On Dec. 20, Elon University men’s basketball sophomore guard Luke Eddy tumbled to the ground of the Greensboro Coliseum with a torn ACL in his right knee.
Now, with the start of a new season just a month away, the junior is finally getting ready to play again.
“The rehab process was really long,” Eddy said. “It took eight and a half months, and I’m finally back out here.”
Eddy got his first taste of full-contact, 5-on-5 action at Late Night With The Phoenix on Oct. 16, and admits he’s still only back to about 85-percent strength. But he returned to what he does best in the brief intrasquad scrimmage, pushing the ball for transition baskets, stretching the defense thin with his outside stroke and slashing through the defense on high pick-and-rolls with Elon’s revamped, mobile frontcourt.
The reigning Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Player of the Week was averaging 17.6 points per game in the five games preceding that matchup with University of North Carolina at Greensboro. It came at a bad time for Elon, which was two weeks away from starting CAA play.
After starting the year 10-6, a stretch of 11 losses in 12 games in CAA play put the nail in the coffin for their inaugural conference title hopes. The team lacked the punch on the offensive end that had been offsetting the underperforming defense.
The team capped off an otherwise unimpressive season with four wins in the last five contests though, which has left Eddy with a far more positive outlook.
“My teammates are fighters,” he said. “We were struggling last year, but as coach said, we won four out of our last five. We’re going to build off that. The team chemistry’s at an all-time high [this year].”
Before his injury, Eddy was the team’s catalyst for productive offense — his offensive rating of 123.3 points per 100 possessions in the 11 games he played would have finished second in the CAA if he kept the performance going throughout the season.
Eddy’s injury freed up playing time for former freshman guard Elijah Bryant, who transferred to Brigham Young University in July. Bryant stuffed stat sheets and dazzled crowds with a quick first step to the rim and high-volume shooting, but Bryant was really picking up the slack for an action-oriented offensive system — one needing a plethora of ball movement and up-tempo possessions.
Statistically, Bryant posted the fourth-highest usage rate in all of Division I basketball last season, using 34.6 percent of the team’s possessions. He turned the ball over 3.5 times per game and took 11.7 shots per game, finishing with a 38.2 shooting percentage.
Despite the hit Elon took after losing Eddy, the offense still finished 29th in the NCAA in adjusted tempo last season, per Ken Pomeroy’s College Basketball Ratings. Bryant’s sky-high usage rate was mostly a testament to the ailing offense, but nonetheless, Eddy agrees the team needs to not only return to playing up-tempo but ramp up its credibility.
“We’re running — every day in practice, we’re just running,” Eddy said. “It’s a 30-second shot clock, so now we’re running even faster.”
Head coach Matt Matheny has indicated that he does not want to rush Eddy back making sure he’s completely healthy before playing Eddy.
But don’t tell that to the point guard. He plans to play in the season-opening exhibition Nov. 5, even if he’s limited.
“Minute restrictions are a good possibility [early on],” Eddy said. “But if the game’s close, I’m gonna play.”
Regardless of how many minutes he may see right off the bat, his return to the floor means a return to the brand of basketball that head coach Matt Matheny employs best.
The roster has some newfound depth with the addition of three freshman guards, including Ardrey Kell High School star Steven Santa Ana, and the return of junior forward Brian Dawkins, who was held out all of last season by knee ailments.
Most importantly, the return of the team’s identity — easily distinguishable with Eddy playing as the point guard — has brought about a newfound sense of optimism that radiates throughout Alumni Gym.