Anthony Grant doesn’t bother with social media. The third-year Dayton Flyers coach has a Twitter account but has not used it. Unlike the fans and media who use social media and message boards to talk about the season ahead, Grant lives in the moment, leaving speculation to others.
That’s one reason Grant didn’t bite when asked about the competition for playing time in the 2019-20 season. Who will start? Will any returners see a decrease in playing time? Will any of the newcomers struggle to get action?
These are all questions that will be resolved in time, and they are good problems to have for a program that used a seven-man rotation last season and rode its starters harder in Grant’s first season as well.
“I don’t see it really being an issue,” Grant said. “We know where we want to be as a team. Now it’s just a process of how do we get there. … There’s a lot of different things, a lot of unknowns. We could speculate and go all over the place with possibilities and options.”
What Grant would do Tuesday in his first interview since the season ended in March with a 78-73 loss at Colorado in the NIT is talk about his players. The return of Obi Toppin, who declared for the draft in April but announced in May he would return for his redshirt sophomore season, means Dayton returns its top scorer plus five other players with starting experience in college basketball.
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Here’s a rundown of the 2019-20 Flyers:
Q: Did you have any doubts Toppin would return to school after exploring the draft process?
A: I think it’s just the reality of college basketball. I think if you took a poll of every Division I basketball player in the country, they will tell you their ultimate goal is to continue to play and to have a job playing basketball. Obi is no different than any young man who aspires to be great at what they do. He had an opportunity to learn more about the process, learn more about what he needs to do and what guys at that next level think of him. I think it was a good learning experience for him. We’re excited to have him back. I think he made a good decision in terms of what the business of basketball is all about. I think it was productive in terms of what he was able to get out of it.
Q: What does Obi need to do to take his game to the next level?
A: Physically, he still has room to improve, but from the neck up, understanding the game, understanding what he needs to be able to do to become the best version of himself, going through that process can only help him. I think he can improve all around. Last year was his first experience in college basketball. What we saw was from game one to game 31, he continued to get better. He continued to improve just from going through the experience. Now he’s got to take that and understand he’s got a year under his belt but our opponents also have a year. They have more film and an understanding of how he impacts the game. He has to continue to work on his craft and get better and understand how he can impact us both offensively and defensively. I don’t think there’s one thing we look at. Obi’s still young in the game. So when I say from the neck up, I mean understanding the different looks he’s going to get from a defensive standpoint: double teams. Offensively, understanding where he can impact the game and not only get his shots but help his teammates get better.
Q:Ryan Mikesell had an amazing season considering where he was a year earlier, missing a season after two hip surgeries. How can he improve?
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A: If you had to take a guy and say, ‘Hey, appreciate the moment and take advantage of the opportunity in front of you to the best of your ability,’ Ryan’s done that as good as any player I’ve been around, in terms of his understanding the game was taken away from him for a year. His vision of where he wanted to be propelled him to have the year he had last year. Now he’s even more locked in in terms of what he needs to do. He’s been great in the offseason. I think he’s had a really good offseason. With his work ethic and understanding of the game and his willingness to do whatever it takes to win, yeah, I’m excited for his senior year.
Q: Like Mikesell, Trey Landers impacted games in ways that sometimes didn’t show up in the box score. How is he doing in the offseason? Is he healthy after injuring his shoulder late last season?
A: I think he just needed that time to heal his body. He’s had no setbacks here in the offseason so far with that. Trey is one of those guys who’s the ultimate glue guy in the things he provides our team on the court, but even his voice. We’ve talked a lot about that and ability to impact the attitude and the vibe in the building, whether it’s in practice or in games or even with our crowd. As a senior, we’re going to need a lot of that from him. He’s going to have to impact the game and the team and a lot of different areas just because of who Trey is as a person.
Q: How has Jhery Matos progressed in his recovery from the season-ending foot injury he suffered in November?
A: Jhery’s had a really good recovery. He was able to do 1-on-0 by the end of the regular school year. He was beginning to do a little bit of contact stuff. He was able to get cleared right before school was out at the end of the semester. He’s been gone for the summer (at home in the Dominican Republic). We’ll know a lot more about him once he’s back. Just based on (trainer) Mike Mulcahey and our doctors, who have done a tremendous job, he’ll definitely be able to make a full recovery. Now it’s just getting that wind back and playing and getting back in rhythm. The summer will be big for him.
A: Dwayne Cohill had a solid freshman season. What do you see his role being next year?
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Q: For a freshman, I thought he made progress from the beginning of the year to the end of the year in just understanding how he can impact the game and what he needs to bring every day to be able to get on the floor and get those minutes, and by the end of the year, he was one of those guys whose minutes continued to increase. I was very pleased with that. I think Dwayne just needs to continue to develop as a player. I don’t think you can say, ‘Hey, I expect him to do one more thing or more of this.’ He just needs to continue to get better and continue to understand he can be really special. From a defensive standpoint, what he brings, in terms of the tempo we play, he’s perfectly suited for that.
Q: Point guard Jalen Crutcher is on pace for a UD Hall of Fame career, not that you want to put that kind of pressure on a player who’s only halfway done with his college career. Where does his game go from here?
A: He’s here. I just saw him in the weight room. My mind keeps going back to two years ago when he walked on campus. He looked like a middle schooler. Just to see the progress he’s made before your eyes, the development, his growth from here going forward, he still has a lot of room to continue to grow and get better. I think the sky’s the limit for him. I think he’s really, really good. He’s really taken advantage of that experience. Especially for guards, there’s no substitute for experience. He went from being thrown in the fire as a freshman to figuring it out and improving and then as a sophomore, your second time through, you get a better feel for it. Now as a junior, he’s one of the veterans in the league and a veteran in college basketball. He’s seen a lot of different things. The challenge is now let’s take that experience and pull from that to help yourself and our team reach the next level.
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A: Here’s what I’ll say about all those guys: everything else is speculation because they haven’t been on the court yet. They all have a tremendous work ethic. They all understand team. They’re all excited and eager to get back on the court. They were a tremendous asset to our team this past season just because of the competition we got to go against every day in practice. Just to see their competitiveness and skill was fun. Now we have to translate that, and that group has to come together.
There’s a lot of unknowns. But certainly I like the talent for all of those guys. I like what they bring to the table. I think it will definitely make us better. I think it’s a good blend with what we have returning, but the truth of the matter — I’m a big believer in this — the veterans you have, the guys who actually played in the games, how much they move the needle for us is where our team will go, and those other guys coming in will figure it out and adapt. It’s been a year for all of them.
You look at at Ibi being at Michigan for two years. The team had a lot of success, but Ibi really didn’t have a lot of individual opportunity or success. His challenge now is to do what we see in practice and translate that into game action and take advantage of those opportunities. Rodney Chatman came from a situation (at Chattanooga) where he actually played a lot, so now he’s got to be able to take some things he learned in his first two years and see where he can get better. We’ve tried to progress him over the course of the year. Now he’s got to take that to the game and blend in with a bunch of new guys he’s played kind of with and against in practice and bring that together.
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Same thing with Jordy. He’s a guy that played a pretty good amount of minutes over the course of his two years at Nebraska. Chase had very limited opportunities at Florida. They’ve all had different stories in terms of what they’ve experienced. As a coach, what you want to see is guys who have a good work ethic, guys that are good team guys, guys that have a level of enthusiasm and excitement about competing, and those guys all bring that.
Q: You have one incoming freshman: center Moulaye Sissoko. Will he be on campus soon with the rest of the players?
A: Moulaye will come in at the end of this week or early next week. He’s the only true freshman, the only guy who’s going to be pretty much new to the team. His indoctrination will be a little different than the other guys just in terms of being on a college campus. He’s a good-looking kid, very well put together for a young man. We’re excited to add him to the group.
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