DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Former University of Dayton men’s basketball coach Don Donoher, who led the team for 26 seasons, remembered the spring and summer of 1984 fondly.

His friend, Indiana University coach Bobby Knight, asked him to be an assistant on the Olympic team that year – the games were held in Los Angeles.


The Flyers had finished an Elite Eight run in the NCAA tournament that year before losing to eventual champion Georgetown. The Hoyas were led by Patrick Ewing, a player Donoher would coach months later on the Olympic team. Donoher remembers the Olympics as a frenzy of preparation and months of work in Bloomington, Ind., before the actual games.

“(It) was the ultimate basketball shop,” Donoher said. “It’s different today because the pros can’t get together until a few weeks before the competition. But we were together for a whole summer. It was a grind, but it was marvelous.”

Donoher told on Wednesday the staff began putting the team together during the spring. Starting with 75 players during the golden age of basketball, narrowing it to 12 was a nearly impossible task.

Donoher said two players who didn’t make the team were Karl Malone and John Stockton – both NBA Hall-of-Famers for the Utah Jazz, who made it to the NBA Finals and would make the Olympic squad in 1992 as part of the Dream Team.

Donoher said from the start, Knight wanted his team to be all college players and not American players who had been playing overseas.

“He didn’t want any players who had graduated college or who had played overseas,” Donoher said. “He wanted an all-college team and he drilled them into a machine.”

Donoher described the Olympic season as a “grind.” The team spent months in Bloomington, the home court for Indiana, where Knight built his team into a defensive behemoth, rounded out with players who could attack on offense in a variety of ways.

The team played nine exhibition games prior to the Olympics. USA Basketball at the time had an agreement with the NBA Players Association for the games before the Olympic trials. Donoher said eight of the games were played on the east coast with the last played in Phoenix before the Olympics. Donoher said the experience was intensely patriotic.

“All of the games were sellouts,” Donoher said. “It was all very patriotic and memorable experience.”

1984 US Olympic Basketball Schedule/Credit:

OpponentScoreMargin of Victory
W. Germany78-6711

The team’s roster was highlighted by Michael Jordan. Jordan would be drafted by the Chicago Bulls that summer. He averaged 17.1 points per game during the Olympics and was the team’s leading scorer. The 1984 team had an average margin of victory of 32.1 points not far off from the 1992 Dream Team 43.8-point margin of victory.

Donoher said the team was built to be well-rounded and to emphasize defense.

“Some of our players like Alvin Robertson and Vern Fleming had so-so pro careers but they were defensive animals,” Donoher said. “We had Steve Alford and Chris Mullin for shooters. Our frontcourt had Wayman Tisdale, Sam Perkins and Patrick Ewing.

“We had some soldiers, that’s for sure. They were a great bunch to be around. They put in a lot of effort.”

1984 US Olympic Basketball Schedule/Credit:

PlayerCollegePoints Per Game
Michael JordanNorth Carolina17.1
Chris MullinSt. John’s11.6
Patrick EwingGeorgetown11.0
Steve AlfordIndiana10.3
Wayman TisdaleOklahoma8.6
Sam PerkinsN. Carolina8.1
Alvin RobertsonArkansas7.8
Vern FlemingGeorgia7.7
Leon WoodArizona5.9
Joe KleineNotre Dame3.4
Jon KoncackSMU3.3
Jeff TurnerVanderbilt1.6

The 1984 team would be the last US college team to win the Olympics. In 1988, the team finished third and took the bronze medal. In 1992, USA Basketball began allowing professional NBA players to play.

Bobby Knight

Knight and Donoher had been close friends for years. Knight often traveled to Dayton for years doing charitable events with Donoher. Knight, an Ohio State graduate, won three National Championship and the Big Ten Conference title 11 times. After getting fired in 2000, he coached at Texas Tech until 2008. When he retired, according to CNN, he had more wins than any other coach in NCAA history.

Knight and Indiana’s relationship remained strained after his firing. The situation wasn’t different when Donoher was fired from UD after the 1989 season. Loyal to his friend, Knight spent most of an Indiana press conference tearing Dayton’s university and administration apart for firing Donoher.

Knight finally returned to the university on Feb. 10 in a game against Purdue. Greeted by former and current players, Knight received a standing ovation that went on for minutes.

Donoher, who has been caring for his ill wife, didn’t get a chance to see the moment but did talk to Knight afterward.

“I didn’t see it but my son has a video of it,” Donoher said. “He’s going to bring it over one of these days. I’ve talked with (Knight) since. He didn’t say much, he doesn’t have a whole lot to say about anything these days. He said it was nice though and he was very glad to be back in Bloomington.”

Where does Toppin fit in list of UD greats?

Dayton forward Obi Toppin (1) shoots over Virginia Tech forward P.J. Horne (14) and guard Wabissa Bede (3) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Mention the name of UD star Obi Toppin, and fan comparisons run to Roosevelt Chapman, who led the Flyers to the Elite Eight in 1984 before he was taken in the third round of the NBA draft.

“They’re different,” Donoher said. “Chapman was a 3, and an undersized forward. He was a finesse player and very good scoring around the basket. Toppin is an overpowering player. He’s at home on the post or out on the floor. He’s a good one.”

The 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore has started all 30 games for UD this season, averaging 19.8 points, 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 62.9-percent. He leads the team in points, rebounds and blocks.

The Flyers men’s basketball team plays its last regular-season game at UD Arena on Saturday at 7 p.m.