EDITOR’S NOTE: David Jablonski is counting down to the Dayton men’s basketball season opener on Nov. 7 with 25 pieces (one every day until Nov. 7) previewing the 2022-23 season. This is the 19th story.
Few people saw Koby Brea, R.J. Blakney and Mustapha Amzil make their Dayton Flyers debuts in the 2020-21 season. There was limited attendance at UD Arena that season because of the pandemic. The three freshman and the rest of the team often played in front of empty arenas on the road.
Dayton fans have made up that lost season by selling out the the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons. By the end of this season, the sellout streak will have reached 44 games. Of course, that number does not include the 11 home games played in 2020-21.
Brea and Blakney were members of Dayton’s 2020 recruiting class along with Luke Frazier, who entered the transfer portal after making two brief appearances as a freshman. Frazier walked on at Ohio University last season and now plays at Division III John Carroll University.
Amzil joined that class by signing in November 2020 and scored 22 points against La Salle in his debut on Dec. 31, 2020, just 12 days after arriving on campus.
While Brea has been sidelined throughout the preseason with what Anthony Grant called a “lower body injury,” he expects to return to practice soon. Blakney started in an 80-42 exhibition game victory Saturday against Capital University and had 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 23 minutes. Amzil had six points and four rebounds in 18 minutes.
Grant talked about Brea, Blakney and Amzil at Atlantic 10 Conference Media Day on Oct. 13. Here’s a breakdown of the three players, all of whom are redshirt sophomores with two seasons of eligibility remaining after this one. Their freshman seasons didn’t count against their eligibility.
Brea, 6-6, 206 pounds, guard
Brea averaged 8.1 points in 21.7 minutes per game last season after averaging 2.9 points in 14.1 minutes as a freshman. He led the team in 3-pointers made (63 of 149) and 3-point shooting percentage (42.3) in his second season after shooting 35.5% (11 of 31) as a freshman. He was named the A-10 Sixth Man of the Year.
Brea scored a season-high 20 points against St. Bonaventure last season and twice scored 18 points. He made a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute of an 82-76 victory against Davidson on March 5.
“I can’t predict what will happen once we get to games,” Grant said, “but certainly the year he had last year was a great experience for him just for understanding college basketball. He went through a season, the COVID year, where he kind of played sporadically and was injured and missed the majority of the non-conference. He became available for us in conference play, and by the end of the year, I thought he was able to sustain some good efforts. Then this past year, he had some setbacks in the preseason with his health, but then once he got going, I thought he really was playing his best basketball toward the end of the year, and you could see his confidence growing. He’s a very talented young man. It’ll be good to see what he’s able to bring to the table this year.”
Blakney, 6-6, 195, forward/guard
Blakney averaged 6.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 22.3 minutes per game after averaging 4.8 points and 1.5 rebounds in 13.9 minutes as a freshman.
Blakney’s best game came in December. He made 5 of 5 3-pointers and scored a career-high 19 points in a 62-57 victory against Virginia Tech at UD Arena. He also had a big moment in February. His dunk off an alley-oop pass from Malachi Smith with 1.2 seconds left led to a 55-53 victory at Richmond in February.
“R.J., in my opinion, what he brings to the table is energy and an ability to defend at a high level, and he also brings (contributions) on the offensive side,” Grant said. “He started every game for us last year. He’s a guy that had a really good amount of experience for us as a true freshman. He got to play during that COVID year some. I’m really excited about what he brings to the table and the growth that I’ve seen.”
Amzil, 6-9, 224 pounds
In 35 games last season, Amzil averaged 5.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in 19.8 minutes per game. As a freshman, he averaged 9.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in 29.9 minutes.
Amzil earned a permanent spot in the UD history book last season when he hit a shot at the buzzer to beat No. 4 Kansas in the semifinals of the ESPN Events Invitational in Orlando.
“Mustapha came in that first year halfway through the season and was thrown right to the fire,” Grant said. “He didn’t really have the opportunity to learn what we do from an offensive and defensive standpoint. Last year, it was kind of up and down for Mustapha. I think he had some games he really impacted and other games where maybe he didn’t perform up to what his expectations were and what we felt like he’s capable of, but I think having two years of experience in our system and the work that he’s put in here in the offseason, I’m excited about what he can potentially bring to us.”
DAYTON SEASON PREVIEW
Part 1: Fans dreaming big as always
Part 2: A-10 changes tournament format for first time in years
Part 3: A familiar face returns to A-10
Part 4: KenPom.com’s math likes the Flyers
Part 5: Three new walk-ons join roster
Part 6: Grant, Martin don’t look forward to coaching against each other
Part 7: Ranking difficult of non-conference opponents
Part 8: Free-throw percentage a stat to watch for Flyers
Part 9: UD roster again full of international talent
Part 10: Ranking quality of exempt tournaments
Part 11: How Grant’s first six teams compare
Part 12: The rising star of DaRon Holmes II
Part 13: How rare is returning five starters?
Part 14: Is NCAA tournament expansion coming?
Part 15: A short history of UD injuries
Part 16: A closer look at recruiting
Part 17: Dayton’s deep connection to New York
Part 18: Scouting UD’s first four opponents
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