Dayton’s John Crosby drives to the basket against Wichita State’s Daishon Smith in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, March 17, 2017, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. David Jablonski/Staff columnist
Photo: columnist
Photo: columnist

Tom Archdeacon: After a month away, Crosby’s return to Dayton Flyers ‘was a no-brainer’

Junior point guard requested his release in April, then re-joined the program in May

He’s back in Baltimore now, but his mom said he wasn’t home.

“He went down to the harbor,” Ebony Walker said when I called Wednesday afternoon. “He’s visiting the aquarium.”

And that should have made John Crosby really feel like he was right at home.

He has been in something of a fish bowl his past two years with the University of Dayton basketball program.

Playing behind Scoochie Smith, the much-praised veteran point guard who just graduated, Crosby found himself often scrutinized by his head coach and the Flyers fans.

While Archie Miller praised the 6-foot-2 guard on several occasions, he seemed to lose faith in him toward the end of last season and drastically cut his minutes. After playing 27, 25 and several times 20 minutes in games earlier in the season, Crosby played a total of just eight minutes over three of the last four games.

»RELATED: John Crosby returning to Flyers

And some so-called, usually-anonymous fans – citing his turnovers and sometimes erratic shooting accuracy – were especial critical of Crosby on social media. While he said it didn’t affect him, he did finally respond on his Twitter account in late January with just one message:

“Haters want me to mention they name and give them violence, I rather kill them all with success and give them knowledge.”

»RELATED: Crosby shows the ‘haters’ what he can do

And it was that fish bowl existence that likely gave birth to the saga that played out over a one-month span from mid-April to a couple of weeks ago.

Soon after Miller left UD for Indiana and former Flyers star Anthony Grant was brought in as Dayton’s new head coach, Crosby — who had played in 64 games his first two seasons here — asked for his release from the program.

Grant – who had a sense of the guard’s frustration — gave it to him.

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“When Archie left and I came in – before I’d hired a staff or anything – (John) didn’t know me,” Grant said. “That trust wasn’t yet built up to a point where he could see ‘OK, I got two years left.’

“In my conversations with him. I understood his first two years were kinda tough on him as far as the expectations he had been coming in the door. His thinking, I believe, was, ‘OK, I don’t want to go through the same experience I just went through for two years.’ It was about looking at his future more than anything to do with the University of Dayton or anything else.

“And like most kids, he’s on social media and hears the criticisms in terms of the way people feel about his performance. Unfortunately that’s the day we live in now with social media. I’m sure that all weighed on him a little bit.

“And I’m guessing maybe some friends or family members at home advised him, because of the coaching change, that he probably needed to explore his options. Being a 20-year-old kid, that made sense to him so he requested his release.”

»RELATED: Flyers sign point guard 

Crosby visited Towson State, just north of Baltimore, and said he also had overtures from the University of Maryland and Delaware.

Dayton’s John Crosby shoots against Findlay on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff
Photo: columnist

But the more he looked elsewhere, the more he looked back. And suddenly being on the outside at Dayton made him understand what he knew on the inside all along.

“Being on the outside, I realized I really loved the guys on the team and I really loved the UD community,” he said,

He found out the feeling was mutual.

“I got calls from guys, especially like Ryan (Mikesell), and he said ‘I understand, Bro. You gotta do what’s best for you. Still we’d love to have you here and want you to stay. But understand whatever decision you make, we’re friends regardless.’”

That precipitated more conversations with Grant, who also ended up talking to Crosby’s mom and his high school coach.

“Coach Grant just took a real interest in me and he allowed me to just be myself and talk to him as if he was my friend,” Crosby said. “We talked about why I am the way I am and what motivates me. We just built a great relationship.

“I felt like Archie was more the business side. He doesn’t know my personal side.

“But Anthony Grant was a guy who took time to understand me. He had been in a similar situation. He was at UD and when he was a freshman, he had guys in front of him and didn’t play much. He thought of transferring, too. But he understands I could be better for what I went through and I see that’s true.

“So it became clear. Me staying at UD was a no-brainer.”

Mom instrumental in return

As Grant was making his decision about taking Crosby back onto the team, he said one thing – besides the fact that UD still needed a point guard with some experience – really swayed him:

“The thing I was really pleased with was when I talked to his teammates, they all had good things to say about him. They liked him as a kid and as a player and who he is as a person.

“And as I learned more of his story and talked to his high school coach, I understood he came from a very tough situation. Parts of Baltimore are tough and it was important for him to have that family feel.”

Crosby has said that’s how he stayed on the right path growing up. He was raised by a single-parent mom who took such an interest in him that he now commemorates her on his right arm, where he’s tattooed her name “Ebony”and topped it with a crown.

“She is my queen,” he once explained.

And Ebony was instrumental in her son’s return to UD.

“She talked to the Towson coach and Maryland, too, but Anthony Grant really made an impression with her,” Crosby said. “She felt he was a genuine guy. She said she felt he wasn’t just gonna tell me what I wanted to hear. He was going to be honest.”

Dayton’s John Crosby brings the ball up the floor against Saint Joseph’s College on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff
Photo: columnist

Grant said he told Crosby:

“There’s a great opportunity for you here with Scoochie leaving.’

“A team needs guys who can be playmakers and make it easier for other people. He’s shown at times he can do that. Now he needs to get better as a player and be more efficient in terms of his productivity.”

Junior point guard wants to lead

“I feel like it’s worked out perfect with Anthony Grant coming in,” Crosby said. “He’s gonna give me a chance and I feel I can help him and he can help me. We came to a common ground. He has a vision and I think he also believes in my vision that I have at UD. I just want to play for a guy who believes in my skill set.

“He told me, ‘I want you to be a leader, the ball is gonna be in your hands,’ and I believe I can lead. I know I have to earn all that, but if I work hard and continue to learn, I’m going to.”

Grant said he thinks Crosby is now “in a good place mentally.”

Dayton sophomores Ryan Mikesell, Xeyrius Williams, John Crosby and Sam Miller pose for a photo after a victory against Virginia Commonwealth on Wednesday, March 1, 2017, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff
Photo: columnist

And the junior point guard sounds that way when he talks about what could come:

“I watch college basketball all day, every day. I watch the great point guards in the country and I feel like I can match up against anybody, top to bottom. Whether it’s size, IQ, skills or just being a good guy, I feel like I can run any team in America.

“Right now I think I’m with a team and a coach and a coaching staff that believes in me. And that makes the sky the limit. I really think I haven’t scratched the surface yet and that the best is yet to come.

“And I want it to come at Dayton. I realized what all the guys mean to me and I realize the fans and the community are amazing. I’ve been on a lot of other campuses and I haven’t felt what I feel here. Not the school spirit, not the love.

“I see that now and realize I couldn’t play anywhere else. It wouldn’t feel right leaving these guys.”

Turns out the fish bowl isn’t so bad.