Tom Archdeacon: Dayton Flyers community rallies around Kyle Davis

They told him not to come home. They didn’t want him to see it.

“I grew up in that house my whole life,” Kyle Davis said. “My mother has been there her whole life. Some of the family members have been there for 60-plus years, so it was a real mix of emotions to come back and see what had happened.

“Every window in the house was broken out. The attic upstairs had holes in the roof. The upstairs bathroom, a few of the bedrooms, the kitchen, they all are totally gone. The basement was completely totaled. I couldn’t even get down there.

“When it comes to clothes, they lost everything. Their other belongings — TVs, everything — was lost. My basketball memorabilia — my high school news clippings, some of my UD clippings, my high school jersey I had framed — they were all lost, too.

“It was pretty sad to see.”

The gritty and fearless Dayton Flyers guard from Chicago’s South Side — who in his four seasons at UD was part of a just-graduated class that won a record 102 games and made four straight NCAA Tournaments — was asleep in his Caldwell Street apartment April 4 when word came that the family home had been destroyed by fire.

The place was so special to him. It’s where he learned to play basketball with an uncle on a hoop in the alley. It’s where nine family members — his mom and sister, three great aunts, a great uncle, a cousin and her daughter — all were living when the fire hit.

The place has meant so much to him that he has commemorated the corner where the house stands — 86th and Union — with a likeness of the green street signs tattooed on the inside of his right forearm.

“The fire started in the basement — with an old space heater in my uncle’s room — and spread through the house,” he said. “That’s why they told me to stay in Dayton. They didn’t want me to see what had happened.

“But as soon as I saw the text, I got on the next flight to Chicago. I felt I had to go. And you know what? Me coming home actually calmed everybody down. It made them take a deep breath and just be happy that everybody was all right. Me coming there made it better.”

And that’s how it was in his four years at UD, too, whether he was harassing an opposing ball-handler into a turnover or when he was throwing all caution to the wind as he drove to the basket on a fast break against towering defenders who ended up flailing away mostly in vain as he somehow got the shot up against them.

Besides his play, Davis will be remembered — by teammates and fans — for his attitude. He didn’t shrink when he was given the tough defensive assignments game after game, just as he didn’t gripe when was asked to provide a spark coming off the bench rather than starting as he did most of his 134-game career.

»RELATED: Kyle Davis takes tattoo art to a new level

“Anybody who’s ever been around him knows he’s one of the best teammates you could ever have,” former UD coach Archie Miller told me after a game last season. “He’s also one of the toughest kids I’ve ever been around. And off the floor, you couldn’t be around a better guy.”

From the first time he stepped onto the UD Arena floor — an undersized guard covered in tattoos, his hair often wild in those early days, his knowing, Cheshire cat grin more prevalent in the later years — he caught the eye of Flyer fans.

And by the end he had grabbed their hearts, as well.

That’s why he was cheered so warmly at Senior Night in early March, just as he was earlier this month when he stepped onto the stage in cap and gown and got his degree.

And it's why Flyers fans rallied around him when a GoFundMe page was launched by Julianna Ohl Franklin three weeks ago to help the Davis family cope with all it had lost in the fire. The initial goal was $11,000 and in just two days that mark was eclipsed, thanks in a big way to the UD community.

»RELATED: GoFundMe page seeks help for family of Kyle Davis

As of Wednesday, the fund was at $23,623.

Some 254 people — many of them UD ticket holders, some Dayton area businesses, one well-known Miami Valley benefactor — have donated. Several of the people added comments with their pledges.

“After all the memories Kyle has given the Flyer Faithful, it is the least I can do,” wrote Janet Hovey.

“Thanks for the countless, many times you made my family and I smile both on and off the court, Kyle. Your family is our family. Flyers forever,” penned The Lunch Lady.

“My son loved being coached by you last summer at Archie Miller’s Basketball Camp,” said Allister Kohler.

“So glad your family is safe,” added Eileen Dolan. “Thank you for representing UD so well.”

“You are my all-time favorite,” admitted Payton Cross

The outpouring overwhelmed Davis.

“You don’t meet a lot of people who are always willing to help you.” he said Tuesday. “Me and my family are really blessed to have people like that. They’re fans and alumni, people around Dayton and all over the world and they are willing to support me and support Dayton in a time of need. It really means a lot to me. From the first day I stepped onto the court to now that I’m no longer a UD basketball player — that I’m a UD alumnus, too — it makes me know I’m part of something special.”

Although he’s back in Chicago now, working out daily as he tries to launch a pro career, he’ll be returning to Dayton in a couple of weeks.

He plans on working the youth basketball camps again. And he said he likes what he sees in new coach Anthony Grant:

“Coach Grant and the rest of his staff are amazing guys. The players that are there now love him.”

He said that makes him feel good. He wants to see the program continue to blossom and the younger players experience what he has, on the court and off.

“Dayton is my second home now,” he said. “It’s not just because of the basketball. It’s everything that comes with it. It’s the atmosphere. It’s the people.

“It’s just all the love and that support.”

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