Flyers working on conditioning, individual skills early in summer workouts

The Dayton Flyers pose with the Atlantic 10 Conference championship trophy after a victory against George Washington on March 7, 2020, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff
The Dayton Flyers pose with the Atlantic 10 Conference championship trophy after a victory against George Washington on March 7, 2020, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

Players returned to campus in mid-July

In a typical summer, the Dayton Flyers would be nearing the end of their summer practice season, which is always an important time for development, in the early days of August.

Nothing’s typical about 2020, of course. Dayton men’s basketball players returned to campus the week of July 12, staggering their arrival days to make it easier for everyone to undergo COVID-19 testing. All 12 scholarship players have been campus now for almost three weeks.

Despite the four lost months, when players and coaches could communicate only through Zoom videos, text messages or phone calls and everyone was away from campus, keeping in shape the best they could, Dayton hasn’t rushed anything when it comes to preparing for the 2020-21 season.

“It’s mainly been just trying to recondition them,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said Monday in an interview with the Dayton Daily News. “A lot of stuff in the weight room. On the court, it’s more skill work right now. Just trying to build some conditioning and some stamina.”

Dayton returns two starters: senior guard Jalen Crutcher, who announced Sunday he withdrew his name from the NBA Draft to return for his final year; and redshirt senior guard Rodney Chatman. Three other players who were in the rotation all of last season are back: redshirt senior guard Ibi Watson; redshirt senior center Jordy Tshimanga; and junior guard Dwayne Cohill.

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Two other returners are players who redshirted last season as freshmen: center Moulaye Sissoko, who was on the roster all of last season, and forward Zimi Nwokeji, who enrolled at UD in January, will debut in the season ahead.

Also returning is redshirt junior forward Chase Johnson, who medically withdrew from the university in January but announced in June he would rejoin the program.

The other four players are newcomers. There’s University of Southern California transfer Elijah Weaver, who will sit out his junior season because of transfer rules, and freshman guards Lukas Frazier, Koby Brea and R.J. Blakney.

It took about a week, Grant said, to get everyone cleared for training once they arrived on campus.

“There was a whole process that our medical team put them through with testing and waiting for the results of tests and getting guys into their rooms,” Grant said, “and then there were further tests once we got the COVID test results back. We put them through another battery of tests to make sure everyone was physically ready to move forward.”

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In June, the NCAA announced a revised summer practice calendar for Division I teams. Starting June 20, teams could spend up to eight hours per week on required athletics activities, and those activities can last for eight weeks or until the school’s first day of classes. Teams can spend a maximum of four hours per week on skill instruction during this period.

Grant said he has no plans right now to jump into full practices with scrimmages. Right now, the workouts Dayton does have look nothing like it had in the past because of health and safety protocols.

“Everything’s different really,” Grant said. “We’ve only got our immediate staff in the gym — no managers, no other personnel. The women’s team just came back this past week. They’re now added to that group that’s in the gym. Just in between groups coming, you’ve got to try to sterilize the facility as best you can. With the small amount of people on campus, we’re learning every day and every week how we can go about doing that to keep the guys and everyone in the program as safe as we possibly can.”

The University of Dayton will have staggered move-in dates for all students from Aug. 8-23 Classes begin Aug. 24. All undergraduate students, graduate and law students who live in UD housing, as well as international graduate students who have recently traveled from other countries will undergo COVID-19 testing.

While there will be in-person classes, some classes will be conducted completely online, and some classes will have be a mix of in-person and virtual learning. UD students will go to class on Labor Day, and there will be no fall break this year. Students will leave campus for the semester break no later than Nov. 25.

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Grant and the Flyers hope to start their season on schedule in November. Dayton has not released its full non-conference schedule, but the earliest it could play a regular-season game would be Nov. 10. UD Athletic Director Neil Sullivan said in July the university was preparing for what a socially-distanced UD Arena would look like, though he made no predictions on whether fans would be allowed to attend games.

Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, said Saturday the plan for now is to start the season on schedule.

“We have plans across the country through our schools and conferences to bring students back to campus safely this month in August and in early September,” Gavitt said in an interview shared by the official March Madness Twitter account. “Many players have been on campus for weeks now training on campus in a very safe way. We’ve got a high level of confidence that as long as basketball is being played safely anywhere in the world this season that we’ll be playing NCAA college basketball.”

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Grant knows the uncertainty created by the pandemic well. His program’s historic 29-2 season came to an abrupt end March 12, derailing Dayton’s postseason dreams five days after the end of the regular season.

The Flyers’ attitude now mirrors what it was in the spring.

“We’ve always talked about trying to control what we control,” Grant said. “It’s not something we talk about. Obviously, you watch the news and you see you how the virus continues to spread. You watch other sports and you see what’s going on, — whether it’s baseball or the NBA in a bubble or what potentially could happen or not happen with pro football or college football. You’re aware of it but you continue to control what you can control.”