Dayton’s top sixth man, Brea, ready to do whatever team needs to win again

Third-year guard was one of team’s breakout players last season

If anyone circled dates on calendars anymore — as opposed to making notes on their cell phones — Koby Brea would mark the date the Dayton Flyers play at Fordham next season. That’ll be a homecoming for him and teammate Malachi Smith, who are both from the Bronx.

Brea and Smith bring personal fan bases to many road games. They might fill half of Rose Hill Gym next winter.

“That’s going to be so fun,” Brea said. “I remember my first year going to Fordham but because of COVID we weren’t able to have anybody come to the game, and then last year, they came here to Dayton so it was harder for my people to come out. But this year, there’s no excuse for nobody, so it’s going to be super exciting just to see so many familiar faces. I know it’s going to be the same for Mali.”

The season will include a second trip to New York City because the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament will return to the Barclays Center. Packing the gyms in the Bronx and Brooklyn is just one goal for Brea, the reigning Atlantic 10 Conference Sixth Man of the Year. He wants to build on his breakout season with the type of team success that has eluded Dayton the last two seasons.

“We want to go undefeated, honestly, in the A-10,” Brea said, “and that’s something we feel we could do: just dominate the A-10, win the championship in my hometown. That’d be really fun. And then of course, making March Madness. That’s something since I’ve been here we haven’t been able to do, but I feel like this is the year.”

Dayton returns its entire starting lineup for the 2022-23 season and its top two reserves: Brea and Mustapha Amzil.

Brea shot 35.5% (11 of 31) in his freshman season while averaging 2.9 points in 14.1 minutes per game. His numbers improved across the board in his second season. He ranked fifth on the team in scoring (8.1 points per game). He led the team in 3-pointers made (63 of 149) and 3-point shooting percentage (42.3). His percentage ranked 76th in the country and third in the A-10.

Brea also played his best in the second half of the season. He shot 33% from 3-point range in November and December and then better than 45% in January, February and March. He also made one of the biggest shots of the season, a go-ahead 3-pointer with 43 seconds to play in an 82-76 victory against Davidson in the regular-season finale March 5 at UD Arena.

“I started off kind of shaky,” Brea said. “I was trying tocatch a rhythm, and my confidence was not as high as I wanted it to be. I was finding my role. That’s when the coaches thought it would be best for me to come off the bench and see things from a different perspective. I could see the game from the outside before I came in. As the year went on, I started to build my confidence more and more, and I started to understand my role more and what the coaches wanted me to be doing coming off the bench. I feel like I ended (the season) pretty well, but it’s all about next season now. I just wanted to carry that same momentum into next season.”

Brea’s improved shooting came down to confidence. His practice habits never changed.

“One thing about me is I’m going to get the reps in and shoot until my arms fall off,” Brea said. “Also people didn’t know but I was going through a shoulder injury the whole season. That made things a little harder. I had to change my shot up a little bit. But I think once I saw what I was capable of doing, what I’ve always known I could do, the sky was the limit after that.”

Brea hurt his shoulder in November during the victory against Kansas when he faked a shot, causing Remy Martin to knee his shoulder. It was never 100 percent the rest of the season but didn’t cost him any time. Brea was one of four players along with DaRon Holmes II, R.J. Blakney and Amzil to appear in all 35 games for a team that finished 24-11.

Brea is one of many players in the program who have transformed their bodies this spring. He weighed 168 pounds when he arrived at Dayton in the summer of 2020 and measured 174 on the roster as a freshman. Last season, he was listed at 195. He now weighs 205 pounds. He said he has put on 15 pounds since the season ended in March thanks to the help of strength and conditioning coach Casey Cathrall.

“It’s a whole lot of eating,” Brea said. “Casey does a good job of staying on top of us. For me, just like a whole lot of other guys, we’ve all gained weight that way, and it’s not just about gaining the weight but turning it into muscle. Casey does a good job of showing us what to do and teaching us how to understand what we’re doing, not just not doing it for whatever reason but really understanding it so you know the right things to put in your body and then the right workouts.”

Brea has a routine now and doesn’t have to watch his calorie intake as much as he did. He may add up to five pounds more but is at a comfortable place. He expects the added weight and strength to help on the court in many ways.

“Teams tried to be more physical with me, knowing I’m a shooter,” he said. “They want to hit your upper body a lot so when you do catch the ball you don’t have a lot of strength to shoot it. I feel I’ll be able to take that contact and still be able to come into my shot, and I’ll be able to come into the paint and finish with the big men. And, defensively, it’s never a bad thing to be too strong in my opinion.”

Brea lost his starting job in the third game of the season but averaged 21.7 minutes per game and adapted well to the sixth-man role.

“Of course, in the beginning, I was hurt because everybody wants to be a star,” Brea said. “That’s just an ego thing. That’s what you work for. But when you think about what’s really important, you realize it’s not always about me. It’s about the team as well. It’s what we need to do to win. I’m still able to be productive coming off the bench and the coaches still gave me tremendous confidence that when I did come into game, I had the green light. It wasn’t a problem for me.”

If Brea stays in the role of sixth man, that will be fine with him. In the era of the transfer portal when anyone not starting might consider leaving, the thought didn’t cross his mind.

“I love this place,” Brea said. “I love the university, and the basketball part was never an issue. I’m willing to do whatever the coaches want. I just want to play my role and win games. That’s all that matters.”

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