By: Daniel Massa – Sports Editor
Heading into his fifth season at the helm of the Dayton men’s basketball team, head coach Archie Miller and his staff, consisting of assistant coaches Kevin Kuwik, Allen Griffin and Tom Ostrom, can easily see the imprint they’ve made on the program.
The impact is not that hard to see from any perspective, as Miller and company have led the program to as many NCAA Tournament wins (five) in the last two seasons as it had recorded in the previous 29.
“We’re light-years different than we were when we first got here,” Miller said during an exclusive interview with Flyer News. “In a lot of ways, I don’t think we were very well-respected in the conference. I think that was something that we needed to establish eventually at some point in time to have a true program that’s about March. It’s about [being in the] top 25. You have to not only win in your league, but you have to be respected in your league.”
Perhaps there is no better sign of that respect than the Flyers’ spot at the top of the Atlantic 10 preseason coaches poll released two weeks ago, an honor the Flyers were given despite the uncertainty shrouding its best returning player.
Dyshawn Pierre, who was set to return for his senior season as the team’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, was suspended by the university for the first semester after he was found to have violated the school’s code of conduct following a sexual assault investigation.
The suspension would allow him to return for the Flyers’ Dec. 22 home matchup with Miami (OH), although there has been no official confirmation that he will return.
“I don’t know,” Miller said of Pierre’s future in a Dayton uniform. “A lot will have to go right for him and his family here in the next however many weeks or months as it progresses.”
“If Dyshawn is back, when he’s back, I don’t know what the answer is. Will he be able to play? A lot of that is sort of deemed on conditioning, a lot of that is sort of deemed on how much has gone on within the first 10 games of the season.”
Junior guards Kyle Davis and Scoochie Smith, along with fellow junior forward Kendall Pollard, were named as team co-captains alongside Pierre over the summer. The three will have an increased leadership role now in Pierre’s absence, with forward Bobby Wehrli being the only scholarship senior on the roster now.
The juniors all echo Miller’s sentiments about Pierre and his future.
“It’s just a decision he has to make with him and his family,” Smith said. “I’m sure that he’ll make the best one.”
While the Flyers will have to fill the void, whether temporary or permanent, left by Pierre, the preseason honor helps validate the team’s confidence in their current personnel and the success they’ve proven to be able to achieve.
“I think when you combine the fact that UD Arena is our home floor and you have some guys that have won a lot of games right now playing a lot of minutes, clearly they [the voters] feel like there’s a culture here that’s about winning,” Miller said.
Sophomore guard Darrell Davis should be one of those players getting a lot of minutes this season. The sharpshooter has worked in the offseason to develop other aspects of his game, and Miller expects big things from Davis now that he has a year of college experience under his belt.
One of the newcomers this season is redshirt junior guard Charles Cooke, who sat out last season after transferring from James Madison. He figures to begin the season in the starting lineup, and will look to make his mark on the Dayton program during his two years here.
Four true first-years and a redshirt first-year will not only make their Dayton debut, but also their collegiate debuts this season. Forwards Ryan Mikesell, Sam Miller and Xeyrius Williams will add some much needed size and depth down low for the Flyers. However, no one should make as much of an impact as 6-foot-11 redshirt first-year center Steve McElvene, who was academically ineligible last season.
First-year point guard John Crosby will get to hone his craft while learning from Smith’s example. He already showed some flashes of potential at the Red-Blue scrimmage two weekends ago.
“I think the great thing about John is that he does have natural ability, he has natural playmaking ability,” Miller said. “I think what [we’re] trying to do with John is, like all of our young guys, but in particular a point guard, he’s got to learn the system.”
The 2015-16 schedule is tied with last year’s for the number of nationally televised games, with 21, including a spot on ESPN’s 24-hour college basketball tipoff marathon when Dayton hosts Alabama Nov. 17.
The Flyers will once again compete in a late November tournament, when they will travel to Orlando, Florida, for the AdvoCare Invitational Nov. 26-29. They will meet Iowa, an NCAA Tournament team last year out of the Big Ten Conference, in the first round. From there, potential matchups with Notre Dame and Xavier as the bracket works itself out will provide the Flyers with stiff early-season tests.
Dayton will play only one true road non-conference game, Dec. 9 at Vanderbilt. Despite the Flyers’ placement last year in the First Four, a placement most people reasoned was because of a lack of respect for Dayton’s schedule, Miller is not worried about what a lack of non-conference road games might cause at the end of the season.
“I think last year was a total joke,” Miller said. “I think the selection committee greatly under-seeded us, I think that’s why we advanced… I thought the selection committee was way off on about seven to 10 teams, not just us.”
Miller thinks the conference is improved over last season, and sees the possibility for up to six conference teams getting a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“Depending on how the non-conference [season] goes, I think the A-10 is definitely between a four and a six bid league this year, so you can’t ask for more than that.”
Graphic by Art Director Kelsey Mills. Photo of team huddling at the Red-Blue Scrimmage by Multimedia Editor Chris Santucci.