On a day the Dayton Flyers basketball community was basking in the future of its famous arena, Don Donoher was thinking about more than a building.
“How Dayton basketball has evolved is an absolute miracle,” Donoher said last week in the course of a conversation about the changes he has seen over the years.
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That, of course, is an ear-catching statement, and there may not be anyone more qualified to make such a judgement than Donoher.
The 1954 most valuable player was a Tom Blackburn assistant before succeeding him as head coach in 1964.
He directed the Dayton program through 1989 and remains close to it to this day.
He can tell you lots of stories about the building of UD Arena in the late ‘60s, including how the players reacted to seeing it for the first time.
“Our players kept hounding me, ‘When are we going to get over there to practice?’ We didn’t practice here until about two weeks before our season opened,” he said.
“I remember them coming over here. We had a Tartan surface and the sound of the ball bouncing on the floor was a little different and the players were just like little kids at Christmas morning coming out here and playing in this open space. I’ll never forget that feeling.”
But what about the state of the program today?
The school’s “modern era” stats still fit onto one page in the media guide – beginning in 1949-50.
The Blackburn years included the first NCAA tournament appearance and numerous deep NIT runs – including a championship in 1962.
Donoher made the Flyers a regular participant in the NCAA tournament in the ‘60s (and won another NIT championship in ’68).
He got them to an Elite Eight (their second of three) in 1984, but some lean years followed.
More recently, the Flyers have put together four straight NCAA tournament runs for the first time, and UD Arena itself has become synonymous with NCAA tournament play, too.
No venue has hosted more March Madness, and that doesn’t figure to change anytime soon.
Would Donoher have predicted any of it?
Well, actually no – but he is looking forward to the future of the arena and the programs that call it home.
“Just you know, a small school like this, and we really didn’t get started until late,” Donoher said. “Dayton committed to a scholarship program and brought Tom Blackburn in and Toledo, Ohio State, Ohio, Cincinnati — all those schools had the jump on us.
“We were just competing in Ohio. Then Coach Blackburn with the NIT (runner-up) in his fourth year put Dayton on the map, basketball-wise. It is a miracle!”
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