When redshirt sophomore forward Josh Cunningham crumbled to the floor in the closing seconds of Dayton’s 77-72 win at Alabama on Tuesday, most Flyer fans had the same fears as head coach Archie Miller. “Flying home, waking up, I anticipated a…career-impacting injury,” Miller said during a press conference Thursday afternoon.
Luckily, that worst-case scenario is out of the picture.
“From a positive standpoint, I think we’re out of the woods, so to speak, on knee damage, surgically-repaired knee issues,” Miller said as he began to describe Cunningham’s injury. “The biggest concern now is the specifics of sort of his lower leg as it got bent back. And that’s where we’re unclear of how severe the damage is…in his ankle, tibia area. We know he has bruising, we’re just not so sure of how much else is sort of going on in there. More doctors, I think over the next 24 to 36 [hours are] going to give us a complete image.”
Miller went onto say that the best-case scenario for Cunningham’s return is still to-be-determined, since the team does not yet know the full extent of the injury.
“It’s tough…things don’t go as planned,” senior guard Charles Cooke said of Cunningham’s injury. “It’s a bump in the road, but this team has a history of picking up where [we] left off.”
“It’s not a new story,” senior guard Scoochie Smith said, half jokingly, referencing the fact that Dayton’s big men have recently been marred by unfortunate circumstances. “We’re ready for it. Next guy up, it’s why we preach everything in practice.”
“It’s just more adversity to fight, more intensity [we] need to come with,” Smith said.
Cunningham’s injury is especially devastating given the fact that senior forward Kendall Pollard has been out with a thigh contusion for the last several weeks. Cunningham and Pollard, together, would have composed a fearsome frontcourt for Dayton.
“Kendall is still out,” Miller said. “He’s slowly progressing from what we’ve been told. This isn’t gonna be a rapid improvement. It’s gonna take him some time to get that muscle regenerated and get that blood out of there. In most cases, if a guy had what he did in practice…most doctors would tell you a four-to-six week injury. I don’t think he’s four-to-six weeks, I think he’s ahead of that. But we’re looking at again, just him, taking his time back.”
Pollard was recovering from an unrelated injury at the time of his thigh contusion. Miller went on to say it was “doubtful” Pollard would play in next week’s Wooden Legacy tournament in Anaheim, Calif.
Now, the Flyers will have to look to their bench for size and strength in the front court.
“This team’s gonna have to try to get there,” Miller said, referring to the “Small Ball Seven” team that won short-handed in 2014-15. “And we’re gonna have to do it with some newer players that haven’t played together in certain roles. I expect even a guy like Trey Landers…he’s gonna have to get in there.”
The Flyers host No. 17 St. Mary’s College on Saturday afternoon at UD Arena in the premier non-conference matchup of the season for UD. As Dayton looks for its third consecutive victory to open the year, the expectations are still high for the team.
“There [are] no excuses. There’s adversity that hits every team in college basketball, and that’s part of being in a team sport,” Miller said. “You have teammates, you have other guys that step up.”