Dayton fans 'cautiously optimistic' entering 2023-24 season

Nov. 5—The work often continues late into the night at the Cronin Center on the University of Dayton campus. Guard Kobe Elvis would take hundreds of shots, sometimes close to 1,000, on the average offseason day, working with teammates or alone with a student manager — long after normal business hours.

"You'll be there listening to music, rocking out, and you'll get up another 500 or so," Elvis said.

Elvis aimed for making 70-80% of his attempts. That's where the foundation of the season that begins at 7 p.m. Monday with a game against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville was built for him and the rest of the Flyers.

The 2023-24 season begins with great promise for Dayton. It is the preseason favorite in the Atlantic 10 Conference. It has the 15th-best player in the country, junior forward DaRon Holmes II, according to The Almanac.

Dayton has won 46 games over the last two seasons but fallen short of the NCAA tournament both years. That has created a hunger for winning that extends from coach Anthony Grant at one end of the bench to the walk-ons, including Grant's freshman son Makai, at the other end to the 13,407 fans that will fill UD Arena for 16 home games this season and to the thousands more watching in the Miami Valley and around the country.

To preview this season, the Dayton Daily News talked to five people who know the program as well as anyone. They spoke on Oct. 23, one day after Dayton's exhibition game against Ohio State at UD Arena.

—Larry Hansgen, the voice of the Flyers on WHIO Radio for 41 seasons.

—Brooks Hall, a UD Hall of Famer who has called games with Hansgen in recent years and will provide analysis on WHIO's postgame show, Flyer Feedback, this season.

—Keith Waleskowski, Hall's former teammate and also a member of the UD Hall of Fame who also works with Hansgen on the radio broadcasts.

—Hall of Fame baseball writer Hal McCoy, who covered the first season at UD Arena in 1969-70 for the Dayton Daily News and now writes about the Flyers for Press Pros Magazine.

—And Matthew Schwade, the longtime Flyer Hoops writer for

Here are excerpts of those conversations:

Q: What are you general feelings about the team after seeing it in action for the first time?

Hansgen: They have a good mix of some veterans that have been around and then some guys who have played college basketball but just not here. Maybe the biggest upside of last night was that I thought that all three freshmen (Petras Padegimas, Marvel Allen and Jaiun Simon) look like they belonged on the floor. I'm not going to say they're going to play double-digit minutes, but at least they didn't look completely out of their element in a college basketball game.

Hall: I'm excited about them after what I've seen in practices and then the first look last night. They've got a great core group of returners with a great mix of new faces. Depth is not an issue now. That won't be an excuse anymore. It's not a lack of fit. It's not a lack of skill. They've got everything they need to have a heck of a season.

Waleskowski: I think they're going to have every opportunity to be really successful. They've got the pieces if they step up and perform. I'm assuming they're going to shoot a little bit better than they have the past couple of years from the outside, which should in turn free DaRon up a little bit on the inside. I think they are going to get out there and run and play a little bit faster on the offensive side. At the same time, they've got a few pieces that they're going to be able to plug in and have some sparks off the bench on the defensive side, which should help create some offense going the other way.

McCoy: From what I saw Sunday, I'm pretty impressed. There's a lot of athletic ability and a lot of scrappiness and athleticism. I think the biggest problem they're going to have is trying to find playing time for all these guys.

Schwade: I think this is probably going to be the deepest Dayton team that I've covered in my 24 seasons. Last night, obviously, it's a scrimmage, where they wanted to play a lot of guys, but I think that rotation is going to be pretty deep this season. It seemed like in the first few years, Anthony really developed a core group of six, seven, eight guys that he really trusted and then didn't expand the rotation much after that. I don't think that's the case this season. I think their depth is very talented this season.

Q: How good can Holmes be this year?

Hansgen: He's the preseason favorite to be the player of the year in the league, and I think he'll do it. The thing about him that most reminds me of Obi Toppin is he's got the talent, but he's also got a work ethic. He works harder than anyone on the team. He's the most coachable. He's going to max his talent this year.

Hall: DaRon has been able to shoot from from outside since he came here. That's not some newfound ability, where he just all of a sudden magically developed a jump shot. He's had a nice shooting touch from day one. That just wasn't in his game in terms of displaying it on the court. He was more dominant inside. That's where he made his impact. But he's getting feedback (from NBA sccouts) that he's got to be able to stretch the court. He's worked hard to become more consistent. What I don't want him to do is fall in love with (the 3) and get lost out there too much because he still needs to be a dominant presence inside.

McCoy: Obi Toppin was the best I ever saw, and I think Holmes could probably come close if things go right for him.

Q: What are your impressions of the transfers?

Hansgen: Javon Bennett is going to be a disruptive force defensively. Nate Santos, I don't think he showed how good of a shooter he was last night, but he can pick up some of the rebounding slack from the departure of Toumani Camara. The thing I like about Isaac Jack is some big guys when they grab a rebound they bring it down to their waist where now all of a sudden they've negated their height advantage, but it was kind of neat to see him rebound and he wouldn't even bend his elbows. He's just keeping that ball up high. He's got good big man skills. Enoch Cheeks, you can just tell he's a guy that knows how to play.

Waleskowski: If Cheeks shoots the ball like he did yesterday (17 points against Ohio State), the rest of the season, I think we're going to all be pretty happy. He's athletic. You even saw him in the warm up line, dunking going between his legs. And I think he's got a little bit of dog in him.

Hall: Cheeks was was as good as advertised. He has all-league ability. His shooting ability on display last night wasn't a fluke. He is going to be a guy who's going to shoot 35 to 40% from 3, but he's an elite slasher and an elite athlete. He has the ability and the confidence to get to the rim and finish above the rim. He just really reminds me of Tony Stanley in terms of his build and his athleticism and his motor.

Schwade: I think Santos is right there with (Cheeks). Within 48 hours of him being on campus, I was hearing how good he was. I think another guy to watch out for is Petras. I think what he showed against Ohio State was he's fearless and very confident. He was one of those guys that didn't play on that European trip, so maybe his development in terms of getting to know the system will be slow, but I think he's going to take some big strides by the end of the season.

Q: Players have talked about playing faster, and Grant's comments after the exhibition game suggested they want to shoot more 3s. Do you think that will happen?

Hall: We should get used to that. They're going to run. The tempo was much faster last night. They're going to shoot a lot of 3s. They have a very good 3-point shooting team. On their European tour, they made seven 3s, nine 3s and 17 3s in the three games.

Q: What is the vibe around the fan base heading into this season?

Hansgen: I think (cautiously optimistic) is the buzzword because they had their hearts broken. Last year, all the pieces were there. The year before, they had that disastrous start, which put them in a situation where they were one win away from the tournament. They had those three stinker losses, and they lost their margin of error. Last year, the injuries put them in a (bad) situation. I think Dayton fans are justifiably sitting there saying, 'Okay, looks good, but what's going to go wrong this time?'

Hall: The one thing that's been consistent about coach Grant's teams is there's a lot to be excited about when the season starts every year on paper, right? Then the last few years, it just hasn't finished the way that we all had hoped. I think fans are cautiously optimistic. We see the depth. We see the skill. There's a good mix of newcomers versus veterans. They can shoot the basketball. We've got size. You check all the boxes. So in your mind, you're like, 'Man, we should be very good,' but things have not gone our way the last couple of years. So I'm not making a prediction this year.

Waleskowski: I would label the fan base as extremely hungry. They we want to be in the (NCAA) tournament. We should be in the tournament almost every year competing for championships. The team as a whole, I don't want to say they're hungrier this year than they were last year because I don't want to insinuate that they weren't hungry enough for it last year. They want it. They want to do everything that they can. They've had a few things not necessarily go their way. But I think they're focused. I think they're locked in, and I think they've all got the same goals and same objectives, and they've bought into what the coaches are saying at this point and what they're teaching them.

McCoy: The Flyer fan base is always optimistic. They are always expecting big things. I went to Kent State, and there were no expectations whatsoever, and if they had a decent season, then everybody was shocked. But in Dayton, the fans are so faithful, and they're there no matter what. They expect a lot out of the team, and they always go in with an optimistic attitude as far as I can see.

Schwade: I think they're quietly optimistic. I'm a Browns fan, too. So it's almost the same same kind of fan base where you want to root like heck for them and and hope that championships are going to be there, but you've been let down so many times — even COVID let us down. As a Dayton fan, you're just a little bit guarded out of habit. With the way this roster is constructed,with DaRon coming back, I think there is a lot of quiet confidence and optimism in Flyer Nation right now.