All the members of the Dayton Flyers men’s basketball team see two Atlantic 10 championship trophies every time they visit the coaches’ offices at the Cronin Center. The nets, cut down in 2016 and again in 2017 at UD Arena, still hang over the trophies.
Dayton had never won two straight conference titles until this March. Dayton’s ability to win a third straight regular-season crown will depend a lot on junior forward Xeyrius Williams, the Wayne grad who was the team’s most improved player last season and one of the most improved players in the conference.
Williams feels that pressure. He experienced it in high school. He knows it will be there this year. Everyone will expect him to take his game to the next level. He has worked throughout the offseason to get there.
“I think me working on scoring off the dribble is a big deal that will help me become an all-conference player,” Williams said Wednesday.
That’s coach Anthony Grant’s goal for Williams as well.
“I’ve been really impressed with his consistency and his willingness to work,” Grant said earlier this month. “He’s really embraced everything we’ve done in terms of development. X is a guy who over his two-year career, from what I can tell, has just continued to improve. He’s going to have to expand his role, expand his game. He sees that. He’s excited about that.”
Williams averaged 2.0 points and 1.7 rebounds as a freshman, averaging 9.1 minutes per game. He saw increased playing time toward the end of the season.
Williams got off to a slow start as a sophomore, scoring two points in the first three games. Then he had a breakout performance at the Wooden Legacy tournament in California, scoring 15, 14 and 9 points in the three games. He made two 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds to lead the Flyers to a key road victory at Rhode Island in February.
Williams scored in double figures in six of the last 10 games, though he scored 3 points on 1-of-9 shooting in the NCAA tournament loss to Wichita State. Although he missed all five of his 3-point attempts against the Shockers, Williams shot 41.5 percent (39 of 94) from 3-point range on the season.
That loss stings less as time passes, but it’ll stick with the Flyers to a certain degree until they get another chance in March.
“I don’t think about it that much,” said Williams, who averaged 8.2 points and 4.8 rebounds last season. “Last year, we lost in the first round to Wichita. The year before that we lost in the first round to Syracuse. I haven’t been past the first round. They talk about us having our tournament runs, but I haven’t been a part of that. I’m ready to make my own tournament run.”
The main focus for Williams in the offseason is adding weight to his 6-foot-8 frame. UD listed him at 210 on the roster the last two seasons. He has trouble adding pounds no matter how much eats or lifts but said he’s up to 215 and wants to reach 220.
New Dayton strength coach Casey Cathrall has changed the players' weightlifting routine. They do Olympic-style lifting now, meaning more squats and bench presses. In previous years, they often lifted with machines instead of free weights.
The change has been good for Williams, though that’s only a small part of what he has worked on in both summer sessions.
“This offseason, I’m still working on my shot,” Williams said. “I’ve been trying to perfect that. I’ve been working on ball-handling, also my decision making, coming off ball screens, having to read defenders, reading and reacting.”
Last season, Dayton’s lack of height forced Williams to play the four spot more often than not. This season, the Flyers will have seven players 6-7 or taller.
That will allow Williams to play the three and the four. He played the three sometimes in high school. He hopes improved ball-handling skills help him return to that position.
“I’ve put in a lot of work,” Williams said. “It’s going to be way different compared to high school. High school is different from college. It’s an adjustment. The only way I can really learn is by going out there and doing it, getting out of my comfort zone and listening to what coach Grant says about my decision making on the court.”