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Dayton’s Obi Toppin, Anthony Grant win AP’s Player, Coach of the Year

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Obi Toppin and Anthony Grant spent the season transforming Dayton from an unranked team that wasn’t even picked to win its conference into one of the nation’s best, complete with the most wins in program history.

The pair behind the Flyers’ remarkable rise claimed The Associated Press’ top individual honors: Toppin is the men’s college basketball player of the year and Grant is the coach of the year.

“Our team is very appreciative of what we accomplished,” Toppin told the AP, “just because we made history at our school.”

Indeed. Dayton (29-2) went from being picked to finish third in the Atlantic 10 to No. 3 in the final Top 25 poll, matching the program’s best poll finish, first accomplished in 1956. The Flyers went unbeaten in league play and in road games, leaving them positioned to claim a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament that was canceled amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

“In the 31 games that we played, our guys did a heck of a job of playing consistent and taking advantage of the opportunities that were in front of us,” Grant said. “What we did accomplish in the shortened season is something I think that hopefully will be remembered.”

RELATED: NBC Sports All-American Teams

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound Toppin followed his unanimous selection to the AP All-America first team by appearing on 34 of 65 ballots from Top 25 voters, who submitted ballots after the cancellation of the NCAA tournament.

Iowa junior Luka Garza was second in the balloting, earning 24 votes after averaging 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds for the Hawkeyes. Fellow All-Americans Markus Howard of Marquette, Payton Pritchard of Oregon and Udoka Azubuike of Kansas split the remaining votes.

It wasn’t that long ago that Toppin was a 6-foot-2 high school junior who had never dunked in a game and then a senior lacking any Division I scholarship offers, sending him to prep school before ending up at Dayton. But he has blossomed as a redshirt sophomore into an efficient scorer who made regular appearances on TV highlight reels with high-flying dunks.

He averaged 20 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 63% from the field and 39% from 3-point range, leading a season-long surge by the Flyers that rallied a community shaken by devastating tornadoes and a deadly mass shooting in the past year.

Dayton grabbed national attention early, taking Kansas to overtime in a loss in the Maui Invitational championship game. The Flyers’ only other loss came in December on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in overtime against Colorado. They had won 20 straight games when the season ended.

“Honestly, if you had asked me, I swear we could’ve won a national championship, and our team was so ready to play in the tournament,” Toppin said. “We were so locked in. But because of this virus, things happened. It’s just going to be a what-if for the rest of our lives, but it’s something we’re going to have to live with.”

Grant earned 30 of 65 votes to claim the AP coaching award in his third season at his alma mater. Baylor’s Scott Drew, who guided the Bears to a 23-game winning streak and five weeks at No. 1, was second with 13 votes.

San Diego State’s Brian Dutcher was third with 12 votes after leading the Aztecs to a 26-0 start, followed by Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton, who earned six votes after leading the Seminoles to their first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title.

Grant, a former Dayton player, said he has some of the same what-if thoughts as his star player. Still, he said he prefers to be grateful for “a special group” that deftly handled the added attention and pressure that came quickly amid the Flyers’ steady climb up the rankings.

“I thought our guys’ ability to stay focused on the things they could control really told the story of our year,” Grant said. “I think from the beginning of the year to the end, there was a consistency that our guys played with, which as a coach makes me really proud.”

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PLAYER OF THE YEAR VOTING

Obi Toppin, Dayton (34)

Luka Garza, Iowa (24)

Markus Howard, Marquette (3)

Udoka Azubuike, Kansas (2)

Payton Pritchard, Oregon (2)

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COACH OF THE YEAR VOTING

Anthony Grant, Dayton (30)

Scott Drew, Baylor (13)

Brian Dutcher, San Diego State (12)

Leonard Hamilton, Florida State (6)

Mark Few, Gonzaga (2)

Steve Pikiell, Rutgers (1)

Bill Self, Kansas (1)

Anthony Grant reunites with Billy Donovan at Florida

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Anthony Grant is headed back to Gainesville.

A longtime assistant to Billy Donovan, Grant will return to the Florida sidelines this season to take over the role that was vacated by Matt McCall. McCall will replace Will Wade as the head coach at Chattanooga. Wade was recently named the new head coach at VCU, where, coincidentally, Grant spent three seasons as a head coach after leaving Florida the first time.

“Pretty much everyone in that office is like family to me,” Grant told Gatorzone.com. “So this is like coming home. The way it all worked out? God has a plan.”

Grant went with Donovan from Marshall to Florida back in 1996, and he was an assistant with the Gators until 2006, when he accepted the head coaching position at VCU. After three seasons in which Grant led the Rams to a 76-25 record, he took over at Alabama. Grant spent six seasons with the Crimson Tide before parting ways earlier this spring.

Alabama fires head coach Anthony Grant

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Anthony Grant has been fired by Alabama, the school announced on Sunday afternoon, precisely 45 minutes before the start of the Selection Show.

Grant had been the head coach of the Crimson Tide for six seasons, but he reached the NCAA tournament just once in those six seasons after going to the Big Dance twice in three seasons while at VCU.

“We are ultimately judged by wins and losses on the court. We haven’t made satisfactory progress in that area,” Bill Battle, Alabama’s athletic director, said in the release.

The Tide went just 18-14 this past season, going 8-10 in the SEC and losing in the first round of the SEC tournament. Grant won the SEC West in 2011 and finished second in the division in 2013, but both years his Alabama team missed the NCAA tournament.

One name to keep an eye on as his replacement: Murray State head coach Steve Prohm.

Alabama forward out for the season with injury

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Alabama head coach Anthony Grant announced on Monday that junior forward Shannon Hale will get surgery this week and be out for the rest of the season. The 6-foot-8 Hale suffered the foot injury in the first half of the Feb. 24 contest against South Carolina.

Hale averaged 8.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game this season for the Crimson Tide, who are 17-12 and fighting for postseason positioning. Already without guard Ricky Tarrant for much of the second half of the season, now Alabama has to rely on inexperienced players for their two remaining regular season games and the postseason.

Alabama junior guard to miss remainder of season due to foot, knee injuries

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In his first season playing for the program after transferring in from Tulane, Alabama redshirt junior guard Ricky Tarrant established himself as the team’s second-leading scorer with an average of 13.1 points per game. However Tarrant hasn’t played since the Crimson Tide’s two-point loss to Florida on January 27, a game in which he ruptured the plantar fascia in his foot.

The hope was that Tarrant would be healthy enough to help the Crimson Tide later in the season. But head coach Anthony Grant announced Thursday that Tarrant, who has missed the last eight games, will be sidelined for the remainder of the season. And the foot issue isn’t the only one that needs to be addressed either, as Tarrant also has to undergo a surgical procedure on his left knee.

Tarrant, Alabama’s No. 2 scorer, also requires surgery on his left knee. Doctors had initially planned to fix what Alabama described as a bony prominence in the knee during the offseason. But Grant says Tarrant’s foot injury was not healing rapidly enough for him to play in the next few weeks.

Grant also stated that forward Shannon Hale, who played just 12 minutes in Alabama’s win over South Carolina Tuesday night due to a foot injury, is doubtful for their game at Vanderbilt on Saturday.

Since losing Tarrant, the Crimson Tide have alternated wins and losses over the last eight games. Senior guards Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper, the team’s other two double-digit scorers, have led the way on the perimeter for a team that is 17-11 overall and 7-8 in SEC play.

Alabama loses senior guard for season

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Alabama lost some guard depth on Friday as it was announced by the school in a release that 6-foot-3 senior guard Christophe Varidel will be out for the 2014-15 season.

The release states that Varidel has pre-existing injuries from before his time at Alabama.

“Since arriving on campus last May, Christophe has battled pre-existing injuries that have prevented him from participating in any individual workouts or team related activities,” Grant said in the release. “After several months of seeking medical assistance from multiple physicians and being unable to reach a solution to his issues. Christophe and I both feel it is in the best interest of his long-term health and well-being for him to step away from basketball at this time. This will allow him to focus on getting healthy while continuing to pursue his master’s degree from Alabama.”

Varidel started his college basketball career at Florida Gulf Coast before transferring to Division II Chaminade. In five games with Chaminade last season, Varidel averaged 21.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

“I am disappointed to end my college career this way, but I have to accept the situation,” Varidel said. “I would have loved to challenge myself at such a high-level of basketball and help the team reach its goals. I would like to thank coach Grant and the rest of the coaching staff for the opportunity and apologize to all the fans for not being able to play this year.”

Losing Varidel’s experienced scoring will hurt Alabama’s depth this season as they were hoping the graduate transfer could provide a boost behind senior Levi Randolph and junior Retin Obasohan this season. Instead, the Tide will look to Tulane transfer Ricky Tarrant and freshman Justin Coleman as depth.