Posted Oct 1 2010 10:15AM
ST. FRANCIS, Wis. -- Andrew Bogut began and ended the interview with a hand shake, an encouraging sign for the Milwaukee Bucks and their fans. No hesitation, no flinching, no wincing.
Which is more than a lot of people could say about the video of Bogut's brutal fall back in April, when the Bucks center's right arm folded beneath him in all the wrong ways and places.
In an instant in a home game against Phoenix on April 3, as Suns forward Amar'e Stoudemire either did or didn't nudge him ever so slightly in the back, Bogut became linked forevermore in Google searches with Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann. On the all-time list of gruesome sports injuries, Theismann's right leg -- compound-fractured under the force of a Lawrence Taylor sack on Monday Night Football in 1985 -- still ranks near the top. But Bogut's on there now, too, as he suffers a broken hand, a sprained wrist and a dislocated elbow in 1080p high-def, slo-mo splendor.
"It was a nasty fall," said new Bucks forward Drew Gooden, who was working with the Clippers that night in Denver and thus had to rely on the video. "We were cracking jokes the other day and I told him, 'I was surprised to see you on the bench three days later with a suit on, smiling. I would have thought you'd be out crying for about two weeks.' "
It was must-look-away TV. Bogut's ugly spill was triggered by his momentum on a breakout dunk. His legs swung out in front of him, he lost his two-handed grip on the rim and he crashed backward onto the court. His right arm planted first, bent wrong and flailed out.
Ouch! Bogut's season was over and, at the time, the surprising Bucks' postseason ambitions seemed to go splat as well.
Bogut, the hearty Australian of Croatian descent and Melbourne upbringing, is fine with the replays.
"When I went back to Australia this summer, I did a bunch of TV segments," he told me this week. "That was the first thing everyone showed, so I got to see it a thousand times. I'm not one of those guys who's like, 'Oh, I can't watch it.' I actually wanted to watch it to see what happened. It isn't one of those things where I have to look away."
The scars from Bogut's injury and surgery still are healing. He was told to sit out the Bucks' afternoon session of two-a-days Wednesday after some elbow swelling in the morning. Sitting on the side in late September for one of a couple hundred practices is better, the Milwaukeeans figure, than sitting out what would have been Bogut's second bit of postseason basketball. Or some game that counts in a month or so.
"The problem is, they say it's never going to be the same as my other hand, as far as extending the elbow," Bogut said. "So I don't know how to gauge the percentage. I'm feeling about 85, 90 [percent] right now. My shooting is a bit of a challenge still -- it gets fatigued out real quick when I do drills [where] I'm constantly just getting up shots. That's just a precaution, and they've told me to slow it down a little."
Bucks coach Scott Skiles joked at the start of training camp that Bogut's elbow pain is a recurring thing. "It's normally when he misses a shot. Then we get the, 'Ohhh,' " the coach said. In fact, though, the Bucks don't plan to baby Bogut for long, beyond just being smart with him through October.
"Obviously the first one, two, three exhibition games, we're not going to overplay anybody," Skiles said. "But we look at it that he's no more likely to get hurt than anybody else. He's in excellent physical shape. He can shoot his shot and get fouled and take a good hard crack on the elbow, which could cause it to swell or something. But again, probably no more than anybody else's would have."
Bogut said he still is conscious of his rehabbing arm on the court. "I've taken a couple of hits, and [Tuesday] I fell on the floor after a loose ball and kind of jostled it a little bit. So there are still times when it does take a little bit of the wind out of me," the 7-footer said.
"My immediate goal is to make sure I'm 100 percent by that first game at New Orleans. That's why I don't want to overdo things. It's the first week of training camp. I want to be out there. But when the trainer says slow it down, you've got to listen."
There wasn't much slowing Bogut down last season, his best in five NBA seasons. In the 69 games he played, the No. 1 pick out of Utah in 2005 averaged a career-best and team-high 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds, while blocking 2.5 shots. He and Dwight Howard were the only players in 2009-10 to top 15, 10 and 2. Bogut had 37 double-doubles, one shy of his personal best, and Milwaukee went 16-3 when he scored at least 20 points and 14-4 when he swatted four shots or more.
The Bucks improved from 34-48 in 2008-09 -- when Bogut played only 36 games and missed the final 31 with a lower back injury -- to 46-36. It was Milwaukee's highest win total since 2000-01.
Point guard Brandon Jennings' arrival was the splashier story last season, but Bogut's blossoming seemed every bit as important. Veteran Kurt Thomas did a fine job filling the void this spring and Milwaukee pushed Atlanta to seven games in the teams' Eastern Conference first-round series. But with all due respect to an aging Bob Lanier, Ervin Johnson, Alton Lister and even Jack Sikma, the Bucks haven't had a center as all-around proficient as Bogut in a quarter century, back when a certain big guy was taking his jazz collection to L.A.
"In my opinion, Andrew's a first-team all-defensive player," Skiles said. "He was second in the league in blocks and second in the league in charges. You can't hardly name guys, even throughout history, who have done both of those. Guys seem to do one or the other -- either be a shot-blocker or a charge guy. And not to even mention his scoring ability, he knows the offense inside-and-out, he's a good passer and all the other things he can do."
The plan is for Bogut to keep doing them. Taking charges would seem to be a risky proposition now, possibly putting his right arm in harm's way again if he were to brace against a fall. But reconfiguring the way Bogut plays might create its own hazards.
"I don't want to tell anyone not to do things that they have instincts to do," Skiles said. "Then something else might happen [if] he gets in a bad position in a worse way. I've seen guys -- Tom Gugliotta was having a career year for me in Phoenix and his own teammate tripped over somebody and clipped him in the back of the leg. There's just things that occur. If you're not just playing and involved in the game -- if you're thinking about, 'Oh, I hope I don't get hit' -- I think sometimes that's worse."
Said Bogut: "Usually when you're doing something at 90 percent, not giving your all, that's when guys get hurt."
Individually, Bogut felt this was a lost summer -- there was little he could do while his arm healed besides work on his conditioning. But collectively, in the moves that general manager John Hammond made to upgrade what now is a club with legitimate playoff ambitions, Bogut talked eagerly about Corey Maggette, Chris Douglas-Roberts, rookie Larry Sanders, John Salmons for a full season, Jennings in Year 2 and, most of all, Gooden. Gooden, signed as a free agent, is a potential double-double man in the paint; Bogut hasn't had a teammate average more than 6.7 rebounds since he was a rookie.
"Normally we've had [power forwards] who shoot the threes and dribble on the side," Bogut said. "Drew's a genuine 'four man' who can be physical, bang, take some charges, rebound. That goes right alongside with my game and takes some pressure off, especially when you play those teams that have two big guys starting or another big guy coming off the bench.
"Like with [Marcin] Gortat in Orlando. I find myself battling Dwight Howard and, all of a sudden, Gortat comes in. He's got fresh legs and I'm tired. This will help us."
Because for Bogut and the rest of the "Fear the Deer" crew, this season is all about fear in the spring, not fearing the fall.
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