From 9,000 miles away in Cairns, Australia, Scoochie Smith found a way to sum up Dayton Flyers basketball heading into the 2017-18 season. He saw a photo of one of the new Flyers, freshman forward Matej Svoboda, wearing his old No. 11 on Thursday.
“Big responsibilities come with that number,” Smith wrote on Twitter.
The same could be said for freshman guard Jordan Davis, who will wear Charles Cooke’s old No. 4, and sophomore guard Trey Landers, who changed numbers and now has the No. 3 worn by Kyle Davis the last four seasons.
The new Flyers and the returning Flyers face the same expectations every Dayton team faces, even though they have a new coach, Anthony Grant, and a roster trimmed by an injury, a suspension and a NCAA decision. They will try to build on the legacy of the four graduated seniors — Smith, Cooke, Davis and Kendall Pollard — and win a third straight Atlantic 10 Conference championship and earn a fifth straight NCAA tournament berth.
Practice starts Sept. 29, though preparation for the new season began long ago. Here are five questions the Flyers face entering a new era of UD basketball:
1. Who are the team’s leaders?
Junior forward Josh Cunningham will be the team’s one captain, Grant said Thursday. He was voted a captain before last season, along with Smith and Kyle Davis, even thought he had not played a game for the Flyers at that point. He earned the title again this season. Grant said his teams always have just one captain.
“His teammates voted him that,” Grant said. “I think he’s earned the right to do that. We’re looking forward to his leadership throughout the season.”
Cunningham said, “The guys believe in what I’m doing and that I’m working hard. I appreciate it because I do it for them.”
The Flyers will also have “team counselors,” senior guard Darrell Davis said. He said himself, junior point guard John Crosby and Ryan Mikesell, who will sit out the season after undergoing offseason hip surgeries, will fill those positions.
2. How good can Kostas Antetokounmpo be?
Dayton fans can’t wait to see the 6-foot-10 forward, who sat out last season as a NCAA partial qualifier, on the court. Antetokounmpo was the highest-ranked freshman signed by former coach Archie Miller. He ranked 53rd in the nation in the class of 2016, according to 247Sports.com.
Antetokounmpo suffered a bone bruise in his knee playing in his native Greece in the summer but moved well while warming up before an individual skill instruction workout at the Cronin Center on Thursday. Grant said he has been cleared for no-contact drills. Barring a setback, there’s no reason to think he shouldn’t be 100 percent by the time the season begins Nov. 10.
“Kostas is one of a kind,” Darrell Davis said. “His talent was blessed. It can’t be coached. If he keeps putting in the work, he has a chance to be in the NBA.”
3. How much does the team still have to learn about Grant’s system?
Grant has said the Flyers will play fast on both sides of the ball. After two seasons as an assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he will also bring an NBA touch to the program in terms of the terminology he uses with the players.
“We know a lot,” Cunningham said, “but we still don’t know as much as we need to know.”
Grant started to get to know his new players in the spring and got more time with them on the court in the summer, especially in the second summer session after the five freshmen arrived on campus. The most important part of the preseason training lies ahead. The Flyers can practice 30 times in the 42 days before the season opener, according to NCAA rules.
The players’ learning starts, Grant said, with “offensively understanding the spacing and the pace we want to play with, ball movement, player movement, that type of thing. Then defensively, just our tempo more than anything else: where they should be, how they should do it and the intensity we need to play with on both sides of the ball.”
4. Who is the most improved player?
Darrell Davis answered his question with one name: the sophomore guard Landers. The Wayne High School graduate appeared in nine games last season and played a total of 52 minutes. He made 11 of 17 field goals and averaged 3.0 points in those games.
Landers should get his shot this season. With Mikesell redshirting this season after offseason hip surgeries, junior forward Sam Miller suspended for the first semester and freshman forward Obadiah Toppin sitting out the season as an academic redshirt, there are 10 available scholarship players. Everyone should get a chance to play.
“I feel like he’s more comfortable now,” Davis said. “He’s out there playing the game and not worried about too much or worried about what the outsiders have to say. He’s improved his ability to be comfortable on the court with handling the ball and handling the pressure.”
5. How much momentum does Dayton have in recruiting?
Grant can’t comment on specific recruits until they sign, so it will be two months until he can talk about Dwayne Cohill, the top-100 recruit from Holy Name High School in Parma Heights who gave his verbal commitment to the program on Sept. 11.
Grant was asked Thursday if he is excited about what he and his assistants have accomplished so far in recruiting.
“I am,” Grant said. “Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work we still want to do and try to get done from a recruiting standpoint, but it’s been well received as we go across the country and try to bring new talent in.”
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