Because even though the tendon itself was completely healed by the time the Pistons gathered for a belated training camp in December, the time spent rehabbing the injury robbed Jerebko of an off-season to work on both his body and his game.
So this summer, it’s full speed ahead on both counts.
“For 18 months, I’ve been working on building this,” he says, grabbing his injured right leg, “up to this,” touching his left. “Now that I’m there, I can start working on getting stronger and on my game – handle, shot.”
Those are the two points of emphasis for Jerebko this summer in skills work – ballhandling and shooting, ballhandling to get him to favorable spots and shooting from all angles and ranges, expanding on a versatility that could be his ticket to a greater role as he develops among a young Pistons core.
Jerebko started training camp at a robust 235 pounds but couldn’t maintain that level once the season started, playing in the 220s. A similar thing happened to him during his NBA rookie season, but this season his inability to maintain weight was even more pronounced because the lockout schedule left very little time for weight training.
Jerebko spent all but the final few weeks of the season playing exclusively power forward. As Charlie Villanueva worked his way back from an ankle injury and the Pistons were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, Lawrence Frank’s willingness to experiment down the stretch included a look at Jerebko at small forward.
He’s preparing to be ready to play both spots next season, he said, not worrying about adding bulk to be better equipped to defend power forwards or to focus on the perimeter skills more common to small forwards.
“I’ve got to be ready for both, so I’ve got to get my body ready for both,” he said. “My game has never been about bulk and be 250 and bang. That’s not my game, so I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and work on my game, all aspects, and be ready for the three and the four. I’ve got to know all the plays, even at the two and the five, so I’m not going to bulk up to 250 and play inside.”
He would like to get to 235 or 240, though, he said. In Italy, where he played small forward, the one-game-per-week schedule allowed him to maintain his weight at 235, Jerebko said.
Whatever it takes, the Pistons are confident Jerebko will put the work in to get there. Strength coach Arnie Kander, with whom Jerebko lived in the early weeks of his Achilles rehab, said it was his diligence that allowed for such a seamless return from a major injury.
“He’s a guy who was locked into his routines,” Kander said. “He bought into it from day one. I knew Tuesday at 9:30 what he was doing. I knew at 10 o’clock what he was doing. You knew what his routines were. The Achilles was not an issue all season long. If anything, it was his whole body just getting beat up from not playing for a whole season. He did a remarkable job to not only do well in the season but to progress as the season went along. Everyone who came up to me said, ‘Did he have surgery? What leg was it?’
“He was back in a year, but it took time. It looked like he was a little off in his game. It’s not an easy thing to come back from.”
He averaged 8.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in 23 minutes a game, shooting .468 from the floor and .806 from the line. He’d like to improve on his .302 percentage from the 3-point line.
The fact he was available for every game – Jerebko played in all but two late-season games when Frank wanted to find minutes for both Villanueva and Austin Daye – and was a part of a turnaround that saw the Pistons go 21-21 after their 4-20 start has Jerebko enthused about next season and beyond.
“We’re starting to get there,” he said. “Greg (Monroe), Brandon (Knight), me, Stuck (Rodney Stuckey) – we’ve got some good players to build off of,” he said. “It’s exciting. We finished the season playing .500 basketball after that start. We’ve just got to keep building. We can beat any team and we know that. We’ve got a bright future. We’ve got some pieces. We’re going to get a few more pieces. It’s all about team chemistry. We have to play together and that’s what we showed at the end of the season. It’s there. We just have to keep building.”
Jerebko expects to spend the bulk of his summer working with Kander and Pistons assistant coaches at the team’s practice facility, but he’s returning home to Sweden for a few weeks in July when Stuckey visits. Other than that, it will be making up for lost time.
“I couldn’t even talk to Arnie last summer (because of the lockout),” he said. “This gives me an opportunity to work with the coaches and Arnie. He wants me to work on my body and get a whole summer of work in. It was all rehab for 18 months, so it’s good to get some real work in and not have to worry about the leg.”