The University of Dayton basketball team has lost three more players, including 6-foot-10 redshirt freshmen Kostas Antetokounmpo, who has already withdrawn from school and left campus so he can pursue a pro career.
Junior point guard John Crosby and 6-foot-11 freshman Jordan Pierce also requested and were granted their release from the program so they could transfer to a different college program.
The trio, whose departure was revealed Thursday afternoon by Coach Anthony Grant, follows the exit of two other players, Xeyrius Williams and Matej Svoboda, since the Flyers ended their 14-17 season two weeks ago after losing to VCU 77-72 in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Washington D.C.
Last weekend, the 6-foot-9 Williams announced he was leaving the program and earlier this week the 6-foot-7 freshman Svoboda informed Grant he was electing to pursue a pro career back home in the Czech Republic.
“Over the course of the season, as roles developed and opportunities to play became more defined, some of this you expected,” Grant said. “And some of it you could look at it and say, ‘I wouldn’t be surprised it this happened and if it does, we’ll move on from there.’”
Grant took over the program last April after Archie Miller left for Indiana and inherited a roster decimated by the graduation of four seniors who had become the winningest class in UD hoops history.
He has a different style of coaching than Miller and a certain culture and set of expectations he wanted his players to adhere to.
“You try to establish a trust and say this is the culture we want to create,” he said. “It was brand new for everybody and like I tell guys all the time when we are recruiting, ‘What we do is not for everybody.’ I tell them, ‘Here’s what we’re going to be about and here’s the way we’re going to do it. It doesn’t make you a bad person (to disagree.) It’s just you have to understand the commitment it takes, the sacrifice it takes, to be able to accomplish the things we’re trying to accomplish without any guarantees. Here’s what the expectations are. It’s every day, workouts, practices, academic and social expectations. And we’re going to be consistent about it.’ And we have some guys who have said, ‘This doesn’t fit me. I want to do something else.’”
That seems to be the case with Williams, who played 76 games in a Flyers uniform and had some shining moments as a sophomore. This season he had a back injury, but as it healed, he lost weight and seemed to lose focus and interest.
Antetokounmpo — whose brother Giannis is an NBA star with the Milwaukee Bucks and last fall signed a $100 million contract — played in 29 games this season and had six starts. He didn’t have the season he had hoped for — he averaged 5.2 points and 2.9 rebounds a game — but showed real promise near the end of the year. He scored a season-high 14 points in the regular-season finale against George Washington.
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With older brother Thanasis a pro in Greece and with Giannis making an instant splash in the NBA without going to college, Kostas was the first in the family to go the collegiate route in hopes of becoming the pro.
While he certainly has some skills, it would seem he needs to add weight and experience and especially discipline.
“His mindset was he wants to test the waters to see what his prospects are for being in the NBA,” Grant said. “And he felt it was in his best interest to leave school to do it. I’m not trying to judge his decision in terms of basketball, but the timing of his leaving did surprise me with just six weeks of school left.”
Grant praised Svoboda for the class he showed before his departure.
“Matej was awesome,” Grant said. “He came in and he was really concerned we’d be upset with him for leaving. What he got from everybody here is that we want what’s best for him. He was very realistic about what he had done here and said if some other guys had done their job, he might not have played as much. He said, ‘I don’t want to hurt you guys. I’m very appreciative for what you’ve done for me and I think I got better.’
“He’s going to be 22 and there is only a small window for him to go and make money. And he can do it back home where he’s had success before. He told us he’d worked out a plan where he’ll be able to finish what he needs to academically. He really thought about this. He came in and saw everybody. Said thank you, gave hugs and goodbyes. He said, ‘I appreciate it and I’ll stay in touch.’”
Grant gave a nod of appreciation to Crosby, a veteran of 90 games as a Flyer, as well:
“John was in a tough situation,” Grant said, “but I saw him cheer on his teammates and every day in practice he tried to do everything we asked and never showed his tail that he wasn’t getting to play like he hoped.
“He said, ‘I just want to go try to play somewhere.’ He loves Dayton and going to school here and his teammates.”
Grant didn’t discuss Pierce, who played just four minutes all season, but from an outsider’s view, I don’t think he was ready for the demands of Division I basketball.
With just six scholarship players now on the roster, the Flyers will need to add some pieces besides the two recruits — Dwayne Cohill is signed, junior college transfer Jhery Matos is not — coming in.
Grant said “everything is on the table,” when asked if he’d look for additional high school players, junior college transfers or a fifth-year grad student transfer. He likes the nucleus he has returning.
He spoke of the unwavering presence of Josh Cunningham, the two freshmen who showed growth during the season — Crutcher and Jordan Davis — and the emergence of sophomore Trey Landers as a guy who bought in fully.
“His toughness, his leadership, his voice, he’s just a good kid,” Grant said. “He’s one of those guys where you think you’ll have a relationship with them forever because of the way they are.”
Grant had praise for Ryan Mikesell, who sat out the year as a medical redshirt after playing two seasons for the Flyers: “He was able to practice the second semester and there were times we watched him and he was the hardest-playing guy on the floor for us. He gets it. He’s a culture guy, a system guy. He’ll fit what we need.”
Grant also has high hopes for 6-foot-8 freshman Obadiah Toppin, who was an academic red shirt:
“Athletically, with what he’s capable of doing, he’s got a chance to be one of those guys who can really make a difference. I’ve had a couple in my career and he could be one.”
While Grant sees a rotation of no more than seven or eight guys, that leaves just a few openings besides the incoming recruits:
“We have to add the right pieces,” he said. “I’m not just talking talent wise, but from the culture standpoint. We need guys who understand what it is we’re trying to do and the way we need to do it.”