You know how the Easter parable goes: They roll back the stone and the tomb is empty.
Well, Anthony Grant returned Monday from his trip back to Oklahoma City to see his wife and kids over the Easter weekend and when he got back to the Dayton Flyers basketball program he certainly didn’t find it empty, but there were a couple of noticeable empty spots.
Most prominent was the point guard position where John Crosby – 6-foot-2 sophomore backup who was one of just four Flyers to play in all 32 games this past season – has just asked for and been given his release from the program, Grant said late Monday afternoon.
“I’d just be guessing at the reasons,” said the new head coach who took over the UD program just 17 days ago. “His comment to me was that he had talked to his family and he thought it was in his best interest to leave.”
That departure coupled with the loss of graduating senior Scoochie Smith — who started every game for three years and played in 139 in his UD career, most in program history – and the back-stepping by incoming freshman McKinley Wright, the prep star from Minnesota who reopened his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller left UD for Indiana – leaves the position especially empty at the moment.
The other noticeable vacancies are on the coaching staff with Grant. To date he has hired just one assistant, Darren Hertz, a fellow Miamian who coached with him on Billy Donovan’s staff at Florida and most recently was the assistant head coach to John Groce at Illinois.
“I hope I can announce my staff this week,” Grant said.
One spot could be filled by a former Flyers assistant coach from the past he said – although he would not elaborate.
Another spot could be filled by Kevin Kuwik, who assisted Miller during his six years here.
Kuwik has continued to work with the UD program – he was in his office late Monday – while Miller’s other two top assistants have left for jobs elsewhere, Tom Ostrom has joined Miller at Indiana and Allen Griffin is returning to his alma mater Syracuse, where an assistant’s job opened.
UD Director of Basketball Operations Bill Comar is headed to Indiana, as well.
Kuwik has shown interest in staying at UD and Grant planned to talk to him late Monday.
“I want the best people on my staff and it would make sense if we can make it happen (with Kuwik),” Grant said. “I’ve been really impressed by him. He’s been great.
“He’s come in every day. He’s given me stuff to look at and constantly gives me ideas. I told him, ‘Look, I can’t make any promises, but I’m going to consider you because I’m impressed by what you have done.’”
Grant was a standout player at UD 30 years ago and since then has had a long career as a coach. After starting out in the prep ranks back home in Miami, he was an assistant at Stetson, Marshall and for a decade at Florida before taking on head coaching jobs at VCU – where he went 76-25 in three seasons – and then Alabama for six years. He spent the past two seasons as an assistant again to Donovan, who is the head coach of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
With such a full resume, he doesn’t get rattled by the few empty spots he has now.
“I’ve been a head coach for nine years,” he said. “This is the third program I’ve taken over, so for me there’s a familiarity with what needs to happen. That’s the way I coach. I try to stay on an even keel without getting too high or too low.”
He said he has met with all the current Flyers and hopes Crosby will be the only defector.
Since he took over, he said his main directive to the players was for them to finish the academic year strong and they will immerse themselves in the basketball end of it in the summer. He briefly worked some players out individually last week and hopes to get to most of the rest this week. But several are dealing with injuries.
“Sam Miller has a broken ankle and Trey Landers just had surgery for a hernia,” he said. “And Ryan Mikesell is getting evaluated and may need a procedure during the summer.”
Along with dealing with the current players, Grant has tried to build a bond with the four high school players who had committed to UD and has visited each in their home state .
“I’m grateful to Jordan Davis (6-foot-4 guard from Irmo, S.C,) and Jordan Pierce (7-footer from Scotch Plains, N.J. and their decisions to stay with the program,” he said.
He said he is worked on building relationships with the other two — Wright and Nahziah Carter the 6-foot-6 forward from Rochester, N.Y. who is the nephew of rapper Jay Z — who have asked out of their binding commitments.
“We’re still actively involved in recruiting McKinley, but at the end of the day I don’t know what will happen with him,” Grant said.
As for Carter, he said: “Every indication I’ve gotten from him is that he’s keeping his options open so we want to continue to build that bond.”
In the meantime he said he has zeroed in on a few other guys – transfers (junior college or graduate) — who can “play immediately.” He’s especially interested in perimeter players, an area he thinks the Flyers especially need to bolster.
As for his staff, he said in the four or five days after he was announced as coach, he got over 275 text messages and then “quit counting.”
Monday he guessed at least 100 of those were from people seeking to join him on the Flyers bench.
“I’m excited about the potential of people we can have coaching here,” he said.
As you talk to Grant, you sense he is sincerely moved to be the Flyers head coach.
“It’s rare an opportunity like this comes up,” he said of coaching at your alma mater. “I didn’t see it coming. I was surprised when Archie left and surprised by the opportunity I was given by Neil (athletic director Neil Sullivan) and Dr. Spina (UD president Eric Spina).
“The main thing with your alma mater is you want to see it do well. And I see this as an opportunity to serve my university, the kids and the community.”
He said over the years he always kept an eye on the program:
“You watch games and see the success and hear about it. Dayton’s always had an unbelievable basketball community. I remember when they decided to put the First Four here. I felt that was really smart because I knew it would sell out.
“At other places there might be a year where the people there don’t care about the teams and they don’t show up. But not Dayton.
“People here will always show up. The people know good basketball. They love the sport and have a real passion for it. That’s why I always thought it would be a lot of fun to be a part of that again.”
Now he is.
And so, as Easter stories go, he doesn’t see an emptiness, just a dream being fulfilled.
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