The Road to Return
In the grand scheme of things, the news certainly could have been worse. But it was devastating enough: Jonas, their firstborn, coming off a banner summer when he carried the Swedish national team on his shoulders to first place in its group in pre-Olympic qualifying, and very much looking forward to a big second season with the Pistons, hadn’t gotten out of the first quarter of the first preseason game unscathed.
“Arnie (Kander) called from the training room,” Chris recalled. “It was about 3 in the morning and it was just … the phone rang, we woke up and it was a shocker.”
After taking the ball down the lane to the basket in Miami, where LeBron James and Chris Bosh were making their breathlessly awaited Heat debut as teammates of Dwyane Wade, Jonas Jerebko had drawn contact and gone down in a heap, with others then falling on top of him. He arose clutching his right arm and, indeed, when Kander took him to the training room he was under the impression it was to address an elbow injury that in itself would have been serious injury to keep him out of the lineup for a matter of weeks.
But when Jerebko mentioned to Kander that his ankle “felt a little funny,” too, alarms went off. Sure enough, Kander knew enough from his initial diagnosis that the Achilles tendon, if not severed, was damaged severely enough to require surgery. Jerebko’s second season, if not wiped out, was at least going to be seriously curtailed.
For a 23-year-old who had moved seamlessly from one sports season to the next in Sweden and never endured anything approaching serious injury, it was foreign territory – surgery, rehab and the numbing absence of competition.
“He’s never had an injury, always been real durable,” said Chris, whose own basketball past and multiple knee and ankle surgeries made him a credible source for feedback and advice. “If you haven’t had any down time previously, you don’t know what it’s all about. It was a learning experience, nothing else.”
Chris and Elaine made the trek across the Atlantic to spend two weeks with Jonas after surgery to help take care of him as he learned to get around and make do for himself. After that, it gave the Jerebkos great comfort to know that Kander and his family adopted Jonas, who moved in with them for several weeks for convenience and so Kander could better oversee his rehabilitation.
“The Kander family has been really nice to us,” Chris said. “Arnie and Jonas, they have a good relationship with each other. He listens to Arnie and Arnie has a lot of good things to say.”
Every three weeks or so, Chris would give Kander a call to check on the status of Jonas’ recovery. He would hear Jonas’ perspective more frequently, of course, but from Kander would get reports on Jonas’ emotional state as he coped with his relative isolation from competition.
And through those conversations, it became clear to Chris before it was to Jonas that it was unlikely he would play at all this season.
“Right around the All-Star break, I knew he was not going to play. Arnie and I had been discussing it. (Jonas) didn’t know that then, either. I think Arnie knew all along that he probably wouldn’t be playing, but keeping him mentally ready to play would be a big part of it. Him really, really going at it so he could play was a big part of the process in rehab.”
While no one would portray missing a full season to injury as a net positive for either Jerebko or the Pistons, it doesn’t mean the news is all bad. In his absence, Austin Daye got more minutes than he otherwise might have, and Jerebko was able to devote months to adding strength to his frame to better withstand the rigors of playing power forward, the position where the Pistons have a greater need.
“I’m saying he’s going to be back 110 percent of what he was,” Chris said. “You’re going to see him bigger and stronger after the drills he’s been doing and all the rehab and the way he’s been working at it. He’s put on 15 pounds of muscle. He’s up to about 240 and looks really chiseled. When the leg gets stronger, and the right leg gets up to par with the left, I don’t think you’re going to see anything that gives you a sign he’s not ready to play. He wants to play. It’s going to be interesting to watch.”
Had the season played out according to plan, Jerebko would have built on an impressive rookie season, scored a quick new contract from the Pistons as a restricted free agent and again led the Swedish national team in European summer play. But the injury, the potential for an NBA work stoppage with the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement on July 1 and the likelihood that Jerebko will be without a contract when the Swedish national team takes the court in August makes it doubtful he’ll be representing his national team this summer.
“I don’t think he’ll end up playing with the national team,” Chris said. “The national team naturally wants him to play because he’s the main draw. But because of the injury, we’re going to take each day as it comes and each month as it comes. But the contract situation, and with everything going on around the team and with the league, I don’t think he’ll end up playing.”
As for his NBA future?
“The (Pistons have) taken really good care of him and he’s got a lot of contacts now,” Chris said. “He’s put some roots down and he likes Detroit a lot. He knows Detroit and I think the fans appreciate him and what he brings. It’s a preference for him. He’s looking forward to playing again and if it’s Detroit, it’s going to be a great situation for him.”