Dayton Flyers return to team workouts as COVID-19 situation improves on campus

The coronavirus pandemic shut down the sports world March 12, cost the Dayton Flyers the entire postseason and kept the players and coaches separated for more than four months. The crisis affected the program again in August when one of the largest COVID-19 campus outbreaks in Ohio happened at the University of Dayton.

“There was increase in cases on campus, which kind of shut everything down not only from an academic standpoint but from an athletic standpoint, too,” coach Anthony Grant said Friday. “It obviously affected everything on campus. With school back in session this week, this is actually the first week that we’ve done anything in terms of team activities. It was time to get that going and get prepared. Now that we know when the season’s officially going to start and when we can officially start practice, it’s just a process of trying to get prepared for that.”

All 12 of the scholarship players arrived on campus the week of July 12 and spent the rest of the month and early August working on individual skills, strength and conditioning. That period lasted until students started moving back to campus in August.

Credit: AJ Schraffenberger

Credit: AJ Schraffenberger

This was the first time the three freshmen — Koby Brea, R.J. Blakney and Lukas Frazier — as well as Southern California transfer Elijah Weaver got to work with the team.

“We did more skill work than team activities,” Grant said. “I think it was beneficial. They got a chance to get in the weight room and re-acclimate with the process of being on the floor and being around each other and getting to know each other. It’s all been helpful."

Then in late August, a surge in coronavirus cases caused the university to delay the return to in-person classes. The university raised the campus alert level to Status 4. In the five-tiered system, a move to Status 5 would have called for all students to vacate campus. For a time, Dayton players did not have access to the practice gym or the Olsen Athletic Performance Center, where they lift weights.

“I think maybe two weeks ago we started getting some limited access for guys to come in individually and get some shots up,” Grant said.

The number of positive COVID-19 cases started to decline in September, and the university lowered the alert level to Status 2 on Monday. Full in-person classes resumed Thursday.

Credit: AJ Schraffenberger

Credit: AJ Schraffenberger

The NCAA announced earlier this month there will be a transitional period from Sept. 21-Oct. 14 in which teams “may participate in strength and conditioning activities, sport-related meetings and skill instruction for up to 12 hours a week, with an eight-hour limit on skill instruction. Players must have two days off per week during the transition period.”

Starting Oct. 14, teams can hold up to 42 practices in the six weeks before the official start of the season Nov. 25.

“October 14 is the earliest we can start,” Grant said. “We’ll see how things progress in terms of our readiness, in terms of what happens in terms of the pandemic and campus. Hopefully, we’ll be able to start on time.”

Dayton has not announced a non-conference schedule, and the Atlantic 10 hasn’t announced its schedule.

“I think there’s just a lot of uncertainty,” Grant said. “Like most people, you want it to be the way it always has been, but I think the first thing we’ve got to understand is this is different. We’re excited that the decision-makers were able to get together and agree on a start date for us that made sense. They made their decision based on campuses being less occupied after the Thanksgiving break. Now it’s just a matter of using this time we have between now and then to figure out what makes sense in terms of scheduling, whether it’s MTEs (multi-team events) or bubbles and different options. Conferences and programs across the country will decide what’s in their best interest.”

Once the season does arrive, Dayton will try to build on the greatest regular season in school history. The Flyers finished 29-2 last season, setting a school record for victories without playing a postseason game and tying a school record with 20 straight wins to end the season. They also won the A-10 championship with an 18-0 record.

The 2019-20 team revolved around Obi Toppin, the consensus national player of the year, and the star of the 2020-21 team will be senior point guard Jalen Crutcher, who will be a four-year starter. He’s on pace to finish his career in the top 15 in scoring in Dayton history and could rise as high as No. 2 in assists.

“Jalen’s a known guy in terms of being a guy that has been on campus the longest of any of our guys,” Grant said. “He knows our system. He knows the ins and outs of college basketball. Certainly you would expect with his talent and experience, that’s going to bode well for the rest of the guys. His leadership, his understanding of what we want and how we go about doing it, it should be a big benefit to everybody.”

Crutcher returns with a nucleus of experienced players who have been on campus together the last two seasons: redshirt senior guards Ibi Watson and Rodney Chatman; redshirt senior center Jordy Tshimanga; and junior guard Dwayne Cohill.

“That experience is really, really important,” Grant said, “as is the experience they went through as a team and the success we enjoyed last year and more than that the camaraderie they built and being together and knowing each other and sharing that bond and that vision.”

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