Exclusive: Don Donoher on current Flyers; coaching Jordan in Olympics; Dayton HS greats

University of Dayton
UD Davidson game

Dayton forward Obi Toppin (1) is congratulated for his 3-point basket against Davidson by guard Jalen Crutcher (10) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, in Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Ask former University of Dayton men’s basketball coach Don Donoher about Anthony Grant, and the praise is effusive.

In an interview with WDTN.com on Wednesday, Donoher said the current Flyers team, coached by his former player Grant, is a reflection of the forward he said was one of the most popular and selfless players he had in his 26-year head coaching career.

The current Flyers are ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press Men’s College Basketball Poll heading into a road game at Rhode Island on Wednesday.

“I see them play and feel their unselfishness and camaraderie is reflected in the way Anthony was as a player,” Donoher said. “His personality on the floor and his personality off the floor is reflected in this team. You see a lot of him out there.”

Donoher has been a Flyer his entire adult life. He played with the Flyers in the early 1950s. He was two years behind Don “Monk” Meineke, who was an NBA pick in 1952, the same year Dayton became the last team to play in both the NIT and NCAA tournaments.

A native of Toledo, Donoher graduated from Dayton in 1954. He finished his career scoring over 500 points in 72 games in three seasons.

After two years in the Army and working as a scout for UD and then an assistant until he became head coach in 1964. He was with the school until 1989 when he was fired. A team coached by Jim O’Brien loaded with players recruited by Donoher made the 1990 NCAA tournament second round.

His first seven years as UD coach, the Flyers went to six NCAA tournaments in a much tighter field of 25 and won the NIT another season. He brought the Flyers back to the tournament in the 70s and again in the 80s under stars like Roosevelt Chapman and Ed Young. The Flyers made the tournament twice in the 1980s, losing to eventual champion Georgetown in 1985 in the Elite Eight. The team returned the next year and lost in the first round to eventual champion Villanova by two points.

Finding Anthony Grant

Anthony Grant was on the bench his freshman year at Dayton behind Chapman, who was one of the biggest stars in college basketball his senior year in 1984. Grant was from Miami and was recruited by Dan Hipscher, a Donoher assistant who had coached at a community college near the city.

“He got to be familiar with Anthony’s high school coach,” Donoher said. “If you ever walked into the Grant house and met his family you would understand how Anthony became the man he is.

“All of their children are college-educated. Anthony’s dad was a hard worker. When I was there (Anthony) was all business. He grilled me about Dayton. I’ll never forget that visit.”

Grant had the task of following Chapman, a local high school star in Dayton before he went to UD. Chapman was a third-round draft pick in the NBA in 1984.

“It’s almost impossible to come in and follow him,” Donoher said. “But (Grant’s) freshman year he didn’t play a lot. He came home and put a workout plan together on his own, not from anyone on the staff, he did it all on his own. He was determined coming back his sophomore year and he held that spot for three years and did a whale of a job.”

Donoher said former players are as excited about having a former Flyer coaching the team as they are the team’s success.

“All the former players you run into, they’re thrilled to have one of our own back here,” Donoher said. “Particularly the fellows who played with Anthony because he was so popular here as a student in town and also on the floor. I can’t tell you how good of a teammate he was.”

On the Dayton-area basketball scene through the years

Donoher took over coaching UD in 1965, the same year Belmont High School had one of the great runs in Ohio high school history. The team was armed with Don May, a future Flyer, and Bill Hosket. Hosket went to Ohio State, but was also drafted by the New York Knicks in 1968 to reunite the Belmont duo. The two won the NBA title with the Knicks in 1970.

“They killed everyone,” Donoher said about the dominant Belmont team. “They’re still considered one of the best state champions of all time.”

Donoher made use of local pipelines, such as Alter High School. Jim and John Paxson starred at the school, with John going to Notre Dame before winning NBA titles alongside Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen with the Chicago Bulls. Jim was a two-time NBA All-Star with the Portland Trailblazers after playing for UD.

“We had Jack Zimmerman from Alter as well,” Donoher said. “Paul Hopkins, Doug Harris – we had a run of players from there.”

He said the Flyers were never in on Kiser High School star Ron Harper, who won NBA titles with the Bulls and Lakers.

“Miami (University) did an excellent job recruiting him,” Donoher said. “It’s hard to keep track of all the players from the city. Dwight Anderson, he was tremendous. God, he was good.”

Donoher said he’s been impressed with Wright State. The Raiders are 25-6 overall and the No. 1 seed heading into the Horizon League tournament after going 15-3 in the conference.

He hasn’t met Raiders head coach Scott Nagy, but he watches the team regularly.

“Hipsher recently was an assistant at Oakland, which is in the Horizon League,” Donoher said. “Whenever they would come to town we would get together. Wright State just smoked them. They’re really well-coached and having another great year.”

He said he didn’t know if Wright State and Dayton would eventually play each other. The two schools haven’t played each other in the regular season since the 1990s.

“I don’t know, it gets into the administration and all the way up to the top,” Donoher said. “I don’t know what goes on there. When you’re a coach you are given the schedule and you play it. You try not to get into the politics of things.”

Coaching the 1984 Olympic team with Bobby Knight

Bobby Knight was in his prime in 1984 when he asked Donoher to be an assistant coach on the US Olympic team. Knight was a longtime friend of Donoher’s. He came to his defense when Dayton fired him in 1989, blasting the university in a press conference. Five years earlier, they put together an early version of the heralded Dream Team.

“We had a week out in Bloomington way back in the spring that year,” Donoher said. There were about 75 players there. you go down the list and it’s a who’s who of basketball. We couldn’t get down to 12.

“Michael Jordan was just a standout. He was on an island to himself. We had John Stockton and Karl Malone who didn’t make the team. A lot of those players weren’t then what they became later as pros. We had Patrick Ewing as a center, Chris Mullin and Sam Perkins. We had Wayman Tisdale in the frontcourt as well, we were well-rounded.”

The 1984 team was the last US team to win the gold medal with college players. The 1988 team finished third and won the bronze. In 1992, USA Basketball decided to allow pros to play in the Olympics, bringing together the heralded Dream Team.

Herb Brooks, who coached the gold medal 1980 US Hockey Team, lamented the loss of amateur players in the Olympics before he died in the late 2000s. Donoher said today there isn’t any choice.

“You would have to go with the pros,” Donoher said. “It doesn’t make sense for the United States to send amateurs over there against guys who are in the NBA. But there was a lot of pride in our team that we were all college players.”

How the 2019-2020 Flyers fit into UD history

Comparing great Flyers teams, Donoher said this year’s unit stands on its own. He said the team’s ability to score is nearly surreal.

“I had two teams that shot 50 percent from the field,” Donoher said. “They are shooting 60 percent as a team. We had teams that didn’t have one player doing that. That’s where they make their hay, they just score. hat’s a credit to how they’re put together by Anthony and his staff. They drive when they get the chance, they can shoot outside, they get mismatches on pick-and-rolls and they take advantage. They don’t miss shots.”

He expected the team to get a No. 1 seed if they win out.

“They’re No. 3 in the AP poll, that puts them as one of the top seeds if they don’t stub their toe somewhere,” he said.

Donoher said he’s expected to be at ESPN GameDay on Saturday morning. The pre-game show is making its first trip to Dayton and will be held at Frericks Center on campus.

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