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Classes resume Tuesday after West Liberty-Salem HS shooting

Flyers sticking together on and off court

Even though college basketball preseason practices are still a few weeks away, Dayton already has begun gathering for team meals — but not the kind where coaches are present and attendance is mandatory.

The UD players have been dining on their own all summer, going out as a group to their favorite establishments near campus.

“We’ll all try to get something to eat together,” sophomore forward Dyshawn Pierre said. “The freshmen live in the dorms, but regardless, we’ll still call them and hang out on Friday night. We’re just making more of an effort to be together this year and include everybody.

“We do more stuff off the court than we did all of last year. I think that’s going to help us on the court.”

Third-year UD coach Archie Miller has said he’ll have his most talented team yet, but he knows that won’t count for much if the Flyers don’t develop the right chemistry.

Judging from how much bonding they’re doing in the offseason, the Flyers seem to be getting a jump on developing that cohesiveness.

“I’m a senior now, and I’ve seen it all. I’ve been able to look and analyze each team,” forward Devin Oliver said. “This team is just different. Sometimes you just have that feeling. You can see everyone doing things together and spending time off the court, which is actually more important than a lot of people think. It’s definitely a more close-knit group.”

Senior guard Vee Sanford knows the players are creating a safe haven for each other because they’re not afraid to speak their minds.

“That was a very important factor from last year to this year,” he said. “Our chemistry wasn’t bad last year, but we had some walls that nobody wanted to break. Everybody was afraid to get on each other.

“This year, we’re more together as far as telling each other what we need to do, taking criticism. And we look out for each other, especially when we go out. We’ve grown a lot in team chemistry.”

After playing short-handed during Miller’s first two years, the Flyers will have 12 scholarship players — and all of them appear capable of earning playing time this season.

But Miller is hoping his team embraces the old hoop adage about not counting their minutes, but making their minutes count.

Taking the stage with his players before about 1,200 UD fans and athletic personnel and their families at a booster function last week, Miller said: “If we get a little bit of luck and a little bit of help, I think we have a chance to have a special team. But it’s going to take a lot of sacrifice not only by our coaches, but a lot of sacrifices by these individuals.

“Not all of these individuals probably understand how much they’re going to have to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. We can’t play all these guys at one time. It’s impossible. It’s going to take a lot of teamwork and togetherness.”

The booster event was held at the Kettering home of Dr. Steve Levitt. The mega-barbeque has been going on for more than two decades, and it gets bigger every year.

It’s held under a giant tent in Levitt’s front yard, measuring 330 feet by 60 feet. It was big enough for a trapeze act and an elephant congo line.

As the players introduced themselves one by one, the biggest cheer of the day was given to senior center Matt Kavanaugh, who missed last season while being suspended for a violation of the school’s code of conduct. Fans clearly wanted him to know he was welcomed back.

Asked earlier in the day if he’s encountered any negativity, Kavanugh said: “Not really. It’s been a really smooth transition so far. I’ve just got to keep my head on my shoulders and keep making right decisions, and it’s going to be a good year.”

He’s grateful for how he’s been received by his fellow players.

“It was like I was never gone,” he said. “They’ve been really welcoming, really great teammates.”

Home-court advantage: Miller told the audience his team is shooting to go 17-0 at home. To pull it off, they’ll have to beat the likes of Southern Cal, VCU, Saint Louis, La Salle and UMass.

“Going undefeated at home is one of our goals. That won’t be easy. But we have nine at home in the nonconference and eight in the conference, and it’s a doable task,” he said.

“If we can hold serve and defend our home turf and (finish at) UD Arena 17-0, we’ll have a chance to have an unbelievable regular season.”

Clear vision: Vee Sanford had almost as much trouble seeing on the court last year as Velma from Scooby Doo without her glasses.

He tried goggles in games, but they never felt comfortable. Contacts didn’t work, either. But after having Lasik surgery about 10 days ago, Sanford said he has 20-15 vision.

“I can see the rim. I can see ‘home’ and ‘away’ on the scoreboard. It’s just a blessing,” he said.

Asked what it was like before, he said: “I couldn’t see the scoreboard. I had to squint to see when Coach was talking to me. Now, I can see. Everywhere I go, I’m seeing signs and reading everything.”

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