When he goes out on the court for Senior Day festivities today at UD Arena, you’ll count five people with him.
But Darrell Davis said there’ll actually be six.
The Dayton Flyers 6-foot-5 senior guard will be accompanied by his dad, Darrell Sr., his mom, Tenisha, his two sisters, LaToya and Tyisha, and his two-year-old nephew, Jeremiah Blue Jr.
“This will be his first basketball game so it should be interesting,” Davis said. “He won’t know what’s going on, but hopefully he can store the memory in his brain and one day remember he was able to walk out on the stage with his uncle.”
So who else will be out there for his final home game in a UD uniform?
Who is number six?
Davis held out his left arm and slowly rolled his wrist so you could see the underside which bore the tattoo:
“9-26-95 ——- 5-12-16”
He ran a finger across it and quietly explained: “That’s the sunrise and sunset dates for Steve McElvene.
“That’s the only thing I wish I could change in my career here. I wish I could get my best teammate back and he’d be playing with me in my final game here.”
McElvene, the Flyers’ beloved 6-foot-11 center, died suddenly two years ago from an enlarged heart. He was just 20.
Although he came into UD with Davis, he was sidelined that first season as an academic redshirt in order to meet NCAA educational requirements.
“Big Steve,” as he was known, then played one season for the Flyers and is remembered not only for the way he swatted opposing shots and rattled the rim with his own dunks, but for his infectious smile and that playful nature.
“I got this tattoo a month or two after he passed,” Davis said. “So now he’s always on my body. He’s always out there with me on the court.”
Davis and Joey Gruden are the only seniors on this year’s team, which takes a 13-16 record into the regular season finale against George Washington.
Although both will be celebrated today, their UD basketball experiences have been quite different.
Davis has played in 128 games during his career and started all 29 this season. He’s the team’s leading scorer (15.2 points per game) and needs just 28 more points to reach 1,000 for his Flyers’ career.
Gruden, a 6-foot-1 senior walk-on, has played in just 22 games – 25 minutes total – and scored five points. He is a favorite, though, of the crowd and the team, including head coach Anthony Grant, who talked about the preparation and the personal sacrifice walk-ons must make, all so someone else gets the playing time and the glory that comes with it.
“To get outside of yourself and understand you have an opportunity to help other people be successful is a great attribute,” Grant said. “Joey knows sacrifice for the greater good.”
In a different way, Davis spent his first three seasons here playing a supporting role to more veteran players, including last season with a quartet of seniors – Scoochie Smith, Kendall Pollard, Kyle Davis and Charles Cooke – all of whom graduated and are playing pro ball now.
Grant said before this season the younger players told Davis they “needed” him:
“He’s our most experienced guy. And he has stepped up for us most of this season. He’s leading us in scoring and from a defensive standpoint, he’s grown a lot.
“And now we’ve got a chance to show these (seniors) an appreciation for what their careers have meant here.
“Senior Day is always special and all our guys will play for them and understand we have an opportunity to create some memories.”
Carrying on the name
The Gruden name carries a legacy at UD.
Jim Gruden, Joey’s grandfather, was an assistant on John McVay’s UD football staff from 1969-72.
And his Uncle Jon was a back-up quarterback for the Flyers in the early 1980s before becoming the ever-intense coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who he led to a Super Bowl crown. And just recently he was named the new head coach of the Oakland Raiders.
“I tried to carry the name well and do the right things here,” said Joey, who graduated in December with a communications degree.
A multi-sport standout at Sycamore High in Cincinnati, he could have transferred from Dayton and played basketball at another school.
“It crossed my mind, but the Flyer community and my teammates made it way too hard to even think about leaving,” he said. “This is a great place.”
While some of his favorite memories have been the NCAA Tournament experiences, he said he also has taken something from this season of struggle:
“I learned you can’t take winning for granted. Winning is a lot harder than people think.”
He said one day he wants to be a coach and “the experiences I got here will help me out in the long run because I got to learn a lot and see a lot. And I got lucky. I got the experience of two different coaches and two different styles.”
He said former coach Archie Miller “is more intense and in your face. Coach Grant is more patient and understanding. He lets the players play.”
Here’s Joey Gruden’s first career 3. pic.twitter.com/Ox7MGZzL37— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) January 13, 2018
Asked whose style he might embrace, he said: “A little of both, but I’m leaning more to Coach Grant. I’m not a rah-rah guy. I’m not a big yeller.”
Well, then, what about from his own family — Uncle Jon or his dad, Jay, who is the Washington Redskins head coach?
“Me and my dad are similar,” he grinned. “I wouldn’t be like my uncle, who’s crazy.”
‘I just want to win’
As the two seniors shared a few memories before practice the other day, Gruden had to laugh:
“I just watched a video of Darrell’s first basket here. He’s gotten a lot bigger and stronger. He was a tiny little guy back then.”
When he got here from Frederick Douglass High School in Detroit, Davis said he weighed 154 pounds.
Now he’s 177.
Just as he tried to beef his body up, he did the same with his game
“When I first came here, Jordan Sibert was the leader on and off the court. He was someone I could talk to about almost anything. He told me what was right and what was wrong. He basically was like a tutor of basketball and a father off the court.
“Then Scoochie, Kyle, Kendall and Cooke came along and were the leaders. They did it by talking, by example and by just winning games. It’s amazing what they did.”
Davis said when he first came here, “ I didn’t realize how it important it was to be a basketball player at the University of Dayton. The people here are amazing with what they do for you in the gym and out.
“First and foremost I’ll remember my teammates. And our fans are the best in the country.
“I’ll remember my advisors, Beth Flach and Jeni (Gerard) and what they did for me, helping me study sometimes as late as two in the morning, getting me ready for a test. I’ll remember our trainer Mike (Mulcahey) and how he wouldn’t get home until late because he was taking care of us.
“And I’m really going to remember Coach Grant and what he’s done for me. It’s a blessing I’ve had a coach like him my last year, someone you can be on the same terms with, someone who cares about you and helps you develop your game to another level.”
He said the player who has surprised him the most this season is junior Trey Landers:
“Last year when he wasn’t getting to play much, I told him, ‘Lil Bro, your time is coming.’ And it has.
“I applaud him for everything he’s doing: His growth, his confidence, his demeanor, his toughness, his will to win a game. He just doesn’t give up.”
And Davis hopes the team shows that same will today:
“I just want to win. Nobody wants to lose on Senior Night.”
Especially when you’re playing for six, not just five.