Weaver excited about chance to lead young Dayton roster next season

Weaver, Dwayne Cohill will be most experienced players in 2021-22 season

Transfer season started weeks ago in college basketball, and it’s expected to be busier than ever. As of Tuesday, 731 players had entered the transfer portal, according to the list kept at VerbalCommits.com. Last year, the number reached 1,026.

With the NCAA expected to approve a one-time transfer rule sometime this year, allowing everyone to transfer once without having to sit out a season, players are taking advantage of the new freedom, trying to find a better fit. That’s why Dayton Flyers guard Luke Frazier entered the portal on Monday.

In each of coach Anthony Grant’s four seasons, the player who struggled the most to find playing time has left the program after the season. That was center Jordan Pierce in 2018. It was forward Frankie Policelli in 2019. It was guard Jhery Matos in 2020.

Frazier, who played in two games in his first season, joined that group. More could follow. As of Tuesday, Dayton had 11 of 13 scholarships filled for the 2021-22 season, and that number may change in the weeks and months ahead as Dayton coaches work on adding to a roster that will be very young in Grant’s fifth season.

Dayton will have one player next season who has played three seasons of college basketball. That’s Elijah Weaver, who has appeared in 77 games the last three seasons (59 at Southern California and 18 at Dayton). He started 19 games in two seasons at USC and started 10 this past season at Dayton after gaining his eligibility in December when the NCAA rules all transfers eligible.

That experience makes him the favorite to start at point guard. The chance to play his natural position is one reason he transferred to Dayton in May of 2020. Of course, Dayton will need much more from Weaver on a team that will have nine players in their first or second seasons on the court.

“I’m super excited to just be a leader,” said Weaver after Dayton’s 70-61 loss to Memphis in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament on March 20. “I’ll be the oldest on the team as a senior. It’s an exciting opportunity. I’m ready for it.”

Weaver averaged 5.4 points and 2.4 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game. He shot 36.1 percent (13 of 36) from 3-point range and made 4 of 4 against Memphis. He saw his minutes climb when redshirt senior guard Rodney Chatman suffered a hand injury in December and decline when Chapman returned to the lineup.

Weaver knows he has to find consistency in his game to reach the next level but said he can build on his performance in the final game. He praised the seniors — Chatman, Jalen Crutcher, Ibi Watson and Jordy Tshimanga — for helping him in his first season at Dayton.

“They were always preaching consistency,” Weaver said.

Weaver was one of seven players to make their Dayton debuts during the 2020-21 season.

Freshman forward Mustapha Amzil was the top newcomer, joining the program in mid-December and starting in 15 of his 19 appearances. He averaged 9.9 points and shot 38.1 percent from 3-point range. He scored 22 points in his first game.

Forward Zimi Nwokeji, a redshirt freshman, averaged 5.9 points and had the best single-game performance of any newcomer, scoring 29 in a 91-89 double-overtime loss at Rhode Island on Feb. 16.

Guard R.J. Blakney had the best early performances of any freshman but was limited by a calf injury in conference play. No newcomer made a bigger shot all season. His game-tying overtime 3-pointer kept Dayton alive in an 85-82 victory against Mississippi State on Dec. 12.

Freshman guard Koby Brea turned 18 during preseason practices. There was talk when he committed to Dayton he might redshirt as a freshman because of his age. That became a moot point when the NCAA decided to not count this season against anyone’s eligibility. Like the other freshmen, he still has four years of eligibility remaining. He averaged 2.9 points and shot 35.5 percent (11 of 31) from 3-point range in his first season.

Amzil, Nwokeji, Blakney and Brea played the biggest roles in Dayton’s rotation of the six freshmen and redshirt freshmen. Frazier played a total of seven minutes. Redshirt freshmen center Moulaye Sissoko averaged 9.6 minutes in 14 games but did not play after Jan. 30 and underwent surgery on his left knee Feb. 23.

All in all, Weaver liked what he saw out of the young players.

“It’s all positive,” Weaver said. “They had their negatives at the beginning of the season because they are freshmen, but they fought through it. That’s what we preach. Just fight through adversity.”

Dayton finished the season 14-10, earning a bid to the NIT for the second time in three years but failing to earn the NCAA tournament berth it lost in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“I think with COVID, it was a good season for us,” Weaver said. “It was a learning experience. There were so many changes, so much adversity. It just made us stronger for what happens next year. Hopefully, we get a normal season with fans.”

Weaver will be one of two players on the roster next year who has played more than one season of college basketball. The other will be redshirt junior guard Dwayne Cohill, who missed this past season after suffering an ACL injury in the fall. He’ll be the only person on the roster who has played more than one season with the Flyers.

Dayton ranked 317th in the country in experience in Grant’s first season, and his fifth team could have even less experience.

While Dayton’s current 2021-22 roster is short on experience, the hope is that the returning players can mesh with a promising group of incoming freshmen. DaRon Holmes, a 6-foot-8 forward, is the highest-ranked player of a 2021 recruiting class that also includes 6-7 forward Kaleb Washington, 6-0 guard Malachi Smith and 6-2 guard Lynn Greer.

Dayton could add to the class this spring or bring in a transfer. It could use another big man or a 3-point shooter. The current Flyers are well aware of Dayton’s recent success on the recruiting trail. Weaver said he had not connected with his future teammates on social media but planned to soon.

“I’ve just been so locked into the season,” he said. “Now that we are done, I’ll reach out to those guys and build a relationship before they get here.”

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