Working His Way Back

The 2010-11 season was one of the toughest the Cavaliers and their fans have ever had to weather. Along with some of the franchise’s most familiar faces leaving town, Byron Scott’s squad suffered a spate of season-ending injuries.

None of Cleveland’s sidelined stars hurt the Cavaliers more than the loss of Anderson Varejao.

The Wild Thing, along with Boobie Gibson, was the lone remaining Cavalier who’d been through all of Cleveland’s recent postseason wars. He came to the North Coast in a trade with Orlando in July 2004 and was a household name by the end of his rookie season. And in the course of his six years with the Cavs, he’d gone from being labeled a “flopper” to a being named to the league’s All-Defensive Team.

And even this past season, with the Wine and Gold’s halcyon days temporarily on hold, Varejao had been on a near-All-Star trajectory in his first 31 games – averaging 9.1 points and 9.7 boards per contest. Andy went 10-for-10 from the floor against Philly and 7-of-7 against Chicago a month later.

But Varejao’s performance has never been measured by numbers. And the best measurement of Andy’s absence was probably the 18 straight games the Cavs dropped after the Brazilian big went down with torn peroneal longus tendon in his right ankle/foot during a practice drill at Cleveland Clinic Courts.

Anderson had been one of Cleveland’s iron men over the past two years, averaging 78 games per season. This year, he missed the final 47 games – restricted to rehab and a spectator’s role over the campaign’s final three months.

But the Wild Thing has used those months to work himself back into playing shape. And he expects to be manning the middle when the Wine and Gold return to the hardwood next fall.

Anderson took a moment away from one of those workouts in Independence to sit down with and talk about his difficult season, his current condition and what he sees for himself and the team moving forward …

First off, how do you feel? And what are you able to do?
Anderson Varejao: I feel good. I’m lifting weights, (doing) cardio. A lot of exercise, a lot of work in the pool. And cardio.

I do a lot of balancing exercises. Today, I did some exercises to shoot the ball. Right now, just that kind of stuff – movement, change of directions. It’s gonna take some time.

I’m doing pretty good. I just feel like my balance is not there yet. But I feel pretty good.

It must be tough for a high-energy guy like you to deal with rehab.
Varejao: It is what it is. I’m bored. I want to be running and doing other stuff. But like I said, it is what it is.

Did you know how severe the injury was when it happened?
Varejao: No. I knew it was bad when it happened. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know how bad it was.

Right after practice I went to shower and it just got worse and worse. I was in a lot of pain, like, ‘something must not be right here.’ So they took me to the MRI and they kind of saw but couldn’t really tell. There was a lot of swelling and after practice, and I went straight for an MRI.

When they took the second (MRI), they knew it was bad.

And you did this during routine line touches at practice?
Varejao: Yeah, that’s crazy. I was running very fast and I didn’t really slow down to stop and go back. I kinda tried to just plant and go back. But when I planted I kind of lost my balance and I felt something stretching on the side of my foot. (But) I kept on going. I finished running and it started to burn under my foot. And I thought ‘something is not right.’

That was it.

With everything that happened on and off the court, was this your toughest season as a pro?
Varejao: A lot of bad things happened during this season. I lost my grandfather. Then my dad had to come here and have surgery. He had a procedure on his heart. Then he goes back to Brazil and he’s not feeling right. They have to go back and do another (procedure) in Brazil.

Then my eye got hurt; I broke that bone under the eye. Then the team didn’t do really good this season.

There were a lot of bad things, but we all can learn from that.

When you had a good thing like we had before, you think it’s going to be like that forever. It’s not, especially in this league. I’m not saying we're a bad team now. But we have a lot of young players and a new coaching staff. It’s a lot of new things for everybody.

I believe next season will be a lot different. We’re all going to be healthy. We’ll start from the beginning together and that’ll help us a lot. We can have a better season next year.

What were your impressions of the young guys who filled in for you and Antawn on the frontline?
Varejao: They did a good job. We all knew they had a lot of talent. Like we say, you just have to be ready for it. Any time the coach needs you.

In this league, if you have a chance and you’re not ready, you’re done. You’re out. So, they did a good job in there. They worked hard. They deserve to play. I know the way everything happened for them to play, it’s not the way they wanted it – with players getting hurt. But they did a good job.

And how about Byron Scott and the coaching staff?
Varejao: He works hard. He gives you a lot of confidence. He gives the player the best chance to do his best on the court. He never tells you not to shoot. He just wants everybody to understand their role on the team and to play aggressive.

He encouraged you to shoot more earlier this season.
Varejao: He was telling me to shoot more. He wanted me to get in there. (Laughs.) But I had been playing a different role for the past five years. It was kind of hard to change just like that. But I kept working on it and I was feeling pretty good – getting comfortable.

Unfortunately, I got hurt.

What are you like at home, watching the team play on the road?
Varejao: It’s bad! I don’t really like it, like this season having to stay home, couldn’t go with the team.

For the good and bad times on the road, you’re not there. You’re not there when somebody does something good and to be right next to him and say, ‘That was good. That was nice.’ Stuff like that. All you can do is you get so nervous because you’re not there and you’re not on the court.

I’m like sweating; (there’s) a lot of tension, sitting home watching those games. It sucks. It’s not good.

What did you think about the team’s final stretch of the season?
Varejao: We finished the season very strong. I think Baron Davis gave us a lot more options in the offense. He’s a tough player; he’s been through a lot. He’s a good player and I’m looking forward to playing with him.

Next year’s gonna be good. If we’re all healthy, I believe we have a very, very good chance to make the playoffs and go from there.

Do you plan to play again for the Brazilian national team?
Varejao: I don’t think I’ll be able to this summer because of rehab. I won’t be ready. But if I’m ready, any time when I’m 100 percent, I’m always going to play for the national team.

Are you proud of the way South American players are starting to make their mark in the league?
Varejao: Yeah. That started with Ginobili and Nene. They were the first South American guys to come here. And they did a good job. Then Barbosa came. Then I came. Now the kid from Venezuela, for the Grizzlies – Vazquez – he’s doing good, too.

They opened the door for us and we took our chance.

Have you been watching the Playoffs this year?
Varejao:This season, there’s not a lot to do at home. So I’m watching. Usually I don’t.

When you’re playing, you don’t have a lot of time to watch other games. You have to focus on who you have to play against and you spend a lot of time on that.

Now, I'm watching. (Laughs.) You wanna know about something about last night? Last night, I couldn’t sleep. (I was) just watching last night and watched SportsCenter all night and all-day highlights. Whatever you want to know about last night’s games, I can tell you right now!