Dayton’s Joey Gruden and Jeremiah Bonsu leave the court after a victory against Saint Joseph’s College on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

Former walk-ons building Dayton team for $2 million winner-take-all tournament

Bonsu, Gruden expect team to play in Bexley in July

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The two former walk-on guards have spearheaded the effort to put together the first Dayton team in The Basketball Tournament, the $2 million winner-take-all event featuring teams of former college basketball players. While Flyers have played together in the last two tournaments, this will be the first time the program has its own team full of alums.

Kevin Dillard, Devin Oliver, Vee Sanford, Dyshawn Pierre, Kendall Pollard, Kyle Davis and Josh Cunningham have committed to play for the team, which will be called the Red Scare. Those seven players combined to score 6,959 points in a Dayton uniform.

Bonsu and Gruden, who are managing the team but don’t plan to coach or play, combined to score five points in their careers, and all of those were scored by Gruden. Their coach, Archie Miller, was stingy with the playing time when it came to walk-ons.

“We love Dayton basketball,” said Gruden, who’s entering his second season as a graduate assistant on Chris Mack’s staff at Louisville. “We were walk-ons for four years. We figured let’s do this. We can win some money now that we’re all graduates. Let’s get everyone back together. It’ll be a blast. We have a bunch of players who would be good for it — borderline NBA players. We know Dayton likes its basketball and would be interested in anything that has to do with Dayton basketball.”

How it began

Oliver, Sanford and Pierre played for a team called the Broad Street Brawlers in 2017, and Jordan Sibert joined that group last year.

Dan Friel, a co-founder of the tournament, had been pushing Bonsu to start a Dayton team since his senior year in 2017. He was interested but didn’t have the time as he started his coaching career as a grad assistant at Bowling Green. Friel asked Bonsu again last season, but it still wasn’t right time for him as he moved on to the NBA as a player development intern with the Dallas Mavericks.

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Then Friel talked to Gruden, who convinced Bonsu to team with him to start a team in 2019.

“The TBT people are really excited for Dayton,” Bonsu said. “They know our fans do a good job of showing up and with the possibility of playing Ohio State or West Virginia, that’d be a good time.”

Joey Gruden talks about his past and his future.
Video: David Jablonski - Staff Writer

Creating a team

Once they decided to start a team, Bonsu and Gruden began building a roster. They hope to add at least two more players to the current group.

“We want to get nine for sure Dayton alumni on the team,” Bonsu said. “Then if we need to add after that, it needs to be a guy we know that’s from Ohio or something like that or maybe from the city of Dayton. We want to get the right guys. We want to compete. I guess the bigs are the toughest to find. They are few and far between. Just finding guys who are available is tough. These guys have a lot of different things going on. Chris Wright this year started an AAU program. He’s doing a lot in the city of Dayton. We’re trying to get him to do it, but we have to understand he has his own thing going on.”

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One player Bonsu and Gruden hope to get is former teammate Scoochie Smith, who spent last season in the NBA G League with the Canton Charge and recently moved to Greece to play with Peristeri.

“I think he’s interested,” Bonsu said. “I think his ears are perked up. He’s kind of like, ‘Let’s see what kind of team we get.’ Scooch, I think everyone is waiting on you.”

The Red Scare has to submit its roster by June 1. Bonsu and Gruden may help the team practice like the old days. They hope to practice twice as a team before the games.

“We’re very confident we’re going to have a very good roster,” Bonsu said. “We have guys playing the long game right now, thinking, ‘I’ll wait and see what that guy does.’”

“Three to four people are 50 percent in and 50 percent out,” Gruden said. “Hopefully, two of them work out.”

WATCH: Dayton's Jeremiah Bonsu talks to media on Feb. 27, 2017.

What’s next

The single-elimination tournament features 64 teams split into eight regions with the early rounds taking place in July at sites around the country and the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals being played in Chicago from Aug. 1-6. The bracket will be released June 11.

» LOOKING BACK: Archdeacon on Bonsu joining roster in 2015

While Dayton’s team has not yet officially been selected for the field, it should be a formality because Bonsu and Gruden have done most of the work required to get the team into the tournament, including building a roster of at least seven players and developing a following on social media.

The Red Scare expects to play in the Columbus region July 19-21. The games will be played at Capital University in Bexley. Last year, an Ohio State team featuring Aaron Craft, Greg Oden, Jared Sullinger and others played at Capital, as did a team of Cincinnati Bearcats alums.

Bonsu and Gruden hope to be matched up against Ohio State in the first round because that would help the team build buzz among Dayton fans, who remember the last time the Flyers and Buckeyes played in the NCAA tournament in 2014. Dayton fans also flocked to Columbus in 2015 when the Flyers played at Nationwide Arena in the NCAA tournament.

“If you can get everyone that close together, Dayton fans might turn it into a weekend party in Columbus,” Bonsu said, “even if we only play one game. That’s how Dayton fans are.”

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