Flyers focus on defense early in preseason practice

Dayton held its seventh practice Monday

Two racks of basketballs stood next to the court at the University of Dayton’s Cronin Center on Monday. The balls were arranged neatly. That was no accident.

First-year Dayton Flyers coach Anthony Grant likes order in his team’s practice environment.

“It’s the small details and paying attention to details,” junior point guard John Crosby said. “He’s very particular with the details and trying to get us to understand those are important and those are the difference between winning games and losing. I’ve learned a lot about the small things.”

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Dayton held its seventh practice Monday. It started practice Sept. 29 and provided a glimpse into the Grant method with a photo posted to Twitter that day.

In the photo, the Flyers huddled to watch a TV just off the side of the court. An Oklahoma City Thunder game played on the TV. Grant was an assistant coach with the Thunder the last two seasons. The TV on the court and the NBA influence Grant has brought to the program are both new for the Flyers.

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“He was showing us examples of what we need to do,” sophomore guard Trey Landers said. “Our first couple practices it was kind of tough as far as defensive principles. We had to get that eye on it and see the process of what we’re supposed to be doing and how it’s supposed to be done the right way. It was just an example.”

Dayton focused on defense in the first week of practice. In his last head coaching stop at the University of Alabama, his teams ranked sixth in the nation in defensive efficiency in back-to-back seasons (2011-13). In 2008-09, his second season as a head coach at Virginia Commonwealth, the Rams ranked 21st.

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Grant’s new players learned the importance of defense under Archie Miller. The Flyers ranked 43rd in defensive efficiency last season, 15th in 2016 and 31st in 2015.

Grant’s task in the six weeks of preseason practices is teaching the players his system.

“There are a lot of parts to it,” Grant said. “We talk individually, what our individual responsibilities are, where we want to funnel the ball and areas of the floor we need to protect. Then we talk about what we need to do as a team in terms of helping each other and being there to support each other. Our numbers are somewhat thin, so we talk about the importance of keeping guys out of foul trouble and how we go about doing that, being able to play from an inside-out approach from a defensive standpoint, understanding the importance of protecting the paint but also understanding the importance of guarding the 3-point line, taking those things away.”

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Fans will get their first glimpse of the Flyers in action on Nov. 4 when they play Ohio Dominican in an exhibition game at UD Arena. The season begins Nov. 10 with a home game against Ball State.

Until then, Grant plans to practice two days in a row and then take a one-day break. The Flyers have 11 scholarship players in practice. That group includes redshirt freshman forward Kostas Antetokounmpo, who has not been cleared for full-contact drills.

The thin and inexperienced roster has forced the coaches to manage the load they put on the players. At the same time, Grant said, they want to have rhythm and continuity in what they’re doing.

“Hopefully, at the end of the day,” Grant said, “we’ll be where we need to be physically and mentally by the time we get ready to play.”

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