By John Schuhmann
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ, March 15, 2007 -- Recovering from ankle surgery was a six-week process (so far) for Richard Jefferson. He had three bone spurs removed from his right ankle on Jan. 22 and returned to action on March 9. NBA.com met with RJ and Nets athletic trainer Tim Walsh at various steps along the way to see what goes into the rehab process.
Jan. 22, 2007 - The bone spurs are removed and RJ is able to go home the same day. Over the next week, scar tissue builds up, delaying his rehab a bit. He is on crutches for a full two weeks after the surgery, with treatment being compression (a special boot to keep the swelling down and two air compression machines - one at home) and elevation (his bed was rigged to keep his foot up in the air).
Feb. 22, 2007 - RJ arrives at the Nets' training facility at 11 a.m., an hour before practice is to start. His day begins with some motion exercises for his ankle, wearing a weighted boot. Then, after a tape job from Walsh, RJ laces up his AF XXVs and headed out to the court.
He straps a large rubber band around both ankles and does slow lateral slides a little more than half the width of the court and back. After repeating the exercise, he does a five-minute warmup on the exercise bike. Then it's into the weight room for more cardio work on the treadmill and some tapping exercises (with both feet) on the leg-press machine, "to get all the muscles firing," Walsh says.
After the tapping exercises, he heads back out to the exercise bike for 20 more minutes of cardio. He had been doing some exercises in the pool, but the heater broke the day before.
Feb. 27, 2007 - RJ is the first Net onto the arena floor before their game against the Wizards at Continental Airlines Arena. After some pleasantries with U. of Arizona buddy Gilbert Arenas, he gets about 15 minutes of shooting in. His ankles are taped, but his shoes are untied.
He starts out on the baseline, about 18 feet from the basket. He's not getting much lift in the beginning (about as much as it would take to jump over a piece of toast), but as he slowly makes his way around the perimeter, he elevates more and more. After shooting his way to the other side of the floor, he moves his way back the the three point line and goes back around.
He does some half-speed cuts and starts shooting from further beyond the arc. He finishes with several 35 footers and by this time, he's getting normal elevation. He's worked up a good sweat in the 15 minutes, but as always, stops to sign autographs before heading back into the locker room.
March, 2007 - As RJ gets closer to being able to play, Walsh's chief concern is his conditioning.
"You don't wanna just throw him out to the wolves and go," Walsh says, "and then he winds up pulling a groin or something. There's more to it. You gotta train the whole body, not just make his ankle fine, and the muscles around it. You gotta make sure he doesn't pull a hamstring or groin, other things like that. So, we had to make sure his whole body was in condition to go out and play an NBA game."
And RJ put in the work to get it done.
"Once he felt his body was in good enough shape," Walsh said, "I was OK him going out and playing."
Once RJ was back on the court, Walsh wanted to keep his playing time under control, especially with four games in five nights.
"We don't want to much stress on the joint," the trainer said. "You get some soreness, which goes away, once in a while. I just don't want it to get so sore that he needs a day or two for the soreness to go away."
And the treatment continues. RJ still does extra range-of-motion stretching, Walsh still works on the scar tissue, they'll do more strengthening exercises now that they have some more off days, and they're always keeping an eye on the swelling (elevation and ice after practices and games).
Of course Walsh is always at his player's side, making sure everything feels fine.
"He says he feels good, and you have to listen to him. I ask him constantly. He gets tired of me asking. I ask him throughout the game and everything and he says he's fine."
"He's a very, very resilient kid. This kid is a quick healer and, you know, he's fearless. Once he was ready to go out and play, he was ready to play."