Last night, the Dayton Flyers men’s basketball team clinched the Atlantic 10 Conference championship with a win over Virginia Commonwealth. It was only fitting the victory, Dayton’s first ever outright conference title, occurred on senior night. When you look back at what this specific class has endured, it’s amazing it was able to achieve such an accomplishment.
Hell, after the events of the past four years, it’s astounding these seniors are even still standing.
Guards Scoochie Smith and Kyle Davis, along with forward Kendall Pollard, have truly seen it all. You’d just never know it based on how they and the rest of the Flyers have performed during their time at the school. The fact they just helped Dayton clinch its fourth straight tournament bid is impressive enough on its own. That said, you certainly wouldn’t fault them for taking more pride in the countless hurdles they’ve endured to get here.
After working their way into the rotation through their freshman seasons, Smith, Pollard and Davis were given a relatively daunting task as they entered their sophomore stint – build off the success of Dayton’s stunning 2014 Elite Eight run.
On its own, it was certainly a lot to ask of them. When you tossed in the midseason dismissals of starting center Devon Scott and his backup Jalen Robinson, suddenly even a tournament bid seemed impossible. The Flyers somehow had to carry on with a six-man rotation, complete with no player taller than 6’6″.
It didn’t matter.
Smith, Pollard and Davis, along with guard Jordan Sibert and forward Dyshawn Pierre, still made it to the tournament, falling just short of advancing to the Sweet 16. If those three could get that far with minimal depth, supporters thought, there’s no telling what they could do with a fully restocked roster.
This isn’t to ignore Dayton’s other marquee senior, forward Charles Cooke. That he’s only in his second season as a Flyer since transferring from James Madison doesn’t change the fact he’s experienced his fair share of adversity alongside the rest of his fellow upperclassmen.
Last year opened with a lengthy suspension for Pierre after he was accused of sexual assault. It ended with a letdown loss in the opening round of the tournament to the lower-seeded Syracuse.
As Cooke, Smith, Davis and Pollard prepared for their final season in a Flyers uniform, they were dealt a blow no one their age should have to handle – the passing of teammate and starting center Steve McElvene. As if heading into the year with heavy hearts wasn’t enough, Dayton lost starting forward Josh Cunningham just two games into the season after a gruesome ankle injury sidelined him for three months.
It would’ve been easy for this senior class to have used every single one of the aforementioned setbacks as an excuse, a reason to pack it in mentally and chalk up the rest of each respective season as a wasted effort. Instead, Smith, Pollard, Davis and Cooke endured, making school history as a result.
Imposing expectations. Suspensions. Injuries. The death of a teammate. These are events which, on their own, should derail a team for good. These seniors had to deal with all of them, and have taken each one in stride.
Through all of it, through adversity the likes nobody should have to undergo, these seniors capped it off with the first outright A-10 championship in school history. On their way, they collected more wins than any class the program has ever seen.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a tougher group of players. Thanks to a now-secure bid to the NCAA Tournament, there’s still time for them to pile up a few more accomplishments before they take their final bow.