Determined Big Al Getting Smaller
WALTHAM - Big Al isn't quite as big these days.
While peeling off the tape from his ankles after Wednesday's Summer League mini-camp practice, Jefferson reported that he's dropped about 14 pounds since last season.
"I'm on a strict diet, I've changed my eating habits, been working out, court stuff, all of that. I want to lose about 10 more so I can be a little undersized coming into training camp so I can run better," said Jefferson. "I want to come in lighter this year and in better shape. I'm still not in the shape I want to be in because there's a lot of things I can't do with this ankle. But I'm going to step it up a whole 'nother level when I get back from Summer League and by October I'll be ready. But I've got a long way to go."
Al Jefferson tightens up his sneakers during a break in the action at Summer League mini-camp on Wednesday. After battling ankle injuries, Big Al is now preaching the benefits of getting taped to his Summer League teammates. (Peter Stringer/Celtics)
While Jefferson will be one of the more experienced players in the Summer League this year, he says he's not looking to try to dominate the league next week. He's really just trying to get back in the swing of things and get his confidence back so he's ready to go full-tilt in training camp come October and redeem himself for a season that left many, including himself, disappointed.
"I just want to get the feel back and see how my ankle goes in live action. That's why I don't want to go too hard in practice. I don't want to make it so sore this week so that I can't play next week. I'm just looking to work on my game, my outside game, my face-up game, my left hand, my defense. I'm going out there looking to score 100 points or prove something to anybody. I'm just going to get the feel of the game back."
Jefferson talked a lot about his ankle, which he injured February 3, 2006 against the Clippers at the Garden. He's says he's still feeling pain from the bone bruise, and he's still very much cognizant of the ankle whenever he steps on the floor. In fact, he doesn't even need to be playing to think about it.
"Man, I can be on the sidelines watching. Every time guys go up for a rebound and come back down I can just feel it. You know what I'm saying? Nobody has to step on anyone's foot, I can just feel it every time," said Jefferson. "I'm still thinking about it and it's still sore. But I'm trying to get these guys out here to start wearing tape. There's some guys out here that aren't wearing any tape or a brace, and I'm trying to teach them."
Jefferson should know. Like many high school players who never had access to college or professional training staffs (or Tommy Heinsohn's commentary), he resisted the tape jobs in his young NBA career. But he now knows that any additional comfort players may feel from going sans-tape just isn't worth the risk.
He says he's still lacking his explosiveness because of the ankle injury. So in the meantime, Jefferson's had to learn to diversify his game with upfakes because without his normal lift, he can't quite go over the top of defenders the way to which he's accustomed. His footwork is much improved thanks to his work with Assistant Coach Clifford Ray, and he's also improved his jumper quite a bit (he credits Assistant Coach Dave Wohl for that), allowing him to be effective from outside of the paint as well.
Clearly, though, the next step for Jefferson is psychological. He knows he needs to get past the fear of re-injuring the ankle. When will that happen?
"I guess when the pain goes away," said Jefferson. "A bone bruise, Danny said he had it once and it lasted the whole summer. I did this on February 3 and here it is July and it still hurts. I'll keep getting treatment and let Ed [Lacerte] work on it, and hopefully by training camp it will be gone and out of my life for good."
Jefferson said that he plans to take a week off after the Summer League wraps up on July 14, and then get back to work to make sure he's in peak condition for training camp.
In the meantime, Jefferson's heard the trade rumors and speculation in the media. And he understands it's all part of the business.
"I think you're taking a chance if you trade any of our young guys, including myself," said Jefferson, who also said that either way, the Celtics will be improved whether they make a deal or stand pat this summer and sees the benefits in either approach. "If you trade myself, or Ryan Gomes, or whoever, for whoever, if that's the trade [that's going] to make your team better, that's the way you've got to go."
Even when some rumors include his own name, Jefferson is not concerned with the business side of basketball right now.
"You hear trade rumors," said Jefferson. "But if I hear my name come out of Danny's mouth, then I need to be worried."