Thirty years ago, the Dayton Daily News’ Gary Nuhn typed a paragraph after Dayton’s Sweet 16 victory over Washington that was so good it has to be repeated today as the Flyers return to the regional semifinals.
“OK, so let’s run with the Cinderella analogy,” he wrote. “Let’s run with it, anyway, until midnight, or the Final Four, whichever comes first. Cinderella’s slipper came off Friday night. Her dress was ripped. Her makeup was smeared. Her hair was mussed. Her jewelry was stolen. But Cinderella lives.”
That depends on your perspective. Cinderella lives if you consider the No. 11 seed Dayton Flyers a huge underdog. The Atlantic 10 Conference doesn’t see it that way. Its promotional “Who Wants Next?” campaign disputes the idea of Cinderella.
“Cinderella is a fairytale,” a narrator says as the video rolls. “It doesn’t matter who your court’s named after. They don’t spot you points for legacy. And dusty banners won’t help you out here.”
The Dayton Flyers (25-10) play No. 10 seed Stanford (23-12) at 7:15 tonight at the FedExForum. The Cardinal itself could be considered a Cinderella. Double-digit seeds don’t often get to the Elite Eight or Final Four.
In 1984, the last time Dayton reached the Sweet 16, it was a similar story for the Flyers. They were seeded 10th and beat No. 7 Louisiana State (74-66), No. 2 Oklahoma (89-85) and No. 6 Washington (64-58) en route to the regional final, where they lost 61-49 to No. 1 Georgetown.
That 1984 team, which finished 21-11, took a similar path to tournament success. This year’s team hit a 1-5 stretch in January. The 1984 team was 7-7 on Jan. 21. Both teams were on the tournament bubble.
“We had enough pluses at the end that the committee put us in,” said Don Donoher, the coach of the 1984 team and still UD’s all-time winningest coach. “We were playing our best at the end.”
One difference between the two teams is the 1984 Dayton Flyers had a big-time scorer. Roosevelt Chapman averaged 21.8 points per game as a senior and remains the program’s all-time leading scorer (2,233 points). The 2014 Flyers have four players who average between 9.9 and 12.4 points.
“(Chapman) was spectacular,” Donoher said. “There was no 3-pointer at that time. There was no shot clock. His teammates, who were very good players, understood the ball had to go through him in most cases. He was a great perpetrator, very acrobatic. He could lean in and score around the basket.”
Donoher said Chapman lives in South Dakota now and planned to drive to Memphis for the game tonight. Donoher will be watching at home and enjoying every moment.
“It’s great for the whole community, the whole area,” Donoher said Wednesday. “It was 30 years ago, and it’s a lot bigger stage now. A lot of things have changed. The structure of the tournament is somewhat different. The rules are different. The players are stronger. One constant is it was very difficult to get into the tournament then, and it’s very difficult to get in today and it’s very difficult to advance.”
Sedric Toney, a junior starter on the 1984 who now lives in Cleveland, said the special thing about 1984 is nobody expected the Dayton Flyers to get that far.
“I don’t think we expected ourselves to do it,” he said Wednesday. “When you get to this point, when you’re a Cinderella team like we were, you have to have some teamwork, some prayer from up above.”
Damon Goodwin, a sophomore starter in 1984 and now the head men’s basketball coach at Capital University, remembers the Dayton Flyers played their first game of the tournament against LSU at 11:30 p.m. Dayton time in Salt Lake City, Utah, but it was a big deal because it was the only tournament game of the first round televised.
That’s another big difference between the tournament then and now. But he also sees the similarities between the 1984 and 2014 teams.
“For whatever reasons, both teams took off,” he said. “They started believing in each other and started playing like it.”