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 21st story.
Zimi Nwokeji looked more comfortable Saturday in an 80-42 exhibition game victory against Capital University than in the brief glimpses Dayton Flyers fans got of him last season. The stats proved that. He had seven points on 3-of-5 shooting to go with seven rebounds in 26 minutes.
Nwokeji could return to Dayton’s rotation and play a key reserve role after seeing his time decline from a total of 437 minutes in his first season in 2020-21 to 74 minutes last season.
Dayton needs him, too. Kaleb Washington has been suspended from the team, and Anthony Grant didn’t provide a timetable for his return. Three other players — Malachi Smith, Koby Brea and Richard Amaefule — sat out the exhibition game with injuries. Georgia transfer Tyrone Baker didn’t see action until late in the second half.
That left a group of eight scholarship players, plus walk-on Brady Uhl, getting most of the playing time Saturday.
Nwokeji, a 6-foot-7 forward, committed to Dayton in December 2019 and joined the team in January 2020. He’s the last remaining player from the 2019-20 roster. He sat on the bench for the second half of that season and practiced with the team as a redshirt. Dayton coach Anthony Grant talked about Nwokeji at Atlantic 10 Conference Media Day on Oct. 13.
“He’s done a really good job in the preseason,” Grant said. “I’m excited about what I see out of him. As a true freshman, he had some really big games for us. Last year, he had some injuries and other things that kept him out of the rotation, but his approach to it, his attitude, his work ethic, it’s been really good.”
Nwokeji averaged 5.9 points and 2.4 rebounds in his first season. He scored 29 points in a double-overtime loss at Rhode Island. Last season, he scored a total of 15 points, averaging 0.9 points in 16 games.
Last summer, Nwokeji talked about his decision to stay at UD rather than entering the transfer portal, as many players who see their playing time dwindle do.
“I came into this year with the idea that I was going to try my best,” Nwokeji said, “and if it didn’t go in my favor, then I was going to try to make it so that as much as I can it’s not because of me and just give this year a shot. No matter what happens, whether I get on the court and contribute or not, I know I’m just going to keep bettering myself as a player and as a person.”
Speaking of Nwokeji’s decision to return to Dayton, Grant said, “That’s a tribute to his character, who he is and his commitment to our program and his belief in who we are and what we do. In today’s day and age, it’s rare you see that.”
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
Part 19: Three 2020 recruits enter Year 3
Part 20: Transfers will again play big roles
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