Dayton basketball history: What you should know about the Flyers

The University of Dayton men’s basketball program has been among the country’s best at drawing fans and hosting NCAA tournament games since it was established more than 100 years ago.

Here are some things you should know about UD basketball history:

It all began in 1903-04

The first season was played in 1903-04. According to UD’s records, the first game was a 14-2 victory against “Dayton Intermed.” The team also played NCR and Xenia High School in its first season. A team award, the Alex Schoen Memorial Free Throw Trophy awarded to UD's top free throw shooter, is named for Alex Schoen Sr., captain of the first basketball team.

Two early Dayton coaches played in the first-ever NFL game

The Dayton Triangles 1920 team photo. The National Football League kicked off its first game ever in Dayton Oct. 3, 1920. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

The first game between two teams in the league that would become the NFL happened in 1920 in Dayton. The Dayton Triangles beat the Columbus Panhandles.

Two of Dayton's players in that game were quarterback Al Mahrt and end Dutch Thiele. While playing that season, Thiele was also preparing to coach the University of Dayton basketball team in the 1920-21 season. It was his only season as coach, and the team went 6-16.

Mahrt, a UD athletic fall of fame member, had already coached UD basketball in two stints, from 1914-15 and 1917-19.

In the photo above, Mahrt is second row center and Thiele is back row, third from the right.

» READ MORE: 5 things you didn't know about our area college sideline stompers

The program’s “modern era” began in 1949

Tom Blackburn led the University of Dayton men's basketball team to a 352-141 record in 17 seasons from 1947-64. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Photo courtesy University of Day

That was the third season of the tenure of coach Tom Blackburn, who was hired in 1947 to help revive a program that had struggled to a 16-38 record in the previous three seasons.

In 17 seasons as coach, Blackburn led the Flyers to a 352-141 record. Blackburn’s untimely death in 1964 is described in this passage from a 2015 column by Tom Archdeacon about Don Donoher, who succeeded Blackburn.

When his scouting duties picked up for Blackburn, he eventually left his sales job and was hired by Tom Frericks as a freshman coach at Chaminade High School. Soon after, Blackburn asked him to help out at UD.

“I came into the office on the Tuesday after Labor Day, but Coach Blackburn didn’t show up until Friday,” he said. “He said the doctor had just let him out of the house.

“I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ and he said, ‘I got pneumonia.’ Well, in truth, the pneumonia was lung cancer and a couple of weeks later they operated, but then sewed him right back up and said he had six months to live.

Donoher finally filled in as the head coach for the last three games of that 1963-64 season and then was thrust into the job when Blackburn died.

Tuesday, Donoher brought up Blackburn’s name time and again: “He’s the one who put Dayton on the basketball map.”

The Flyers have a long tradition in the NIT

The Flyers won the NIT for the first time in 1962 behind the Most Valuable Player performance of sophomore Bill Chmielewski.
Photo: DDN photo archive

Dayton first appeared in the NIT in 1951, when the Flyers were runners-up. In all, they have played in the NIT 24 times, with titles in 1962, ‘68 and 2010. They have also been runners-up five times.

The star of the 1962 win was 6-foot-10, 265-pound sophomore center Bill Chmielewski. After that season, he made one of the most interesting decisions in the UD program’s history:

Three weeks before the first game of the 1962-63 season, Chmielewski — a consensus, preseason All-America pick — promptly quit the Flyers, withdrew from school, loaded his station wagon with his pregnant wife, Pat, his guitar, his few other belongings and drove back home to Detroit.

The move sent shock waves through the local sports scene.

“Chmielewski Quits UD, Leaves Town!” blared one Dayton Daily News headline. “Teammates Stunned by Star’s Sudden Departure.” said another. The Journal Herald countered with: “’I’m Not Coming Back,’ Chmielewski says.” 

... and in the NCAA tournament

Dayton’s Dan Obrovac jumps for the opening tip against UCLA’s Lew Alcindor in the 1967 national championship game. FILE PHOTO

The Dayton basketball team has played in the NCAA tournament 18 times, most recently the 2016-17 season. They once played in the championship game of the tournament, in 1967 when the Flyers lost to UCLA 79-64 in the title game.

Overall, the Flyers have a 19-20 record in the NCAA tournament, including three appearances in the Elite Eight and seven appearances in the Sweet Sixteen.

» READ MORE: Explore all NCAA tournament games in Dayton Flyers history

Only six coaches have led the Flyers in their modern era

In the 69 seasons of UD’s modern era through 2015-16, only six coaches have led the UD program, including a 25-year tenure of Don Donoher, who went 437-275 from 1964-89.

CoachSeasonsRecord
Tom Blackburn19352-141
Don Donoher25437-275
Jim O'Brien561-87
Oliver Purnell9155-116
Brian Gregory8172-94
Archie Miller*6139-63

* through 2015-16 season

43 players have scored at least 1,000 points for the program

University of Dayton basketball legend Roosevelt Chapman in the 1980s.
Photo: Contributed Photo

Roosevelt Chapman is the leading scorer in UD’s program history, with 2,233 points from 1980-84. He averaged 18.9 points per game during his four-year career, including 23 points per game as a senior.

The next two players on the list - Don May (1,980 points from 1965-68) and Henry Finkel (1,968 points from 1963-66) - collected their points in only three seasons because they played during an era when freshmen were not eligible for varsity play.

The Top 10 scorers in UD history:

PlayerPointsYears
Roosevelt Chapman2,2331980-84
Don May1,9801965-68
Henry Finkel1,9681963-66
Brian Roberts1,9622004-08
Jim Paxson1,9451975-79
Don Meineke1,8661949-52
Tony Stanley1,8351997-2001
Negele Knight1,8061985-90
Anthony Corbitt1,7601986-90
John Horan1,7571951-55

UD Arena has been the NCAA tournament’s most frequent home

UD Arena exterior March 21, 2013. JIM WITMER / STAFF
Photo: www.whiotv.com

UD Arena opened in 1969 to become the new home after UD Fieldhouse. Because then-UD Athletic Director Tom Frericks was a member of the NCAA tournament committee, he helped the new arena gain hosting responsibilities for NCAA tournament games.

Since, through the 2016-17 season, Dayton has hosted 117 NCAA tournament games, the most of any building in the tournament’s history. The second-most games hosted were by Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City (83).

» READ MORE: Interactive history of UD Arena’s hosting of NCAA tournament games

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