UD expected to return its entire starting lineup for first time this century
For four college basketball teams, the season continues this weekend in New Orleans. Everyone else has turned the page to the 2022-23 season, and for the Dayton Flyers, it can’t come soon enough.
Dayton flew under the radar in the offseason for the most part three years ago before its historic 29-2 season that saw it rise to No. 3 in the polls. It was not the preseason favorite in the Atlantic 10 Conference. It received one vote in the Associated Press preseason poll. Obi Toppin, the consensus national player of the year in 2020, didn’t even appear on some of the lists of the best players in the country.
That’s not say there wasn’t a buzz around Dayton after the 2018-19 season. The hype started building moments after the the Flyers lost at Colorado in the first round of the National Invitational Championship.
“We have a starting five,” Toppin said then, “and then we’ve got another starting five right on the bench.”
It was a similar story earlier this month when Dayton lost at Vanderbilt in the second round of the NIT and players were asked after the game about next season.
“We’re going to be really scary,” guard Koby Brea said. “The sky’s the limit.”
The Dayton players aren’t the only ones with high expectations after a 24-11 season that saw them finish second in the A-10. One of the first top-25 predictions for the 2022-23 season came out this week. HeatCheckCBB.com ranked Dayton 21st.
“Dayton was the very first team left out of the 2022 NCAA tournament field,” Eli Boettger wrote. “Given the Flyers had the youngest roster in college basketball this past season, Dayton fans can expect to read plenty of articles about the team’s breakout potential. Anthony Grant’s team nearly pulled an at-large bid despite a 1-3 start that included loss to UMass Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay, finishing the year 23-8 and gaining over 80 spots in KenPom. The trio of lead distributor Malachi Smith, interior force DaRon Holmes and athletic forward Toumani Camara will be must-material.”
In addition to the three players mentioned, Dayton returns two other starters: guards R.J. Blakney and Kobe Elvis. Assuming Camara doesn’t keep his name in the NBA Draft, it will be the first time this century the program has returned its entire starting lineup. It also returns the A-10 Sixth Man of the Year, guard Koby Brea.
With Moulaye Sissoko and Elijah Weaver entering the transfer portal, Dayton has one of 13 scholarships open. Here’s a look at the 2022-23 roster as it stands now. It’s a group with 10 players 6-6 or taller.
DaRon Holmes II, 6-foot-10 sophomore forward: The A-10 Rookie of the Year led Dayton in scoring (12.8 points per game) and set a school record for blocks in a season (81), while starting all 35 games. He played his best at the end of the season, averaging 20.0 points in the last five games. He ranked 35th in the country in 2-point field-goal percentage (66.2). He ranked sixth in the country in dunks (89). As a team, Dayton has ranked second, second, first, 16th and 35 in that category in Grant’s five seasons.
Toumani Camara, 6-8, junior forward: After two seasons at Georgia, Camara started 34 of 35 games, missing only the La Salle game because of a knee injury. He improved his field-goal percentage (48.6 to 51.0) and 3-point shooting percentage (26.3 to 33.8) from his second season at Georgia to his first season at Dayton. Camara, an All-A-10 third-team selection, shot 45.7% from 3-point range in A-10 play after shooting 16.7% (4 of 24) in 13-non-conference games. He turned the ball over 20 times in a three-game span in December and played much better in that area as the season progressed but still led the team in turnovers (89). He led the team in rebounding (6.9).
Malachi Smith, 6-0, sophomore guard: The MVP of the ESPN Events Invitational in November, Smith took over the starting point guard spot in the fourth game of the season. He ranked third on the team with 9.3 points per game and led the team in assists (5.3) and steals (1.8). He recorded 175 assists, the second most by a freshman in school history. He shot 40% (20 of 50) from 3-point range, making 7 of 14 in the last nine games. Smith made the A-10 All-Rookie team along with Holmes. Smith’s season ended when he sprained his ankle in the semifinals of the A-10 tournament, and he did not play in the two NIT games. He shared a video of himself Thursday working out on a treadmill at UD, signifying his comeback has begun.
Kobe Elvis, 6-2, redshirt sophomore guard: In his first season at Dayton after one season at DePaul, Elvis ranked fourth on the team in scoring (8.9) and second in 3-pointers made (42 of 116, 36.2). He scored in double figures nine times in 10 games during one stretch of A-10 play and hit 20 points twice in a row. He made 10 of 45 3-pointers in the last 11 games (22.2%) after making 22 of 40 (55.5%) in the previous 11 games.
R.J. Blakney, 6-6, redshirt sophomore guard/forward: In his second season, he increased his scoring average from 4.8 to 6.5 and his rebounding average from 2.4 to 3.5. He shot 35.2% from 3-point range (31 of 88). He scored in double figures five times in the last 11 games after doing so three times in the first 24 games. He and Holmes were the only players to start all 35 games. Blakney’s signature moment came in the second-to-last game of the regular season when caught an alley-oop pass from Malachi Smith and dunked in the final seconds to give Dayton a victory at Richmond.
Koby Brea, 6-6, redshirt sophomore guard: After finishing his freshman season strong, Brea earned a starting job in the preseason but then lost the spot. However, he made the most of his new role and became Dayton’s top reserve, averaging 8.1 points and leading the team in made 3-pointers and 3-point accuracy (63 of 149, 42.3%). His 3-point numbers were very similar to two of the best recent performances by Dayton players: Jalen Crutcher (72 of 170, 42.4) in 2019-20; and Ibi Watson (62 of 149, 41.6) in 2020-21). Brea made a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute to help lift Dayton to a victory against A-10 champion Davidson in the final game of the regular season.
Mustapha Amzil, 6-9, redshirt sophomore forward: The hero of the last-second victory against Kansas in November, Amzil saw his numbers decline across the board in his second season. Most notably, his 3-point accuracy declined from 38.2 to 29.5. Although his rebounding average dropped from 4.4 to 2.9, that was because he played fewer minutes (29.9 to 19.8). He ranked third on the team in defensive rebounding percentage (17.1) and second in offensive rebounding percentage (7.7).
Zimi Nwokeji, 6-7, redshirt sophomore forward: The only player on the roster remaining from the 2019-20 season when he redshirted after joining the program at midseason, Nwokeji will try to find his way back into the rotation in his fourth season at Dayton. He averaged 5.9 points in 19.9 minutes per game in his first season and then never found a place in the rotation this past season after battling injuries in the preseason and early in the season. When he did get rare meaningful playing time because of injuries to other players — at La Salle, for example, and against Richmond in the A-10 tournament — he was not able to make a big impact. Asked in February why Nwokeji wasn’t playing more, Grant said, “He’s got some guys ahead of him that are pretty good players.”
Credit: David Jablonski
Credit: David Jablonski
Kaleb Washington, 6-7, sophomore forward: Four years in a row, the scholarship player on the Dayton roster who received the fewest minutes entered the transfer portal after the season (Jordan Pierce in 2018, Frankie Policelli in 2019, Jhery Matos in 2020 and Luke Frazier in 2021). It appears Washington will end that streak. He said late in the season he wanted to stay at Dayton, and according to a source, Dayton does not expect any more transfers this spring as of right now. Washington ranked 101st in the 2021 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com, but appeared in only 11 games. He did not receive any meaningful time until the NIT when he played a total of 28 minutes in two games.
Credit: David Jablonski
Credit: David Jablonski
Richard Amaefule, 6-9, redshirt sophomore forward: While not technically a newcomer, Amaefule was the only player on the roster this season who did not play. UD announced in December he would redshirt as he worked his way back from a leg injury. He worked with the scout team all season and traveled to away games as well. He’s an X factor of sorts for this team because of his potential, but he has not played in a game since March 6, 2021, when he was at East Tennessee State. When he committed, Amaefule said his strength was his mid-range game and an ability to create mismatches by working with the ball in the post and driving against bigger defenders.
Mike Sharavjamts, 6-7, freshman guard: The only freshman on the roster unless Dayton adds someone from the 2022 class, Sharavjamts gives Dayton a school-record five international players for the second straight season. This season, Dayton had Amaefule (England), Amzil (Finland), Camara (Belgium), Elvis (Canada) and Sissoko (Mali). Sharavjamts will be the first Division I college basketball in history born in Mongolia. He’s No. 100 on ESPN’s list of the top-100 players in the 2022 class. He averaged 10.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 24 games this season for the International Sports Academy in Willoughby, Ohio, and shot 51.2% (44 of 86) from 3-point range.
Tyrone Baker, 6-11, sophomore forward: A transfer from Georgia, Baker announced his commitment to Dayton on April 26. He appeared in three games as a freshman at Georgia and scored two points. He broke his hand during practice Jan. 18 and was sidelined the rest of the season. Baker is from Fort Myers, Fla., but played his senior season at Hightower High School near Houston, Texas. He was a three-start recruit in the class of 2021 and ranked 266th in the 247Sports.com composite rankings.