10 years later: Celebrating the 2014 Dayton Flyers

Most of team still playing overseas as anniversary of Elite Eight run approaches

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

The members of the Dayton Flyers who led the program to the Elite Eight 10 years ago have scattered around the globe in pursuit of their basketball dreams.

Devin Oliver, the heart and soul of the group, plays in Yokohama, Japan, the latest stop in a career that began in Belgium months after his final game as a senior in 2014. Vee Sanford, who made the most famous shot that season, has spent most of his career in France and found a team in Finland after fleeing Israel when the war broke out in October.

Dyshawn Pierre has enjoyed a standout European career, playing the last four seasons in Turkey. Jordan Sibert is playing in Greece for the second straight season. Scoochie Smith found his latest gig, after stops in Australia, Greece, Serbia and Poland, in Lithuania.

Devon Scott and Jalen Robinson, the two sophomore big men on that team, have perhaps covered more miles than any of their former teammates. Scott’s most recent Instagram update showed him playing with Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, and a recent report showed his next stop is Brazil, while Robinson won his first championship as a pro last season in Malaysia.

Alex Gavrilovic, who played limited minutes in his final season at Dayton 10 years ago, has played in his native France and all around Europe. He’s now in Montenegro.

Kyle Davis and Kendall Pollard still live in their hometown, Chicago, and Centerville graduate Matt Kavanaugh is home in the Miami Valley, but the players who put Dayton back on the basketball map with a memorable March are too spread out to reunite in 2024, even though their head coach, Archie Miller, will be back at UD Arena on Saturday for the first time as an opposing head coach with Rhode Island.

Distance has not lessened their bond, however. An eight-day stretch that included victories over Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford in the NCAA tournament will unite them forever.

“I talk to them almost every other day or every other week,” Sanford said. “I talk to Devin a lot. I keep up with Scooch. Kendall, Dyshawn, Sibert hit me up. We’re all still pretty close. Devon Scott and Jalen, everybody still keeps in contact with each other.”

Dayton fans will never stop talking about the 2013-14 Flyers, the first group to lead the program to the Elite Eight since 1984 and still the most recent team, as of January 2024, from the Atlantic 10 Conference to advance past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Here’s a look back at that magical season:

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

MVP: Oliver, a 6-7 forward from Kalamazoo, was awarded the White-Allen MVP and Chris Daniels Memorial Award as the team’s most improved player. He averaged 11.9 points and made a major improvement in his 3-point shooting percentage from his junior season (28.2) to his senior season (39.6).

“He always had been a good player, but when I first got there, D-Mo didn’t have the confidence that he had as a senior,” said Sibert on Dec. 29 in a phone call from Greece, where he’s averaging 8.0 points per game for AS Karditsas. “I never questioned his talent, but getting that mentality that he gained in senior year was huge for us.”

Oliver also made one of the biggest shots of the season, a bank shot 3-pointer in the final seconds of overtime to beat Mississippi 83-80 on the road, in the final non-conference game on Jan. 4. His leadership skills were just as important as play.

“He was the guy that that kept us together,” Davis said. “When we were down and out, he was the one that came to pick us up.”

Best transfer: After scoring a total of 43 points in two seasons at Ohio State, Sibert, a 6-4 redshirt junior guard from Cincinnati, led Dayton in scoring with 12.2 points per game.

Dayton finished 17-14 a season earlier, which Sibert had to sit out as a transfer. The program had not played in the NCAA tournament since 2009. There was something different about the 2014 group.

“We played for each other,” Sibert said. “We understood each other. Being a professional now, I understand how the basketball world is and what we deal with off the floor and on the floor. On the court, there was no spotlight on one person. We were all in it together.”

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Best freshman: Scoochie Smith, a 6-2 guard from Bronx, N.Y., averaged 3.6 points and 2.0 assists in 17.6 minutes per game as a backup to sophomore point guard Khari Price, who transferred to Southern Mississippi after the season. Smith, talking to the Dayton Daily News on Dec. 23 along with Davis in a Zoom interview, admits now he hated the reserve role, but he focused on being a team player.

“I didn’t go into college to be one and done,” Smith said. “I didn’t go in with a cocky mentality. I was like, ‘All right, if (Miller) wants me to back up, I’m going to just do my job.’”

Smith joined Davis and Pollard in the 2013 freshman class. Davis made an instant impact as a defensive stopper. Pollard had several breakout performances throughout the season that would set the stage for him winning the Atlantic 10 Conference’s Most Improved Player award as a sophomore.

Biggest strength: Few Dayton teams have been as deep as this one. Miller played an 11-man rotation. No averaged 30 minutes per game. The Flyers ranked 58th in the country in bench minutes (36.1%), the highest percentage in Miller’s six seasons.

“We were definitely a deep team,” said Kavanaugh, a 6-10 senior center who averaged 5.7 points and started the last 18 games. “We could play any combination of 12 guys. That was special. And then just the togetherness both on and off the court is something I’ll remember forever. We were eating together, going to study hall together, playing video games together, getting extra shots together. The camaraderie extended beyond the court.”

Biggest shot in regular season: Dayton beat IPFW, now simply known as Purdue Fort Wayne, on a 3-pointer by Sibert with one second remaining. Without that 81-80 victory in the season opener at UD Arena, there’s no telling how the season would have gone.

“That would have been a very rough start,” Sibert said. “I think we would have had similar success, but I think that shot gave us the confidence to to play a game until there are triple zeros on the clock.”

The play involved four Flyers. Fort Wayne threw a long in-bounds pass to half court. Sanford and Price leaped along with one Fort Wayne player. Price intercepted the pass and was knocked to the court by Sanford. While on his belly, Price pushed the ball head to Davis. It took three small bounces. Davis quickly passed the ball to Sibert, who was all alone on the left wing.

It was the first of 26 victories for the team and the first of 102 victories for Davis, Smith and Pollard, the winningest class in school history.

Best early-season victory: Dayton beat Gonzaga 84-79 in the first round of the Maui Invitational. Gonzaga finished 32-3 a year earlier and finished 29-7 in 2014.

Sibert scored 29 points. The Flyers shot 42.9% (9 of 21) from 3-point range.

“It is a pleasure to be around guys who just won’t quit,” Miller said after the game. “The final minutes we had guys step up and make plays in-bounds vs. the press, and Dyshawn Pierre canning four straight free throws in the final 22 seconds was huge.”

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Lowest point: After a 12-3 finish in non-conference play, a promising season hit a rough patch in January when Dayton lost five of its first six A-10 games. Three of the losses came against teams that would play in the NCAA tournament: Saint Louis; Virginia Commonwealth; and Saint Joseph’s. The A-10 peaked that year by earning six bids.

Jan. 11: Dayton lost 67-59 to eventual A-10 champion Saint Louis at UD Arena in its conference opener. Oliver missed all 12 of his field-goal attempts, and the Flyers posted their worst effective field-goal percentage (33.9) of the season.

Jan. 18: After an 80-68 victory at Fordham, Dayton lost 73-64 at Richmond. The Spiders made 32 of 35 free throws.

Jan. 22: The Flyers lost 80-66 to Virginia Commonwealth, which played its first A-10 game at UD Arena. Shaka Smart’s famed Havoc defense forced 18 turnovers.

“Our team right now, it’s not Xs and Os, Miller said. “It s togetherness, it’s toughness, it’s purpose and it’s understanding what we’ve been from the start of the season until today. I think it’s fractured a little bit.”

• Jan. 25: Rhode Island shot a season-best 62.5% against Dayton in an 88-76 victory at the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I.

“This is gut-check time for us right now,” Miller said. “It’s pride. For whatever reason right now, we’re not handling our business the right way.”

• Jan. 29: Dayton erased a 15-point deficit in the second half to tie it on its last possession only to lose 60-57 to Saint Joseph’s on Langston Galloway’s shot with 1.8 seconds left at UD Arena. It was the second last-second loss at home on a 3-pointer. Southern California beat Dayton 79-76 in overtime on Dec. 22 on a shot by Pe’Shon Howard.

“It’s getting to the point where I don’t even know what to say anymore,” Oliver after the game. “I don’t know how that continually happens to us. What can you do? We’ve got another game on Saturday. It’s not like the season stops.”

Turning point: During the losing streak, Oliver wrote on Twitter, “Sick to my stomach. Some people just don’t get it ... when you really put all your time and effort into something, losing makes you want to collapse. Winning matters that much ... we WILL find ourselves again ... I PROMISE you that.”

Oliver still remembers that Tweet and another moment that turned the season around.

“I remember calling a team meeting and having everyone speak their mind,” he wrote in a Facebook message from Japan in December. “We had some irritable feelings towards Archie, too, so we basically came together and said, ‘Let’s go out there, play free, play hard and have fun.’ After that meeting, we went on that incredible run.”

Dayton beat George Washington 75-65 at UD Arena on Feb. 1 to start a six-game winning streak. The Flyers won nine of their last 10 regular-season games.

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Best comeback: Dayton trailed for the first 36 minutes, overcame an 18-point deficit in the second half and ended the game on an 18-3 run to record one of its more improbable victories of the season: 57-54 on Feb. 22 at Duquesne. A loss would have damaged Dayton’s resume. Duquesne finished 11-17 that season.

“Our guys knew what to do,” Miller said. “We’ve been in a lot of big games. We’ve played a lot of big games on the road. We’ve been down. We haven’t played well early. They understand if they stick with it, we’ll be OK.”

Best late-season victory: Saint Louis needed a victory against Dayton March 5 on Senior Night at Chaifetz Arena to clinch a share of the A-10 regular-season championship. Instead, the No. 27 Billikens suffered their third straight loss after a 25-2 start. With 10 different players scoring, Dayton won 72-67.

Dayton found extra incentive as it warmed up before the game.

“We saw the scissors attached to the ladders to cut down the nets,” Oliver wrote. “We were astonished, and it gave us all the motivation we needed to do the impossible! And for our season, it sums it up. Even when all the odds were stacked against us and no one believed in us, WE believed in US!”

Biggest nemesis: From Jan. 29 through March 14, only one team beat Dayton: Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks were 3-0 against Dayton in the 2013-14 season. That included a 70-67 victory in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament. The Hawks won the A-10 tournament and finished the season 24-10.

Biggest shot in postseason: CBS analyst Bill Raftery described as “a kiss to be remembered in Dayton.” Sanford’s bank with 3.8 seconds to play gave No. 11 seed Dayton a 60-59 victory against No. 6 seed Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Buffalo.

“The older I get, the more experience I get playing professionally, the more I understand the significance of that shot,” said Sanford, a 6-4 guard from Lexington, Ky., who played two seasons at Georgetown and two at Dayton, “and the more I start to appreciate how it helped boost the program and changed the dynamic of the program.”

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Best coaching decision: Pollard remembers Miller preparing the Flyers for No. 3 seed Syracuse’s famous matchup zone defense before they played Ohio State. The Flyers made 7 of 16 3-pointers (43.8%) in a 55-53 victory against Syracuse in the second round.

“When we were preparing for Ohio State, we were preparing for Syracuse also because you don’t get much gym time,” Pollard said. “(Miller) said, ‘After we beat Ohio State’s (butt), we’re going to beat Syracuse’s (butt).’ He gave the whole team a lot of confidence.”

Best Tweet: Oliver met then President Barack Obama when he was in high school and asked for a game of 1-on-1. When Dayton upset Syracuse, Obama remembered Oliver in a post on Twitter.

“Congrats to the Dayton Flyers on a huge upset win!” Obama wrote. “Devin Oliver, I may need to take you up on that pick-up game one of these days.”

Best tournament performance: In an 82-72 victory against No. 10 seed Stanford in the Sweet 16 in Memphis, Dayton shot 48 percent from the field, 35 percent from 3-point range, committed 10 turnovers, trailed once — and by only one point — and pulled away from Stanford in the final minutes. Pollard scored 12 points in 14 minutes.

“I just played looser and freer the bigger the game,” Pollard said.

Worst ending: The season ended with a 62-52 loss to No. 1 seed Florida in the Elite Eight. The Gators had lost in the Elite Eight three seasons in a row. Florida’s 15-1 run in the final 4½ minutes of the first half doomed Dayton.

“It’s always hard to lose the last game of the season,” Miller said then, “but in the back of my mind, I’m not sure that a team in the nation probably captured more people’s hearts than these guys did. They did it the right way. Unfortunately, we were bad in a couple of spots in the game. A lot of it had to do with Florida. But I thought we competed. At the end of the day, somebody’s got to go down.”

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

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