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Bucks' Parker patiently waits return to full-time duty

Second year player making strides in rehab of repaired knee

POSTED: Oct 9, 2015 11:42 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


Bucks Training Camp: Parker And Carter-Williams

Jabari Parker and Michael Carter-Williams join the set to about a great season last year and looking forward to the 2015-16 season.

— Patience would seem in shorter supply now, the longer Jabari Parker spends testing, rehabbing and generally doting on his left knee and the closer he and the Milwaukee Bucks get to having that injury/surgery/recovery spill into his second NBA season.

When you're 20 years old, waiting for anything -- like, say, turning 21 and the grown-up world that allegedly opens up to you -- can be an ordeal. Now add in and withhold the game Parker loves, the career interrupted when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee, the Rookie of the Year award essentially gifted to Minnesota's Andrew Wiggins at that point and Milwaukee's surprising 2014-15 season, so much of that fun merely witnessed in street clothes, and you'd expect the kid to be tapped out.

Instead of climbing walls at the Bucks' practice facility south of Milwaukee, though, Parker just stood against one and outlined his vision with a thousand game stare.

"I'm looking long-term," said the product of Chicago's Simeon High and Duke University, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 Draft. "I really don't want to risk coming back and lingering on if I'm not ready. I just want to be as productive as possible. There's no use in me playing if I can't contribute the way I want to."

It's becoming increasingly apparent Parker won't be ready to handle a full-time role when the Bucks open their season Oct.28 against New York at Bradley Center. He participated in a public scrimmage the team had last week, driving for a dunk the first time he got the ball, but Parker did not play in Milwaukee's preseason opener Tuesday at Chicago and isn't expected to be on the court Saturday to face Detroit at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Parker won't hit the one-year anniversary of his injury until Dec. 15, when Milwaukee heads to the West Coast for a four-game trip against the Lakers, Clippers, Warriors and Suns. And he actually had his ACL surgery on Jan. 5, by which point this season will be almost halfway done.

The 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward is ahead of schedule in some ways in the work he can do, and he looks to be in legitimate NBA shape now compared to in his curtailed involvement last autumn. But the conventional wisdom throughout the league -- even injured mascots get told this -- is that it takes a full calendar year following surgery to regain one's capabilities, full range of movement and confidence in the knee.

The Bucks won't rush to any judgments or responsibilities before that, regardless of how much or how little Parker participates.

"We don't know," coach Jason Kidd said when asked about a timetable. "We're going to take it week by week -- for us, it's day by day but at the end of the week we'll see how he feels. We'll continue to keep with the game plan of loading and giving him more things to do, and see how his body responds to it. So far his body has been great."

Mentally and emotionally -- areas that can be especially trying for a young player who is hurt, that feeling of disconnectedness from his teammates -- allegedly never has been an issue for Parker. Kidd credits the player's family, former NBA forward Sonny Parker and his wife, for the way they raised and support him.

It helps, too, that Parker seems mature and calm for his age, and did what he could to stay involved by attending all of Milwaukee home games and home practices, in and around his rehab. The other Bucks player did what they could, too, to keep Parker from drifting.

"Jabari was around the whole year," Khris Middleton said. "Knowing the type of guy he is, he's a team-first guy. He just wants to play his game and fit in with everybody else, and win basketball games and make the playoffs. You just have to give him time. Coach is going to work him back in there. I mean, he's been working his ass off all summer long."

Said Kidd: "For us it was about including him last year and making sure he was around, and not excluding him. Hopefully that helped make the adjustment for him coming back, knowing his guys not just on the floor but off the floor. The connection doesn't change."

Parker's primary connection for several long months was with Suki Hobson, the team's strength and conditioning coach who put him through his rehab paces. What used to be a daily grind with her on a zero-gravity treadmill and through various drills and exercises has simmered now into weekly check-ins. He has taken over the management role.

"It's how I feel at the end of the day," Parker said. "She pretty much says, whenever I want to go, just give her an idea and go from there. She just observes, sees how I do."

Parker has been through this sort of thing before. In fact, he made his latest injury sound routine compared to what he went through, psychologically, after breaking his right foot in July 2012 playing for Team USA in the FIBA under-17 world tournament. His senior season in high school and everything that has followed were, for a while, seemingly in jeopardy.

"I've gotten hurt before on a more radical level," he said Thursday. "It was earlier in my life where I needed basketball as a tool to get out. That was the most difficult part of my life. So this was pretty much easier [to handle].

"Nah, I never questioned myself. Never had a second thought in my mind. I made my mind up early. So I just accepted my life when I got hurt. And I went on from there. There was never any pessimism in my life."

If that sounds like the words of a young man who's had a spiritual awakening, well, it's a fact that Parker, accompanied by Hobson, when on a Bucks-underwritten trip to Peru in August. He hadn't traveled with the team to London for its game against New York last January, held the week after his surgery, so both he and management thought a getaway would be good for him. The mountains through which they hiked were good for his knee, but it was more than that.

"It was important that I went, just to get a different scenery, just to get away for a minute," Parker said. "I wanted to take a trip, challenge myself mentally, physically. I got a chance to get a sense of gratitude for my life."

So now Parker's got that going for him, too.

When he does get into games in the preseason and early in 2015-16, Parker's minutes will be monitored. Meanwhile, the ground will have shifted beneath him. When he went down, the Bucks were off to what many folks considered a nice but unsustainable start, no more, no less. They were better -- surpassing before New Year's the 15 games they'd won in all of 2013-14 -- but there was so much youth and newness, the Larry Sanders meltdown, a midseason trade and so on.

Now? Milwaukee is legit, a consensus playoff team, salty and smarter after its first-round elimination vs. Chicago, amped by good basketball and business (new arena) news throughout the organization. If the Bucks' 26-victory improvement wasn't impressive enough, they snagged one of the biggest "gets" of free agency when former Detroit bit man Greg Monroe turned down the Knicks and the Lakers to sign with their former fly-over franchise.

Soon they will have Parker back, which is like getting the No. 2 pick in the Draft all over again. He averaged 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 49 percent in his 25 games, and isn't planning to go backwards. Nor is he burning, however, to prove anything about his game.

"Um uh. Nah," Parker said. "I just want to see my team do well and I just want to play my part."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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