There was a time, not so long ago, when local recruits wouldn’t just quietly dismiss Dayton women’s basketball coach Jim Jabir — they’d all but tell him to get lost.
“When I first got here, kids literally wouldn’t talk to me, or would say quietly, ‘I’ve watched you play and I wouldn’t want to go there,” Jabir says.
But as the old sports saying goes, winning cures all. Nowadays Jabir, who’s brought a middling UD program into the national spotlight after three consecutive NCAA Tournament berths, rarely gets the bill collector treatment from the Dayton area’s best high school players.
That’s evident with a glance at this year’s Flyers roster, which has four local products — sophomores Ally Malott and Andrea Hoover junior Cassie Sant and freshman Kelley Austria — more than Jabir had in any of his previous nine seasons. And they’re making a collective impact. Malott and Hoover are the team’s top two scorers, with Sant just a couple of points behind.
Already enjoying Dayton’s big season – the Flyers are 21-1 and ranked 17th in the nation – they’ve found their success even sweeter because it’s happening before a home crowd.
“A lot of people don’t realize how awesome it is to stay at home and play in front of the people you’ve been playing in front of your whole life,” said Sant, a 6-foot-3 center who graduated from Fairmont High in 2010 as the school’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder.
Jabir, like any coach, will take good players regardless of where they’re from. But the No. 1 rule in recruiting is to keep your best local talent at home, and he’s made huge strides in doing so while becoming the most successful coach in the program’s history. Sure, there are still some players who want to get away, but UD’s run of success combined with its close-knit community have made it an increasingly attractive option for the area’s top prospects.
“It came down to being near my family, but also the team’s recent success,” said Hoover, a Bellbrook native who was also recruited by North Carolina State, Butler and others. “I definitely think that with Cassie Sant, Ally Malott and Kelley Austria being big stars to come to Dayton when they could’ve gone to bigger schools, players realize that they can do big things at Dayton.”
While building a team ranked highest in the nation among non-major conference schools has helped him beat out Big 10 and other BCS conference schools for players, Jabir has noticed one major difference. Those same schools won’t give him a chance to show recruits his program is just as good as theirs.
“The greatest compliment you can get is that people don’t want to play you. You call people and try to get games and they don’t want to play,” he said.
Local fans are taking notice of Dayton’s homegrown emergence regardless.
“Fans are packing our games now. It’s a huge difference from when I got here,” Sant said. “When we’d have a Sunday morning game, the lower bowl would be empty. We had a bus of people come to Butler. That’s never happened before. We’re grabbing more and more fans.”
The program’s familial atmosphere was another attraction to each member of the local foursome. While they attribute their team’s lack of cliques as a primary reason for their dominance on the court this season, Sant admitted they do share a geographical bond.
“I would definitely say I’m closest on the team with Ally and Andrea. We’re from the same area, so it’s just kind of the culture,” she said.
She’s been working on increasing UD’s Gem City flavor; she’s been working on convincing prized 6-2 Fairmont juniors Kathryn Westbeld and Makayla Waterman to give UD a long look. But even as Dayton’s profile grows, the recruiting pitch to area prospects remains the same.
“You can stay at home, but also, we sell our education because you get a great education here. And we can go out there and be giant slayers, kind of like Butler’s men’s team,” Jabir said.