‘Next year has to be the year’ — Dayton players hungry entering 2022-23 season

The Flyers give scouting reports on their teammates in series of summer interviews

One by one this summer, the 10 returning members of the Dayton Flyers men’s basketball team sat down in the Skuns Room on the second floor of the Cronin Center to talk to the Dayton Daily News. They walked past the plaques honoring all the former Flyers who received Atlantic 10 Conference honors.

Just down the hall were the coaches’ offices. Right outside coach Anthony Grant’s office is the Alumni Board, signed by dozens of former players.

The Flyers make history at UD Arena, but much of it is recorded at the Cronin Center, and the 10 Flyers touched on making more history in the 2022-23 season after they finished 24-11 last season and fell short of their main goals — namely a berth in the NCAA tournament.

“We talk about it every day,” redshirt sophomore guard Koby Brea said. “We wanted it last year, but we understand that things happen and it’s just a part of our growth. Even though we wish we would have made it last year, we were glad it happened the way it did because it made us so much hungrier. We know that next year has to be the year, and we’re all working towards that.”

Toumani Camara, the most experienced player on the team, went first on June 24. Malachi Smith followed on June 30. Then four players sat down in a two-hour span on July 13: DaRon Holmes II; Kobe Elvis; Brea; and R.J. Blakney. Mustapha Amzil took his turn on July 21. Richard Amaefule, Kaleb Washington and Zimi Nwokeji wrapped up the interview series on July 28.

The story of a team starts as soon as the previous season ends. Players add pounds in the offseason. They add strength. They take thousands of shots. They develop relationships with their teammates and coaches. They learn plays. They build the foundation for whatever success may come.

The 10 Flyers combined to speak for close to three hours, touching on last season, the spring, the summer and, of course, the much-anticipated 2022-23 season. They were also given opportunities to talk about their teammates. Here’s what they said.

Holmes, 6-foot-10, sophomore, forward

Camara: “DaRon got way better. He already put probably like 20 pounds on him. He’s stronger, more experienced. He’s been working on his game every day. His skills and everything got better times two, I would say. The biggest thing was getting more mature, and I think that’s something he really gained. His confidence has always been here. He’s working hard right now, and the sky’s the limit.”

Smith: “He still hasn’t cracked his full potential yet. People are going to see a different DaRon, a better, stronger, older, veteran DaRon. I think he can be the A-10 Player of the Year. The way he ended last season, he’s going to piggyback off that, and he’ll be very scary next year.”

Brea: “I think we all have a similar expectation for him. We all stay on top of him because we know how good he can be. The amount of work he puts in, you can tell he wants it. I think he’s going to have a great year. We all see the difference in his game, and we see how he’s evolving. He’s really become something special.”

Blakney: “The game is starting to slow down for him. For his position, that’s really important.”

Camara, 6-8, junior (fourth year), forward

Smith: “He’s definitely our most seasoned player. He’s our vet. We always look to him when we’re in trouble. When we’re down and we miss a couple shots, Toumani’s always like, ‘Come on.’ We really trust Toumani as our guy.”

Holmes: “I don’t think some people see fully how much of an impact he actually has on our team. He has an extreme amount of impact on our team because he does the things that don’t always show up on the stat sheet, whether it’s getting really important rebounds or being a great leader. He’s going to do it all.”

Brea: “He’s been doing such a great job. They’re putting a lot of weight on his shoulders because he’s the oldest player and most experienced. He’s our captain. We all respect him. He sets the example. It’s always good to be able to follow somebody that works really hard and does the right thing. He’s doing a good job of handling all that.”

Smith, 6-0, sophomore, point guard

Camara: “Defensively, he got stronger, so he’s going to be able to guard more bodies. The mismatch is not going to be as big. And, offensively, he got a lot better. He’s experienced like (Holmes). He’s been through a whole season where he had a lot of playing time.”

Holmes: “He got a lot bigger. He’s being a great leader. He’s speaking up more. We just trust him. He guards. He does everything you want him to do.”

Brea: “He’s a pest on defense. When he guards me on the perimeter, it is really hard to get one inch on him because he stays on top of you. He’s so strong. He won’t let you come into the paint. Offensively, you try to move him, and he stays with it.”

Blakney: “He’s the general. He makes the assists. He gets to the cup. He brings the energy.”

Kobe Elvis, 6-2, redshirt sophomore, guard

Smith: “He’s a big-time scorer. When he gets the ball and he’s hot, we will really be tough in transition and in half court. We can play both, and that will be very scary. And when Kobe Elvis and Koby Brea are knocking down shots, we are going to be a hard team to beat.”

Brea: “The thing about Elvis is he knows how good he is. He’s really, really confident. He’s probably one of the most confident players I’ve ever played with. Just to see how he carries himself, he feels like nobody can guard him. But that’s to be expected. He’s a great scorer. He’s all around.”

Brea, 6-6, redshirt sophomore, guard

Holmes: “That man can shoot. He can light it up. And he’s getting even better. He’s doing better on the defense end. Offensively, he’s just such a threat right now.”

Smith: “I think everybody knows their role right now. Koby Brea knows he’s going to have to hit a lot of shots. I think everybody in the A-10 knows he’s a knockout shooter. He’s been trying to get his release off faster and make sure he’s hitting wide-open shots. I’m trying to get him some open shots because I know guys are going to be trying to contest him and Kobe Elvis. My job is just to try to get everybody some open shots. I know Kobe Elvis and Koby Brea. I’ve a close connection with both. I know where they want the ball, how hard they want it.”

Blakney, 6-6, redshirt sophomore guard

Smith: “R.J. is going to be probably our main defensive guy. The A-10 has got some good 3s and 2s. I feel like we’re gonna have to put R.J. on them. That’s a tough task for him. But we trust R.J. I know he can do it. He had a lot of potential on the defensive end, and on offense, he can really knock down 3s. We can space the floor. That’s really big. But his main role is to defend and on offense get to his spots and be a good slasher and finish at the rim.”

Brea: “Since he stepped foot into these facilities and this university, he’s been the same player. He’s always that guy. He’s just a dog. He’s super strong, fast, crazy athletic, probably like the most athletic person I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s really continuing to get better. He does it on both ends. He’s a two way player.”

Amzil, 6-9, redshirt sophomore, forward

Holmes: “I think he’s going to be more consistent next year. He’s doing a great job of being versatile. He can play multiple positions. I think that’s what’s going to stand out with him next year.”

Smith: “I think he’s more comfortable now. I think he knows his role. I think he’s going to be playing behind Mani (Camara). He’s going to be playing with Mani as well. That’ll be a nice duo to see.”

Camara: “He worked on his game a lot. I’m really confident in him. I know he can shoot it well. And, defensively, he’s one of the most efficient guys on our team.”

Washington, 6-7, sophomore forward

Holmes: “He’s gained weight. His shot is looking good. He’s a great defender.”

Smith: “I try to help Kaleb as much as possible. I really didn’t want him to transfer, and I told him, ‘Bro, I got you.’ Once he saw that, he trusted me. I’m glad he decided to stay.”

Zimi Nwokeji, 6-7, redshirt sophomore forward

Camara: “Zimi has great potential. He put a lot of work in, and I have a lot of faith in him. I think one thing he needed to work on was probably his confidence. But I believe in him. He can shoot, put it on the floor. He can be a good piece for the program.”

Holmes: “He stayed the course. He’s positive. He’s a leader. He’s working hard, too. He’s doing a great job with everything, being aggressive. He’s really skilled.”

Richard Amaefule, 6-9, redshirt sophomore forward

Camara: “Richard is a really solid person. He does what he knows, and he sticks to it. He has a really strong body. He can guard multiple positions. He can shoot. He can put it on the floor, too.”

Holmes: “Richard is hurt right now, but he’s gaining weight. He’s in a good place. I know his shot is looking good. Richard’s going to be a problem.”

Tyrone Baker, 6-9, sophomore forward

Smith: “I like playing with Tyrone. He reminds me of DaRon, but I feel he’s more athletic. If I throw a bad pass to Tyrone, he’ll catch it. We’re going to take it slow with him. It’s his first year. He didn’t really play that much last year. So we know this is his year just to get his feet warm, and next year, hopefully, he’ll be ready.”

Brea: “First of all, he’s incredibly funny. HIs personality is amazing. I love him. On the court, wow, he’s still working on putting some weight on, and I feel like that’s going to help him tremendously as well. But his athleticism is off the charts. Once he jumps, he’s getting the ball no matter where you put it. He kind of reminds me of Obi. Put the ball wherever, and he just catches it. He’s a great teammate, and he knows his role already. He understands what it takes to have the season we want. I feel like everybody’s doing a good job of bringing him in and telling him, ‘This is what we have to do. This is what we want. We want to win games. We want to make March Madness.’”

Amzil: “He’s got to learn the system a little bit, but he’s very athletic. He can block shots. He can run the floor. He’s a great player.”

Washington: “Tyrone has a lot of bounce, probably the most bounce on the team.”

Mike Sharavjamts, 6-8, freshman guard/forward

Holmes: “To be that tall and to be doing what he’s doing as a freshman, he’s doing pretty good. We all still have things to work on, but he’ll learn the system and I think he’s going to do a great job.”

Elvis: “He can do it all. I’ve already seen him play a little bit of the point. I’ve seen him show us how how good of a passer he really is.”

Amzil: ‘He’s a tall guard, so it’s going to be very hard for teams to play against him.”

Washington: “What he did (July 27) in practice was actually crazy. It was 5-on-5 half court, and he came off a screen and a threw a pass off the backboard to Toumani for an alley-oop. Everybody was like, ‘What are you doing?’ Then they realized what he was doing. He has high skill, like Steve Nash. He’s put on a lot of weight. You can tell he’s getting more comfortable on the court and with us.”

Nwokeji: “His vision and IQ, it’s there. All he has to do is put on more weight. Everything else is there.”

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