The days get shorter. The sun sets earlier. Basketball season approaches.
For the Dayton Flyers, the long offseason nears an end as preseason practices continue. The wait for the first game — Nov. 7 against Lindenwood University — seems endless, though there was another sign of the upcoming season Tuesday: the first interview session with local media since practices started Sept. 26.
Dayton guards Kobe Elvis and Malachi Smith and coach Anthony Grant talked to five reporters at the Cronin Center before practice. The session followed a photo day Monday in the players put on their home jerseys and their best gameday faces.
“I’ve really missed playing,” Elvis said. “I really missed the arena. I think a lot of the guys will tell you that they miss being out there with the fans they interact with during the games. It’s been way too long.”
For Smith, the ending of the 2021-22 season motivates him. The ankle injury he suffered in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament contributed to Dayton’s loss to Richmond, and that loss kept the Flyers out of the NCAA tournament.
“It definitely made me hungrier,” Smith said. “I can’t wait to get back. That first game, I’m going to have a lot of energy. I can’t wait just to play in that arena. On media day, when I put on the jersey, I got chills.”
Dayton fans can see the team for the first time Oct. 15 at the Red & Blue Game. The Flyers play a closed-door scrimmage against West Virginia in Wheeling, W.Va., a week later on Oct. 22. They play one exhibition game in front of fans Oct. 29 against Capital University at UD Arena.
After opening the season against Lindenwood, the schedule takes a difficult turn with a home game Nov. 11 against Southern Methodist, which has beaten Dayton the last two seasons, and a road game Nov. 15 at UNLV in Las Vegas, Nev.
Those two challenging early games make everything Dayton is doing now all the more important.
“It’s an important time,” Grant said. “There’s a lot of teaching going on. We’re fortunate that we’ve got some guys who have some experience with this. They’re doing some teaching as well.”
Dayton returns the most minutes (89%) of any team in the country, according to BartTorvik.com. It’s one of seven teams whose returning players accounted for 80% or more of the minutes played last season.
The Flyers finished 24-11 last season and return their entire starting lineup and seven of their top eight scorers. They should start the season in the Associated Press top 25. Even the 2019-20 team that finished 29-2 didn’t get that kind of preseason hype. This team will be compared to that team every step of the way, and it’s the way the players interact off the court that will generate many of the comparisons.
“I said this a few years ago with the team we had in 2019-20, the camaraderie, the way they get along, the way they enjoy each other, it’s special,” Grant said. “They compete, and you want to see guys get after each other, but they genuinely enjoy each other’s company.”
A big question at this time every year is about the team’s health. The practice was not open to the media Tuesday, but it appeared 10 of the 12 scholarship players were active. Koby Brea and Richard Amaefule were not warming up with the team.
“There’s nothing that we think should be long term,” Grant said. “We hope by the time we’re ready to play we’re whole.”
Dayton also announced the additions of three freshman walk-ons: James “Atticus” Schuler, a forward from St. Francis DeSales in Columbus; Cole Hatkevich, a guard from St. Joseph’s High School in South Bend, Ind.; and Ty Locklear, a guard from Oberlin High School.
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