October 1, 2010

Staten excited to come home to Dayton

The scrutiny that will come with being a hometown hero in Dayton doesn't seem to bother Juwan Staten.

When he plays his first game for the Flyers, he'll see plenty of familiar faces in the stands. Some of the same people who watched him at Thurgood Marshall High in Dayton or in AAU ball or even earlier will watch him from the stands at UD Arena.

No fan -- nor Dayton coach Brian Gregory -- could be as critical, though, as one of Staten's high school coaches. Staten's father, Bill, was an assistant for his high school team.

"My dad got on me a lot more than anyone else," said Staten, a four-star point guard ranked 49th in the nation in the 2010 signing class. "It was more than a coach getting on a player. It was a dad getting on his son. It helped me get tough skin.

"Coach [Gregory] can't tell me things I hadn't heard before."

That's easy for Staten to say now. Dayton -- the city and the team -- has waited a long time to see Staten play for the Flyers. He committed to the Flyers while a sophomore at Marshall and is the top-ranked recruit among a handful of Dayton-area players who have signed with the Flyers over the past few years.

After a disappointing season in 2009-10, the Flyers are hoping Staten - a 5-foot-11, 170-pounder - can team with, among others, Chris Wright (from nearby Trotwood) and Chris Johnson (from Columbus) to return Dayton to the top of the A-10 standings - and to the NCAA tournament.

The 2009-10 season started with so much promise. The Flyers were ranked 21st in the preseason Associated Press poll. Rivals.com and others tabbed the Flyers as the preseason favorite in the A-10, based on the return of Wright and three other starters from a team that upset West Virginia in the first round of the 2009 NCAA tournament.

But as the Atlantic 10 enjoyed a banner season, Dayton was left behind. The Flyers struggled with consistency and close games (they went 0-9 in games decided by five or fewer points) to finish 8-8 in the conference. But they did enjoy some postseason success, defeating North Carolina to win the NIT title.

This season, Dayton will be without some key veterans: guards Marcus Johnson, Rob Lowery and London Warren and center Kurt Huelsman.

Simply put, if Dayton is going to remain competitive in the A-10, Staten needs to make a quick transition. He should be up to the task. He has been around the program, to some degree, for the past four years.

Top-flight freshmen
Dayton's Juwan Staten is the highest-ranked freshman to sign with an Atlantic-10 school and one of seven top-150 players who will be freshmen in the league. Here's a look:
49th G Juwan Staten5-11Dayton
79th F C.J. Aiken6-9Saint Joseph's
86th F Justin Martin6-7Xavier
122ndG/F Jay Canty6-6Xavier
126thG Daryl Traynham5-9Massachusetts
130thF Jordan Latham6-8Xavier
139thG Brandon Spearman6-3Dayton
"I saw his early-season games when he was a freshman," Gregory said. "He was 5-7. He probably weighed 140 pounds at that time. But he had a presence about him on the court. You could tell there was something special about him."

Staten was just as enamored with Gregory's program. He attended every home game for three years and observed practices. He knew forward Josh Benson from playing against him in high school. He played with [Johnson, the most valuable player in the NIT, in AAU ball.

As Staten spent more time around the program, Wright and senior Devin Searcy took him under their wing. He spent summers playing pickup ball with his future teammates. And instead of heading home from school, Staten often dropped by the UD campus first.

If that's any indication, Staten won't have too much trouble developing chemistry with his teammates.

"I feel like I have a leg up," Staten said. "I've watched the team for years. I know what they're doing on defense. I have that in my mind. Living so close to the university, I'm getting a feel for the guys. ... I'm not stepping into a whole new program."

If a point guard is going to be an extension of the coach, Staten may have a head start on that, too.

With Staten committing so early and spending so much time around the program, Gregory didn't feel the need to tell Staten only about the great things he did as a player. Conversely, Staten said he has valued Gregory's input.

"I didn't worry about what I'd say to him about his game," Gregory said. "After a game, I could talk about the positives and negatives. Sometimes in recruiting, you can only talk about positives. He realizes that's part of his development, to move on an upward plane."

At the same time, one of the most difficult parts of being a freshman at Dayton is the defensive workload. Despite the 8-8 A-10 record, the Flyers were second in the conference in field-goal percentage defense (.393), trailing only Temple.

Gregory is optimistic Staten can handle the defensive responsibilities in addition to being the starting point guard. He's already one of the quickest point guards Gregory has had.

"Our system is relatively simple," Gregory said. "The thing that's most difficult is how hard and how intense you have to play on every possession and keeping focus and concentration."

Keeping that focus and concentration away from UD Arena also will be important. That's part of the reason Staten left Marshall to play his final season elsewhere. After reaping the benefits of his proximity to his new coach and new teammates, Staten spent last season at Oak Hill Academy, a basketball powerhouse in Mouth of Wilson, Va.

The year away from home forced Staten to leave his comfort zone. For instance, he missed his mom when he got a stomach virus within weeks of arriving at Oak Hill. He also missed his father pushing him along.

"Without him being there helped me develop a better work ethic," Staten said. "[At Oak Hill] I played in a lot of situations I've never played in. I played in front of more hostile crowds that prepared me for college."

For the majority of his college games, though, he won't be in front of hostile crowds. At UD Arena, the crowd will cheer for the Flyers and for two local guys in Staten and Wright.

That's the way Gregory wants to build his program. He's following the blueprint of recruiting local players set by his mentor, Tom Izzo, at Michigan State. That means keeping local talent at home.

It has worked with Wright and now Staten, and if Staten is as good as advertised, more local products could look up to him the way he looked up to Wright and others. Even if that's a lot to put on a freshman, Staten isn't worried.

"I don't really worry about pressure," Staten said. "My dad always told me the only pressure you have is the pressure you put on yourself."

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.


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