Juwan Staten, maybe the most highly touted recruit signed by any Atlantic 10 team, is the heir apparent at point guard for the Flyers. The Dayton native drew interest from a plethora of programs with more pedigree, but he chose to honor the commitment he made to his hometown school as a high school sophomore.
I recently caught up with Staten and asked him about how Gregory won him over and whether he feels he can team with forwards Chris Wright and Chris Johnson to lead Dayton back to the NCAA tournament. Here's what Staten had to say on those subjects and others:
JE: You had opportunities to go to numerous other marquee programs. Why did you choose Dayton?
JS: I chose Dayton first because of coach Gregory. I thought he could help me get to the next level and make me a better player. I also chose it because it's close to home and my parents can come see me play a lot. My dad has been very involved in my life, so I knew that if I stayed at Dayton he could watch me play. Also Dayton has great academics, so that was a factor too. And with the players that were already there and the players that were coming in, I just felt that it could be a good team.
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• FRIDAY: Q&A with Dayton top freshman Juwan Staten
JE: Did you grow up watching Dayton basketball?
JS: Not at all. When I was little, I always said I was going to Duke.
JE: When did that change? When did you become interested in Dayton?
JS: When they first offered me, I thought you either take the offer or it goes off the table. I thought I was supposed to take it then and there, but the coaches told me to wait, think about it and see some other schools. They encouraged me to go on other visits because they felt their program was ultimately a better program and a better fit. Around sophomore year of high school, I was talking to a lot of coaches and I was really getting tired of it. I wanted to narrow it down and think about the schools I was looking at so I could concentrate on getting better.
JE: Was there a particular moment that made you sure about Dayton?
JS: I remember sophomore year I had a game that I didn't play too well in and every coach that was there, they put the blame on somebody else. But Coach Gregory told me straight that I didn't play too well and I didn't look like I was into it. I thought I had all these schools after me that were bigger than UD and they were all just kissing up to me, but Coach Gregory was the type of coach who could tell me what I needed to hear rather than what I wanted to hear and I wasn't even part of the program yet. I knew he had my best interests in mind, so that's what really sold me on Dayton.
JE: Did you have friends who questioned your decision to go to Dayton rather than one of the big-name schools looking at you?
JS: They said something about it all the time. Every time I saw someone, they were like, "Why UD, man? Why don't you go somewhere big like Ohio State?" I told them Dayton was where I felt most comfortable. It wasn't about the name on the jersey. It was about the team, the bond you develop with the coaches and the players.
JE: And on the opposite end of that spectrum, I'm guessing the Dayton fans you saw around the city were very supportive?
JS: Yes, they all were very excited I chose UD. They told me I made a very mature decision and that they were excited to see me play.
JE: Describe your experience at Oak Hill last year. Was it a good decision to transfer there, and how did the increased competition benefit you?
JS: I think it was a very good decision for me to go there for a year. I learned how to compete every single day. Because of who we were, we got every team's best every single day. You couldn't half-step at all. That just taught me to come ready to play every single time I step on the court. And also the players on our team, it made me come ready every day in practice because those are guys who are going to be playing Division I basketball. It made me an overall better player and it made me more focused.
JE: Describe yourself as a player for those who haven't seen you play?
JS: I like to think o myself as a decision maker. Some games I need to score more and then some games I like to make passes and set people up. I let the game determine how I play.
JE: What's something about you fans might not know?
JS: Something fans might not know about me is that I have a 40-inch vertical.
JE: Wow, so who's the better dunker, you or Chris Wright?
JS: Chris Wright, by far.
JE: Last season, there were such high expecations at Dayton. Was it tough on you seeing them struggle to meet those?
JS: It was tough because they came out playing really well and I thought it was going to be a great season, but then they hit a stretch where they weren't playing their best basketball. It seemed like people weren't into it, but I couldn't figure out what it was. But I was happy they turned it around and ended up winning the NIT. That let me know that the guys bought in. I know that guys will be more enthusiastic about this year because of what happened last year.
JE: Along those same lines, how big of a motivation is it for this team to get back to the NCAA tournament this year and live up to the expectations of the past two seasons?
JS: That's what we've been talking about a lot. Winning the NIT was great, but it's still not good enough. No matter how great it was, it still was the second best tournament. We want to be seen as the champions of the best tournament.