Dayton captain Camara: 'We believe we're a championship team'

·5 min read

Sep. 22—Toumani Camara's T-shirt read, "I'm going left," on the front Wednesday. He's left-handed. The choice of shirts was as simple as that.

UD's choice to send Camara to an interview with two local reporters days before the start of the official 2022-23 preseason practice period was also a simple one. He's the oldest player on the team, the only player entering his fourth season in college basketball.

If not for the pandemic season that didn't count against anyone's eligibility, Camara would be considered a senior this season. Instead, he has another season of eligibility after this one if he chooses to use it.

Camara, a 6-foot-8 forward from Brussels, Belgium, is also Dayton's captain. If one player was going to speak for the 12 scholarship players and all the coaches, he was going to be it. It's a role he has embraced.

"I'm the oldest one on the team," Camara said. "I'm the most experienced."

Camara played his first two seasons at Georgia. He debuted for Dayton last season and led the team in rebounding (6.9) and ranked second in scoring (10.9).

Camara said his goals this season are to "bring knowledge, "keep the team together on and off the court" and be "the big brother in this group."

That was even more important last year when Dayton had two freshmen (DaRon Holmes II and Malachi Smith) and two second-year players (Kobe Elvis and R.J. Blakney) in the starting lineup with Camara. That group — plus the top reserves Koby Brea, Mustapha Amzil and Moulaye Sissko (all in their second years on the court with the Flyers) — was considered the least-experienced team in the country, according to KenPom.com's formula.

That won't be the case this season. Dayton has the experience, the depth and the talent to win the Atlantic 10 Conference championship and climb up the Associated Press top-25 poll. It all starts Nov. 7 with a game against Lindenwood University at UD Arena. The path to that game has already started.

Dayton has been practicing all month, but it can practice even more starting Monday. That's six weeks, or 42 days, before the first game. Teams can practice 30 times in that span.

"That's a big day for every basketball team when official practices actually start," Camara said. "It's really exciting. We actually start to wear the practice jersey. Everything gets more serious. It's really something we look forward to, and it shows that you're getting close to the season."

Camara said the players wear typical Dayton gear during workouts throughout the offseason until the official practice season begins.

With the start of the season nearing, there are a few other dates to keep in mind. The A-10 will hold its first in-season media day since 2019 on Oct. 13 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., site of the conference tournament in March. Dayton will play Capital in an exhibition game Oct. 29 at UD Arena.

Dayton also will find out at noon Oct. 17 if it ranks in the AP preseason poll. It last received a vote in the preseason in 2019 and climbed to No. 3 after winning its last 20 regular-season games. That was the only season it has been ranked in coach Anthony Grant's first five seasons.

Dayton has earned a preseason ranking twice in its history. It started the 1967-68 season at No. 6 after losing to UCLA in the national championship game the previous season. It started the 2009-10 season at No. 21 after winning 27 games and reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament the previous season.

This Dayton team finished 24-11 last season and was the first team left out of the NCAA tournament. The hype is strong because seven of the top eight scorers return. Camara said the players know what everyone is saying about the Flyers.

"Our generation is on social media every day," he said. "It's something you cannot not see. But I believe we already know where we can go based on what we were able to accomplish last year. We've got small goals and bigger goals. We believe we're a championship team for sure. The ranking I wouldn't say is something we really too much worry about. It's just something that will come with whatever success be able to have."

Dayton's roster includes two new players: freshman Mike Sharavjamts, a 6-8 guard from Mongolia; and Georgia transfer Tyrone Baker, a 6-9 forward. Camara talked about both in an interview with the Dayton Daily News in late June. Now that he's had more time on the court with both, he was asked again Wednesday how they've progressed.

"Mike looks good," Camara said. "His length and his potential is really huge. He's got a really big upside with him being able to play the one or the two or three. He's still got a lot to learn. He's new to the system, new to this college, this environment and physicality."

Of Baker, Camara said, "We both kind of had the same experience, both coming from Georgia from a system that's really different. The change you have to make coming from the Georgia system into the Dayton system is really big. He's been doing a great job. It's just day by day keep working. He's improving in the weight room, and on the court, he's really getting better."