Grant: Flyers and fans have reason to be excited for 2019-20 season

Dayton returns four players with starting experience

Several basketballs line the top of a cabinet in Anthony Grant’s office at the Cronin Center. One commemorates his first victory as coach of the Dayton Flyers in 2017. Another comes from his 200th career victory.

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Grant’s office looks much more like home than it did two years ago this spring. He has turned it into his own space, just as he has turned the program into his own.

In year three, the 1987 University of Dayton alum hopes to take take that program to the next level. The Flyers improved from 14-17 to 21-12 in his second season. The potential is there for a similar leap in the 2019-20 season.

While acknowledging there are unknowns going into every season and no guarantees of success, Grant doesn’t want to dampen the enthusiasm. He has the pieces in place to add more souvenirs to his shelves.

“There’s definitely a cause for excitement, he said. “You win with veterans, especially on the perimeter. You win with experience. We’ve got a group that’s somewhat experienced. Our new guys will be new to the team, but they’ve been in college. They’re a little older. In year one, we had three or four freshmen that were significant contributors to the team, so there was just a process you had to go through. Then last year, we were able to have some continuity from year one to year two, but we brought in a lot of new guys. Obi (Toppin) was going through his first experience. Ryan (Mikesell) hadn’t played in a year. You add Dwayne Cohill and some other guys and try to put them together. So we finally have some guys with some experience, so that’s cause for a level of optimism.”

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Dayton's season ended March 19 with a 78-73 loss at Colorado in the first round of the NIT. The 2019-20 season can begin as early as Nov. 5, though Dayton has not announced its schedule.

For Grant and the Flyers, the first important part of the offseason starts next week. All 11 scholarship players, including the lone incoming freshman, 6-foot-10 center Moulaye Sissoko, will be on campus, and there will be team workouts and practices for the next eight weeks.

The offseason started in March with Grant giving all the players time to recover physically from the season and focus on academics.

“Our preparation for last year probably started early summer,” Grant said, “so I felt like at the end of the year, they needed to get away from basketball a little bit and take care of the bumps and bruises they had at the end of the year. They were in the weight room. Obviously, they were in the gym on their own. We pretty much gave them some time to themselves. What we’ve done here in the first summer session is make it optional to either be here or be at home, to work on their own and kind of give them some time off. We haven’t had a lot of hands-on (teaching), in terms of myself and the coaches, in the last 10 weeks or so.”

Next week, Grant said, “We’ll get a chance to see how guys have done, to see the progress they’ve made. Some of the guys have been here the whole time. They’ve elected to stay around and take advantage of the weight room and the facilities here to continue to get better.”

Dayton returns three players who ended the season as starters: Toppin, a 6-9 forward who will be a redshirt sophomore after exploring the NBA Draft process in the spring but elected to stay in college; 6-1 point guard Jalen Crutcher, who was named team MVP as a sophomore; and 6-7 forward Ryan Mikesell, who will be a fifth-year senior. Trey Landers, a 6-5 guard who will be the team's other senior, could be considered a returning starterbecause he has started 50 games the last two seasons.

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Dwayne Cohill, who will be a 6-2 sophomore guard, is the other returning player from last year's rotation. Jhery Matos, who will be a 6-5 redshirt junior guard, returns to action after suffering a season-ending foot injury in the sixth game last year.

While Dayton has plenty of returning experience, it's the four players who sat out last season that make this season an especially intriguing and promising one. Four transfers will make their Dayton debuts this season, and if the recent success of transfers at Dayton is any indication, fans should be excited.

There’s Ibi Watson, a 6-5 redshirt junior guard who played two seasons at Michigan. There’s Rodney Chatman, a 6-1 redshirt junior guard who started throughout his sophomore season at Chattanooga. There’s Jordy Tshimanga, Dayton’s biggest player since Steve McElvene. He’s a 6-11 center who played two seasons at Nebraska.

Finally, there’s Chase Johnson, a 6-9 forward who battled injuries during his time with the Florida Gators before transferring to Dayton last January. He has appealed to the NCAA in hopes of being eligible at the start of the season, and if he doesn’t win that appeal, he will debut for Dayton in December after the end of the first semester.

The coaches got a good look at all four transfers in practice last season.

“We learned a lot about our group last year just in terms of the improvements we were able to make from year one to year two,” Grant said. “Now it’s that same challenge. To me, it’s more about how can we continue to move the needle and get better as a team. We’ve got a lot of pieces back. Last year, we had the good fortune of having some of those pieces — our fans didn’t get a chance to see them — but as a staff we got a chance to work with them on a daily basis. So there’s a little bit of familiarity. Even though there will be some new pieces, we know more about them than we do the average newcomer.”

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