Chattanooga head coach John Shulman didn’t have many positive things to say in Saturday’s post game press conference following his team’s loss to Western Carolina. That is until he was asked about senior Dontay Hampton.
Shulman wasn’t happy with his team’s energy, its defensive performance or shooting percentage in the paint during the 90-81 Southern Conference setback, but he had plenty of praise for his 6-1 point guard.
It was well deserved, too.
“The specialist said he can try to play, but the pain is going to be so great he’s not going to be able to,” Shulman said. “One day later he’s out there going for nine and six against Trey Sumler, who was preseason all-conference.”
Just two days after breaking the metacarpal bone in the middle finger of his right hand — his shooting hand — Hampton suited up for the Mocs. He connected on a 3-pointer with 1:21 remaining to bring the Mocs to within 82-78, the team’s smallest deficit of the second half.
There was plenty of pain to endure for Hampton, who missed the first 15 games while recovering from his summertime ACL tear. The heavy tape job on his hand didn’t do much for his jump shot, either, but Hampton persevered through it all.
“This morning I came in and shot a little more and it was still painful,” Hampton said. “I was just like ‘coach, I’m gonna do it.’ “
What other choice did he have?
He could have undergone surgery, requiring about six weeks of recovery time. He could have had the hand stabilized with plates or pins, but that would have had him sidelined for at least two weeks. Time isn’t something the fifth-year senior has to spare, either.
“(The doctor said) you could let it heal on its own and have a chance to play, maybe,” Hampton said. “He started playing around with it and it was killing me. We had a light practice Friday and I was out there, but I didn’t shoot at all. I shot maybe three shots.”
Hampton checked into the game for the first time at the 15:58 mark of the first half, and missed the rim entirely on his first attempt from beyond the arc less than two minutes later. He came up empty on his first four shots from the field, air-balling another one from deep before finally getting one to go down on a strong second-half drive for a layup.
Hampton felt so bad about his poor shooting performance he actually took the blame for the loss in the locker room after the game.
“When I got in I took that quick 3,” Hampton said. “I feel like, as a leader, I have to adjust my game. I felt like for the most part I was playing like I have a normal hand. I could have made some better decisions.”
His coach took notice.
“We need some guys to join him,” Shulman said.
His teammates did too.
“He played with a broken hand, his shooting hand at that,” junior Z. Mason said. “That’s tough. I can’t imagine doing that. That just shows how tough of a player he is; what kind of person he is. I’m glad we have him.”
If there’s any good news for Hampton, it's that it should only get easier from here.
“The swelling is going to go down and it will heal on its own,” Shulman said. “He’ll be able to use it better. Tonight was going to be the worst night possible for him.”
Tonight was a night that Hampton scored nine points, brought down six rebounds and provided two assists.
“That’s ‘Tay,” Shulman added.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.