Ryan Mikesell remembers the feeling of running out of the tunnel at UD Arena with his teammates before games. He also won’t forget his emotions walking out of that same tunnel, trailing the rest of the Dayton Flyers, as he did 16 times last season.
“I was in my own mini-depression,” said Mikesell, a 6-foot-7 forward from St. Henry, on Wednesday during an interview at UD’s Cronin Center. “I was like, ‘This stinks.’ Then the game started, and it was, ‘All right, no pouting. It is what it is. Just deal with it.’”
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That’s the attitude Mikesell has had since June 28, 2017, when Dayton announced he would sit out his junior season and earn a medical redshirt.
Mikesell underwent surgeries in May and June 2017 to repair impingements in both hips and needed the time to get back to 100 percent. He returned to practice in a limited capacity in November and saw his practice role increase as the season progressed. Now Mikesell has returned to his old self.
“I haven’t had any problems,” Mikesell said. “I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing with Mike (Mulcahey), our trainer, and our strength and conditioning coach (Ed Streit) to make sure I can stay on the court and be healthy throughout the entire year. There are no limitations on the court. Off the court, in terms of the weight room and stuff, there are certain exercises I stay away from. That will be life-long.”
Mikesell averaged 5.7 points and 3.9 rebounds in 20.8 minutes per game as a sophomore. He felt fine when the Flyers traveled to Spain in the summer of 2017 and fine throughout the preseason. The hip pain started when the season began and got worse and worse.
In mid-February, Mikesell’s playing time and production started to decline as his condition deteriorated. In the last seven games, he didn’t top 20 minutes. In the last three games, all of which Dayton lost, he didn’t top 10 minutes. He didn’t attempt a shot in 11 minutes of action in postseason games against Davidson in the Atlantic 10 tournament and Wichita State in the NCAA tournament.
Behind the scenes, Mikesell tried to do everything he could to stay on the court.
“I was always with Mike in the training room,” he said. “As a player, you don’t want to sit out for anything. I was able to practice with it and play with it. Even though I was in a lot of pain, I just dealt with it. We were winning games, and I wanted to be a part of that and make sure it continued.”
With Mikesell sidelined in the 2017-18 season, the winning didn’t continue. The Flyers finished 14-17 in coach Anthony Grant’s first season. By the end of the season, Grant had lost confidence in most of the players on the bench and was using a six- or seven-man rotation.
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In a 77-72 loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the A-10 tournament, the five starters all played at least 31 minutes. Kostas Antetokounmpo played 24 minutes off the bench. Matej Svoboda added five minutes.
Having an experienced player like Mikesell would have helped. With nine scholarship players available this season, they’ll need him just as much. He hopes healthy hips will help him in all phases of the game.
Mikesell shot 33 percent from 3-point range (30 of 90) in his first two seasons and wants to improve his shot this season.
“I can definitely tell I wasn’t able to get much lift out of my jump shot,” he said, “and it messed with my mechanics.”
Finding a consistent shot and sticking with it, Mikesell said, and then building confidence will help him improve his numbers. He can already tell a difference in practice.
Mikesell also wants to make plays for his teammates and make them better.
“I just want to become a playmaker for the team,” he said, “whether they put me at a guard spot or forward spot.”
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Like the rest of his teammates, Mikesell also wants to improve on the defensive end.
“Having my new hips and range will help me out tremendously on defense,” he said. “I’ve been doing different speed and agility stuff to make sure I can compete at that level and withstand all the bumps and bruises, whether I’m banging with big guys down low or guarding quick guys on the perimeter.”
When Mikesell does return to the court, it will be with a different cast of players. Mikesell is one of three remaining players who saw action in the 2016-17 season. Trey Landers played 52 minutes that season. An injury limited Josh Cunningham to 11 games.
Mikesell is the only remaining player who saw action in the 2015-16 season. The three freshmen who arrived at Dayton with Mikesell in 2015 — Xeyrius Williams, Sam Miller and John Crosby — have all left the program. Miller transferred to College of Charleston last winter. Williams left Dayton for Akron this spring. Crosby also left the program in March and hasn’t announced if he will continue his college basketball career.
The four players referred to themselves as the “2K19 Gang,” a reference to their expected graduation date. Now only Mikesell remains, and he will finish his career in 2020.
“I’m still close to those guys,” Mikesell said. “I was just talking to Xeyrius the other week and still stay in touch with Sam and John. I wish those guys nothing but the best. I came in as a freshman with them, so they’ll always kind of be my brothers for life, but life happens.”
Continuing on his own, Mikesell focuses on the present and the near future when he’ll once again experience the thrill of playing at UD Arena.
“I just can’t describe what I’m going to be feeling,” he said. “I feel I’ll be nervous, excited. I think it will be awesome just running out of the tunnel again.”
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