Trio of experienced guards makes Dayton a contender again

Jalen Crutcher, Rodney Chatman and Ibi Watson were team’s top 3-point shooters last seaosn

Ibi Watson made Dayton Flyers history of sorts at UD Arena on Thursday. He became the first UD men’s basketball player to conduct a Zoom interview with local reporters.

That’s the way of the sports world this year. The Cincinnati Reds conducted all interviews with Zoom throughout the 60-game season. There was no open locker room as is the norm in Major League Baseball It’s the same with Ohio State Buckeyes players and coaches, who in typical years have 15-20 reporters surrounding them on the turf at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center or at Ohio Stadium. Only high-school athletes are doing interviews the old-fashioned way: on the field and face to face.

The Flyers will do their best to navigate the hurdles created by the coronavirus pandemic, which ended the 2019-20 season on March 12 and continues to threaten the 2020-21 season. That means limiting the exposure of players and coaches to people outside their bubble.

Dayton hopes to pull off a season without any COVID-19 disruptions.

“I think really it comes down to taking it one day at a time," Watson said. "Coach (Anthony) Grant does an amazing job of keeping us focused on each day and understanding the importance of that. That’s been helpful for us and also understanding that nothing’s promised. We’re working every day with the hope we get to play. If we don’t, that’s how it goes.”

Dayton finished 29-2 last season, setting a school record for victories without playing a postseason game and winning the Atlantic 10 Conference championship with an 18-0 record. It will find out Tuesday where it’s picked in the A-10 preseason poll.

Despite the losses of Obi Toppin, Ryan Mikesell, Trey Landers and Jhery Matos and the season-ending injury suffered by Dwayne Cohill — players who combined to score 44.4 of the team’s 80 points per game — the voters likely will pick Dayton to finish in the top three. The biggest reason Dayton remains a contender is a trio of experienced guards: senior Jalen Crutcher and redshirt seniors Rodney Chatman and Watson.

Crutcher was named to the preseason watch list for the Bob Cousy Award, which goes to the nation’s top point guard. He averaged 15.1 points and 4.9 assists while shooting a team-best 42.4 percent (72 of 170) from 3-point range.

Crutcher entered his name in the draft in March but announced he would return to school in August.

“It’s huge,” Watson said. “We feel we have one of the best point guards in the league and honestly two with Rodney and Jalen. We’re all blessed to be able to play with those two guys. Jalen is a super special player who’s very talented. Great leader. Great teammate. He’s everything you could ask for in a point guard. It’s been great having him back.”

Watson saw the first significant playing time of his career last season. He played his first two seasons at Michigan, receiving a total of 219 minutes in 45 games. After sitting out the 2018-19 season, he made his Dayton debut last year and was the team’s top sixth man, playing 699 minutes in 31 games.

Watson averaged 10.1 points and shot 39.3 percent (46 of 117) from 3-point range. Like Crutcher, he entered his name in the NBA Draft in the spring but decided to return to school.

“I really just focused on myself, working on my body and my game,” Watson said. “l entered the draft with hopes of maybe getting workouts, but with all that being cancelled, I just was able to spend that time trying to fill in areas I wanted to fill in for this year. At the end of the day, it’s all in the plan. Coming back this year and having the opportunity to prove myself again and play with this great group of guys is going to be fun."

While Crutcher returned home to Memphis and Watson to Pickerington when the season ended abruptly in March and the university moved to virtual classes, Chatman headed back to Lithonia, Ga.

“Me and my dad were able to get into a church gym,” Chatman said. “We were able to work out there during the summer. I really didn’t take any time off.”

Chatman started all 31 games in his first season at Dayton after playing two seasons at Chattanooga and then sitting out a season at Dayton. He earned praise for his defense and averaged 7.7 points and 3.2 assists. He ranked third on the team behind Crutcher and Watson in 3-pointers made (36 of 100, 36 percent).

The disappointment of the lost postseason stung but didn’t stop Chatman from preparing for his next chance.

“I looked at it two ways,” Chatman said. “I could have pouted and sulked. I used it as motivation to keep working because I want to be in that position again. I want to make it to the NCAA tournament again. I understood I had another year.”

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