Note: This story appears in the Thursday, Oct. 17 newspaper on Page A6.
One of the things that always stood out about Jordan Dartis as a basketball player — besides the uncanny quick release and dead-eye 3-point accuracy — was the smile.
It was no mere smirk or grin, it was a beaming display often in place as played, practiced, and interacted with fans, teammates, coaches and media.
Dartis, now a fifth-year senior with the Ohio University men’s basketball team, knows this. And he knows that his warm countenance was absent far too often last winter.
“Oooh boy, it was real tough man,” Dartis said this summer when describing the 2018-19 season for himself, and the Bobcats as a whole.
“I had some darker thoughts. I was going through some things.”
On the floor, on game days, Ohio struggled to a second consecutive 14-17 season. The Bobcats finished at the bottom of the Mid-American Conference East Division standings, were ushered out in the first round of the MAC Tournament, and soon thereafter former head coach Saul Phillips was dismissed.
Of course, Dartis didn’t feel great about that. But he had his own issues.
Dartis missed the entire 2018-19 season after a pair of surgeries to both hips after the 2017-18 season. There was rehab, a couple of attempts during the course of the season to push his way back on the floor and whole lot of disappointment when those attempts left him still sidelined.
Dartis battled through hip issues throughout the 2017-18 season, and they reached the tipping point when he was injured during the closing minutes of the first half in a MAC First Round Tournament loss at Miami on March 5, 2018. He played 11 minutes, and missed all four of his shot attempts.
It remains the last time he’s played a full-college basketball game. That was 19 months ago.
Last winter wasn’t just about dealing with broken body parts, missing games and watching Ohio lose them. It was a test to see if Dartis could ever play the game again. There were several times when that answer was negative.
“I had some darker thoughts when I couldn’t play last year,” Dartis said. “I definitely had thought where I didn’t think I could do it any more.
“I didn’t think I could ever live as a college athlete again,” he continued. “Like I said, I was going through some things.”
The season ended, the staff changed, and the Bobcats’ roster was dramatically swapped out. Dartis was still in Athens, still struggling to get healthy and plopped down in the middle of more change and upheaval.
He kept plugging away, and took advantage of the program reset to rejuvenate himself.
“I had some medical things that messed me up. I tried to stay strong,” Dartis explained.
“I knew what I needed to do, I knew what I needed to control to do it. So when I started to control what I could control, everything started to fall into place for me and it put me in the place where I am now.”
That ‘place’ is health, and a participating member of the basketball roster. Dartis began official preseason practice cleared to go. After 19 months, and a half-dozen injuries, procedures, surgeries and rehabs, Dartis is once again flinging in 3-pointers, smiling and laughing — and working — during an Ohio practice.
And the Bobcats, with seven freshmen and an all-new coaching staff, need him.
“He didn’t do a whole lot this summer with a foot injury, but he’s full go now,” said Jeff Boals, OU’s new head coach. “He’s been great. His leadership has been really good.
“We’re going to count on him.”
Boals during his career as a Bobcat was dogged by medical issues as well, in his case several major knee injuries. He knows what Dartis has been working through, and knows what he can bring despite those setbacks. He’s done it.
“It’s great anytime you have a fifth-year guy,” Boals said. “His presence is really good for our young guys.”
Dartis hopes to be much more than a good influence in the locker room. He was once one of the most dangerous shooters in the MAC and has been a double-figure scorer in each of his three previous seasons.
Dartis averaged 13.1 points per game in 2017-18, despite not being 100 percent healthy the whole season. He was a member of the MAC All-Freshman Team in 2015-16, and the next two years earned honorable mention all-conference honors.
Dartis’ career 3-point shooting percentage of 44.5 percent is the highest in program history. With 231 career made 3-pointers, the Newark, Ohio native ranks fifth in OU history.
Dartis will begin 2019-20 ranked 23rd in MAC history in career made 3-pointers, and fifth in Ohio history. He has a chance to climb past some of the all-time greats in the OU record book. Only Nick Kellogg (290 career 3s), D.J. Cooper (274), Tommy Freeman (259) and Dave Jamerson (239) stand ahead of him.
It’s conceivable — Dartis has averaged 77 made 3s per season at OU — that he’ll challenge the MAC career mark of Nate Navigato (309), set last season.
How much Dartis plays depends on how his body holds up, and how well he meshes with what Boals wants his first team to look like. But Dartis never lost his shooting touch, as current players are finding out now.
“Oh yeah, he can still shoot it,” said freshman guard Lunden McDay. “Make it look easy.”
As the elder statesman on a team full of college basketball first timers and a handful of sophomores, Dartis is on his own now. Every other member of his original signing class has graduated or moved on.
He’s not the same player or person he was two years ago, but that doesn’t lessen his importance to Ohio.
“He’s going to be such a big help to us this year,” said redshirt freshman forward Nate Springs. “He’s bee at the Convo for a long time.
“He knows. We listen to him.”
For Dartis, it might be his last college basketball season but it’s also a new start. He’s traversed his own personal valley, and come through the other side — still smiling.
“I’m in a really good place right now,” he said. “With this new group, we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”