No. 21 Dayton buoys community hard hit by layoffs
This year's version of the Dayton Flyers is more than just a basketball team. With four returning starters, the Flyers are the preseason pick to win the Atlantic 10 and are ranked No. 21 in the nation - feeding a spirit-lifting fever in a community eager to forget plant closings and layoffs. "We've taken some hits. We're still standing, and we're going to keep fighting," coach Brian Gregory said of the community. "That's the way I want our team to be." With General Motors Corp. closing its truck plant, nearby DHL Express moving its operations to Kentucky, and NCR Corp. transferring its headquarters to Georgia, Daytonians have every reason to be down - and to sit on their wallets. And yet the Flyers have sold a record 9,754 season tickets. "I think we have an opportunity to be a great story here in Dayton," said Athletics Director Tim Wabler. "With some of the bad news around Dayton at times, I can see where people perhaps are grabbing ahold of the Flyers." The Flyers have the ammunition they need to build on last season's 27-8 team, which advanced to the NCAA tournament and defeated West Virginia in the first round before falling to Kansas. Dayton revolves around junior forward Chris Wright, an all-around talent who is a tremendous leaper. He led the Flyers in scoring (13.3 points a game) and rebounds (6.6) last season while setting a school record for dunks (54). Gregory said Wright improved his shooting and ball handling in the offseason and that fans will see a more polished player. "He does some things better than anybody in the country," Gregory said. "No one plays as hard. No one finishes on the break better. No one goes to the offensive glass better. Those traits make him unique." Wright said he became obsessed with studying game film over the summer and is focusing more on preparation and court awareness. "This year I'm more aware of what everybody else is doing, not just myself," Wright said. "I feel comfortable out there, and my body's feeling good. I'm just ready to go." Wright's supporting cast includes guard Marcus Johnson, a former high school teammate of LeBron James who averaged 12.1 points a game last season; London Warren, a point guard known for his quickness and defensive intensity; 6-foot-11 senior center Kurt Huelsman, who has started every game in his college career; and Devin Searcy, who sharpened his skills this summer on an overseas trip with Athletes in Action. The Flyers are also eagerly anticipating the return of Rob Lowery, a slashing guard who was sidelined by a knee injury that cost him the final 10 games of his junior season. "His ability to pressure the ball and cause havoc defensively, his ability to run the team and give us a punch scoring-wise from that position were very, very instrumental in the success we had," Gregory said. The coach says he wants his team to be representative of the community in the way residents roll up their sleeves and put their noses to the grindstone to get the job done. "When they see 'Dayton' on that jersey, they know that those guys are going to do everything they can and play as hard as possible and with as great an effort as possible because that is what you're supposed to do here," Gregory said. "That's what this city's done."