Perez: My journey to the University of Dayton through college basketball

Growing up in a family of four, with both of my parents having emigrated from Mexico to the United States, I can vividly recall watching countless Mexican soccer matches on TV. When I was two, I remember my dad sliding into his giant green armchair after a long day of work, turning on the TV and flipping the channel to Univision to tune into the 1998 FIFA World Cup that was staged in France. In fact, looking back now, it is as if the Mexican national soccer team was the only team that my family watched on television.

The only time my sister and I really experienced any sport besides soccer was when my mother played the Space Jam VHS cassette we owned. I swear I watched Space Jam at least 50 times during my childhood. The humorous showdown between the cast of Looney Tunes characters, alongside basketball legend Michael Jordan, and the “Monstars,” sparked my interest in basketball as a kid. As such, my siblings and I managed to convince my mom to buy us a basic basketball system from Fisher-Price.

Over the years, my interest in basketball was subdued by my overwhelming passion for soccer. Thinking back now, it is kind of ironic; I remember condemning soccer, and anybody playing the game, in the second and third grades. However, my passion for soccer was sparked in the fourth grade, after I watched Joga Bonito commercials that featured soccer legends such as Eric Cantona, Thierry Henry, Ronaldo, Luiz Nazario, Roberto Carlos, Wayne Rooney and my all-time favorite player, Ronaldinho. I wanted to be just like Ronaldinho, so I would practice for hours every day, aiming to perfectly replicate his infamous elastic move, and also attempt endless bicicletas.

In any case, basketball did not capture my interest again until the eighth grade. My writing teacher had attended the University of Texas at Austin, and around March, I recall her mentioning March Madness and explaining what it was. She defined it as a heated point in the NCAA basketball season when numerous colleges would compete to advance to the finals for a shot at winning the national championship. She would then proceed to make horns with her index finger and her pinky, and shout “hook ‘em horns!”

It seemed strange at first, but something about the concept of March Madness was nevertheless interesting to me. The only problem was that I grew up in a low-income, working-class community, so college was not really on the agendas of many of the children growing up in our community. Therefore, the only university I was familiar with at the time was Stanford University, since it was literally down the street from where I lived in East Palo Alto. However, I never knew what channel televised these “March Madness” games.

My enrollment at Eastside College Prep made me a bit more familiar with colleges and universities, as the school had a reputation of sending 100 percent of its graduates to four-year colleges and universities.  Nevertheless, it was not until my junior year of high school that I discovered my passion for writing, so I decided to take part in my school’s journalism program.

There was not much to cover in the world of sports since my school was really small. But basketball is at the heart of Eastside’s identity, as the school has a tradition of consistently winning league titles. Once more during March of my junior year, I was reunited with the concept of March Madness when I was assigned to cover the March Madness picks of teachers on campus.  It was not anything special; I simply asked each teacher to explain his or her picks.

My senior year was when the idea of college literally took over my life. The application process was very stressful, and I was still unsure where I really wanted to go. In the process of choosing schools to apply to, I selected schools where some of my relatives had attended. One of them in particular was a school that I never seriously considered attending. I knew nothing about the university besides for the fact that it was in Ohio.

The University of Dayton never made my top five of colleges that I wanted to attend, but nevertheless, I still applied because one of my cousins attends the school and likes it. When the early months of this year came around, college acceptance letters flooded in, and by March, I was down to deciding between three schools based on financial reasons: St. John’s University, St. Edward’s University and the University of Dayton.

March Madness was also going on at the time, and it was being streamed online for free by the NCAA, TBS and CBS. I promised myself that I would keep up with it, so I tuned in to see what was going on. To my surprise, Dayton had just advanced to the Sweet 16 after upsetting Syracuse 55-53, which was a No. 3 seed and one of the favorites to advance to the Final Four.

Dayton was now on my radar, and I looked forward to the Flyers’ confrontation with Stanford in the Sweet 16. In the meantime, I also watched the Round of 32 game between Arizona and Gonzaga, as well as the Baylor-Creighton matchup. Basketball was streaming on my laptop all day at that point.

Game day finally arrived for the Flyers, as they were scheduled to face Stanford in Memphis, Tennessee. In reality, it seemed like a home game for the Flyers, as Dayton’s fans drowned out the cheers from Stanford’s fans. The Flyer faithful was incredible throughout the game. The noise level the fans produced was insane, and the blue and red paint covering some of the fans represented the pride that they had in UD.

I was practically sold on attending Dayton midway through the game. I wanted to be in the stands next season, cheering for this incredible team. As Devin Oliver and the humungous Matt Kavanaugh kept the momentum going for the Flyers, the noise level coming from the UD fans only increased. At the end of the first half, Dayton took a 10-point lead into the locker room.

Besides for opening college letters and taking final exams, my anxiety levels have never been as high as they were during that game. I really felt as if I were in Memphis, cheering Dayton on as a fan. In an empty house besides for my mother and I, my cheering echoed through the halls of my house, with phrases such as “Hit them threes, baby!”

I had my hands in my hair and my teeth in my pillow, hoping to see Dayton advance. Players such as Kendall Pollard and Jordan Sibert played the game of their lives, with Pollard making all but one of his shots, and Sibert scoring a team-high 18 points.

Furthermore, Dayton’s chances were helped when the Cardinal lost some key players to foul trouble. In particular, when Stefan Nastic stormed off the court after committing his fourth foul in the second half, it was clear that Dayton was going to advance. Ultimately, thanks to tremendous teamwork and passion, the Flyers advanced to the Elite 8 for the first time since 1984. Twelve Flyer players received minutes in the Sweet 16 game, which helped tire the Cardinal, leaving them unable to stage a comeback.

I remember immediately posting a picture of the game on Instagram, captioning it “D8on on to the elite 8, I’m sold!” Unfortunately, a few days later, the Flyers fell to another favorite to win the tournament, Florida, by a score of 62-52. However, despite the loss, Dayton had a terrific season, and I hope to attend many of their games during my time at UD.

Nevertheless, having also interned at the Branner Library this summer, and with The Stanford Daily, I have also formed a connection to the Cardinal. I have a lot of respect for Stanford, and I hope to see the Card continue their tradition of excellence in academics and athletics. I can certainly say that it would be great to see Dayton and Stanford in the NCAA tournament next March.

Edward Perez will be a college freshman at the University of Dayton in a couple of weeks. To wish Edward well as he enters an exciting time in his life, contact him at EdwardP.NBTB13 ‘at’ gmail.com.

  • ta111

    Great article. I am a double grad from UD-Business and Law. Edward, you will love the campus and atmosphere. There is nothing like it. The UD “Ghetto” is one of a kind. Good luck and go Flyers.

  • Rosario Perez

    Can’t wait to see you on UD’s campus Ed!

  • bprichard

    I flew in from Shanghai to watch the Flyers play in Memphis. That’s how much UD basketball means to Dayton.

    You’re about to join an incredible community. Congratulations!