DAYTON — When Jonathan Riddle became a walk-on player for Wright State, he didn’t know the NCAA Tournament was in his immediate future.
It’s a pleasant surprise for the former Legacy Christian stand-out going through his first collegiate season as the Raiders prepare to play in the tournament for the first time since 2018.
“The coaches were super acceptable,” Riddle said when he was asked to join the team. “They let me come on, and the team has accepted me really well, and it’s been a great experience. I’m just blessed to be here.”
While his teammates all had their practice jerseys on as they entered the floor at UD Arena on Tuesday for the Raiders’ open practice session, Riddle remained in warm-up gear. He helped run down loose balls and conduct drills with his teammates during the 40-minute practice in front of fans.
Riddle has found himself in more of a manager role this season due to issues stemming from a concussion but is still able to practice occasionally and get in shooting opportunities with the rest of the team.
“It’s been great practicing with the guys,” Riddle said. “It’s been awesome. And we are super excited for the tournament.”
A 1,000-plus point scorer for the Knights, who play in the small school D-IV level, he said it was not difficult to recognize the increase in skill everyone possesses at the top of D-I in the NCAA.
“It’s been an eye opening experience, especially just to see like the next level of talent,” Riddle said. “I mean, you get used to after awhile and the guys make you better every day because they’re better than you.”
Riddle is happy to be a member of a program near his home, which has allowed him to stay in touch with friends and family still at LCA. He is close with several members of the school’s state champion wrestling team, and his brother, Andrew, was one of the top scorer’s for the Knights this season.
Jonathan got to watch Andrew play a few times this year and although he won’t play in Wednesday’s game against Bryant, he said he was looking forward to those he’s close with getting a chance to see him.
“I think [Andrew] is coming tomorrow,” he said. “It’s a blessing to be here. I know a lot of people already had tickets because it’s in Dayton. Hopefully some Xenia natives bought tickets hoping we would be too.”
Wright State ended its practice with everyone on the roster attempting shots from the March Madness logo at the center of the court.
Riddle’s attempt just clanged off the side of the rim as he soared his arms out while watching his shot hoping it would fall.
It didn’t, but he still had a smile on his face. After all, it’s difficult not to be happy about getting a chance to be a part of college basketball’s biggest stage.
“Last year, I didn’t know where I was gonna be,” he said. “Now it’s been a great experience. Yeah, I’m just super blessed and thankful for the coaching staff and all the players.”
Wright State making cross-town trip
Dec. 13, 1997, at the end of the Gem City Jam series with Dayton was the last time a Wright State team played at UD Arena.
Most of its current roster had not even stepped foot in the Flyers’ arena prior to Tuesday’s practice.
“It will be a good opportunity,” junior Grant Basile said. “Dayton’s a great basketball city. Obviously, that’s why the First Four is here. It will be a great opportunity to play in our own backyard.”
Head coach Scott Nagy during Tuesday’s press conference said he has only visited the arena twice before, once to watch a high school game and another to see one of his former star players at South Dakota State, Mike Daum, during The Basketball Tournament.
Nagy added he believes not having to worry about travelling and also being able to hold part of practice in their own facilities are helpful in game preparation but also won’t discount the atmosphere which the hometown could create.
“It’s certainly not a disadvantage for us, for our fans, to be able to see us,” he said. “Hopefully even some people that aren’t necessarily Wright State fans, but are from Dayton will be rooting for us.”
Tanner Holden echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“Everybody in this area kind of wants to see Wright State and Dayton play,” he said. “But I think it’s an opportunity for Dayton fans and Wright State fans to come together and cheer for the local team.”
Bryant’s Peter Kiss, the leading scorer in the country, doesn’t believe he and his Bulldogs teammates will run into anything new with the atmosphere local fans may bring to root on their team.
“It’s not going to be anything different from playing at home or playing anywhere else,” Kiss said. “We’re just excited to play in the NCAA Tournament and do something special for our school and for our program.”
Wednesday night’s First Four game will also bring one school its first NCAA Tournament victory.
Wright State is making its fifth appearance and has lost in the first-round in all of its four games, while Bryant is in tournament for the first time ever.
Contact Steven Wright at 937-502-4498 and follow on Twitter @Steven_Wright_.