ELON — As UNCG's basketball team looks for its defense to round into championship form, the Spartans will be without the player most important to that process.
James Dickey, the reigning Southern Conference defensive player of the year, will be out indefinitely after suffering an injury to Lisfranc ligaments in his right foot.
“James is going to be out for a little bit,” UNCG coach Wes Miller said. “Obviously, we’re devastated by that; we’re trying to now figure out who we are defensively all of a sudden without him.”
Miller said there is no timetable for Dickey’s return as he continues to work with doctors. According to the American Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Society, a Lisfranc injury “is a severe injury that may take many months to heal and may require surgery to treat.”
UNCG (8-2) will host Coppin State at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Greensboro Coliseum. The Spartans also will host North Alabama on Saturday and Radford on Dec. 18 before beginning Southern Conference play at Samford on Dec. 22.
The injury came during UNCG’s loss at Kentucky on Dec. 1 when the Wildcats’ Reid Travis stepped on Dickey’s foot. Initially, he briefly headed to the bench and returned to play 10 more minutes. By the time the Spartans got back to their locker room after the game, Dickey’s foot was swollen and he was unable to walk.
During Friday night’s victory over Elon, Dickey, a 6-10, 210-pound forward, was on the bench in a walking boot but stayed involved throughout the game, standing to cheer on the sideline and encouraging teammates during timeouts.
Just as much as UNCG will miss Dickey’s 7.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks, the Spartans will miss his voice in a season that new leaders are emerging.
“His biggest gift is being able to lead by example and being able to communicate with his teammates,” senior guard Demetrius Troy said. “It’s a lot of adversity for our team, but it’s opportunity. It’s opportunity for myself to become a better leader and try to get guys into the right spots, but it’s opportunity for our team to grow.”
Dickey’s absence was obvious at Elon scored 36 points in the paint on Friday night and won the rebounding battle 37-35, including 13 on the offensive end.
“You look down and we get smoked on the boards,” Miller said. “It felt like they had 150; they had 13 offensive rebounds. We didn’t have as much presence around the rim … we’re not the same team without James Dickey, but it also gives us an opportunity to develop our younger players and develop the depth on our team.”
The defensive-minded Spartans still got the job done on Friday, with eight of 18 turnovers coming via steals, but there’s less room for error without Dickey to singlehandedly erase mistakes at the rim.
With play in a loaded Southern Conference beginning in three weeks, it certainly won’t be an easy road, but it could ultimately be beneficial.
“When he gets back, I think we could be a better team,” Miller said. “It’s going to be interesting here for the short-term to figure out who we are in the Southern Conference.”