On July 19, The Basketball Tournament, better known as TBT, kicked off for the sixth consecutive year. Sixty-four teams were selected for this year’s field, including a squad comprised almost exclusively of University of Dayton alumni.
The group was entered under the team name Red Scare, which, for the record, is the name of UD’s avid student fan base and not a shoutout to the communism hysteria of the mid-1900s. The weekend was a steady dose of nostalgia for Flyer fans as they were able to watch Darrell Davis, Kyle Davis, Vee Sanford, Devin Oliver, Kendall Pollard and Kevin Dillard. The crew was also joined by Ohio Northern All-American Ryan Bruns, so all seven of the Polar Bear fans out there were treated to quite the thrill seeing him suit up again. No seriously, their school’s nickname is the Polar Bears.
Dyshawn Pierre and Josh Cunningham were also set to play for the Red Scare but had to back out late in the process, so the Flyers had an undersized and undermanned roster. Even so, they steamrolled The Region in round one and pulled out a dramatic win over Mid-American Unity in round two after a game-winning putback dunk by Oliver. The group fell short on day three against Ohio State alumni-based Carmen’s Crew (Ohio State alumni) in the Columbus regional finals.
After the dust settled from a busy three days in central Ohio, I spoke with Oliver to get his thoughts on the weekend. Oliver starred over the weekend, pouring in 27 points in the first game and delivering 22 points and the tournament’s most exciting moment in game two. Flyer fans will always remember him as a key component to the school’s Elite 8 team in 2014 when Oliver was a senior. He has been busy in his post-UD days, playing pro ball in Belgium, Israel, France, Slovenia, Turkey and Germany. In a couple weeks he will be heading back to France, playing the upcoming season in Paris for Nanterre 92.
Chatterbox Sports: What was your overall experience like suiting back up with your old running mates and throwing on a jersey to represent Dayton again?
Devin Oliver: Man it was surreal. It was so cool. I was excited from when Jeremiah Bonsu and Joey Gruden threw the idea at me earlier this year. Once we got there and I saw Vee, Kendall, Kyle, Darrell and Kevin. and all these guys that I played with, it was like wow. I went to the Elite 8 with these guys. It’s different when you go to a big school like Michigan, Michigan St. or Kansas where you’re expected to be in that Elite 8 position almost every year. But for a smaller school like Dayton, I think it just means a little bit more. And when you go on a run like that you have to be a little bit closer as guys, as friends. Just to do it again with those guys specifically was awesome.
And our fans were unbelievable. I know Capital’s not a large gym but it felt like I was running out of that tunnel again. Just their energy and their love for Flyer basketball, it was really cool to kind of rekindle that.
Did you talk to some of your old teammates before agreeing to do this, or were you in from the jump?
Honestly when Bonsu texted me about it, I was in. Because I knew that at some point guys were going to start falling in line. I had talked to Vee a little bit about it and I knew he was in, so honestly that was enough for me. Just because Vee’s one of my closer friends and I wanted to play with him. And then other guys followed along.
Unfortunately, Dyshawn and Josh couldn’t play. I think with Dyshawn we probably would have won that last game as well. I don’t know how far we would have went just because of size was lacking. I think if we get a couple more guys for next year, I think we could make a legitimate run at this thing.
If you were to come back and do it next year, and it sounds like that is the case, who else would you like to have join you where you think you have a shot at winning the whole thing?
Dyshawn for sure. It might be a stretch, but I would love to have B Rob (Brian Roberts). Maybe Chris Wright, Chris Johnson. If we had just those guys I named right there, that’s a really good team. That’s a lot of scoring, we could play well together. If we could get that team together, that would be unbelievable. I truly feel like we could make a run at the $2 million.
I know this gym (Capital Center at Capital University, 3,000 capacity) was much smaller, but there was a large UD fan base there. When you had that putback dunk Saturday, was there a moment where it felt like you were back in front of 13,000 at UD Arena?
No question. As soon as I dunked it and kind of walked off, I just felt the energy. I didn’t really look around, I was just so excited and I could just feel it. That feeling of playing at the University of Dayton is such a special feeling in itself and I’ve had great fan bases overseas in my professional career but I don’t think anything will ever top the Dayton Flyers. That time specifically was very special.
What’s the difference in playing with a $2 million prize on the line as opposed to in college when you play hopefully to win championships, but also more for pride and for your school?
I think on the last day a lot of us were worn down obviously. And I think we kind of used the money as a motivational factor. But to be completely honest with you, more than anything I think we were just relishing the fact that we were able to play together again. I see a lot of guys on these teams in TBT where they get mad at each other because they aren’t passing the ball or since they’re on ESPN they want to take the moment to give themselves exposure. We had times in a couple of our games where guys took awful shots. And we didn’t say anything, we didn’t think anything of it. We told whoever it was ‘hey good shot, let’s go back and get it on defense.’ And I think that’s just from playing together in college and goes back to being at the University of Dayton. We’re all mid-major guys and we have pride in the fact we played for Dayton. We want to prove to people that guys who come from Dayton can get it done, we’re just as tough, just as good. So I think a lot of it is just being prideful and going out there and continuing to prove ourselves.
You know from watching Kyle, Kendall, Vee, me, all these guys…we’ve always had kind of chip on our shoulder. I mean my Instagram handle is Underdog for God’s sake (laughing). I’ve always kind of been overlooked. I’ve gained a lot more respect but these are a group of guys who a lot of people maybe would have questioned. I had some high-major offers but they didn’t show me love like Dayton did. And I’m sure it’s the same way for a lot of the other guys I was playing with. I think more than anything it’s about pride and continuing to play with a chip on our shoulder. I think that’s why with six guys we went to the regional finals.
I thought it was interesting to watch you guys play together now, because when you played at UD you had Archie (Miller) yelling at you all the time. But playing with each other now and with a temporary coach (Capital head coach Damon Goodwin) who is more relaxed in this setting, I would think it’s probably you guys more just motivating each other and busting balls and having fun since there isn’t someone screaming at you the whole time.
Oh for sure. Like I said we’re close and all continue to remain friends. I think we definitely still hold each other accountable. Like if a guy is getting beat, we’re going to tell him. But it’s good because we can do it without the guy we’re telling getting upset. Because he knows we care about him as a person and we want him to do well so he doesn’t take it the wrong way. But yeah probably more than anything it’s just busting each other’s balls like ‘come on man, you gotta pass the damn ball,’ and small things like that.
The OSU game. The media made it out to be a revenge game for Ohio State, like a big rematch. You beat them five years ago in the NCAA tournament and that game was such a big deal and kicked off the Elite 8 run, so I doubt you guys looking at this game with any comparison to that one. Did you take it as a rematch or was it just another game for you?
They (the media) love to run the stories, hype it up which is cool. And we got into it a little bit but at the end of the day, we just want to win. If they want to tell it that way to add to viewership then we don’t mind, but I think Craft was the only guy that was on that team. (William) Buford and (David) Lighty weren’t on that team. So we take it as a challenge always. And I’m not going to make excuses, but if we had a couple more guys I don’t think it would have even been close. We didn’t really play well, specifically myself that game, more than anything due to fatigue. It had been a long couple days, I put in a lot of energy the first two games, mostly on celebrations (laughing). They like to make it into a story but I think at the end of the day it was just us going out there and playing another game. And I have the Elite 8 ring to prove what we did back in 2014 (laughing). We don’t need to get into a swinging contest with them because we know what we’ve done and what we accomplished. But as a competitor and just as a professional with a competitive nature, you always want to mentally get yourself in that kind of mode for a game like that.
Are you a fan of the Elam Ending?
It’s very interesting. I think it’s cool that a UD grad (Nick Elam) came up with it. And actually, after our final game on Sunday, he came up to me and introduced himself. He was very proud of it. I think it’s cool. But I think it takes some getting used to, especially when it’s a game like our first game when we had a 25-30 point margin and trying to get to the end you don’t really know whether to speed up or slow down. It kind of confuses you a little bit. But once you get the hang of it it’s cool, it makes the games very exciting. The second game, we got seven straight stops, so I think in a way it shows you gotta have a little toughness.
It’s more good than bad for sure…I wouldn’t even say that its bad, it’s just something that you gotta get used to and adapt to so your guys understand it exactly and know what the situation is depending what the time and score is, what the game plan would be, and stuff like that. But it’s a very cool concept.
Could you see or would you like to see that implemented in other competition, be it here or overseas?
I don’t know. I think probably more in the one-off tournaments. Just because I’ve played in a lot of games that come down to the wire, and it’s also exciting beating the clock. Playing situations, knowing the time and place, i think that is an important part of the game. I think at some point it could be implemented maybe in smaller leagues, and if it has a positive effect then move it up. But we’ll see, TBT is getting bigger and bigger so you never know.
While it’s obviously harder with where you’re playing, do you get to follow the current UD team while you’re overseas?
I do. I know for sure my parents and my family do, they are Flyer fans for life. So I’ll always be that way. I gotta be better because I’m getting old and only know a few of the guys left on the team. I talk to Trey (Landers) every so often and when I see (Ryan) Mikesell its always love. Of course I’m always rooting for my Flyers but as I get older I have so much going on in my life that it’s not as easy to keep up. Plus it’s hard with the time difference to be able to catch games consistently. But I’m going to try be a little better this year, I think they’ve gonna have a good team.