Through trying off-season, Grant draws on experience as practice schedule ramps up

University of Dayton men’s basketball coach Anthony Grant said he draws on familiarity from veteran players to get through a trying off-season, which begins to end with the increase of hours allowed in practice. Photo courtesy of Flyer News.

Peter Burtnett
Sports Editor

For reigning consensus National Coach of the Year Anthony Grant, the off-season he and the rest of the UD men’s basketball team faced this year was unlike anything else he’s ever experienced.

Now, as practice hours allowed per week increases from eight to 20, they prepare for the 2020-21 season to start Nov. 25. 

Off-season trials

“I’ve never been through a pandemic,” Grant said. “And with everything that took place surrounding the pandemic, with everything that’s taken place surrounding the social injustice in our society, and then trying to re-acclimate our players and our student body back on campus, it’s been a year unlike any other.”

Through the pandemic, Grant said the goal was to “find a way to help,” while their battle regarding social issues centered around education and supporting those in need. The biggest positive he found was the willingness to learn through all the layers that come with societal issues.

“I would say the willingness to have a conversation (was the biggest positive),” Grant said. “I think that’s probably where you would like to see all of our society get (to). To understand, let me be willing to listen and keep an open mind in terms of different people’s vantage point in terms of where we’re at, where we’ve been as a society and as a country, the history, because I think it impacts what we’re doing today and it will impact the future.”

Grant said his athletes have been willing to converse on important issues with each other and the student body at large on how to make an impact.

“(Moving forward we’re) just trying to be fully present and fully aware of the changing environment we’re in,” Grant said. 

While the team deals with what has happened to people of color recently, and historically, they continue to educate themselves and have conversations with the right people in front of them, but don’t have a checklist of how they plan to address social issues moving forward.

“I don’t think there’s anything we can say (like) we’re gonna check a box on this issue or this subject,” Grant said. “I think that would be naïve on anybody’s part to think you could do that, or that one thing’s gonna make a difference. There’s a lot (to go over) as a team, as a university, as a society, our conference… we’ll just try to come together and figure out where we can help be a part of positive change and help our guys be able to use their voice and understand the impact they can have because of…(the people) that we maybe have a chance to impact with the way we go about what we do. So we’ll see what type of opportunities (our platform) brings, and try to make the most of those opportunities.”

As the Flyers continue to fight for a real change, they will also be competing for wins as the preparation for the 2020-21 season ramps up, with hours allowed for team practice going from eight to 20 hours per week starting today, Oct. 14.

Veteran leadership

Veteran leadership is equally as important on the court as it is off. For Jalen Crutcher, Rodney Chatman, Ibi Watson, Jordy Tshimanga, and Camron Greer, their final year of eligibility at UD has been more up-and-down than perhaps any other team has ever experienced. 

From the heights of a 29-2 season to the trials of this off-season, Grant said this group of veterans is “really good at understanding” to live in the moment, whatever that moment brings.

“We have to live in the moment, live in the present,” Grant said. “I think that allowed us to have the success we had last year, so I think these guys will be able to go off that experience.”

With the experience that comes from the five seniors – along with veterans like Dwayne Cohill and Chase Johnson – will come the leadership that will be needed to acclimate three true freshmen (Koby Brea, Luke Frazier and R.J. Blakney), a transfer (Elijah Weaver from USC) and several young players with little playing experience, like redshirt freshmen Moulaye Sissoko and Zimi Nwokeji.

“We’ve got a group of first-year guys that weren’t necessarily a part of what happened last year,” Grant said. “And I think it would be really unfair to them if we blow too much on that.”

Grant also said it would be a “grave injustice” to base this year’s expectations off last year’s success, and that every new season brings a “whole new team.” For the Flyers to have success again this year, the veteran experience – for which there is “no substitute” – familiarity with team culture, and helping the young guys along the learning curve will be the staples of a successful 2020-21 season after such a unique and trying off-season.

Part of implementing those staples begins with the increase in practice hours allowed, which Grant said will allow for more individual work in the gym and more time to watch film, things they have been missing during the reduced practice time.

The road ahead

Even with the assuredness that comes with more practice time, the road ahead is still a “work in progress,” as scheduling difficulties will make up a major part of the month leading up to Nov. 25.

The Flyers are currently scheduled to play in the South Dakota multi-team event (MTE), match-ups against SMU and Ole Miss, and a spot in Holiday Hoopsgiving, an MTE slated to take place in Atlanta, Georgia, Dec. 10-17. 

Even though it may not be clear what the season will look like “at home with some of the restrictions,” Grant said he appreciates the support of Flyer nation as his team prepares for a unique season.

“For Flyer nation, (we) just want them to know how much we appreciate the support they give us,” Grant said. “And I know this year will be a little different, but just knowing that we’ve got one of the best student bodies, best fanbases in the country… (the support) is really, really important.

“Whether it’s in-person or on TV watching games or on the internet, we just ask that they continue to support our guys and understand that at the end of the day, we appreciate the support.”