Roni Toppin kept repeating the same three words: “It’s so sad.”
That summed up the day for her, her sons Obi and Jacob, the Dayton Flyers, the Atlantic 10 Conference and all of college basketball. The cancellation of the Atlantic 10 tournament and then the entire NCAA tournament (men's and women's) because of Coronavirus fears — stunned everyone on Thursday.
Maybe no one one felt the shockwaves harder than the third-ranked Flyers, whose historic season came to an abrupt end.
“I’m heartbroken,” Roni said. “I’m just hoping they’ll change their minds. I know they’re not going to, though.”
“I wish all of this was just a dream that I could wake up from,” Dayton senior Trey Landers wrote on Twitter. “Wish I could play one more game with my brothers.”
"Today, NCAA President Mark Emmert and the Board of Governors canceled the Division I men’s and women’s 2020 basketball tournaments, as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships," read a press release. "This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities."
Roni spoke to the Dayton Daily News by phone from the school where she teaches in New York City. She had not seen her sons since they arrived in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Wednesday. She didn’t want them leaving their hotel rooms any more than they had to.
Roni planned to spend Selection Sunday with Obi, the Dayton star. The Flyers would have held a watch party on the way to the airport if they advanced to the A-10 championship game Sunday. Instead, everything came to a end just before No. 8 seed Massachusetts and No. 9 seed Virginia Commonwealth tipped off in the first second-round game Thursday. Dayton would have played the winner.
Obi was still in denial when his mom talked to him not long after the A-10 announced it was cancelling the tournament, joining the Big Ten and Mid-American conferences, among many others. The NCAA tournament decision followed several hours later.
“Obi said, ‘Mom, maybe it’ll change,’” Roni said. “‘They keep making different decisions every hour.’ He said maybe tomorrow they’ll put it back on, but once it’s off, it’s off. They kind of cancelled all of basketball.”
The end of Dayton’s season means Toppin’s college career likely is also over. He has not announced his decision to enter the NBA draft, but that’s just a formality. He’s a likely lottery pick after leading Dayton to a 29-2 record and 20 straight wins to close the regular season.
Just five days before the cancellation of the A-10 tournament, Toppin walked off the court at UD Arena to thunderous applause after scoring 27 point on Senior Night in a 76-51 victory against George Washington. His roommate, Dayton’s second-leading scorer, Jalen Crutcher, scored 21. Roni looked forward to him playing on a larger stage in the NCAA tournament.
“This was his chance to show the country that he was worthy, like not just against the Atlantic 10,” she said. “I feel like it was Jalen’s chance, too. People underestimated him, and he knew they had to show the world what they had. We had those conversations. It’s so sad.”
That goes for Dayton’s two seniors, as well. Reed Mikesell and his wife Lisa planned to leave Friday morning to fly to New York City to see their son Ryan’s senior season continue. They missed only eight games in the last five seasons.
“Ryan called us this morning at 8 and was just so upset,” said Reed, on the phone from St. Henry. “He said, ‘Dad, I don’t think I’m going to play college basketball again.’ I said, ‘Ryan, hang in there.’ He said, ‘My career’s over.’ The kids are all so upset. I feel bad for coach (Anthony) Grant and the team and the University of Dayton. As well as they’re playing and as far as they’ve gone, this is a once in a 41-year opportunity. Maybe they’ll get here again, but it’s here. They are here right now. It’s a bummer.”
While the Mikesells scrambled to cancel their flights, Reed said Dayton senior Trey Landers’ mom Tracy Matthews and her friend Beth Johnson had to turn around about five hours into their drive to New York City.
The news spread fast as one conference after another cancelled their tournaments hours after there were reports the games would go on as scheduled Thursday but without fans.
Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan talked to three local reporters outside the Barclays Center not long after the Atlantic 10 held a press conference to discuss the situation. Sullivan was asked how the players found out about the news.
“It happened quickly,” he said. “We tried to make the right phone calls, but with social media, it started to spiral quick. I’m sure everyone found out a different way. I called coach (Anthony) Grant, and he was getting the news at the same time.”
Sullivan described his conversation with Grant as emotional, but he was more worried about how his players would handle the news.
“Adults have been through some things before and maybe have some perspective that some things are bigger than basketball,” Sullivan said. “Most of our thoughts are with the players and the coaching staff. Clearly a very tough day.”
As for the fans who won’t get to see one of the Dayton’s great teams play again, Sullivan said, “We’re thankful for our fans. Like everything else in life, it’s easier to go through things with people who care and love you, so I have no doubt our fans will do that for the players.”
The A-10 made the decision to cancel the tournament around noon. VCU and UMass were warming up on the court when the news came out.
UMass coach Matt McCall told his team in the locker room they would remember where they were when this happened 10 years from now.
“Our guys are disappointed,” McCall said. “They wanted to play. There’s nothing like playing in the tournament in the Barclays. But we fully respect the league’s decision.”
Rhoades said there was not a dry eye in the locker room when he informed his players of the decision.
“Two minutes left in warm-up, you’re out on the court, you have your game face on, you’re locked in and then no game,” Rhoades said. “It’s surreal.”
A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade said it was a decision they had to make.
“We’re addressing the virus in the most serious way,” McGlade said, “in a very respectful way and in a very challenging way.”