Fans of the Dayton Flyers have experienced the best and worst of times in the last 12 months.
There was the greatest regular season in school history. Then there was the coronavirus pandemic that ended it. There was the return of forward Chase Johnson. Then there was the season-ending injury suffered by Dwayne Cohill.
There was the spring that saw Dayton pursue a number of transfers, including some big men who would have helped an inexperienced front-court in the 2020-21 season, for weeks without landing one until Southern California transfer Elijah Weaver picked the Flyers in late May. Then there was the commitment of point guard Malachi Smith in August and the decision by top-40 recruit DaRon Holmes, a 6-foot-8 forward from Montverde Academy (Fla.), to pick UD on Saturday.
“I don’t even need to search DaRon Holmes,” UD fan Dave Nienaber wrote Saturday on Twitter. “It’s the only thing on my timeline, and I love it.”
“When you have the national coach of the year and his staff trying to recruit you,” wrote another fan, Felix Alvarez," the opportunity is hard to pass up. Again, this is a testament to the high-caliber recruiting staff in our program. Go Flyers! Wow."
“Is this real????” another fan wrote. “I have goosebumps!”
Holmes made a decision no other top-40 recruit this century has made, choosing Dayton over power-five programs Arizona, California and Marquette. Those were just his final four choices. Numerous other programs offered him scholarships earlier in the recruiting process.
In the end, Dayton head coach Anthony Grant and the rest of the staff did the best job of selling him on what he can do and who he can be at the University of Dayton starting in the 2021-22 season.
“He was looking for a coach he can develop a relationship with, a coach that’s going to care for him,” said Ty Amundsen, who coached Holmes the last three seasons at Millennium High School in Goodyear, Ariz. “He just felt coach Grant was easy to talk to. He said the head coach did a great job recruiting him. That’s what made him feel real comfortable. The system, the style of play, the NBA pedigree coach Grant has, all those things combined. Dayton was really good last year. They’ll continue to be really good."
Holmes informed Grant of his decision by sending him the commitment video he shared on Instagram, he told SI.com, and then he had a Zoom meeting with the Dayton coaches to tell them in person.
“I really took my time," Holmes wrote in in a blog post, "and felt like I made the right decision based off how the system fit my game and the opportunity that I could have there with hard work. I just want to come in and work hard and do whatever it takes to win.
“Coach Grant really showed me how they could really elevate my game and put me in position to be successful. I know that I have to buy-in and work hard, and that’s the only focus for me in going there.”
Holmes wasn’t looking for the biggest program or the nation’s top-ranked conference. He was excited about offers from some of the nation’s top programs, Amundsen said, but wasn’t awed by them.
Even the Obi Toppin angle wasn’t the deciding factor in Holmes picking Dayton, said Holmes’ dad, DaRon Holmes Sr. While Toppin’s success at Dayton last year showed recruits there’s no limit for Dayton players, it was only one of the factors.
“I know people like to sell that, but that’s not the end all,” the elder DaRon Holmes said. “The Obi Toppin story is great. Congratulation to Obi, and congratulation to the coaches for what they were able to do for Obi. While that is certainly impressive, that’s not the story.”
Holmes trusted the direction of the program under Grant, his dad said, and believes a number of factors — from a program, culture and style-of-play standpoint to the opportunity to play as a freshman — lined up for him.
“I just think there’s a lot about the program and the university that fits who he is as a person,” DaRon Sr. said.
Holmes was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Arizona last season. He averaged 23.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.8 blocks and 3.1 assists as a junior for Millennium, which reached the Class 5A final for the second straight year before losing 78-70 to Glendale Ironwood. Millennium lost 38-37 to Gilbert in the state championship game the previous season.
Amundsen saw Holmes develop into one of the nation’s top prospects the last three years.
“It was all building,” Amundsen said. “He wasn’t the greatest player when he was a freshman. He worked hard to become the greatest player. His freshman year, he had some ups and downs. He had some good moments and some bad moments, but between his freshman and sophomore years, you could start to see his confidence soar, especially after he developed a jump shot. His junior year, you could see it all come together between the dunks and running the floor. He really developed a mid-range game and started to hit a bunch of 3s.”
Holmes started getting recruiting attention as a sophomore. The local schools, Grand Canyon and Arizona State, made the first scholarship offers. Arizona offered him a scholarship in May 2019.
“It went from three or four offers to 15 to 20, and there were some big ones,” Amundsen said. “Virginia, Kansas, Oregon, you could just go on and on.”
All the college coaches saw the potential.
“He’s a multi-dimensional player,” Amundsen said. “He can score at all three levels. He’s an elite defender with his length and athleticism. He has a real good feel for the game. He can play all five positions, which he did for me. What makes him different than everyone else is just his work ethic. He’s a tireless worker. He’s always in the weight room. He’s always in the gym. He’s on a pathway to greatness. He really wants to achieve his ultimate goal, which is to play in the NBA.”
Amundsen will continue to root for Holmes, one of his favorite players from a 20-year coaching career, from afar. He supported his decision to transfer to Montverde for his senior year. Millennium graduated nine seniors last year, so Holmes would have been playing with a young team. It just wasn’t a great fit, Amundsen said, and he said the family made a great decision.
“On an every-day basis, he’s going to be pounded and pushed around by bigger, stronger kids,” Amundsen said. “We’re good and will continue to play a national schedule, but he wouldn’t get that every single day (at Millennium). He is striving for greatness. He is trying to work his way into the NBA.”
The coronavirus pandemic could rob Montverde, which has four players in the top 100 of the 2021 class, according to ESPN’s rankings, of playing its usual schedule. However, his dad said DaRon is enjoying his time across the country in Florida.
“When he made the decision to go there, it was all about development this year to try to get him ready for big-time basketball on a high level,” Daron Sr. said.
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