Picked to win the Atlantic 10 in preseason voting, the Dayton Flyers entered this year with incredibly high expectations. Since the start of last offseason, however, things have not gone according to plan. The tragic death of a beloved and talented teammate forced the True Team to once again rally together in the midst of adversity. Following Big Steve’s passing, the hardships did not stop for Dayton. Elite freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo was ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA shortly before the season began; forcing him to sit the year out. Kendall Pollard suffered a thigh contusion just days prior to the Flyer’s exhibition game after rehabbing from a knee injury all summer. Then, with six seconds left in Dayton’s second game of the season, starting forward Josh Cunningham threw down a nasty dunk but took an equally gruesome fall. While Cunningham could return late this season, Archie Miller said the Flyers are preparing to play without him.
Despite facing so much adversity to start the season, Dayton continues to keep the ship afloat; or, if you like bad puns, the plane flying high. The Flyers currently hold a 7-2 overall record and the two losses came by a combined six points. Shorthanded Dayton nearly defeated nationally ranked Saint Mary’s and quality Big Ten foe Nebraska, but fell just short in each game. While the Flyers can manage without Kendall Pollard, they need him in the lineup to have any chance of achieving their ultimate goals. Thankfully for Dayton, Pollard is finally back.
Kendall Pollard made his first start of the season last Saturday against East Tennessee State and looked like his old, dominant self. The senior forward notched a double double with 12 points and 12 rebounds in 31 minutes of action. While this marked Pollard’s return to the starting five, he did play in the Flyer’s two previous games. Even though he came off the bench, Pollard managed to score in double figures against both Winthrop and Saint Joseph’s College. Since Pollard’s return Dayton is 3-0 and playing by far its best basketball of the young season. Clearly the 6’6” senior brings an extra spark to this team that can not be replaced.
After the 91-59 win over Saint Joseph’s (IN) senior point guard Scoochie Smith was asked about Pollard’s return. Smith said, “He (Pollard) just brings a real physicality to the team and he’s another leader… we had a young inside core without Kendall and Josh so to bring him back, he has a huge leadership role for our young guys.” Even just Pollard’s veteran presence seems to help Dayton tremendously.
Most recently, following Saturday’s commanding win and Pollard’s first start, Archie Miller was asked about what he has seen out of his senior forward. Miller described Pollard’s addition as, “adding another dimension to our team. Kendall knows what he’s doing; especially defensively, he knows the system. He gives guys confidence. He’s an experienced player and it’s good to have him back.”
As for Pollard himself, the 6’6” forward said, “It felt good today to get out there, get my feet wet early, to not have to sit and come off the bench.” Obviously both Pollard and the True Team are ecstatic for him to be back in the starting lineup. Although it is a small sample size, Dayton is 3-0 and winning games by an average of 20 points when Pollard plays this year. The Flyers will get a very tough test this Saturday against Northwestern, though, as they travel to Chicago to participate in the State Farm Classic. Pollard told me this game is “the biggest on the schedule for me.” Growing up as a huge Bulls fan, Pollard can not wait to play at the United Center. We will see if the now healthy senior leader can continue filling up the stat sheet and lead Dayton to another big victory.