After the game Tuesday night against Furman University, Elon University men's basketball head coach Matt Matheny finally answered the question that has been on the minds of Phoenix basketball fans since Thanksgiving break.
"We had to push the reset button about three games ago. We've made the decision that Dainan's going to have surgery and end his year, so that's decided," Matheny said.
Senior guard Dainan Swoope can now apply for a Medical Hardship waiver, which would grant Swoope a "medical redshirt" which it is more colloquially called. Swoope met the requirements for the waiver, seeing that he got injured during the season, the injury was season ending, and most importantly Swoope played less than 30 percent of the games this season. This waiver is not guaranteed to be granted, however there is not reason to believe Swoope wouldn't be around next year too.
Coming into the 2018-2019 campaign, Elon University men’s basketball team knew there were going to be some changes. With players such as Dmitri Thompson and Brian Dawkins leaving, and a four-person recruiting class coming in, the lineup shuffle was inevitable. But one of the places that the team thought they were going to be strong at was at the guard position where Swoope plays.
Prior to the game, the men's basketball team had a difficult decision to make about Swoope's future; this is what the team needed to weigh.
Before the Decision
It’s not unfair to assume that Elon was going to have an anchor in the backcourt with Swoope for the season. In his three years prior, Swoope has been a mainstay in the Phoenix lineup. The Overland Park, Kansas, native played in 96 games and started 53 of them. Swoope is the second-highest scorer on the team with 1,090 points, behind only senior forward Tyler Seibring, who currently has 1,370 points and counting. Last year Swoope clocked in career-highs in lots of meaningful categories, including averaging more than 33 minutes played per game, and notching new career highs in shots made, three pointers made, assists and blocks. For all intents and purposes, Swoope was someone the team dreamt of leading the way this year.
At the end of last season, something didn’t seem quite right with the guard. He seemed to be in pain while moving around the court. Unsure of when or where it took place, Swoope — at least to the naked eye — was playing with an injured ankle. Swoope still played every game last year. The ball-handling guard was not going to let this ankle get in the way of a team that was already at the time dealing with the injury of Brian Dawkins.
At the end of last year, it looked as though some rest and relaxation could have done the Sunrise Christian Academy graduate some good. The physical hindrance seemed to be one that could be solved by a sedentary summer. But when Swoope stepped back on campus in the fall, he was seen walking the bricks with his teammates in a walking boot. It seemed to be becoming clear that whatever Swoope was dealing with was more than a rolled ankle that never got to rest.
Fast forward to the beginning of the season and Swoope takes the floor with the rest of the team for their exhibition against Randolph College. Swoope had 11 points in the game, but was moving gingerly. It seemed as though the rest he had over the summer had not done as much as the team would have hoped. Regardless, Swoope still started the first five games of the season for Elon. Fourteen points against Manhattan College in the opening game of the season, 12 against Milligan College and the guard seemed to be on track to have another good year. The only concerning stat on his line, may have been the most telling.
Swoope — in the five games he played — only averaged 23 minutes per game, way down from what he was used to playing in the past. The last time Swoope’s average time on the court was that low was when he was a freshman, and started zero games for the Phoenix. In the last two games Swoope played, against Abilene Christian and against University of California Riverside, Swoope played a combined 41 minutes, including just 12 minutes against Abilene Christian in which he took only two shots from the floor. Swoope took the last game of the Tiger thanksgiving Classic against Pacific University off, and he has not been back on the floor in a game since.
Following Elon’s 92-59 win over Central Penn, head coach Matt Matheny addressed the question that an absent Swoope had posed.
“His ankle just is not getting any better,” Matheny said. “There’s going to be some pretty intense conversations in the near future about what’s the plan. He didn’t tweak it again, he didn’t roll it but he’s struggling to go back-to-back days, back-to-back practices and we did three games in three days so … I’m concerned about him.”
Matheny went on to clarify that these “intense conversations” with Swoope would be about making a decision if they are “going to try to gut this thing out or if we’re going to end it. If we’re going to get a doctor to go in and do surgery and how intense is that. Does that mean a few weeks? Does that mean the season? We’re at a point here where we need to look at the schedule and see if we can gut this thing out or not.”
After that was said, Swoope was also out against Boston University, marking the third game in a row he has missed. So where does the team go from here?
The leadership and floor command Swoope brings to the Phoenix is indispensable. His knowledge of how to direct traffic on the court and make plays is something that Matheny will not find in anyone else on the roster at the same position. Swoope making the commitment to play the rest of the year would give Elon a confident, well-versed guard that can play on or off the ball and create shots for himself and other players on the floor.
Swoope making the decision to stay and play his senior year would be a compromise, taking a players brain over his possibly less-than-perfect health. The question that Swoope needs to answer on his own is whether he would be physically able to compete to some extent for the next 20+ games and be effective. Matheny needs to answer that same question, and if he comes to the conclusion with Swoope that it is time for him to pull the plug and focus on his health, then Matheny is left with an even bigger question to answer: Who takes Swoope’s place?
In the absence of Swoope already this year, Matheny has turned to sophomore guard Nathan Priddy to help fill the void in the lineup. Priddy played 29 minutes against Pacific. Priddy has gotten the start in the following two games for Elon, playing 28 and 33 minutes respectively.
Does Priddy have the raw talent that is missing without Swoope? No. At least not yet. But what Priddy has shown so far is that he has the ability to be a role player. “They’ve been doing it for four years and I’m just getting into it so I’m just trying to fit in well,” Priddy said, after dropping 11 points against Central Penn.
Senior guard Steven Santa Ana had some high praise for his teammate after the game and what Priddy brings to the Phoenix offense. "He brings a different dynamic to the game," Santa Ana said. "He speeds it up a lot he makes things quick he makes us push the ball a lot which is what we need we work a lot better when we’re pushing the ball. He brings a certain edge and energy on defense. He’s looking to get us the ball and he’s brought a whole different dynamic to this team."