Highly-ranked Dayton freshman class developing ‘great bond’

Dayton Basketball Fan Fest: Scrimmage highlights from Oct. 16, 2021

Malachi Smith following in brother’s footsteps, though he’s been slowed by injury in preseason

Dayton Flyers freshman guard Malachi Smith did not participate in the 3-point contest or the dunking exhibition or the scrimmage but may have led all the players in smiles Saturday at the Dayton Basketball Fan Fest at UD Arena.

Eight years after Malachi’s brother Scoochie Smith scored 12 points in the Red and Blue Game in his first appearance at the arena, Malachi was introduced with his teammates before the Fan Fest began Saturday. He walked through a gauntlet of players with a huge grin and jumped and bumped hips with another freshman guard, Lynn Greer III.

This was an exciting moment for Smith, who grew up in Bronx, N.Y., like his brother, and arrived on campus in late May. The players have worked behind the scenes for months and eagerly awaited the chance to play in front of fans. Approximately, 3,500 attended the Fan Fest.

“It’s been great,” Smith said. “I love it here. The fans are good. Everyone is nice.”

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Smith has missed five weeks of practice since rolling his ankle. He was wearing a protective boot earlier in the month when Dayton opened practice to local media but did not have it on Saturday.

“I’ll definitely be back before the season,” said Smith, who committed to Dayton in August 2020, becoming the first member of the 2021 recruiting class. “It’s getting better every day.”

Anyone who saw photos of Smith at practice in the summer or even in early September would have noticed a big change Saturday. He looks like a different person after a haircut.

“It was getting too long,” Smith said. “I had to do something new.”

Smith will wear No. 11 this season, the same number Scoochie wore from 2013-17 while helping lead Dayton to four straight NCAA tournament appearances. He said it was an easy choice to pick his brother’s number. While Smith said when he committed to Dayton, he didn’t do so to follow in his brother’s footsteps, he seems to be embracing his history at Dayton.

Dayton guard Elijah Weaver, the only fourth-year player on a young Dayton roster, interrupted Smith’s interview after the fan fest to point out the connection. Several teammates had interrupted Weaver’s interview minutes earlier.

“This is little bro, right here!” Weaver said. “This is little Mali! Little Scoochie!”

The three other members of the 2021 class, which ranked 22nd in the nation, according to Rivals.com, and 21st, according to 247Sports.com, did participate in the Fan Fest. Kaleb Washington, DaRon Holmes and Greer III all threw down a few dunks during a defense-free scrimmage.

The freshman class has developed strong friendships since enrolling at UD. They were shown posing for photos together during a video and photo session at UD Arena earlier this month.

“I feel we have a great bond,” said Holmes, a 6-10 forward from Goodyear, Ariz. “That’s what makes us dangerous. We’re all really close with each other. We all get along pretty well.”

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Holmes was the highest-ranked recruit in the 2021 class. How much he and the rest of the freshmen play will be one of the top questions fans have entering the season. The first clue will come Nov. 1 when Dayton plays an exhibition game against Cedarville University, though the team will also hold a closed-door scrimmage against West Virginia on Saturday in Columbus.

Dayton opens the season Nov. 9 against Illinois-Chicago. That’s the first of 13 non-conference games.

“I feel I’m pretty ready,” Holmes said. “We’ve got a young team, but honestly, I feel we have a great team, so I feel we’re going to do great.”

One of the players in the freshman class, Greer III, a 6-3 guard, would have been a member of the 2020 class but spent a post-graduate year at IMG Academy. If Saturday is any indication, he’s already a leader for the team. He was the player chosen to take the microphone and address the crowd, and he thanked the Flyer Faithful for attending an event that let the men’s and women’s basketball players take advantage of their new name, image and likeness rights.

Greer III said the freshmen have learned a lot in the last four-plus months.

“When we first came here, we were clueless of what was expected,” he said. “I think coach AG (Anthony Grant) did a great job of just building us up and creating better players out of us.”

Dayton Flyers introduced at Red Blue Fan Fest at UD Arena on Oct. 16, 2021

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