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Nobody’s doubting the Flyers at this point

The theme of the entire gala day at UD Arena — from the Hall of Fame inductions and Senior Day festivities to the Dayton Flyers’ 60-48 victory over Richmond — came from Keith Waleskowski following his enshrinement late Saturday afternoon:

“I’m glad I was able to change some minds.”

He was referring to the less-than-optimistic expectations some Flyers fans — and even a couple of his now Hall of Fame brethren — had for him when he came to UD as a walk-on in 1999.

“I heard stuff from friend to friend and sometimes I heard people say it themselves,” he said. “They doubted me coming from Alter. They’d say, ‘Tell Petro (Coach Joe Petrocelli) to stop sending us tall white stiffs. We don’t want any more players like Waleskowski.’

“I just thought, ‘That’s your opinion.’ I knew what I needed to do to become a good player. I had work to do and that’s why I took that redshirt season right away.”

By the end of his sophomore year he said he had even won over UD great Monk Meinke, who he said had doubted him early on: “(Monk) told his son, who’s my friend, ‘I was wrong on him. The kid can play.’ ”

Waleskowski ended up scoring 1,515 career points — 19th on the school’s all-time list — and he’s among the top 10 career leaders in six other categories, including sixth with 1,092 rebounds.

Saturday he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame along with Christi Hester Mack, Butch Zimmerman and the late Pepper Wilson,

“I’m truly flattered, but this wasn’t something I was playing for or set as a goal for myself,” said Waleskowski, who got a standing ovation from the crowd when he and the other inductees were introduced at halftime. “I just wanted to win basketball games here. We did, and in the process people changed their thinking on me.”

That’s the same script the 22-9 UD team, winner of nine of its last 10 games, has followed this season. And, in some ways, that’s been the storyline for each of the four seniors — Devin Oliver, Vee Sanford, Matt Kavanaugh and Brian Vonderhaar — who played their last regular-season game Saturday.

When the Flyers lost four straight at the end of January, their season looked as if it was spiraling down the drain. Players were doubted, Coach Archie Miller was criticized and NCAA tournament hopes seemed to have all but evaporated.

Then came the winning streak that has them on the NCAA bubble and maybe better.

“We stayed together, man,” Oliver said after scoring 16 points and pulling down 10 rebounds against the Spiders. “When people stepped on us and counted us out, we remained resilient. We just kept pushing and didn’t worry about outside noise.”

When Oliver first came here, he had little fanfare compared to more highly-touted recruits Juwan Staten and Brandon Spearman, both who left the program.

Freshman year Oliver averaged 1.4 points per game and shot 15.8 percent from 3-point range.

Now he leads the team in rebounding, steals, assists and minutes played and is second in scoring (11.9)

Fellow senior Matt Kavanaugh got the early Waleskowski treatment, too. He played just 43 minutes his entire freshman season, averaged 1.9 points as a sophomore and had to sit out last season as a disciplinary measure.

He’s come back to be an anchor inside for UD. As athletics director Tim Wabler was saying before the game: “He may not light up the stat line, but he does exactly what the coaches need him to do.”

Senior walk-on Brian Vonderhaar, little more than 5-10 and never a starter at Moeller High, began his college career sitting in the student section at UD games and playing intramural ball. He’s now been a Flyer four seasons and with a little over a minute left Saturday, many in the crowd began chanting his name until Miller sent him into the game.

And finally there’s Vee Sanford, the senior transfer from Georgetown, who put on a show down the stretch Saturday. Mixing twisting, pretzel-contortion layups with a timely 3-pointer, he finished with 14 points and 5 rebounds.

At Georgetown he was doubted as well. He averaged 4.8 minutes and 1.2 points a game as a freshman and not much more as a sophomore before transferring to Dayton.

“Tonight I kept thinking about the first time I came into the Arena and I was in shock how fast it went,” he said. “But it was a great experience

“Whatever it is in life, you just have to stay positive. And whatever opportunity comes you just have to roll with it and something good may happen.”

It has for all the UD seniors, their tournament-bound team and Hall of Famer Keith Waleskowski.

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