on defense and able to finish inside on offense, Tshimanga played in 27 games last season, averaging 9.8 minutes and 3 points per game.

He often spelled National Player of the Year, Obi Toppin, and at times later in the season, the two big men were in the game together.

There would have been more of that in the postseason, but everything came to a screeching halt as the deadly virus, COVID 19, came surging into every aspect of our daily lives.

The A-10 Tournament was cancelled and so was the NCAA Tournament and instantly the Flyers dream season – they were a record 29-2 and rated No. 3 in the nation – was over.

Soon the pandemic forced UD – like other colleges – to close down for the rest of the school year.

The other players went home, but Tshimanga – who is from Montreal – said the pandemic prevented him from traveling back and forth from Canada.

He briefly visited family and friends in Texas and Nebraska, then hunkered down back at UD for several months.

“I was basically here by myself the whole time,” he said.

He said he finished a class online, wrote poetry, read and shot at an outdoor rim he found at the Dayton Early College Academy across Brown Street from his apartment.

“I mean there was almost nobody here,” he said. “I walked down every single street in the student neighborhood singing out loud and dancing and no one heard!

The music for him stopped when he saw the video of George Floyd – handcuffed and lying face down in the street – being killed by a white Minneapolis policeman who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as the 46-year-olf black man pleaded, “I can’t breathe.”

“That video shocked the whole world,” Tshimanga said. “You now see people all across the globe marching to say ‘Black Lives Matter.’

“People are becoming aware and educated on the issue and they are beginning to converse about it. People need to understand what it’s like to be a black person here and what you go through every day.”

Although he wants to play professionally after his UD career ends, Tshimanga also plans to work toward a post-grad degree in student counseling.

Those classes begin later in the month, but this Monday, Aug. 10, his undergrad degree will be conferred by UD.

‘Hate Never Wins'

Tshimanga’s family fled civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1996 and ended up in Montreal, where Jordy was born that November.

Many of his siblings – almost all extraordinarily tall – gravitated to basketball.

While oldest brother Yannick was a 6-foot-3 point guard for Cal State-Sacramento, his brother Link is 7-foot-1 and played at TCU and then Texas-Arlington.

Jasmine was a 6-foot-6 center for the LSU women and 6-foot-3 Florence just finished her career at SMU. Younger brother Emmanuel, who’s 7-feet, redshirted his first season at UC-Irvine last year and 6-8 Nathan will be a senior at North Central Texas Academy.

After being 6-foot-3 and 340 pounds as a 13-year-old — “I was a round ball, a real snowman,” Tshimanga once told me -- he went to live in Boston with Yannick, pared down and starred at the MacDuffie School, where he scored 1,123 points and grabbed 571 rebounds in three seasons.

He chose Nebraska over several other major colleges, started 27 of his 62 Husker games in two years, and off the court practiced the lessons his dad and beloved late mother – she died in 2012 -- had taught him:

“In the African culture you look out for one another.”

When a white supremacist came to campus and tried to stir divisiveness with bigotry, Tshimanga and others found a way to combat him.

“He was talking crazy, but instead of venting our anger and trying to fight him, we came up with a bigger message,” he once told me. “Beating him up doesn’t prove anything. Violence against violence never works.”

Around UD he has worn a black t-shirt that goes back to the Nebraska debate. In bold white letters, the shirt proclaims: “HATE NEVER WINS”

He said that same thought process must go into combating the police violence you see on the Floyd video.

“The way black American are treated isn’t something new. It’s not a problem that started in 2020. It’s been going on for a long time and we need to (foster) awareness and education and especially conversation.

“We have to talk to each other and have those tough conversations with people different than you, people of a different race. It’s the only way you learn, the only way you change.”

Even during the isolated times of COVID-19, he got his points out there through his social media platforms, his poetry and even his TikTok posts, especially one where he used a poem that included:

“If you never had to be on survival mode

“How could you understand the anger we show?”

Looking forward

Although he said he’s now given up TikToking – “It’s for the kids, now I just watch,” – he did do nearly two dozen of the short videos over the past four months.

Most of them are funny, him dancing and lip syncing and mugging for the camera.

One of his TikTok clips is actually a video taken from the stands. As he’s about to shoot a free throw against Fordham, a fan yells one of his nicknames: “Risky Roadz!” That’s a tag he picked up as a kid from his siblings and a saying he often uses now on campus. He heard the guy yelling it, smiled…and made the free throw.

While Risky Roadz goes back to his days growing up in Montreal, it could refer to last Aug. 4.

E. Fifth Street did turn into a risky road for him that night.

The anniversary of Ohio’s worst mass shooting was last Tuesday. Tshimanga said he thought about it, but didn’t take part in any remembrances.

Right now, rather than look back, he wants to look ahead.

With Toppin awaiting the NBA draft, Tshimanga – who now has 89 college games under his belt – hopes to be more of an impact player for the Flyers.

“Last year ended too quickly, but I think we’ll have a good team again,” he said. “And I’m hoping we have the crowd right there with us every game.”

And now – just like last season—this town needs some of that rock-the-arena tonic for the tough times.

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