Dan ‘Sully’ Sullivan, aka the Flyers’ biggest fan, is our honorary Daytonian of the Week

When the coronavirus hit, it upended the hopes and dreams of countless lives. Students were denied their senior proms and graduation ceremonies. Long planned, eagerly awaited weddings and concerts indefinitely postponed. One of the cruelest of the cancellations, however, was this year’s NCAA National Men’s Basketball Championship.

“What a time to be alive!” was plastered on social media every Monday during the season when the AP Poll was released and UD’s ranking rose to #3 in the country. It was a markedly different attitude from months prior, when Daytonians were reeling from devastating tornado damage and shocked by a senseless mass shooting. When the Flyers season started and Obi Toppin was regularly making gravity-defying dunks and winning games, a collective sense of pride was restored.

>> READ MORE: Dayton Flyers: 4 reasons they could have won the national championship

The "lowdest" voice online, and one of the Flyers' biggest champions, isn't actually from Dayton. Dan "Sully" Sullivan was born in Pittsburgh to a UD graduate and lifelong Flyer basketball fan. Sully's family regularly made road trips to Dayton for games, and remain season subscribers to this day. Now based out of Chicago, Sullivan regularly releases podcasts and blogs about Flyers basketball on Blackburn Review, which has become a staple to UD fans.

This week, “Sully” is our honorary “Daytonian of the Week,” in acknowledgement of his devotion and support of Flyer basketball and the city of Dayton at large. During a week when fans hoped to be celebrating a national championship, I spoke with him about what might have been, what to look forward to next season, and what makes this community so special.

>> READ MORE: Dayton Flyers: Special relationship between team, its fans



The following is a shortened and edited version of a full audio interview that will be on The Gem City Podcast on Monday April 13, 2020.

I’m not a huge sports fan, so someone like me can say “the Flyers are the National Champions in my mind,” but for the real fans, this season feels so unresolved, right?

The problem with this season is that you had all the Flyers optimists and then all the people who said “Dayton hasn’t played anybody,” so unfortunately, everybody’s right. The people who are so staunchly supporting Dayton will never be proved wrong, and Dayton’s biggest doubters, they’ll never be proved wrong either.

Do you agree with the NCAA’s decision not to reveal the March Madness bracket?

Yes, absolutely. Because, think about what the result of that would be. There is a good chance that most of the selection would fall in line with what people thought, and that’s not going to make headlines. … But you know exactly what will get people talking: “Our school got screwed! We got a 7 seed and our school should have been 5 seed.” Why would anyone want to open themselves up for that? Think about from a business perspective, there was no scenario where they released that bracket and everyone was completely content. So the only result they would have would be negative. … I kept asking people, “Why do you want this?” As Dayton fans, do we need to see our name on the line?

Do you think people wanted to see if the path to victory was realistic? I think it might have hurt more to know that.  

That's exactly what I said. It’s empty validation. People want validation that Dayton was as good as we were. We had that. The 31 games that preceded the NCAA tournament getting canceled was validation enough to tell you how good the team was. I didn't need to see them in a fake NCAA tournament bracket. There’s nothing about it that’s real. … Some fans need that piece of mind. For me, I treat it like a breakup. … I don’t want to hear about it anymore and I’m moving on.

>> READ MORE: For Obi Toppin, staying healthy, in shape ahead of NBA Draft is goal

Obi and Coach (Anthony) Grant cleaned up with national awards. Was that a Band-Aid on the wound?

There are two sides of that coin. It almost made the season hurt more. … This was as good as it’s going to get for us, and we never got to see the fruits of that labor. … It hurts even worse now because they're getting all these accolades and clearly one of the best teams in the country, and we never got to see it play out. Let’s say Dayton was a 1 seed, and they lost in the second round to an 8 or 9 seed … I would 100% rather have that, than never knowing at all. Because then at least one team earned it, or they got past us, or did what they needed to do to game plan against us.

So that’s the side of the coin I was on, however, I can take a step back and realize what the other side is: This is a tremendous boost for Dayton, recruiting-wise and for our basketball program. It’s something that we get to talk about forever. Anytime a recruiter comes into the Dayton building, you get to say “Hey that’s Obi Toppin, he was player of the year. You get to play for Anthony Grant, he won coach of the year. You can't get guys better than that. … This is a net positive for us as a program, NCAA tournament or not.

>> READ MORE: Obi Toppin: A guide to his many national awards

Credit: David Jablonski - Staff Writer

Credit: David Jablonski - Staff Writer

Would you consider Obi a once-in-a-generation player? 

There will be other guys who are 6’9” that can dunk the ball. There are other guys right now who can run the floor. His skill set wasn't wholly unique to the college or NBA game. He did some things that were spectacular. Not a lot of guys can put it through the legs during the game. But he is a once-in-a-generation player for Dayton specifically...

In college recruiting there’s a ranking system, so when you’re in high school, typically you are ranked by how good you are. That wasn’t the case with Obi because nobody really knew about him. So I say that he is a generational talent in Dayton because these types of guys, typically know that they’re coming, right? You know Lebron James was really good in high school. ... Programs like UConn, Kentucky, Duke, UNC, those are the programs that land those types of guys.

So Obi was a generational talent at Dayton because I just have a hard time believing all those circumstances are going to lead to Dayton getting a guy like him again, because a lot of it was his own development. He came from out of nowhere, this scrawny red-shirt freshman, to A-10 Freshman of the Year, which was a huge jump. He didn’t even stop there! He took so many leaps ... it’s hard to believe Dayton will land a guy like him again.

A lot of times when you get someone with that kind of talent, they want to hog the ball. I was really impressed not only by his sense of personal humility, but how much he shared the ball. They played like a team, even though they had a superstar. 

The reason I think he was so special is that aspect that you said, he was a really down-to-earth dude. His mom was always standing right behind him, so he has that aspect of being grounded. On top of all the highlights that he gave, the fan base rallied around what type of guy he is. That speaks to his family, as I mentioned, and that this is the type of guy Anthony Grant wants playing for him and representing the Dayton Flyers. … It was twofold, he provided the highlights, and off the court he said all the right things, he did all the right things. He represented the program in the right way and that’s what made him so special to everybody.

The universe seemed to align for this season, both on and off the court. Obviously the way it ended was tragic, but for the bulk of the season, it felt like such a breath of fresh air after the summer we had here in Dayton. Definitely a great season of basketball lifts people’s spirits any year, but I think this season really rallied the city and the team understood that and embraced their role.

It helps to have local guys who can articulate that properly. Of course I’m talking about Ryan Mikesell and more specifically Trey Landers. Trey went to Wayne High School, so he was always able to articulate: “We represent Dayton. I know what it means to play for the Flyers. We’re the only team in town, etc.”

With the tough year that Dayton had, this season was something everyone latched onto immediately because it was such an obvious bright spot for the city and the region as a whole. I really tried to keep that in mind as I had guests … because frankly I want to host a podcast that not only alumni listen to, but locals as well. I care about the Dayton region, I went to school there, but I’ll never sit there and be like “I’m from Dayton'' because I’m not. It means something a little bit more to be from Dayton. I recognize the inherent value this basketball program has in this community, and I’ve tried to reflect that in what I’ve been doing as well.

Talk about your podcast a little bit… 

The Blackburn Review website has been around for 11 years. I jumped on about 4 or 5 years ago and I just wanted to talk about Dayton hoops. I wanted to give a different perspective. … I got on the podcast about four years ago. I just realized podcasts were exploding, it's how people are consuming media right now. I'll be the first to admit, when we first started we were a bit irreverent, we made a lot more immature jokes. That's what was selling and what our marketplace was. So as it's got more popular, I've cut out all those things because I do want to appeal to a wider audience. Then this year, a lot of my success was in parallel with the team's success. I climbed with them, and that's how I was able to get sports writers from CBS, NBC, and Scott Van Pelt, who does nightly Sports Center on ESPN.

Credit: David Jablonski - Staff Writer

Credit: David Jablonski - Staff Writer

How exciting was it to have Scott Van Pelt on as a guest and how did you pull that off? 

Twitter! It was a funny story. … It was a slow week, I think the Flyers were off. I was on the bus, and I sent out a tweet: “Who do you want to see on the podcast?” I went to the gym and worked out and didn’t look at my phone much. … I got home and someone tweeted “Why don’t you get Scott Van Pelt?” While I was in the shower, he had already replied “Sure, I’ll do it.” Hundreds of people were going nuts, tweeting, “Oh my God! Do it!!” Sure enough I responded to him and he sent me a DM a half an hour later, and we were on a call the next afternoon.

It was one of the moments where I started to take this career path more seriously. He said, “Whatever you’re doing right now, you need to quit your job and just do this.” If you get somebody like that who tells you to quit your job and do what he’s doing for a living, it makes you consider it a bit more seriously. Again, I have the Flyers’ success on the court to thank and certainly the Dayton community to thank for supporting the show. I have a lot of people to thank for the popularity of the show.

>> READ MORE: Dayton recruit trying to stay sharp at home in Baltimore

Looking forward, what does next season look like? 

I’m getting this question a lot because there’s nothing else to talk about right now! Typically we don't have this conversation until June or July when people are sick of talking about baseball. … I’ve been pretty encouraged with next year because the way you look at it, we’re losing two role players, Mikesell and Landers. Not taking anything away from them, but that’s what they were, they kept the drink stirred, if you will. And then you lose Obi. Everything we did this year was designed around Obi, around him being the star.

So you’re probably going to see Anthony Grant tweak things a lot and we’re probably going to see a different offense next year. With that said, you still have Jalen Crutcher, Rodney Chapman and then Ibi Watson is going to come back. All three of those guys were basically starters. … So what you have coming back next year is a very good core. If you’re dreading it or sleeping on the Flyers next year, don't worry, I think we’re going to be a tournament team. Of course, the transfer window is going to play a big role in that because the Flyers have a lot of scholarships to give out right now, and so any transfer they can get into the program they’re going to try their luck at it. The roster is far from filled out, but as it sits right now, I’m not too worried.

Speaking of Jalen Crutcher. He put his name into the NBA draft but didn’t get an agent, which is what Obi did last year. Do you think he has prospects, or do you think he’ll play for UD next year?

The chances that he plays for UD next year are 99%. Typically when you have a very good player, and this happens a lot in the A-10 because we have a lot of good players, once you have two years of eligibility, you can put your name in for the NBA draft combine. The combine is basically just a try out. So you get to go try out with NBA players and players going into the draft, and then get feedback on your game, how you're going to improve and how you’re going to be successful at the next level. So you can understand how it behooves all these guys like Jalen to take advantage of that feedback. … I think it was 100% the right decision for him. He’s fairly young for his grade so I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of feedback he gets from those draft scouts.

>> READ MORE: Dayton Flyers: 5 questions heading into offseason

Last question, what makes the Flyer fan base special?

It’s what we alluded to earlier, it's the ties to the community. It's not just the alumni and it’s not just the city, it’s everybody coming together. I can't tell you how many people I know personally who drive down from Chicago for games. So we’ve got all this alumni still supporting the team, along with the city.

I don’t want people to lose sight of how unique this is. If you look around our conference, let’s go with Duquesne. The city of Pittsburgh is not latched in with Duquesne whatsoever. It’s not a college sports town. Or George Mason, in a suburb of Washington, D.C., and their struggle is to get alumni to care because they are a pretty large public commuter school. … So you’ve got bigger cities with professional sports and they don’t necessarily care as much about college teams, or teams that never got buy-in from their alumni on a tangible level. I mean, if the team is winning, that’s one thing.

There’s only a few programs I can think of that have that same aspect, where the alumni and community are meshed together. … When you look around the college landscape and you look at other programs that are popular, they don’t have what we have in Dayton. Frankly, we are very fortunate because none of these things came to be by accident. They were all set in place a long time ago because Dayton had the foresight to know they were the only show in town and they built a very professional-style facility before anyone else was doing it.

UD Arena was the piece that set all this in place, because a lot of those other community aspects would have never happened. And without the administration in the mid ’60s realizing we needed an arena, a lot of this would not be possible today. … I always look back at the arena as the focal point to why the basketball program is what it is today. I think it's the perfect metaphor for talking about Dayton basketball, because that's our building, that’s where we all come together to watch hoops.

You can read more from Sully and link to his podcast at https://www.blackburnreview.com/.

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