Grad assistant brings football mentality to Dayton Flyers

Sean Damaska played football at Indiana, basketball at Northern Illinois

Sean Damaska is one of those faces behind the Dayton Flyers bench. Only the most die-hard fans know who he is. He’s difficult to spot sometimes behind head coach Anthony Grant and his assistants.

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In other situations, however, no one’s going to miss Damaska. He’s 6-foot-7. He weighed 252 pounds as a senior on the Indiana Hoosiers football team in 2015 and the same as a graduate student on the Northern Illinois basketball team a year later. That weight would make him the second biggest body on the 2019-20 Dayton basketball roster behind only Jordy Tshimanga (6-11, 268).

Damaska’s background also makes him unique. Basketball was his sport in his hometown of Milton, Ga. In fact, he didn’t play football after his freshman year at Blessed Trinity Catholic. But he enrolled at Indiana and decided to walk on to the football team and ended up appearing in 13 games on special teams as a senior.

The football mentality Damaska learned at Indiana has benefited him at Dayton.

“Basketball is a much more laid-back personality sport,” said Damaska, who’s entering his second season with Dayton. “Football guys, we’re a little tougher than basketball guys. We kind of have a little bit more of an edge to us. We’re not afraid of confrontation. I love talking trash. I’ll say whatever to whomever. That makes me a little bit different in this line of work.”

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Damaska takes that attitude to practice and used it often last season when working with the four players sitting out the season as transfers: Tshimanga, Ibi Watson, Rodney Chatman and Chase Johnson.

“We got to spend quite a bit of time together and just clicked immediately,” Damaska said. “I was in their face a little bit but always having fun. They responded well. We just had a good thing going.”

Like Tshimanga, who announced his transfer to Dayton from Nebraska on Aug. 2 last year, Damaska was a late addition to the team. Grant introduced him to Dayton fans at the season tip-off event on Aug. 26.

Damaska just as easily could have ended up at Michigan State. After the end of his playing career, he worked for one season as a player development intern with the Dallas Mavericks. When that gig ended, he moved to Indianapolis and started looking for a coaching job.

In the meantime, he worked basketball camps last summer all around the Midwest: Dayton, Xavier, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, etc. He also had a job driving for Uber.

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Damaska interviewed with the Spartans but then landed an interview with Dayton as he was waiting to hear back from Tom Izzo’s staff. Dayton assistant Darren Hertz offered Damaska a job at 4 p.m. three days before the start of classes, and Damaska asked if he could have 24 hours to make a decision. He was sitting in his Uber at the Indianapolis airport at 4 p.m. the next day, waiting for a passenger, when he called Hertz to accept the job.

Damaska raved about his first season with the Flyers. He saw thousands of fans show up at Dr. Stephen Levitt's house in Kettering for the tip-off event. He watched fans fill UD Arena from November through March and flock to Capital University in July to see a team of UD alums play in The Basketball Tournament.

“(Dayton) really is an awesome place,” he said.

Dayton has given Damaska a chance to get his dream of coaching in college basketball off the ground. He majored in political science and business at Indiana and planned to be a lawyer, only changing his mind late in his senior year after watching his tight ends coach James Patton, who’s now at Eastern Michigan, connect with his players.

“Hell of a guy,” Damaska said. “I love that man. Looking at him and the relationship we had, seeing the emotion after our bowl game — there were three of us seniors at the time and we’d been through it all in a rebuilding Indiana program — and how much he really cared, it was kind of like, ‘I want to have that opportunity to build that kind of relationship with young men down the road.’ Yeah, I coach because I love sports and I love the glory and being on the court, but I do it mostly because it gives me an opportunity to have an impact on young men’s lives.”


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