The news this week that Dayton coach Anthony Grant signed a 6-foot-2 combo guard from suburban Cleveland passed mostly unnoticed nationally.
But here’s why Grant signing a top-100 player five months after leaving his gig as an assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder to coach his alma mater ought to resonate beyond only hardcore Flyer Faithful:
Archie Miller’s six-year run at Dayton was one of the most impressive its illustrious basketball history. His winning percentage of .688 — 139 wins to only 63 losses — bested even legendary Dayton coach Don Donoher, who took the school to its only Final Four in 1967, where the Flyers lost to UCLA and Lew Alcindor in the title game. Miller took the Flyers to four straight NCAA Tournaments, including a Cinderella run to the Elite Eight in 2014, and turned the program into one of the finest non-Power Five programs in the country. It was an incredible run, consistently one of the best stories in college hoops the past few seasons.
It was realistic to assume there would be a big drop-off at Dayton in its first season after Miller left for Indiana, and to wonder how long it would take the 51-year-old Grant to get this program to those same heights — or even if he could.
But this week’s signing of Dwayne Cohill ought to put fellow Atlantic 10 schools on notice that Dayton will remain a nationally relevant program under its new coach.
Dayton is not a frequent destination for top-100 recruits. The only top-100 recruit Miller signed in his six years there was Kostas Antetokounmpo, the younger brother of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis who redshirted his freshman year last season. Miller built this program on grit and grind, finding and developing less-heralded recruits (Dyshawn Pierre, Kendall Pollard) or getting former top-100 recruits to transfer to Dayton (Jordan Sibert from Ohio State, Josh Cunningham from Bradley). While this season looks to be a drop-off from a team that started four seniors in 2016-17, the arrow is still pointing up for Dayton. And they have a coach with a perfect personal story who can help convince players to do what Cohill did and pick Dayton over Power 5 schools — in Cohill’s case, Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt and Ohio State.
Grant grew up in Miami when the Florida basketball scene was barely existent. When Grant graduated from high school in 1983, the University of Miami didn’t even have a basketball team (the program was restarted in 1985). One of Donoher’s assistants had connections in Miami and convinced Grant to visit campus when Dayton was hosting a ranked DePaul team. He knew next to nothing about Dayton when he visited.
“I was just blown away by the atmosphere in the arena,” Grant told me last week. “It’s a special place.”
The Flyers made the NCAA tournament twice during Grant’s playing days, including one trip to the Elite Eight. After a year in the USBL, Grant got a job at his high school alma mater, teaching math and coaching basketball. He coached high school ball in Miami for six years — one of his assistant coaches was Frank Martin, now the coach at South Carolina — and eventually connected with Billy Donovan when Donovan was an up-and-coming coach at Marshall. After 10 years as one of Donovan’s assistants at Florida, Grant became the coach at VCU, and then Alabama before Bama fired him in 2015. After two years as an assistant in the NBA, another alma mater came calling to hire him, this time his former college instead of his former high school. While Miller, in practices and games, is one of the most intense coaches I’ve ever been around, Grant coaches more like his own personality: “Don’t get too low, don’t get too high — I try to keep an even keel.” He hopes to have his teams reflect that personality by playing with ownership and freedom. And he aims to take what he was surprised to learn three decades ago as a collegiate player — what Miller has taken to a new level the past six years — and continue to grow it.
“Dayton’s always had a very rich basketball tradition,” Grant said. “When you look at what Archie and his staff was able to do – it’s exposed the world to what I experienced 30 years ago when I came to Dayton for first time.”
His first team at Dayton will be young — really young. When you have one of the most experienced teams in college hoops, as Dayton did last season, the pendulum swings the other way the next. Six of Grant’s 11 scholarship players have never played a minute of college basketball. Junior Ryan Mikesell will redshirt after two offseason hip surgeries. Dayton fans who have gotten used to constant success may have to temper expectations this season.
But I wouldn’t temper expectations for the future. That’s what Grant’s big signing this week told me: Talented players are going to see the same thing Grant saw 30 years ago and come to one of the most lowkey great basketball schools in the country.