Chattanooga had just 10 healthy players for Wednesday night’s practice when the team reunited after its five-day break for Christmas, and that’s the way it will stay for some time.
Senior Dontay Hampton, junior Drew Baker and sophomore Lance Stokes are still sidelined with their respective injuries, and now freshman Casey Jones will join them for the forceable future.
Jones, who suffered an injury to his right knee in last Friday’s 30-point rout over Reinhardt, went the full five days without knowing the extent of his injury. After Wednesday’s MRI, he still doesn’t. The scan revealed that it wasn’t an ACL tear as originally feared, but that there was a possible fracture in the knee.
“There are some complications down there,” UTC head coach John Shulman said. “Does he need surgery? I don’t know. Does he need a screw in it? I don’t know. What I do know is it’s not an ACL tear. I just know that he won’t be in uniform for a little bit.”
While still in the evaluation stages, Jones, who is walking with crutches, will likely miss an extended period of time.
“The show must go on,” sophomore Ronrico White said. “You never want to see a player like Casey go down. Especially a guy whose just getting accustomed to the game, just starting to find his niche.”
With Jones out of the lineup, the versatile White, who started the first 11 games at the point, will move over to the wing, while freshman Farad Cobb will make his first career start at point guard.
“I know Farad has been waiting on this,” Shulman said. “It’s going to be a tough task for him. He’s shown flashes of being really, really good, and I think Rico has an opportunity to get back to being Rico again. He made that point guard position too big of a deal and struggled with it. I hope he goes back to that same comfort level he was at last year.”
Freshman walk-on Alex Bran will also be seeing more of the court as a result of the shuffle, as will sophomore Martynas Bareika, who is coming a career-high 20 points in UTC’s 108-78 win over the Lions.
The move could make the Mocs a better team at the offensive side with White and Cobb on the court together, but having two first-year players at the point is a huge question mark. Bran has been impressive in his last two appearances — 8- and 12-point performances — but committed five turnovers against Reinhardt.
He’s also not the best option on the defensive end, which is where Chattanooga will really feel the loss.
“We may have just gotten better offensively,” Shulman said. “But how are we going to stop somebody, anybody. How can we keep Reinhardt from scoring 78 points.”
With three of the team’s top defenders sidelined in Hampton, Stokes, and Jones, the Mocs’ defense is sure to suffer, which makes the return of Hampton and Stokes that much more important.
“You can put them in any position you want to, but if they’re not good defenders, they’re not going to do a very good job defensively,” Shulman said. “(Dontay) is starting to do some dummy offense with us, and Lance feels good. I’m just hoping and praying for maybe the middle of January.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.