CHAPEL HILL — More than four months have gone by since Dexter Strickland suffered the knee injury that ended his junior season at North Carolina, and still he has difficulty talking about it. Strickland remembers well the intense pain, and the moment the injury occurred, but he tries to keep such thoughts out of his mind.
“It was horrible,” Strickland said Thursday. “… The pain was – I can’t really explain it.”
Strickland was between rehabilitation sessions, and after spending some time with a group of reporters, he made his way to the training room at the Smith Center. Doctors last week cleared him to start running, and he’s hoping he’ll soon be able to jump and perform more lateral movement.
Trainers have told Strickland he’ll be able to play again in either late August or September but, for now, while his teammates play in pick-up games, Strickland spends time exercising in a pool, or lifting weights.
The “most difficult is just being injured and watching the guys play pick-up, not being able to work out with them,” Strickland said. “Not being able to work on my game and get better as far as jump shooting and different dribbling drills and stuff like that. That’s been the most frustrating – not being able to be in the gym as I used to be.”
Strickland had established himself as the Tar Heels’ best perimeter defender before his injury and, when he returns, he anticipates expanding his role as a point guard. He has played the position at times during his three years at UNC, but Strickland said coach Roy Williams told him to prepare for more time leading the offense.
So Strickland has been. Though he can’t play or practice, Strickland has been watching film of college and pro point guards. Strickland named Ty Lawson, Chris Paul and Tony Parker as players he has closely studied.
“I expect to play point guard way more than I did last year,” Strickland said. “And that’s one of the things I’ve been focusing on a lot, just watching film on different players, trying to get that point guard mindset.”
Strickland and Marcus Paige, the incoming freshman, will attempt to fill the void left by Kendall Marshall, who departed after his sophomore season. Strickland said he hasn’t spoken with Paige, and that he doesn’t know much about Paige’s abilities.
For now, though, Strickland has his own game to worry about. He said spending the second half of the season on the bench, watching, made him a smarter, more aware player. He picked up things from Williams that he otherwise would have missed had he been on the court.
Now he’s anticipating the day when he can be back out there.
“I won’t be 100 percent as soon as I come back, obviously,” Strickland said. “But there’s other things that I can work on besides my speed or besides running that will help me during the game.”