By the time the season opener against Indiana State on Nov. 9 arrives, Ibi Watson will have waited 587 days to play a college basketball game. The wait for Jordy Tshimanga and Rodney Chatman will have been even longer: 606 and 617 days, respectively.
All five players practiced with the Dayton Flyers last season and throughout the offseason — except for periods when they were injured, and Tshimanga is still working his way back from a knee injury — and look forward to returning to the court in games that matter. First, they’ll play an exhibition game against Cedarville University at 5 p.m. Saturday at UD Arena.
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“I see the hunger in them because they haven’t been playing for a whole year,” Dayton point guard Jalen Crutcher said. “I think they’ll be ready to play.”
“These guys have been working on their games for a whole year now,” redshirt senior forward Ryan Mikesell said, “and we’re starting to implement them in practice and now they’re going to be part of it. They’re going to be thrown in the fire, so they’re super excited.”
Watson and Johnson are similar in that neither has had a chance to play major minutes at the college level. Watson struggled to earn playing time in two seasons at Michigan. Johnson battled injuries in two seasons at Florida.
Tshimanga started 27 games and averaged 13.1 minutes in two seasons at Nebraska. Of the four transfers, Chatman has the most experience. He started as a sophomore at Chattanooga and averaged 32.3 minutes per game.
Matos showed promise in his first six games with the Flyers, especially on the defensive end, but like everyone else in the group, he will have to prove himself this season. He said he’s fully healthy entering the season.
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“It’s going to be great after a long year of recovery,” Matos said. “I feel it’s going to be a lot better now, a lot easier for me. Now I know what it takes to contribute to help the team win. We’re all working hard. We all know we’ve got to earn anything we get.”
For Tshimanga to earn playing time, he first has to return to the practice court. He said last week he’s been undergoing treatment every day on his sore knee, and UD is being cautious with him. When he does make his UD debut, he’ll be the second native of Canada to play for the Flyers, following Dyshawn Pierre (2012-16).
“It’s been hard,” he said. “I’ve been itching to play. It’s been a year and a half now since I’ve played. I’ve got to take everything step by step. I don’t want (an injury) to reoccur.”
Tshimanga arrived on campus in August 2018 and practiced with the team last season. After working hard all week, sometimes he forgot he wouldn’t be able to play in the game. When the Flyers traveled to away games without the transfers, he was reminded of his status.
“That feeling was overwhelming,” Tshimanga said, “but I coped with it and just worked to get (my teammates) better and myself better. Now here we are. The redshirt year is over. It went fast.”
Working these players into the rotation with the returning starters will be a goal early in the season.
“This locker room has a lot of talent,” Mikesell said. “It’s just a matter of meshing together. That’s the biggest thing. You can be the most talented team, but if you don’t play together, it really doesn’t mean anything. That’s what we’ve been working on in practice.”
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