Bucks center moving forward – Part II
Bogut rising above latest adversity strike
By Truman Reed
"He's also pretty athletic for his size" All-Star Dirk Nowitzki said. "He can get up. He can block shots. I'm a big fan of his game."
Andrew Bogut has called himself an "average student" when reflecting upon his boyhood years in the classroom.
When the subject turned to basketball, though, Bogut became a studious dude - one who embraced the game's fundamentals and toiled long hours to learn and perfect them.
Before he even reached his teens, Bogut became known for venting his anger on the court when his team wasn't playing the game the right way.
There have been plenty of times since then that Bogut has been grateful for the basketball fundamentals he was taught at a young age, and he hasn't forgotten them.
He is also glad that he committed himself to being a well-rounded player rather than a one-dimensional post because he happened to be stationed at the position when he began playing the game.
Bogut developed into a third-team all-NBA selection in his fifth year as a pro in 2009-10, but along the way, he encountered some serious adversity that would force him to rely more heavily than ever on the skills he learned as a boy.
During the Bucks' April 3, 2010 game against the Phoenix Suns, Bogut sustained a dislocated right elbow,sprained right wrist and broken right hand when he crashed to the Bradley Center court after a breakaway dunk.
He missed the team's final six regular-season games and its entire first-round playoff series against Atlanta - Milwaukee's first playoff foray since 2006, Bogut's rookie season.
Bogut was there to support his Bucks teammates as they pushed the Hawks to seven games, but once they were eliminated, his focus became his rehabilitation - not an easy mission for someone who had grown accustomed to being on the basketball court pretty much year-round.
He had experienced injury and rehab before, primarily during bouts with back spasms. But that was nothing like this.
"I had to put in the time and effort to do my rehab properly," Bogut said. "You have to heal and get better. This was more frustrating than with my back. With my back, I knew I was going to get stronger as I worked on my core strength.
"This was more frustrating because I was having to live with one arm for weeks at a time. I couldn't even use a computer nor do a lot of other things. It was tough. You learn how to adapt, though, and you have to be patient."
When Bogut returned to Milwaukee from a summer of rest, relaxation and rehab in his native Australia, his recovery process was still in progress.
"It might take six to 12 months before I don't even think about it again," Bogut said at the time. "That will take some time. I'll be playing through that. They say it takes six to 12 months before you're totally pain-free with injuries like mine. I'm at about five months now. When I talk to you next year at this time, I should have it in the rear-view mirror."
Bogut wasn't dealing with a lot of significant restrictions, but was still having to bide his time.
"I can pretty much do everything right now," he said. "I just can't get up a lot of shots, let's say 400, in one period of time at the moment. I can maybe get up one or two hundred and then I get fatigued. I have to be careful about not overdoing things.
"But as far as scrimmaging and lifting weights, there hasn't been anything I can't do."
As camp, the preseason and the first 30 games of the regular season unfolded, Bogut continued to cope with his recovery and the on-court adjustments that he learned would go with it.
After one game, with an ice bag strapped to his right arm, he was asked how the arm felt.
"It's OK, but it's not great," he responded. "It's something I think I'm going to have to deal with all year. It's frustrating. But it is what it is. I'm not going to be in a position where I can do a lot with my right arm all season. I've just got to keep trying to get therapy.
"It's hard to get better when you're playing four times a week, banging around against grown men that are physically imposing. That's the first hurdle. The second hurdle is it's only been less than a year since I was injured, so I guess I'm going to have to try to play through this season and then try to give it a rest during the summer."
Through Milwaukee's first 30 contests, Bogut was averaging 13.8 points, 11.6 rebounds and remarkably, a league-leading 2.8 blocks per game.
He has been forced to rely more than ever, particularly when shooting, on his left (off) hand - a skill that he began developing as a youngster. In retrospect, he considers himself fortunate that he hammered that fundamental into his repertoire.
"Yeah, definitely," Bogut said. "It definitely helps to have that weapon.
"My right's getting a little better, but it's not where it needs to be. I'm glad I'm ambidextrous on the court."
One of Bogut's peers - one who also developed extraordinary fundamental skills as a youngster growing up outside of North America - has followed Bogut's pre- and post-injury career with both interest and admiration.
"Since he came into the NBA, he has always played well against us," said Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, a nine-time NBA All-Star who recently passed Larry Bird to become the league's 25th all-time leading scorer. "He has a great touch around the rim with his right hook and left hook.
"I was obviously very sad to see his injury last year. That was painful to watch. I'm happy to see he's back and playing well again."
Nowitzki was impressed with Bogut's advanced skill set from the first year he entered the league. He has enjoyed watching him sharpen those skills and develop new ones.
"He's very developed," Nowitzki said. "There aren't a lot of big guys in this league who can finish with both hands. That's something he's taken to another level. He has amazing hands and touch. He's also had that little 15- or 16-footer where you have to go out there and guard him."
Due in part to a litany of injuries, the Bucks haven't achieved the success this season that they did during the second half of the 2009-10 campaign, but they have accomplished something that no other team in the league has. With their 99-87 victory over Dallas on Jan. 1 at the Bradley Center, they have beaten the 24-8 Mavericks twice.
In the process, Bogut continued to leave a strong impression on Nowitzki - and not just with his fundamentals.
"He's also pretty athletic for his size" Nowitzki said. "He can get up. He can block shots. I'm a big fan of his game. I'm glad to see that his injury wasn't career-ending.
"Ever since he came into the league, he's always been a tough guy down low who can rebound and finish. His defense is good. He's been up there among the top three or five among shot-blockers in the league. He's become a great player. He's fun to watch."
Bogut totaled 21 points and 14 rebounds in Milwaukee's 103-99 triumph at Dallas on December 13. With Dallas employing a lot of sagging zone defense for the teams' January 1 rematch in Brewtown, Bogut collected eight points and eight rebounds, but found other ways to contribute, blocking three shots and handing out five assists.
His performance didn't go unnoticed by his coach, Scott Skiles.
"He's one of our most important players," Skiles said afterward. "He always has been. He didn't really get as many opportunities tonight because they were sitting in that zone. Then when we went to him, they were doubling him hard. But he made a couple of nice plays out of that."
One of the four field goals Bogut did make was a 15-foot baseline jump shot that gave Milwaukee an 85-78 lead with 7 minutes, 38 seconds to play. The sight was a welcome one for Skiles.
"There's no reason why he can't make that shot," Skiles said. "He made that shot at Utah. He makes it for the Australian National Team. He makes it in practice. We've seen it many times."
"When he's faced-up like that with nobody around him, he's got a decent stroke right there. He should take more of those."
If that sounds like a mission, expect Andrew Bogut to do everything he can to accomplish it.