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Dayton Flyers: Roster Breakdown and Starting Lineup Prediction

Entering his 5th season at the helm of Dayton, Anthony Grant has put together one of the most unique rosters the Flyer fans have ever seen. Dayton’s 2021 recruiting class is its highest rated class in program history, ranking No. 21 in the nation according to 247sports. In addition to edging out dozens of power five teams, the Flyers’ freshmen also boast the highest rated class in the Atlantic 10, surpassing VCU for the first time since 2018. With the talent comes youth, however, as 12 of Dayton’s 13 scholarship players are underclassmen, with 11 players listed as either freshmen or redshirt freshmen. Since the NCAA did not count last year’s covid-ridden season against anyone’s eligibility, the Flyers do not have a single senior on scholarship this year.  Furthermore, following last season, Dayton said goodbye to key veterans Jalen Crutcher (graduation), Ibi Watson (graduation), Rodney Chatman (grad-transfer), and Jordy Tshimanga (graduation). Dwayne Cohill and Luke Frazier also elected to transfer during the offseason, heading to Youngstown State and Ohio University respectively.

As a whole, the 2021-22 Dayton Flyers will feature an abundance of new faces, serious talent, and a lot of height. Out of Dayton’s 13 scholarship players, 10 are listed at 6’6″ or taller. Gone are the days when the Flyers played with six guys, all 6’6″ or shorter (although I’m sure many Flyer fans remember that 2015 season as a lot of fun). Without further ado, though, let’s dive into a player-by-player breakdown and starting lineup predictions for this year’s University of Dayton Flyers.

Returning

Elijah Weaver – Redshirt Junior / 6’6″ / Guard 

As the lone upperclassman on this year’s team, Elijah Weaver is expected to take on a bulk of leadership responsibility. After playing his first two seasons of college basketball at USC, Weaver transferred to Dayton last year. Clocking 21.7 minutes over the course of 18 games, he averaged 5.4 points on 36% three point shooting. With a full offseason at Dayton under his belt and an opportunity to play more consistent minutes, I do anticipate a step-up in production from Weaver this season. Assuming Anthony Grant utilizes him at point guard frequently, I think averaging around 10 points, 5 assists, and closer to 40% three point shooting is well within the realm of possibilities for Weaver. The Flyers are certain to call the veteran’s number in big spots, especially early in the season.

Koby Brea – Redshirt Freshman / 6’6″ / Guard 

The youngest player on Dayton’s roster last season, Brea showed maturation beyond his years. Earnings additional playing time game by game, Brea proved his potential as the season wore on. The freshman appeared in 17 games, made three starts, and averaged 14.1 minutes. My biggest takeaway from watching Brea last year was his calm demeanor on the court. He looked incredibly comfortable for someone who was 17 years old when the season began. Combine that with his well-rounded basketball talent, and I think it’s fair to say Brea has a very bright future ahead. I expect him to average around 20-minutes per game this year, alternating between the one and two spots.

Zimi Nwokeji – Redshirt Freshman / 6’7″ / Forward 

Flyer fans watched Zimi Nwokeji grow up right before their eyes last season; a prime example of how a little bit of in-game experience can go a long way. A high flying, highly rated three-star prospect coming out of high school, Nwokeji arrived at Dayton with lofty expectations. Early on in the season, however, the freshman struggled to gain consistent minutes. Quite frankly, he looked out of sorts and uncomfortable when he did play. Nevertheless, Nwokeji continued to grind and the hard work certainly paid off later in the season. Nwokeji scored a Dayton freshman record 29 points on the road against Rhode Island, going 9-10 from the field and grabbing nine rebounds. From that point on, the young forward seemingly underwent a major confidence change, as he played far better basketball and looked wildly more comfortable in the latter part of the season. The Flyers would love nothing more than to see Nwokeji parlay that confidence and play into this season. With another offseason of improvements to further his development, the expectation is for Nwokeji to continue his upward trajectory come November.

Moulaye Sissoko – Redshirt Freshman / 6’9″ / Center 

Even though he is listed as a redshirt freshman, Moulaye Sissoko will be entering his third season at Dayton this fall. Sissoko sat out the 2019-20 season as a redshirt, and the 2020-21 season did not count against his eligibility due to the aforementioned NCAA covid-related rules. At 6’9″ 240lbs (down from 250 a year ago), Sissoko is definitely the guy you want getting off the bus first at road games. Despite his stature, though, Sissoko has experienced his fair share of growing pains. Last season the center appeared in just 14 games, averaging less than 10 minutes per contest. While I want to believe in Sissoko and the work he has put in, I honestly struggle to see where he fits in on the court with this team. The present-day Dayton Flyers feature a plethora of lanky guards and mobile bigs. As a result, I fully expect them to go up-tempo and spread the floor frequently this year… a similar style of offense to the one they ran two years ago with Obi Toppin at the five-spot. Should Dayton do just that, it will likely be difficult to find meaningful minutes for Sissoko. That said, we will have to wait and see what Anthony Grant elects to do. Should Grant decide to use a true center in certain situations, then Sissoko will more than likely be the guy.

R.J. Blakney – Redshirt Freshman / 6’6″/ Guard-Forward 

R.J. Blakney is a guy I’ve been high on since the day he signed with Dayton. At 6’6″ Blakney can do a little bit of everything. As a freshman last season, he shot over 55% from the floor, 36% from three, contributed on the boards, and sank some clutch shots. Despite not playing much the first half of the season, Blakney took advantage of his opportunities and eventually forced his way into the rotation, ultimately appearing in 17 games and averaging 14 minutes per game. For those who did not get to watch Blakney much last year, I often compare him to Dyshawn Pierre. While he might not be on Pierre’s level yet, the two share a lot of similarities in their games. Aside from being the same height, Blakney and Pierre both position themselves well for rebounds, can step out to shoot the three, and have great body control when driving to the hoop. I have every reason to believe Blakney will continue to grow each year and develop into a high level, well-rounded player by the time he is an upperclassman.

Mustapha Amzil – Redshirt Freshman / 6’10” / Forward 

A Finland native who joined the Flyers following the start of last season, Mustapha Amzil wasted no time surpassing everyone’s wildest expectations. Less than a handful of days after arriving in Dayton, Amzil started in his first game with the Flyers (filling the void left by Chase Johnson’s departure). In his debut, Amzil scored 22 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and looked virtually unstoppable at times. Amzil went on to finish the season averaging 10 points and 5.6 rebounds in nearly 30 minutes per game. He also shot an impressive 38% from behind the arc. In addition to his three point shooting and rebounding abilities, Amzil handles the ball incredibly well for a player of his height and can go get a bucket when needed. Needless to say, expectations are very high for Amzil going forward. While he will likely see most of his minutes at the four or five, Amzil certainly has the ability to play on the wings if necessary.

Newcomers

Toumani Camara – Sophomore / 6’8″ / Forward 

A four-star (nearly top 100) player coming out of high school, Toumani Camara spent his first two years of college at the University of Georgia before transferring to Dayton over the offseason. Last year at Georgia, the 6’8″ forward averaged 12.8 points and 7.7 rebounds, playing 28.4 minutes per game as a starter. Now, Camara looks to parlay his success with the Bulldogs into even greater success with the Flyers. As the most experienced big man on this Dayton team, I expect Camara to see in excess of 25 minutes per game and I expect him to take advantage of them. Given his production last year at Georgia and Dayton’s recent history of developing athletic bigs, it is likely we see Camara emerge as one of the leaders of this team early on in the season. Watch for Camara to be one of Anthony Grant’s most consistent and productive players in the initial months of this season.

Lynn Greer III – Freshman / 6’2″ / Guard 

After spending a prep year at IMG Academy, Lynn Greer III embarks on his Dayton career with high hopes. To say Greer comes from a basketball family would be an understatement. Both Greer’s father and grandfather played in the NBA, and his father scored over 2,000 points in his college career at Temple University. As for Greer III, he is a dynamic point guard with good handles, a clean shot, and finishing ability. While it’s unclear what role Greer will play as a freshman, his talent is undeniable. I would not be surprised to see Greer turn into an impact player for Dayton. Opposing A-10 guards may have some real trouble guarding him in years to come.

Kaleb Washington – Freshman / 6’7″ / Forward 

A four-star, top 100 recruit in the country, Kaleb Washington brings a unique skillset to the Flyers. At 6’7″ Washington can play anywhere from the two to the four spots. He can handle the ball, hit jumpers, and was active on the boards throughout high school. I will be interested to see how Anthony Grant decides to use Washington, especially in his freshman season. While it is unclear how many minutes Washington will see, and whether he will play more wing or forward, I do expect him to develop into a special talent for the Flyers. It’s not every day that you see a guy with his combination of basketball talent and length in the A-10, so even if his production comes in spurts as a freshman, I am excited to see the level of player into which he develops.

Malachi Smith – Freshman / 6’0″ / Guard 

The younger brother of Flyer legend Scoochie Smith, Malachi Smith brings a tried and true style of play to Dayton. A gritty point guard, Smith is a reliable ball handler with good driving/finishing ability and hard-nosed defense. From what I’ve seen on his high school tape, Smith reminds me of both his brother Scoochie and of Kyle Davis… two guys all Flyer fans loved watching for four years. As with some of the other freshmen, it is unclear how many minutes Smith will average this year, but I do expect him to run the point when he’s out there. Smith certainly has the ability to be a  quarterback on the court, and I think his skillset better suits him to play true point guard than shooting guard. While it’s unfair to expect Malachi to put up numbers like Scoochie’s, he seems primed to have a long and successful UD career.

Daron Holmes II – Freshman / 6’10” / Forward 

As the highest-rated recruit in Flyer history, Daron Holmes comes to Dayton surrounded by hype and high expectations. As a junior in high school, Holmes was named the Arizona Gatorade High School Player of the year, as well as the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, as he averaged 23.7 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.8 blocks, and 3.1 assists per game. These numbers earned Holmes a consensus four-star ranking and a spot in the country’s top 50 recruits. As you probably inferred from his high school numbers, Holmes can do everything you want a forward to do. He will undoubtedly be one of the most talented players to ever dawn the Dayton uniform. That said, he is a freshman, and with every freshman there are growing pains. Don’t expect the kid to be a superstar from day one, but it’s fair to say his ceiling is sky high.

Richard Amaefule – Freshman / 6’9″ / Forward

A native of London, England, Richard Amaefule played his freshman season at East Tennessee State University before transferring to Dayton over the offseason. At ETSU, Amaefule did not see much playing time, averaging just 8.3 minutes with 1.5 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. That said, last year was Amaefule’s first full season of basketball after missing his entire senior year of high school due to injury. In the winter of 2019, prior to his run-in with injuries, Amaefule was ranked a top 20 power forward in the country. At 6’9″ 230lbs, Amaefule certainly has the size and athleticism you want to see. As long as he stays healthy, I think Amaefule can develop into a quality role player for the Flyers. In my opinion, he has far more talent than his numbers as a freshman at ETSU would indicate.

Kobe Elvis – Freshman / 6’2″ / Guard 

The final addition to this year’s Dayton team, Kobe Elvis has one of the most legendary names I’ve ever come across. I think it’s fair to say that if his basketball talent is even half as elite as his name, the kid is going to be a stud. In all seriousness, though, Elvis can hoop. A three-star prospect coming out of high school, Elvis played his first year of college ball at DePaul before transferring to the Flyers. Despite only averaging 5.2 points in 20.2 minutes per game, Elvis shot the ball at an incredible clip. He finished the year shooting over 42% (41-97) from behind the arc. While other areas of his game could use improvement, Elvis provides a dangerous three-point threat at shooting guard. Whenever he heats up, Dayton’s offense will provide all kinds of problems for opposing defenses.

Starting Lineup Prediction

In my six years of covering the Flyers, this is by far the most difficult starting lineup to predict. With so many talented underclassmen, the lineup combinations from which Anthony Grant can choose from are endless. While I do expect Grant to experiment with a large variety of lineups, he historically loves to ride with experience. As we witnessed last season, Grant typically elects to start his veterans until the younger guys earn his trust and prove themselves. Therefore, if I had to guess who Grant will start to begin the year, I think it goes as follows:

Elijah Weaver (point guard), Kobe Elvis (shooting guard), Zimi Nwokeji (small forward), Mustapha Amzil (power forward), Toumani Camara (center).

Keep in mind, this is based on Grant opting for experience over raw talent early in the year. As the talent develops, guys prove themselves, and Grant can trust them, I fully expect to see the starting lineup tweaked and some of the true freshmen to earn significant playing time (namely Holmes). I also think minutes will be distributed pretty evenly, at least during the first half of the season. All 13 scholarship players have the skills to play at this level and the margins between a lot of these guys are razor thin at the moment. It will take time for players to differentiated/separate themselves and find their roles. A team this young is bound to be a work in progress, but its potential is off the charts. Regardless of how the season unfolds, the Dayton Flyers will be a young, talented, and exciting team to watch.

MSFlyer

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Good write up. I’m not sure how and who gets bumped but somehow I see Blakney finding his way into the starting lineup.
 

drewnovinski

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The most intriguing thing to me is to see who Grant gives the nod at the 2 on opening night a lot of options. I would think Brea over Elvis but no clear option given the raw talent and inexperience that comes with any name you throw out for that spot not just those two. I mean maybe even an argument for Blankney can be made.