Dayton guard Elvis: ‘We want to make a deep push into the NCAA tournament, for sure’

Third-year player is healthy after fighting through ankle injury in his first season with Flyers

Kobe Elvis faced an important question Wednesday when he sat down for a 19-minute interview in the Skuns Room at the Cronin Center.

“Was that you who dumped the bucket of water on coach Grant?”

“That was me,” Elvis said.

“Was that planned?”

“It was not.”

Days earlier, the 6-foot-2 guard Elvis and his Dayton Flyers teammates got together for a group run through the streets near UD as a camera filmed them from a golf cart. They thought it was just a typical summer workout until the run ended and they were asked to do push-ups on the turf fields on campus. At that point, the coaches ambushed them from behind with water balloons and water guns.

The players fought back.

“I went over to the buckets because they all had water balloons in them,” Elvis said. “Whatever coach was closest, I was going to throw it on him. (Grant) happened to walk by and shoot me with the gun.”

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A year ago, as a transfer from DePaul who was one of seven newcomers on the roster, Elvis may not have been brave enough to go after the head coach. He’s more confident now, as he should be after starting 30 games and averaging 8.9 points per game, the fourth-highest total on the team.

Grant did get Elvis back as the video shared on all the official Dayton basketball accounts showed. He broke a water balloon over the head of Elvis. Grant’s smile was maybe the biggest takeaway from the video. His daughter Jayda, 20, died late in the spring. The players have tried to whatever they can for Grant, who’s now fully back at practices as the team continues summer workouts.

“With things like that, the only thing you can really do is show the person love,” Elvis said, “and how much you appreciate them. Coach is such a strong-willed man. It was really tough to see him like that, in all honesty, but we’re all there for him and his family and we love him.”

That love extends among the players as they showed often on the court last season and in that water balloon fight video. These are players who enjoy each other’s company. They went on a bowling outing earlier in the offseason. They play video games together. NBA 2K and Call of Duty are popular choices, said R.J. Blakney, another returning starter.

On the court, the players are working to build on the chemistry they developed last year. For Elvis, the work includes taking repetitions at the point guard spot and continuing to work on his shot.

Elvis shot 36.2% from 3-point range (42 of 116). That number stood at 43.3% (29 of 67) after back-to-back 20-point games in early February but slipped the rest of the season. In six games in March, Elvis made 7 of 30 3-pointers (23.3%).

Elvis believes an ankle injury that plagued him all season hurt him late in the season. He had the injury when he arrived at Dayton in the late spring of 2021 but played through it and, for the most part, thrived despite it. Then it started affecting him more. He said the ankle made him feel slow.

Elvis almost missed the game at Rhode Island on Feb. 14 after tweaking the injury. Starting point guard Malachi Smith also almost missed that game because of an injury. Both decided to play. Dayton won 63-57 in part because of a late, go-ahead 3-pointer by Mustapha Amzil.

“Me and Mali just knew we had to everything we could for our team,” Elvis said. “After that, what we were doing on the court was very limited.”

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Trainer Mike Mulcahey limited their shooting in practice, Elvis said, to lessen the wear and tear on their injuries. Elvis is healthy now and hopes the lessons learned in his second season of college basketball pay off in the 2022-23 season.

“My first year, because of COVID,” Elvis said, “I didn’t really have the experience or enough games to kind of figure out, ‘Oh, this is what I need to do on a regular basis to be on an elite level.’ So last year was very important. There were certain games — we got our butts kicked by Lipscomb at home or the VCU loss at home — that were real eye openers.”

Dayton won its season opener last year, beating Illinois-Chicago 64-54 but then lost three straight home games to UMass-Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay, seemingly derailing the team’s NCAA at-large hopes in the opening weeks. Looking back, that stretch still stings.

“We think about that every day,” Elvis said.

The Flyers righted the sinking ship by winning the ESPN Events Invitational, beating Miami, eventual national champion Kansas and then Belmont. With maybe one exception — a 62-60 loss at La Salle on Feb. 26 — Dayton didn’t suffer any more inexcusable losses. It played well enough to get itself back on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble until Smith’s injury led to a 68-64 loss to Richmond in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament semifinals.

“I think we really had to dig deep and look internally,” Elvis said, “and think about what we wanted out of the season. A lot of us didn’t really know what to expect and we didn’t know how to gel together, but things ended up going in the right direction.”

Dayton has not announced its full non-conference schedule, but teams can begin play as early as Nov. 7. The Flyers likely will open the season that day or the next day and then will welcome Southern Methodist, which has beat them the last two years, to UD Arena on Nov. 11. Four days later, on Nov. 15, Dayton goes on the road for the first time play at UNLV in Las Vegas.

It’s the most challenging first two weeks Dayton has had since the 2016-17 season when it played Alabama in its second game and then played Saint Mary’s at home in its third game. But Elvis doesn’t see another slow start happening.

“There should be no chance of that next year,” he said.

The goals are obvious for a team that returns its entire starting lineup and seven of its top eight scorers.

“We want to win the A-10,” Elvis said. “That’s the main goal. We want to win the A-10 tournament. We want to make a deep push into the NCAA tournament, for sure.”

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