Dayton seniors etched into program lore

MBB seniors EJK wSeniors Devin Oliver, Vee Sanford, Brian Vonderhaar and Matt Kavanaugh completed their college careers having led the menÕs basketball team to the highest level in the NCAA tournament in 30 years. ETHAN KLOSTERMAN/PHOTO EDITOR

By: Steven Wright – Sports Editor

The University of Florida ended their careers. It didn’t matter, because the senior class for the University of Dayton men’s basketball team had already placed themselves into UD history.

For the first time since 1984, Dayton advanced to the regional finals of the NCAA tournament. Forward Devin Oliver, guard Vee Sanford and senior Matt Kavanaugh were big reasons why they got this far.

And along the journey through their final year as collegiate athletes, they gained memories they’ll never forget, or be forgotten for accomplishing.

“Just being here,” Sanford said after the loss to Florida. “This is something I’ll remember forever. Making it to the tournament and making this run is a great memory I have of all of us, including the seniors.”

Like most good runs, they usually must come to an end. Dayton’s seniors though didn’t go out without a fight. Already winning more NCAA tournament games than were accomplished in the last 30 years combined, the No. 11 seed Flyers found themselves 40 minutes away from a trip to the Final Four, with the No. 1 team in the country in its way.

Although Dayton didn’t triumph, the team aspect they created didn’t dissolve.

“It was just tough because it was such a special run with a great group of guys,” Oliver said. “At the end of the day, it’s been an incredible run, and I’m just proud of my team.”

No player exemplified what Dayton’s team was about this season than Oliver. The team leader in minutes, rebounding, assists and steals, he had six of the team’s 11 double-double performances.

He hit the game-winning shot against the University of Mississippi from midcourt to close out the non-conference portion of the schedule and tied a career-high of 3-pointers made with four against Florida.

Sanford began the year in the starting lineup, but quickly found him inserted into a sixth-man role in favor of redshirt junior guard Jordan Sibert. Head coach Archie Miller throughout the season said Sanford never once complained after starting all 31 games during his junior campaign. He ended up averaging 9.6 points per game and banked in the game winner against The Ohio State University in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Kavanaugh returned from a year-long suspension in 2012-2013 and made UD a better team, going 25-7 with him in the lineup compared to a 1-4 record when he had to sit due to injury. He came alive during the tournament, grabbing eight rebounds against the University of Florida with an assist, block and steal.

“These three guys, four guys with Brian Vonderhaar, will go down as one of the greatest senior classes that ever did it,” Miller said. “They had such a sensational season that they’re going to go down as one of the best teams in the history of Dayton basketball.”

Vonderhaar isn’t an afterthought to his teammates. The walk-on entered the game against Florida in the final seconds to put his name in the record books of UD players to play in the Elite Eight, but Kavanaugh said he was more than guy on the bench every game.

“You couldn’t ask for better role models in Oliver, Sanford and Vonderhaar,” Vonderhaar said. “To be able to finish my career with those three guys is a major blessing.”

UD has produced three NBA players recently: Brian Roberts, Chris Johnson and Chris Wright. They won NCAA tournament games in 1990 and 2009, and the National Invitational Tournament championship in 2010. But no group in the last 30 seasons went as far as this year’s in college basketball’s biggest stage.

“It was a great experience,” Sanford said. “These guys are great. We always have each others back to this day. We love each other and this was a great run. I mean, it sucks right now, but we’re going to look back at it and realize how great the run was.”

Miller said the blueprint has been set for how the program can continue the success this year’s seniors experience. He credited them as guys who have taken the program, “across the bridge.”

“We’ll look back and think how does a team get back here?” Miller said. “Well, they have to approach things every day like these guys did. A lot of sacrifice went into it, but more importantly, these guys will go down in the history books.”

Dayton’s seniors finished their collegiate careers by helping engineer the third-most wins of any team in program history at 26. None could be considered “stars,” but together they filled their roles on a team that eventually became known as a “True Team,” as displayed on the warm up shirts they debuted against Florida.

Sibert said they filled the roles needed, but never had anything but the wellbeing of the team in their minds.

“You know, a lot of seniors, you run into them and they want to go out there and try to prove they have to get all their shots out or I have to do this or that,” Sibert said. “They were extremely unselfish. They just wanted to win and that’s one thing I felt that was big.”

What did the seniors mean to this year’s Dayton basketball team? Miller summed it up perfectly.

“Everything,” Miller said. “The bottom line is this team and these seniors recreated a vision. They recreated a brand of basketball that the University of Dayton hasn’t had in 30 years. You can leave it at that. That’s a statement among statements.”