By: Steve Miller – Sports Editor
Domination. Dayton’s brand new men’s basketball coach Anthony Grant did not mince words at his introductory press conference Saturday afternoon.
“When I met with the team today, I told them my vision,” Grant said. “To dominate, continue to play for championships, and to dominate in the A-10.”
A week before, Flyer Nation ached at the uncertain future of UD men’s basketball when news broke that Archie Miller had resigned to take the head coaching position at Indiana University.
“Some people were asking whether the sun would come up again,” said University President Eric Spina at the press conference. “It has, seven times. The sun today is shining brighter than ever.”
Now officially under new leadership, the Flyers will turn their attention to building something new, using the foundation that Miller, his staff and his players laid since 2011.
“[I] congratulate Coach Miller and his staff for doing an outstanding job here,” Grant said. “To me, for us to not only meet that standard but to go ahead and excel, and go beyond that, I truly believe that this place is special.”
Miller, the 2017 Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year, won 139 games in his six seasons as head coach of the Flyers, including at least 24 in each of the past four seasons. In those four seasons, the team reached the NCAA Tournament each year, including a run to the Elite Eight in 2014 and two tournament victories in 2015. In 2016 and 2017, the Flyers won the Atlantic 10 regular season title. Dayton never had a losing season under his leadership.
Miller’s success made his departure for a power conference school foreseeable, but no less disappointing for the Flyer faithful.
“I wasn’t necessarily surprised. I was more so surprised that it happened so soon…given the circumstances of this season,” said Brandon Payne, a junior electrical engineering major and a member of the UD cheerleading squad. “We won the A-10 regular season championship and had a great recruiting class coming in. It was set up to be a well-established program for a few more years.”
After Miller’s decision, though, there was no time for nostalgia in Dayton’s athletic department.
“We like Archie, and we’re glad Archie was our coach for the last six years, and we’re certainly sad to see him go,” said Vice President and Director of Athletics Neil Sullivan at a press conference hours after the news broke. “But at the end of the day the University of Dayton has been to I think 18 NCAA Tournaments, been there under many coaches, and plan to be there again.”
Five days later, after a search that surfaced many candidates, Sullivan hired Grant.
“The best way I can describe him is a proven winner,” Sullivan said on Saturday. “He has won basketball games at the highest level, he’s coached at the highest level, and he’s played at the highest level. And he’s going to bring the highest level here to the University of Dayton.”
Grant, a 1987 graduate of UD, played for four seasons under the leadership of legendary Flyer coach Don Donoher. He played in two NCAA Tournaments in his time as a Flyer on the court.
Since then, he served as an assistant coach for 10 years at the University of Florida, where he won a national championship in 2006. He was the head coach at Virginia Commonwealth for three years, where he led the Rams to two NCAA Tournament appearances, and later took over as head coach at the University of Alabama for six years. Most recently, he served as an assistant coach for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
Sullivan elaborated on the decision to hire Grant.
“In our meetings he delivered a clear and convincing message about long-term success, and how bad he wants to be here and how badly he wants to succeed not just in the short-term, but in the long-term, which is very important to us,” he said. “Our meetings focused on what the future would hold around graduating student athletes, in a meaningful way. Not just that they leave here with a degree, but they leave here with a meaningful degree, better people than when they came in.”
In a major coaching transition like this, there is always doubt and speculation as to whether the current players will buy into the new coach or look to transfer. Rising junior forward Ryan Mikesell hinted towards the former.
“We’re grateful for [Archie Miller], but we’re also excited,” he said. “The leadership is going to be different, but we think Coach Grant will bring the same success here and build off the tradition we have today and go out and win the A-10 championship and advance in the NCAA Tournament.”
Another point of concern is the status of Miller’s recruiting class, set to enter UD in the fall.
Guard McKinley Wright, the most coveted recruit of the class, was the center of much speculation following Miller’s decision. But Miller himself came out and spoke on the subject.
“McKinley is [obviously] signed with Dayton and he’s a fantastic player,” Miller said last Tuesday on the Dan Dakich show “I hope he goes to Dayton. He went to Dayton for the right reasons. And I’ll probably leave it at that because my job isn’t to recruit him anywhere else.”
When the dust settles, regardless of the players Grant will actually coach here at Dayton, his focus is constant.
“This program is about this community, about the city of Dayton, it’s about you guys,” he said, speaking to the men’s basketball players in attendance. “And I’m here to make sure that we continue to elevate this program.”
Photo courtesy of Christian Cubacub/Multimedia Editor