Cleared last week to return to the basketball court, North Carolina guard Dexter Strickland played pickup with his teammates on Monday, reports Adam Lucas of goheels.com, marking his first time being back on the court with his teammates since tearing the ACL in his right knee at Virginia Tech last January.
Although he’s glad to be back, the senior told the school’s official website that he’s not totally back yet. Including mentally.
"Running up and down the court was different," Strickland said. "I still have a little limp because of just that mental hesitation. I'm still cautious about what I do and how I do it. I'm not sure yet how much weight I can put on my knee or how fast I can cut."
The caution isn’t surprising; Strickland, UNC's starting shooting guard and backup point guard until he got injured, had major surgery only six months ago. Healing takes time. Adjusting takes time. Trust takes time.
But the question now is: How much more time will it take for him to do all of those things?
Strickland is expected to compete with freshman Marcus Paige for the starting point guard slot -- and whether or not he earns the opening nod, the Tar Heels need Strickland for depth at the ballhandling position. (Luke Davis, who sat out last season as per NCAA transfer rules, is the only other point guard on the roster.)
The good news is, there are roughly six more weeks before practice begins. Which gives Strickland some more time to work his way back -- physically and mentally.
After playing Monday, Strickland took a couple days off to see how his knee recovered. When he gets back on the court, he thinks he'll be able to take one more small step towards being the player he wants to be for his senior season.
"You can't second-guess yourself or think about the injury too much when you're on the court," he said. "When you think about it or don't go as hard, that's when you get hurt. The biggest thing for someone coming back from an ACL tear is that you have to trust your body. That's why rehab is very important, because you have to get that strength back in your knee, so that when you make those cuts and sharp turns, it's not as big a stress on your knee."
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.