In 2014, the Dayton Flyers captured the nation with their run to the Elite Eight, one of eight No. 11 seeds to ever advance that far in the NCAA Tournament.
As the run to the program’s third-ever Elite Eight and first since 1984 progressed, riots engulfed Dayton as the school and city celebrated each victory. Five years later, several of the players who made up that roster came together for another hurrah.
Organized by former walk-ons Joey Gruden and Jeremiah Bonsu, the Dayton alumni entered into the 2019 edition of The Basketball Tournament (TBT), a 64-team tournament largely comprised of former college stars duking for a $2 million winner-take-all prize, competing as Red Scare.
At Capital University’s gym in Columbus, Ohio, some of those same fans who took to the streets traveled an hour east to experience something of a five-year reunion.
“I knew as soon as we got the Columbus draw,” said Devin Oliver, Dayton’s second-leading scorer in 2013-14 as a senior. “Come on, man. That’s an hour drive for Dayton fans? No question. I knew they were going to show up.”
And he was right. As Red Scare progressed through its opening games, demolishing The Region, 108-82, in the first round, then eking by Mid-American Unity, 80-78, to advance to the Regional Final, the fans showed out in big numbers and even bigger noise. “Let’s go Flyers” chants boomed through The Capital Center Performance Arena, with support so ferocious you’d think the game was played on campus.
“I think it’s beautiful,” said Kendall Pollard, who was a freshman during the 2014 run. “Our fans find any excuse to come out and support us.”
From the stands, the bonds built between the players from their shared experiences five years ago were obvious. The chemistry Red Scare played with was palpable, with its players seemingly knowing what their teammates were thinking at all times.
“It feels like we didn’t skip a beat,” said Vee Sanford, who scored almost 10 points per game in 2013-14 as a senior. “We haven’t seen each other in years, but it’s like we’re back together and we’re back in the locker room in 2014. It’s been a pleasure to play with these guys.”
It was no more obvious than at the end of the team’s second-round matchup when Kyle Davis pushed the ball in transition with the game tied at 78, aggressively attacking the basket to earn the last two points needed to achieve 80, the mark set by the Elam Ending to win the game.
Oliver knew what was on his teammate’s mind, so it was only natural for him to crash the glass in case the rim had other ideas. As the ball bounced off the back iron, Oliver was there to slam it back, sending the Flyer faithful into a frenzy.
“As soon as I saw him get the rebound, I know how he plays,” Oliver said. “I just followed behind trying to get a tip. I ended up being there, and it came off the perfect way.”
Davis knew it was coming.
“I knew the whole team was following me,” he explained. “I knew somebody was going to clean it up.”
In the Regional Final, Red Scare met Carmen’s Crew, an Ohio State alumni team, creating something of a rematch of the first-round game in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, which Dayton won, 60-59, after a Sanford runner gave the Flyers an insurmountable one-point lead with 3.8 seconds to play.
This time, it didn’t go Dayton’s way as Carmen’s Crew pulled away in the second half, winning 85-71 to send the team to Chicago for the Quarterfinals in August.
But the Dayton crowd was every bit as rowdy as the Buckeye fans who didn’t have to leave town to see their alumni, if not more so.
“I heard, ‘Let’s go Flyers,’ more than I heard, ‘O-H-I-O,’ and we’re on their turf,” Pollard said after the game. “It’s a credit to our fan base, the Flyer faithful. They travel well. If we had won today, they would have traveled with us to Chicago, too.”
Players from the 2013-14 team have gone on to have professional careers in different countries, and distance and years can create a separation between even the closest of friends. But for this collection of guys, no amount of time can stop them from recapturing that same magic.
“I would play anywhere in the world with these guys right here, any day,” Davis said. “If they call, I’m gonna come play.”