Dozier Returns

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The opening moments of P.J. Dozier's first game back went as you might expect.

The 6-foot-6 class of 2015 wing, was sidelined for his junior season by surgery to repair a torn ACL, returned to action Friday sporting a bulky knee brace.

He started with a lot of energy, some tentativeness and a little rust.

One play, however, welcomed him back.

"I was a little nervous," Dozier admitted after his Upward Stars 17U team's first game at the Phenom Hoops Challenge. "I was a little timid because I've been anxious to just get back out there."

After missing his first three-pointer, Dozier caught a pass on the left wing. Instead of putting up another long-distance shot, he pump faked and attempted a dunk from well outside the paint.

He didn't connect on the attempt – he was fouled – but the play was confirmation for Dozier of his knee's strength and of the work he's put in the last eight months.

"All the emotions kind of went out the door a little bit after that," he said. "I felt like I needed a play like that to take my mind off of everything. I knew I could do that. Playing and working out recently, I've noticed that my vertical ability and strength have been a lot better."

It's something coaches, especially UNC's Roy Williams, have noticed too. Two weeks ago, Williams visited Columbia (S.C.) Spring Valley to watch Dozier work out.

"He was impressed with how fast and how strong P.J. came back," said his father, Perry Dozier Sr. "He told me P.J. looked bigger and stronger. He was pretty impressed with his shooting too. We've talked about before that shooting is a big thing that he needs and is looking for. "

"It was great to have Coach Williams in," Dozier said. "Just to see that he took time out of his busy schedule to see how I'm doing and tell me how great I look. I really appreciated it."

Williams hasn't compared Dozier to any of his former players. Instead, he's told him he wants him to fit in as a utility player.

"He has just been him telling him 'we need you bringing the ball up the court,'" Dozier Sr. said. "We need you leading the team, we need you scoring and we need you passing. He's one of the best recruiters I've seen in many days. He's doing all the right things."

For now Dozier, who hasn't scheduled any in-home or official visits, wants to focus on easing back into basketball. A successful weekend (Upward finished 3-1, though Dozier didn't play in all four games) at the Phenom Hoops Challenge was the first step.

"I'm probably the biggest critic of myself, so if you ask me I don't think I played very well," said Dozier. "This weekend is about getting the feel for everything again, just being on the court."

Upward and Dozier have an ambitious tournament schedule over the next couple of months. Doctors have him released him fully to play as much as he'd like, but warned him to rest when needed in his first few months back.

"They said that no one knows my body like me," Dozier explained. "I wear the knee brace as additional protection. I've had it for about two months. I've gotten a lot more comfortable with and it's feeling a lot better. It doesn't really hinder my mobility. It's more a mental thing."

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