- David Jablonski Staff Writer
Josh Cunningham, Darrell Davis and Joey Gruden made the cover of the 2017-18 Dayton Flyers men’s basketball media guide.
Aside from being a big moment for Gruden and a great moment in the history of walk-ons — not even Bobby Wehrli graced the cover as a senior — it was also a reminder of just how different this team will look in Anthony Grant’s first season.
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The five departed seniors got the last page of the media guide to themselves, one last honor for the winningest class in school history. However, the True Team nickname of the Archie Miller years seems to have been phased out. The True Team Twitter account still exists but has been used only once since May.
This is a new era in every way. Here are five storylines to watch entering the season opener at 7 p.m. Friday against Ball State at UD Arena.
1. Grant’s debut: No new Dayton coach has lost his first game since James Carter in 1939 (40-29 to Mount Union). Grant faces a tougher opponent than Dayton typically sees in the season opener. Ball State has won 21 games the last two seasons and returns four starters.
Whatever the result Friday, it means a lot to Grant, a 1987 University of Dayton graduate, to get this opportunity. He got a taste of what to expect Saturday as the Flyers beat Ohio Dominican 79-61 in an exhibition game in front of a sellout crowd.
“Obviously, being back in the arena this past weekend, it was an awesome feeling,” Grant said. “Having 13,000-plus there was amazing. Myself and our staff, we didn’t take that for granted. That’s special. This will be an exciting time this week. But at the end of the day, it’s about the players and putting our team in a position to be as successful as possible. It’s an obligation for our program. It’s not my program. It’s not the players’ program. It’s the community’s program. It’s the university’s program. I feel an obligation to make sure we represent our program the right way.”
2. New roles: The five returning players started the exhibition game and are expected to start Friday. Among the starters are two Wayne High School graduates: junior forward Xeyrius Williams and sophomore guard Trey Landers.
Williams was Dayton’s most improved player a season ago, and Landers could be that guy this season. Grant picked the starters based on performance in practice.
“Trey’s done a really good job since the start of practice of being consistent and doing the things myself and our staff have asked of him,” Grant said. “We think he has a chance to continue to grow and get better.”
3. New experience: Five of the Flyers played in front of fans at UD Arena for the first time Saturday. That was an important experience to get out of the way in a game that didn’t count.
“I think we were all ready to go,” freshman forward Matej Svoboda said. “I think we were all a little nervous. Most of us hadn’t played in front of 13,000 people.”
4. Foul trouble: Avoiding foul trouble, especially in the first half, will be key for this team. Point guard John Crosby picked up two fouls in the first five minutes Saturday. Kostas Antetokounmpo also had two fouls in his first five minutes on the court.
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“I think it’s something we emphasize on a daily basis in terms of where we should be and how we want to guard,” Grant said. “We get an opportunity to teach through film in practice about the mistakes that led to some of the fouling the other day. Hopefully, it’s something we’ll get better at every day.”
5. First impressions: Davis could teach the newcomers a thing or two about how to handle their first game. He scored 17 points against Alabama A&M in his debut in 2014.
Davis liked what he saw from Antetokounmpo, Svoboda, guards Jalen Crutcher and Jordan Davis and center Jordan Pierce in the exhibition game. He said they played with confidence.
“I saw they were mentally and physically ready to play,” Darrell Davis said.