A college basketball writer, Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports, ranked Dayton’s Archie Miller third on a list of national coach of the year candidates this week.
Miller has attracted plenty of praise in recent weeks. Entering a 7 p.m. game tonight at Massachusetts, the Flyers (16-3, 6-1 Atlantic 10) have won nine of their last 10 games with a seven-man rotation and no one taller than 6-foot-6. They’re one of the unique stories in college basketball, and what fans and media have seen in games is only half the story.
With a lack of practice bodies, the Flyers have turned to three coaches — Allen Griffin and graduate assistants Brian Frank and Brian Walsh — to help get the team ready for games.
“I they’re wearing themselves out a bit,” Miller said, “but it’s vital.”
Griffin played college basketball at Syracuse. Frank played at Kent State. Walsh played at Akron. All three helped in the offseason when the Flyers were also dealing with numbers problems because of injuries. They’ve continued to help run the scout team during the season.
It’s helpful, Miller said, but also frustrating because he can’t practice like he wants. Instead of running 5-on-5, he runs more 2-on-2, 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 drills. They do some 5-on-5 work but not as much.
The Flyers practice little the day after games. They practiced for 45 minutes Monday and 75 minutes Tuesday. It’s not ideal. They’ve had to adapt to save the players’ legs for February and March.
“There’s going to be some slippage,” Miller said. “We can’t have it both ways where we’re going for an hour and a half 5-on-5, and you get hurt or you get beat up.”
In addition to the seven scholarship players who are playing this season, Dayton has two more who are not: 6-11 freshman center Steve McElvene and 6-5 sophomore guard Charles Cooke. Both can practice but not play. McElvene is an NCAA partial qualifier. Cooke has to sit out this season after transferring from James Madison.
“The improvement that Steve McElvene’s made in the last month has been incredible,” Miller said. “He’s taken every single rep against every defensive guy or offensive guy we have. He gives us a chance to be successful in the game, because Kendall (Pollard), Dyshawn (Pierre) and Bobby (Wehrli), those guys are banging against guys with legit size.”
Miller said McElvene has lost close to 40 pounds since August.
“He’s a whole new person in practice,” Miller said. “He’s got a whole new confidence level in practice just being able to go every day and get reps. You use him as the other team’s big guy and throw him the ball every time. He can’t help but get better. He’s shown real signs of being a difference maker.”
Cooke is also doing well, Miller said.
“Those guys, although they are in practice every day, they lose that element of being in it every day with the guys,” Miller said. “Charles and Steve, both of those guys will benefit greatly by being able to be here every day. Next year they get their chance.”