Twenty years later: Celebrating the 2004 Flyers

Brian Gregory’s first team made the NCAA tournament one season after Oliver Purnell’s last team did the same

Credit: Ron Alvey

Credit: Ron Alvey

Twenty years ago this month, the University of Dayton celebrated 100 years of basketball. A season-long celebration of the first basketball game in program history featured a ceremony honoring 20 members of UD’s all-century team on Feb. 4, 2004.

Don May, Mike Sylvester and Don “Monk” Meineke were among the players to attend the event, which was held at halftime of a game against Richmond at UD Arena.

The Flyers were not the Flyers when they played their first game a century earlier on Feb. 4, 1904. UD was then known as St. Mary’s Institute. It defeated the Dayton Intermediates 14-2 in that first game. That’s why UD players wore black warmup shirts with a “SM” logo on the front before the game against Richmond in 2004.

Credit: Ron Alvey

Credit: Ron Alvey

There was plenty more to celebrate than history that day. Dayton entered the game with a record of 17-3. Brian Gregory’s first season as head coach couldn’t have been going any better.

The Flyers hadn’t made the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years in nearly two decades but were well on their way to building on the momentum generated in coach Oliver Purnell’s last season when they finished 24-6, won the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament for the first (and still only) time and reached the NCAA tournament for the second time in four years.

“We had a lot of guys back and a new coach, too,” said Keith Waleskowski, a fifth-year senior forward that season. “We had a new coach, too, and new coach that came with a different style. He pushed us in different ways than what we were used to. I’m not saying that it was better or worse. It was different than what we were used to.”

Brooks Hall led Dayton in scoring (12.8 points per game) a season earlier as a senior. The Flyers lost him, as well as two other key contributors, D.J. Stelly and Nate Green, who averaged 14.0 points between them.

Returning were four starters: Waleskowski, a 6-foot-9 forward from Alter; Sean Finn, a 7-0 senior center from Hays, Kan.; Mark Jones, a 6-1 junior guard from Taftville, Ct.; and Ramod Marshall, a 6-3 senior guard from Charlotte, N.C.

“(Gregory) came in with things that he wanted to do,” Waleskowski said, “and there were things that he was very particular about. With myself and Sean and Ramod all being seniors, he put a lot of responsibility on us, but he also gave us the reins to run the team. There were specific times where he was just like, ‘Listen, these three guys are seniors. They’re the ones that put in the work. They’re the ones that have earned this opportunity. The ball’s either going inside to Keith or Sean or we’ll do pick-and-roll action with Ramod or Ramod’s going to create. But it starts starts with our seniors.’”

Gregory praised the seniors late in the season for embracing his methods.

“Our seniors have done everything I’ve asked of them from Day One,” Gregory said. “I’ve said it before. Seniors can go one way or the other. They could say, ‘Okay, we had a good year last year and we’ve got a new coach. Let’s go get our own.’ Or they could say, ‘Let’s open up to this guy and see where we could get to together.’ And that’s what they’ve done.”

Gregory wanted the Flyers to play faster than they did a season earlier. He wanted Waleskowski to shoot more from outside. Gregory’s staff was more vocal, more intense. That wasn’t a good or bad thing, Waleskowski said, just different than Purnell’s style.

“Coach P was a little bit more calculated with some of the stuff that he did,” Waleskowski said. “It wasn’t based off of energy and enthusiasm and talk and noise. He wanted us talking, but BG wanted something all the time. He wanted us constantly communicating on the offensive and defensive end. He wanted the bench calling out screens when we were on the defensive end. He wanted the bench being super into everything, too. Just a lot more vocal energy with BG.”

The style that worked for Purnell worked for Gregory even though the Flyers didn’t have as good a season in 2004 as they did in 2003. They finished 24-9 and returned to the NCAA tournament as a No. 10 seed a year after losing 84-71 to Tulsa as a No. 4 seed.

Waleskowski’s final season is something he’s still proud of 20 years later. He felt he moved the program forward by being part of two NCAA tournament teams.

Now here’s a look back at that 2003-04 season:

Credit: Ron Alvey

Credit: Ron Alvey

MVP: Waleskowski won the White-Allen MVP award. He ranked second on the team in scoring (13.3 points per game) and led the team in rebounding (9.9). Both were career highs. He was the only player to start all 33 games.

Waleskowski finished his career with 1,515 points. He ranks 21st in school history. DaRon Holmes II passed him in February.

“Keith’s a blue collar player,” Gregory said in December 2003. “In this day and age, a lot of players wouldn’t appreciate being called that. They’d look at it as a slap. But I think he wears that blue-collar tag like a badge.”

Credit: Ron Alvey

Credit: Ron Alvey

Top scorer: Marshall started 32 games at point guard. He led Dayton with 14.6 points per game and also averaged a team-best 5.2 assists. He ranks 18th in school history with 1,538 points.

Marshall scored a career-high 33 points in the final game of the regular season against Duquesne. He made 11 of 20 field-goal attempts, including 6 of 7 3-pointers. In his previous seven games, Marshall made 9 of 44 3-pointers (20%).

“I’ve been in a slump too long,” Marshall said. “We can’t win if I’m not playing well. I told them I was going to be aggressive today. I was getting some good looks and they were falling.”

Best shot blocker: Finn finished his career as Dayton’s all-time leading shot blocker with 139. He was later passed by Chris Wright (162) and then Holmes, who had 201 blocks through Feb. 13.

Finn averaged 1.2 blocks per game as a senior, as well as 13.1 points and 7.4 rebounds. He ranks 52nd in school history with 1,003 points.

While Waleskowski made the A-10 first team in 2004 and Marshall made the second team, Finn was not honored.

“I thought he should have been an all-league player,” then Xavier coach Thad Matta said. “There’s no doubt. That guy is a tremendous player and he’s one of the best big men in this league, if not the best. For a guy who is able to do what he does for his team, it was mind-boggling when his name didn’t get called the other day because I think he’s tremendous.”

Most improved players: Marques Bennett and Warren Williams shared the Chris Daniels Award as the team’s most improved players.

Bennett, a 6-5 sophomore guard from Indianapolis, averaged 2.9 points in 18.0 minutes per game after playing a total of 12 minutes as a freshman. He earned a starting job in the 11th game and started 22 games.

“This is definitely a lot more fun than last year,” Bennett said in February. “There’s even some perks to all this. ... Well, people actually know my name. My grandparents were here last weekend and they said people all around them at the game were pulling for me.”

Williams, a 6-0 sophomore guard from Gaithersburg, Md., averaged 4.9 points in 17.7 minutes after averaging 1.8 points in 7.7 minutes per game a season earlier. He backed up Williams at point guard. He earned a start against La Salle on Feb. 28 in the third-to-last game of the regular season when Marshall was sidelined with back pain. Williams tallied 15 points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and just one turnover in 36 minutes.

“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Marshall said after the game. “Warren deserves a day life this. He’s one of my favorite players on this team because he’s so genuine. We may tease him sometime, calling him a momma’s Boy because he never wants to go do anything, but that’s just what it is. Teasing. You won’t find anyone in this dressing room who has a bad thing to say about him. He’s never been in arguments with the other guys, nothing. He’s just a guy with great character. And I know it hasn’t been an easy year for him. He’s heard people talk.”

Top newcomer: Monty Scott, a 6-6 forward from Reynoldsburg, averaged 6.3 points and 3.6 rebounds in his first season on the court. He sat out his freshman season a year earlier because of academic issues. He used his freshman season to get himself ready for the 2003-04 season.

“He went from something like 19 percent to 9 percent body fat,” Gregory said before the season. “He’s really shown me something about himself. And as proud as I am of him for what he’s done to get in shape, I’m even prouder of what he’s done in the classroom the past year. A lot of times kids who sit out a year are unfairly labelled with a negative connotation. But he used it as an opportunity to prove himself academically and he has. He’s in better physical condition and it shows. He’s one guy who has tangible evidence of the benefits of what I’m preaching. He brings us an athletic ability we need.”

Best sparkplug off bench: Frank Iguodola, a 6-5 senior forward from Springfield, Ill., averaged 2.0 points and 2.5 rebounds in his second and final season at Dayton. He had a big moment in the A-10 tournament against Duquesne, playing 19 minutes and tallying four points and eight rebounds, including five offensive boards.

“All of us are ready,” Iguodala said. “Any night can be your night. Every game I come out ready to play. I can say I was a little bit more ready to go because it was a (A-10) tournament game.”

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Strong start: Dayton opened the season 9-0. It was the program’s first 9-0 start since the 1955-56 season.

The perfect start included a season-opening victory at Pepperdine and then victories in the Maui Invitational against Central Michigan, San Diego State and Hawaii. The first four games took place on one road trip in a six-day stretch.

“The guys played their hearts out,” Gregory said after winning the Maui championship. “They showed the hearts of champions.”

Waleskowski was named MVP of the tournament, tallying 48 points and 33 rebounds in three games Marshall averaged 18.3 in Maui. Finn averaged 13.0. The three seniors made the all-tournament team.

Worst loss: Dayton moved into the Associated Press top 25 at No. 25 after a 6-0 start and climbed one spot each of the next two weeks before running into its first ranked opponent: No. 14 Cincinnati on Dec. 23.

Dayton had not beaten Cincinnati on its home court since 1971 and did not come close in this game, losing 82-53. The Flyers committed 28 turnovers.

“I was disappointed in how we played, how we competed over this 40-minute stretch,” Gregory said. “I thought Cincinnati came out and had something to prove and did a good job of it. They are a very talented team. When you play against a top 15 team, you have to bring your best game and I don’t think we did that.”

Best road victory: Dayton won 55-50 at Richmond on Jan. 14, improving to 13-3 and 3-0 in the A-10. Marshall scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half.

“In the second half, there’s nothing more you could ask of your point guard,” Gregory said. “He ran our offense, got us in our stuff, made shots, made free throws. And he went against every defense known to mankind.”

Richmond was 8-8 after that loss but was 10-3 down the stretch in the regular season. It then won two games before losing to Dayton in the A-10 tournament semifinals. It earned a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament and lost to Wisconsin in the first round.

Best home victory: Dayton beat Xavier 74-67 on Jan. 31 at UD Arena. Marshall scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half. The Flyers improved to 17-3 and won their seventh straight A-10 game.

“It’s big,” Gregory said. “It’s big for those guys. They’ve been talking about it all week. And it’s big for me. This is what it’s all about. If you weren’t fired up today, you’ve got to check your pulse or something, because that place was hopping.”

Xavier was 10-9 at that point but won 16 of its next 18 games. That included two victories over Dayton, one in the A-10 championship game, and three in the NCAA tournament before a 66-63 loss to Duke in the Elite Eight.

Big shot: On the same day UD honored its All-Century team, Dayton beat Richmond 62-57 in overtime at UD Arena. Jones hit a game-tying 3-pointer with nine seconds to play to send the game to overtime. The Flyers improved to 18-3 and 8-0 in the A-10.

“I was probably the happiest person in the building because we really didn’t play that good tonight,” Jones said. “It wasn’t a wide open 3 that I got. There was a guy hedging out so I knew I had to put a little more arc on it to get it over the defender. My teammates were teasing me about it, saying it was up there for about 15 seconds. But it went in, so that’s all that counts.”

Close calls: On its way to a 19-3 start, Dayton won three two-point games, beating Wagner 67-65 and IUPUI 61-59 at home in December and La Salle 77-75 in Philadelphia in January.

Over the course of the season, Dayton won 10 games by five points or fewer, while three of its losses were by two points.

Season peak: Dayton won its 19th game on Feb. 8, winning 66-59 at Massachusetts. Not since the 1957-58 season had the Flyers been 19-3 after 22 games. UD broken open a tie game in the last five minutes.

“We’ve been showing what I call grit, and we showed it again today,” Gregory said. “We kinda ground that win out, which we’ve done at times.”

Biggest showdown: Dayton ran into undefeated and third-ranked Saint Joseph’s on Feb. 11 in Philadelphia. A nine-game winning streak ended with an 81-67 loss. Hawks star guard Jameer Nelson, who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated that week, scored 16 points.

“Our league is a lot better than people think,” Gregory said, “and right now the flagship program is Saint Joseph’s.”

Sad ending, Part 1: Dayton lost 65-63 to Rhode Island on Senior Night on March 3 at UD Arena. Dustin Hellenga made a long jump shot at the buzzer to win the game.

“As much as you want to say we lost the game at the buzzer, we didn’t,” Waleskowski said after the game. “The whole game — not rebounding, not getting back in transition. You know they killed us on the boards. That’s where they won the game. We were shutting down their sets, but we were giving them second chances. We can’t do that.”

Dayton missed a chance to clinch the A-10 West Division championship at home but won 73-69 at Duquesne 73-69 three days later and won the division by a game over George Washington.

Sad ending, Part 2: Dayton beat Duquesne and Richmond to reach the A-10 championship game at UD Arena for the second straight season but lost 58-49 to Xavier in the final.

Xavier had upset No. 1 seed Saint Joseph’s, which took a 27-0 record into the postseason, in the quarterfinals two days earlier.

Xavier outscored Dayton 15-3 over the last 8 minutes, 31 seconds. The Flyers didn’t make a field goal in that stretch.

“Right now we’re thinking more of the present game than anything else,” Gregory said. “It was a big game, a goal we set. It’s why you coach, why you play — to win a championship. We’ll have a bad 24 hours and then we’ll figure out that first (NCAA tournament) game and how to advance.”

Nervous moment: Dayton was the 61st team out of 65 revealed on the NCAA tournament selection show. No one knew for sure if the Flyers would earn an at-large berth, but when Richmond’s name showed up early in the show, they felt better about their chances because of their victory against the Spiders two days earlier.

“When they picked all of those at-large teams — Air Force, UTEP, BYU — I started to get worried,” Waleskowski said. “It was getting late and I was afraid the bracket was getting filled up.”

Credit: Ron Alvey

Credit: Ron Alvey

Sad ending, Part 3: No. 10 seed Dayton lost 76-69 to No. 7 DePaul in double overtime at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Dayton shot 52.2% (12 of 23) from the free-throw line and shot 5 of 17 from the field in the two overtimes.

Drake Diener led DePaul with 28 points and made 10 of 10 free throws. UD fouled him four times in the final 2:13 of the second overtime, and he made eight free throws in that stretch.

Ramod Marshall had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation but missed a hurried 3-pointer. He said he didn’t have a good grip on the ball.

Dayton again had the ball at the end of the first overtime with a chance to win the game. This time, Monty Scott missed a rushed 3-pointer from the corner.

DePaul then had the ball under Dayton’s basket with four-tenths of a second remaining. Its in-bounds pass hit the scoreboard, giving Dayton the ball with the same amount of time on the clock. Marshall lobbed a pass to Frank Iguadola at the basket. Iguadola said he was held by his defender and couldn’t jump.

“I thought you saw two teams that competed as hard as any two teams competed all year,” Gregory said, “and they made the plays at the end to pull it out. That’s what happens at this time of year.”

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