Elon on the mend: Zac Ervin, Ja’Dun Michael work back from surgeries as season nears
ELON — Depth and interchangeable parts look like potential defining characteristics for the Elon men’s basketball team this season in its second year under coach Mike Schrage, even though the Phoenix won’t have a complete cast of contributors on the wing.
Sharpshooting sophomore Zac Ervin is two months past knee surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and therefore won’t be available this season, while highly regarded freshman Ja’Dun Michael, the Burlington product, is considering whether to play as he returns from shoulder surgery in late May.
Schrage said his staff knew the right-handed Michael needed surgery on his left shoulder when Elon landed the former The Burlington School standout in April. Michael has made marked progress during his recovery, Schrage said, and recently has become a full participant in the team’s preseason practices.
The NCAA’s granting of an extra year of eligibility for players as part of rule changes in response to coronavirus, regardless of how many games they participate in or minutes they log, makes this a free season in many ways across all of college basketball.
“We recruited him with the vision and the plan to have shoulder surgery and not rush back,” Schrage said. “When you get cleared, work on your skill level, work on your game, and develop. And now, with how well his surgery went and the season getting delayed some, there’s a chance he can play.
“This kind of being a free year, that’s where I think he’s considering it and where we’re considering him playing. If we had to think about a redshirt or it not being a free year, I think there’d be more weight on it. But he’s made tremendous progress health-wise.”
Elon is working toward its season opener Wednesday night against visiting North Carolina Wesleyan. The Phoenix then plays host to High Point on Saturday and Mercer on Dec. 3. Spectators won’t be allowed to attend Elon’s home games at Schar Center for the time being, a safety measure in accordance with pandemic guidelines and protocols.
Michael, the athletic 6-foot-5 swingman, holds the distinction of Elon’s highest-rated recruiting find in its 21 years on the Division I level. He was ranked as a four-star prospect and the No. 7 overall player in the state among the Class of 2020, and chose the hometown Phoenix rather than a suitor from a major conference after being released from the national letter of intent he signed with Wichita State.
Schrage said reaching a determination on Michael’s playing status for this season is an ongoing conversation with the freshman and his family.
“I want it to be his decision and the people around him,” Schrage said. “He’s heard that from me, and obviously we’re starting up games here soon, so we’ll make that decision pretty soon.”
Ervin had surgery in September after suffering the torn ligament in his right knee, and is navigating another recovery process. As a freshman, he missed Elon’s final 10 games of last season due to a broken right hand that required surgery.
The 6-5 swingman Ervin played at 215 pounds last season. He’s down to a listed weight of 201 pounds now, with Schrage praising Ervin’s commitment to improving his training and conditioning regimen during the offseason.
“He’s looking great,” Schrage said. “He did a great job in quarantine in the spring when he was home. If you see him now, he still looks tremendous, but he was in elite shape.
“He didn’t look bad last year by any means, but he had really done a great job on his body, in losing weight and toning up. The shape he was in going into the surgery, I think he’s going to really benefit from that. He’ll come back stronger than ever.”
Perhaps the best pure shooter on an Elon team that didn’t lack for long-range firepower, Ervin’s 46 successful 3-pointers checked in as the 11th-highest total in the Colonial Athletic Association last season at the time of his hand injury, which occurred on the first day of February.
Ervin finished as Elon’s fourth-leading scorer last season, averaging 8.4 points per game. His explosive performance that produced seven 3-pointers and 27 points carried the Phoenix past UNC Wilmington to its first CAA league victory last season.