‘You can do it from Dayton’ — UD’s athletic director proud of program’s growing NBA legacy

Neil Sullivan praises DaRon Holmes II, who’s expected to be a first-round pick Wednesday

At an all-staff retreat in 2018, Dayton Flyers Athletic Director Neil Sullivan talked to men’s basketball coach Anthony Grant and his assistants about the goals of the program moving forward.

Dayton had been to the NCAA tournament four times from 2013-17 in coach Archie Miller’s final four seasons. It won five NCAA tournament games in the first two appearance. It won back-to-back Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season championships in 2016 and 2017.

The program had been checking many of the boxes Sullivan wanted to check, though Grant’s first season in 2017-18 resulted in a 14-17 record. What the program had not done for a long time was regularly put players in the NBA.

“We need pros playing,” Sullivan said then.

“We were very deliberate about that,” he remembers six years later.

Kostas Antetokounmpo, who spent one year at Dayton, ended a 28-year drought for the program when he was the 60th and last player drafted in 2018. Prior to that, a Flyer hadn’t been drafted since Negele Knight in 1990.

Other players had made it to the league as undrafted free agents. Brian Roberts appeared in 314 games from 2012-17. Chris Johnson made 147 appearances from 2013-16. Chris Wright made 32 appearances from 2011-14. Charles Cooke appeared in 13 games in the 2017-18 season. Jordan Sibert appeared in one game in 2019.

None of those players had high-profile roles for their team in their NBA careers. Now seven years into Grant’s tenure with his eighth season beginning in November, Dayton has two players seeing major minutes in the league: Obi Toppin, a key reserve for the Indiana Pacers; and Toumani Camara, a starter last season as a rookie with the Portland Trail Blazers. Jalen Crutcher, who has played three seasons in the NBA G League, also made his NBA debut last season.

Sullivan said the program has done just what it set out to do in achieving the goal of putting Flyers in the league.

“A lot of credit to the players,” he said. “They get all the credit. But I think it’s the environment that coach Grant provides and the program that he has. People are willing to trust in him, and I think there’s enough evidence now that it works.”

Dayton will add to its NBA legacy this week. DaRon Holmes II is expected to be a first-round pick Wednesday. He was one of 25 players invited to sit in the green room during the first round of the event, which will be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Holmes will be the 40th Dayton player drafted since 1952. This will be the first time since 1957 and 1958 when Jim Palmer and Bucky Bockhorn were picked in back-to-back drafts that Dayton has had players drafted in consecutive years. Camara was a second-round pick last year.

If Holmes goes in the first round, he will join Toppin, the No. 8 pick in 2020, Jim Paxson, the No. 12 pick in 1979, and John Horan, the No. 8 pick in 1955, on the list of Flyers drafted in the first round.

“All the credit to him and who he is as a young man,” Sullivan said of Holmes. “I think everyone sees how he is and who he is. He deserves the opportunity. He’s worked for that. I also think that it’s a testament to our program and the development program that coach Grant has. He’s been able to demonstrate that now. You marry those two things with a kid that was willing to work as hard as him. The staff pours everything into that development. There’s a trust level that is hard to come by these days, but there was trust on both sides and really good things can happen when those things align.”

Sullivan first met Holmes on a Zoom call during the recruiting process. Dayton started recruiting Holmes during the pandemic in 2020. He committed in October 2020 and arrived at UD in late May of 2021.

“When he came to campus, I met with his parents in coach Grant’s office,” Sullivan said. “It was very clear what they were after. They wanted to know if the Zoom stuff and the information was real. Me and his dad had a good conversation. He held up his end of the deal. And I think I think our coaches held up ours.”

Sullivan hopes Dayton’s ability to consistently send players to the NBA continues to pay off in recruiting.

“I think really our message is you can do it from Dayton,” Sullivan said. “Our staff uses a term: ‘Built at Dayton.’ We want players and we want the world to know that you can be a lottery pick from Dayton. You can be a second-round pick. You can be a pro. Whatever it is, that can happen from here. So we try to shed labels. We’re about that, and that’s what we can do. I think that’s a really important message.”

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