Mocs senior Dontay Hampton just can't seem to catch a break this season.
That's a poor choice of words.
Hampton, who made his season debut in last week’s 70-65 win at the Citadel, missed the first 15 games while recovering from ACL surgery. He returned to the court just five and a half months after suffering a summertime ACL tear, only to break his hand just three games into his return.
“For whatever reason we keep getting curveballs,” UTC head coach John Shulman said.
Hampton, who scored a career-high 22 points Chattanooga’s 91-88 overtime win over Appalachian State, was intentionally fouled by ASU senior Nathan Healy near the sidelines with nine seconds left in overtime. Hampton broke his fall with his right hand, came up holding it and moments laters missed a pair of free-throws at the other end.
An X-ray on Friday morning revealed Hampton had broken the metacarpal bone in the middle finger of his right hand. It’s swollen and it’s painful, but as far as a prognosis goes, that’s about all Shulman knows right now.
“We’re going to see how painful it is,” he said. “If it’s so painful you can’t do anything, you put plates and screws in it to stabilize it, but now we’re talking a couple of weeks. He may be done, but I wouldn’t put it past him to be playing soon.”
One thing is certain, it’s now or never for the fifth-year senior.
Despite the endless bad luck Hampton has endured, he's not a candidate for a sixth year of eligibility because the 6-1 point guard sustained both the ACL tear and the broken hand in the same season. When he redshirted as a freshman in 2008-09, it wasn’t from necessity.
“In order to be granted a sixth-year of eligibility, you have to be able to prove to the NCAA that there were two missed opportunities to participate,” Chattanooga’s Director of Compliance Rachel Blunt said. “(The NCAA) views redshirt years when a student athlete is healthy as the institution or the student athlete’s choice not to compete.”
The NCAA determined Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe’s ACL injury in Nov. 2012, was enough to grant him a sixth year, but only because the Marquette transfer had missed his freshman season with the Golden Eagles (2008-09) with a strained LCL that caused him to miss 23 games.
Hampton has also missed his window if he were in fact eligible, which he’s not.
The reason for applying for a sixth year — in Hampton’s case, a broken hand — has to happen before the midway point of the season.
“If there’s 30 games a year, and you play in game 16 — maybe you only played in that one game all year — you’re still not eligible,” Blunt said.
Last night’s injury occurred in the 18th game of the Mocs’ regular-season schedule; another deal breaker for the NCAA.
Hampton probably won’t play in Saturday’s game against Western Carolina, but beyond that, Shulman doesn’t know what the future holds for him. At least the Mocs are prepared for this situation. They were in it for the first 15 games of the season.
“If he can’t play then it’s a good thing that he was out at the beginning of the year,” Shulman said. “We’re capable. It’d be easier if we were healthy. Everything happens for a reason. We’ll see where it takes us, and we’ll see maybe today in practice. If anybody can do it it’s ‘Tay, but he’s not a superhuman. He’s a person.”
Freshman Farad Cobb will make his eighth consecutive start at the point Saturday against the Catamounts, while redshirt freshman Alex Bran will likely see a boost in his minutes after making just one appearance since Hampton’s return Jan. 10.
“I didn’t think (Hampton) would be playing five and a half months after an ACL; I didn’t think Khalil Hartwell could play with a torn ACL (in 2008), either,” Shulman said. “Athletics is an amazing thing. You just don’t know, as you saw last night down 19 with 6:36 to go.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.