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Only the Strong Survive: Part II

Marcus Fizer at the Berto Center Given Fizer’s massive frame, he has had to work even harder at getting his legs back to where they were at the time of his injury.
July 8, 2003

  • Only the Strong Survive: Part I

    “Right after the surgery, you think you are never going to walk again,” Bulls Assistant Athletic Trainer Eric Waters described. “You wonder how you are ever going to get back from this and you feel a lot of pain. Your muscle wastes away and it looks bad. But once you get out of that stage and start to hit some milestones, you get more confident.”

    Waters credits Fizer a great deal for putting in the necessary hard work, even when he wasn’t working out at the Berto Center, the team’s training facility located in suburban Deerfield, Illinois. Working on his range of motion at home and sleeping with his leg extended in a brace weren’t pleasurable experiences—but Fizer did them both and his diligence has paid off.

    “Sometimes it is hard to get athletes to go outside of their comfort zone, but he did,” Waters said. “It was painful and uncomfortable, but he did it and as a result, he got his range of motion back as quick as anyone I’ve ever worked with.”

    A major part of coming back from an ACL injury is strength work. Given Fizer’s massive frame, he has had to work even harder at getting his legs back to where they were at the time of his injury. Interestingly when a new ACL is put into a knee, there is an inverse relationship. At first, it is fairly strong, but over the two to three months following the surgery, it gradually gets weaker. The ACL must be protected in that time; however the player tends to get more active. As a result, in Fizer’s case specifically, there are often times where he wanted to go on the court to shoot around or play a little one-on-one but he had be held back and literally pulled off the court, just to be safe.

    As Fizer continues to progress with his rehab, he has been cleared to do more and more. To date, he has received clearance to run straight ahead and slowly incorporate a few cutting exercises, while continuing to work on strength and neuromuscular stability.

    Over the coming weeks, Fizer will again meet with the Bulls Team Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Ira Kornblatt, as well as Dr. Andrews and the Bulls Team Physician, Dr. Jeffrey Weinberg. He’ll need to get their approval after one or possibly two more check-ups for final clearance to play again. The team is hoping that Fizer will be able to play in pick-up games by the end of July.

    “Barring any setbacks, I’m hopeful that he will be able to play when we start camp in early October,” Waters stated. “But he still won’t be 100 percent until he has some games under his belt. He’s got to re-gain his confidence and re-learn how to move and react and that has to happen in a game setting.”

    Eric Waters and Marcus Fizer at the Berto Center “Right after the surgery, you think you are never going to walk again,” Assistant Athletic Trainer Eric Waters (above) described.
    “Marcus has been stoic,” Waters acknowledged. “He hasn’t said a whole lot throughout it all, he’s put his nose to the grindstone and he’s worked very hard.”

    Bulls.com caught up with the muscular power forward to hear how he’s handled the physical and mental challenges that the road to recover has presented in the second half of a two-part interview.

    Do you feel that some positives could be the result of this injury? Do you expect to return as a better player?

    Marcus Fizer:
    No doubt positives will come from this; I’ve seen how strong Jamal has come back from his surgery. I said this before, but I had always felt like that was an injury I was going to have. I also always felt that if I did tear my ACL that it would be in my right knee because my right leg has never been nearly as strong as my left is. I can just about jump to the rim from the free throw line with my left leg but I can barely dunk close to the rim from my right. In rehab, I’ve done so much work trying to build that leg back that it is going to end up being stronger than my good leg. When they repair it, they say the ligament they put in there is ten times stronger than your other knee. As you recover from an ACL injury, at two months out of surgery the ligament is at its weakest point. Even then, at its weakest point, it is still four or five times stronger than the other one in your strong leg. So imagine how strong it will be once it is back up to 100 percent. Jamal tells me all the time, ‘That leg is going to be ten times stronger than your other one. You won’t believe it and you can’t see that happening now, but I’m telling you it will be.’

    What kind of conversations have you had with Jamal Crawford, who suffered the same injury during the summer of 2001? Has he given you any advice?

    Jamal’s been really funny. I’m a lot further along than he was at this point and he kind of laughs when I remind him of that. I remember the first time he saw me without my crutches—I was on them for a week or a week and a half—but he was on them for almost two months. He had this blank look on his face and was like, ‘Where are your crutches at?’ So I think I’m coming a long a little a quicker than Jamal did. During his rehab, [the Bulls staff] was like, Jamal might die here. [Laughing]. But my man came back. It’s just such a terrible feeling after the surgery and that was one of the toughest things I had to deal with. Even trying to sleep night after night was tough. But I got through that, I thank God for that and it’s over now and hopefully I’ll never go through it again.

    Your name, along with some of your teammates, has been mentioned in various trade rumors. How do you deal with that?

    It was something that bothered me my rookie year. But I’ve been involved in pretty much every trade rumor since I was drafted, so it’s nothing that bothers me anymore. The attitude I’ve taken towards it is that it doesn’t matter where I’m at, I just want to be a player in this league. Do I want to be in Chicago? Yes, I’ll say that each and every time I’m asked. I love it here in Chicago. I love the fans, I love the city and the rebuilding process is going great. People tell me that I should want to be on a winning team, but I’m going to know what it feels like to work and become a winner; to be that Dallas Mavericks-type team that wasn’t winning before but is a winning team now that is also a contender.

    Marcus Fizer at the Berto Center "I expect to be ready to go by the start of training camp," says Fizer. "The way things are going now, the sky is the limit."
    When you do return to the court, Coach Cartwright says his goal for you is to be the best sixth man in the NBA. How do you react to that statement?

    It would be a huge success for me to do that. It’s not something I’d play for because I’ve never played for individual accolades. I’ve always felt that when a team has success, that is when the individual accolades will come about. Individual accolades come with winning and being part of a winning team. I’d rather be on a winning team than be the MVP of the league.

    Are there any individual goals that you’ve set for yourself for this season and beyond?

    I do have individual goals but they all have to do with how I can help the team do better next year and how to become a smarter player. There are all kinds of individual goals that you can set, but my main goals are team oriented. My goal for us last season was not to be the worst team in the league and we weren’t. We won 30 games and that’s not great but it was about 15 more than we won my first two years here and that says a lot.

    The consensus seems to be that the team has turned the corner and that the playoffs could be in the near future. Do you think making the playoffs this season is realistic?

    I think it’s definitely realistic. A lot of fans have come up to me and they say they feel like maybe if I hadn’t of gotten hurt, we would have been in the playoffs. But my teammates did a great job and it was fun just to sit and watch it. To see Eddy [Curry] blossom into what he has become and Tyson [Chandler] get it going and for Jay [Williams] to turn it around in the second half of the season. Jamal was also phenomenal. We feel like we have everything here now and hopefully we can keep this nucleus together.

    Do you expect to be back at 100 percent by the start of the season?

    There’s no question about it. I expect to be ready to go by the start of training camp. The way things are going now, the sky is the limit. I’ve just got to keep on the path that I’m on now—being ahead of schedule and trying to stay ahead of schedule—and not do anything to jeopardize that.

    - Story and photos by Adam Fluck, Bulls.com

  • Read the first half of this interview here.