By HAL McCOY
The not-finished cosmetics, part of the $72 million makeover of University of Dayton Arena, was evident and the new uniforms worn by the Flyers basketball team were spiffy.
As added trinkets, the visiting Capital University team is coached by UD Hall of Famer Damon Goodwin and one of the three officials was former Flyer Edwin Young.
Those, though, aren’t specifically what 10,446 fans came to see. They came to witness the birth of the 2018-19 UD basketball team in an exhibition game against a Division III team.
What they saw from the Flyers wasn’t as pretty and spiffy as the Arena upgrades. There is work to do on offense. There is work to do on defense.
But the game was a perfect laboratory for the Flyers. Capital is a Division III school, but the basketball team is as solid as Division III gets.
The crowd did see a highly-talented, well-coached Division III team that put up a good scrap for most of the game in spite of being outmanned and outgunned before falling, 89-71. With 13 minutes left, the Flyers led by only 58-51.
The Crusaders return 11 players from last season, including all-Ohio Conference players Joey Weingartener and Austin Schreck.
Weingartener, a 6-2 senior from Centerville, averaged 14 points a game, while Schreck averaged 15.3 and another returnee, Caleb Cox, averaged 10.7.
And Weingartener wasn’t intimidated by the fact he was playing in front of more fans than probably will see him in a month of games at Capital. He scored 20 points on 7 of 12 shooting and he made his first six three-point launches.
UD coach Anthony Grant thought Capital was the perfect testing grounds for his Flyers and said, “I’m pleased we were able to get this experience as an exhibition game that doesn’t count on your record, but you still want to play well and see your guys execute the things you’ve worked on.
“We will be able to see a lot from this game, see areas we need to improve on, see areas that can become strengths for our lineup. This was good stuff for us. I couldn’t have scripted it any better for what we need to do to prepare for the season.”
Grant got what was expected from some of the returnees — 15 points from Trey Landers on 7 of 8 shooting that included two roof-rattling dunks, 11 points and 11 rebounds from Josh Cunningham, with eight of his 11 points coming in a row late in the game, pushing the Flyers from a 70-58 lead to 78-63.
Ryan Mikesell sat out last season after hip surgery and returned with authority. He scored UD’s first five points, hitting a ‘3’ to start the game. He finished with 12 points.
“He was excited to play,” said Grant. “It has been a while since he has been on the court. He played with great energy. I was happy for him to get back out there because he has been through a lot.”
And the new guys? Two stood out, junior college transfer Jhery Matos from the Dominican Republic and red-shirt freshman Obi Toppin. Matos, a junior, scored 15 points in 19 minutes, making six of seven shots, three of four from the three-point line. And what impressed his coach? Defense.
“Jhery was really patient and benefited from the extra passes his teammates made to find him,” said Grant. “The best Jhery did was give us some very good minutes on the defensive end. He was locked in with what he needed to do on defense. He guarded a variety of different positions and he might be the guy for us, from the defensive standpoint. He could be a difference-maker.”
Toppin, a lanky 6-foot-7 still has some defensive deficiencies, but is enthusiastic and exciting. He scored 10 via five-of-six from the field, including a couple of glass-shaking dunks.
“Obi played well,” Grant added. “For his first college game. . .it has been a long wait for him, not being able to play last year. He benefited from being able to practice with us, watch games and develop physically. He was prepared tonight and for his first experience he handled it really well.”
The heart-warming story is that of Jhery Matos and his many detours from the Dominican Republic to Dayton.
Of his journey into a UD uniform, Matos said, “I’ve been traveling every year, moving to a new school every year and it hasn’t been easy. But finally I feel this is my place, this is home for me.”
Counting high school, Matos has attended five schools in Miami, in Orlando, junior college in Florida and a transfer to Monroe Junior College in New York, “And now I’m here,” he said.
“I’ve had a hell of a ride and it has been crazy,” he said. “The people here, the community, has shown me love all the time. It’s 24/7, they are here for you and I appreciate that.
“I was excited about playing for the first time in front of these awesome fans,” he said. “I was focused on defense because that’s what the coach has been talking to me about all the time. My defense is getting better and better. Like coach says, when you play good defense the offense comes to you.”
About his deadly three-point shooting, he said, “Initially, I wasn’t a three-point shooter. I was more attack and create. But last year I improved because I was the leading scorer on my team (at Monroe), so I had to score from all levels. I learned a lot about shooting from last year and this year coach Grant has given me the green light to take the shots.”
Speaking of colors, Matos wore shocking pink shoes for his Dayton Debut and laughed and said, “You know, you have to come with a little swagger, you have to bring a little swag.”
Playing in front of 10,000-plus, which will swell to 13,000 when the regular season begins Wednesday against North Florida, was a kick for Matos, “Because in Juco we played in front of maybe 200. Not many. There were a lot of cameras tonight and maybe we had one at Monroe. And I’m being interviewed after the game. That never happened.”
Based on the way he played Friday, there are many points in his future, many difficult defensive assignments in his future and many post-game interviews in his future.
Asked if he has found any restaurants in Dayton that serves Dominican food, he said, “No, not yet. I eat a lot of Chipotle. You know, rice and beans.”