Bobby Wehrli at theRed and Blue game. David Jablonski/Staff
The 2015-16 college basketball season is just around the corner. In honor of the Flyers winning 53 games the last two seasons (and because I couldn’t come up with 2,015 reasons), I’m counting down 53 reasons (in no particular order) to look forward to the season.
Follow the blog between now and the season opener against Southeast Missouri State on Nov. 13. I will have four to five updates per week.
I’ll post links on Twitter (@DavidPJablonski) and on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/DavidPatrickJablonski.
No. 6: Bobby Wehrli
The debate raged all last season. Once it became clear Bobby Wehrli would not only contribute but hold his own, he became a fan favorite, and the quest to give him a good nickname began. His name invited it.
Bobby Basketball? Bobby Buckets? Wehrli Bird? Bobby’s Wehrld? BW3? World Wide Wehrli? (That last one’s a new one). I finally asked Bobby what he thought of the nicknames at some point last season, and while he appreciated the fan’s enthusiasm, he didn’t really have a preference.
Wehrli earned a scholarship in the second semester last season, and he’s again on scholarship this season. As we saw in the Red and Blue game on Oct. 24, he’s got a good outside shooting touch that can help the Flyers. He made 3 of 4 3-pointers.
“As crazy as it sounds, he probably has improved as much as any guy around here, if you really start to think about when you first met him and where he is right now,” Miller said earlier this fall. “Bobby’s experience level from a year ago makes him part of our core group of returners. Can he helps us win games? We already know that.”
A year ago at this time, Flyer fans were still getting to know Wehrli. He didn’t play any minutes as a walk-on as a freshman. He was a walk-on at the end of the bench during the Elite Eight season, playing a total of three minutes, including a few seconds in the final minute against Florida. He attempted one shot that season, a 3-pointer, and missed it. It hardly foreshadowed what he would do a year later.
In the exhibition game last season, Wehrli had six points, six rebounds and an assist. Miller said at the time Wehrli would play all season, but he didn’t really become a factor until after the Flyers lost Devon Scott and Jalen Robinson.
“If you had told me freshman year I’d be out there playing like this I never would have believed it,” he said after the game. “It was amazing. This was definitely a dream come true.”
Wehrli played well enough in that scrimmage that Tom Archdeacon featured him in his column the next day.
It was just a head-first dive on the floor for a loose ball, but in an instant Bobby Wehrli slid from end-of-the-bench obscurity right into the hearts of Dayton Flyers fans.
With 4:45 left in the first half Saturday night at UD Arena, Flyers center Jalen Robinson missed the second of two free throws and the ball caromed off the rim and players’ fingertips and went skittering toward the Southern Indiana bench.
Two Screaming Eagles scrambled after it, as did Wehrli, the unheralded 6-foot-6 junior walk-on, and by lunging he got to the ball first. He was credited with a rebound and then flipped a pass to a teammate while still seated on the court.
Flyers fans appreciate unselfish, hard work and they have a soft spot for guys who don’t usually get their due. That’s why the crowd for this exhibition game — announced as 11,753 — loudly cheered his effort.
Maybe some would argue we made too big a deal last year about a guy who averaged 2.3 points and 2.1 rebounds in 14 minutes per game, but those numbers turned what would have been a disastrous season into the 27-9 season everyone will always remember. Without Wehrli’s contributions, the season would have fizzled and burned. A seven-man team had a narrow margin for error and survived a couple games of serious foul trouble. A six-man team would have had no margin for error.
Wehrli’s 3-point shooting was the biggest surprise. He made 12 of 24. He hit 2 of 2 in the A-10 tournament semifinals against Rhode Island. His one 3-pointer against Oklahoma in the second round of the NCAA tournament gave the Flyers a 52-45 lead with 11:51 left, and for the briefest of moments, UD looked head to the Sweet 16 again.
Without the former all-state volleyball player from Naperville, Ill, the Flyers would have never reached that point.