Dayton coach Archie Miller wanted to bring his freshmen along slowly last season, giving them a chance to sit and learn behind dependable veterans rather than rushing them into action.
He didn’t have that luxury.
With just 10 scholarship players, the four newcomers — point guard Khari Price, wing Dyshawn Pierre and post players Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott — all played pivotal roles. It’s a talented group, but relying so much on freshmen may explain why the Flyers stumbled to a 17-14 record with six losses coming by a combined 10 points.
“We went through a lot of our ups and downs last year, a lot of close losses. When it really comes down to it, there was an experience problem, there was a strength problem, and they only know what they know,” Miller said.
“Watching those four guys in our sophomore class now take the floor, work in the weight room, watching them move about campus and how they carry themselves, there’s a much different feeling for those guys.”
All four players were committed to the offseason strength-and-conditioning program, trimming fat and adding muscle.
Even the 6-foot, 170-pound Price has reshaped his frame by picking up eight pounds since last year. As Scott said, “Despite his little stature, he’s buff.”
“Watching them in practice, they’re accelerated with where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be doing,” Miller said. “Watching Pierre, it’s night and day from a year ago till today. It’s night and day watching Jalen from a year ago to where he is today. … Those guys having a role last year could make us a little more powerful this year.”
Pierre, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound Canadian, was the lone starter in the bunch and averaged 8.8 points (fifth on the team) and 5.1 rebounds (second). He shot 53.6 percent from the field and a team-high 46.2 on 3-pointers.
“Dyshawn, I thought, had an all-freshman type of a year,” said Miller, disappointed Pierre was left off the Atlantic 10 all-rookie team. “At times, he was as physically dominating in some of our games as most older guys we saw.
“As good as he was last year, physically, he’s probably 10 pounds heavier. He’s in much better shape. He’s had an offseason where he’s been able to work at the pace we work at. … I have high expectations for him. Sometimes, I think he needs to have higher expectations for himself and be a little more selfish. He has a chance to be, in my opinion, one of the better players in our league this year.”
Pierre could add a new twist to the offense with how he’s being utilized.
“Our coaches really focused on putting me in the post, getting low and getting stronger,” he said.
“As far as the all-rookie thing, I’ve tried to put that behind me. But I will use it as motivation as much as I can.”
Price became the primary backup at the point and shooting guard spot, and he earned the confidence of the coaches because of his grasp on the defense and ball-handling skills. And the 6-9 Robinson started the first two games of the year and never lost his spot in the rotation.
The 6-9 Scott didn’t contribute much early in the season but started 10 games at center late in the year when coaches decided to move senior Josh Benson back to his customary power-forward spot.
Asked who’s made the biggest jump of the foursome, Price said: “As I see it, Devon Scott has really taken his game to the next level. As we all know, he didn’t play as much at the beginning of last season. He had an incredible offseason. He really has gotten stronger and gotten more physical — if that’s possible.
“His offensive skill has definitely grown. His IQ has grown. He’s definitely gotten better.”
RED & BLUE SCRIMMAGE
The Dayton men’s and women’s teams will hold open scrimmages Saturday at UD Arena. The women play at 2 p.m., the men at 3. Both teams will be available for autographs at 4:30 p.m.