First Four coach says UD Arena ‘symbolizes something special about March’

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Kenneth Blakeney’s team did not have much time to prepare for its trip to Dayton for the First Four.

The Howard Bison found out a little after 6 p.m. Sunday they would be playing Wagner in the first game of the 2024 NCAA Tournament.

They needed to be on a flight from Washington, D.C., by the middle of Monday morning and on the ground in Ohio by early afternoon.

His team was scheduled to take the floor for a public practice at 5:50 p.m., less than 24 hours after their tournament fate had been announced, but Blakeney make sure to take time to admire his surroundings when he reached the Gem City.

If the roses were blooming yet, he no doubt would have smelled them.

“First, it’s just great to be in Dayton. Like really, really cool to be here,” he said as he took the podium for interviews at UD Arena on Monday afternoon shortly before 5.

“Dayton is a basketball city. Coming into the arena on the bus I got chills and emotion because I’ve watched this game for numerous years and seen some great basketball here, so very grateful and thankful to be here, and excited to play a really good Wagner team tomorrow.”

Blakeney’s Bison, who won the MEAC as the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament, are set to tip off against Wagner at 6:40 p.m. Tuesday, and the winner will play No. 1 seed North Carolina.

The Seahawks similarly made a Cinderella run through their conference tournament, winning three straight road games as the No. 6 seed to earn their second NCAA Tournament bid, and neither school knows what it is like to win in the Big Dance.

The 52-year-old Blakeney has lived a full basketball life already, having prepped at DeMatha Catholic High School in the Washington, D.C., area for legendary Morgan Wootten then suiting up for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, but he made it clear he found Dayton to be a destination city this week.

“You just want to be here,” he said. “Being here means something, and I get chills in my arms. It’s a big deal to have a chance to compete at this level.

“Tomorrow the basketball world will be watching this game here in Dayton, Ohio. This gym symbolizes something about March that kicks off the tournament that is so really cool about basketball.”

About the Author