Magic Rookie Says Playing Again This Season Possible

by John Denton

ORLANDO – Unable to do much of anything the past 12 days because of a stress fracture in his left tibia, Orlando Magic rookie center Mo Bamba has had to do a lot of watching and one of the things he’s seen has been the rapidly blossoming success of teammate Jonathan Isaac.

Soon, Bamba hopes to recreate those successes for himself after patiently working his way through his own injury the way Isaac did a year ago when his rookie season was marred by a series of ankle issues.

``What people don’t see with J.I. was his demeanor off the court and what he was doing (last summer) to get back to it,’’ Bamba said of his teammate, who set career highs in scoring (20 points) and rebounds (13 boards) in recent games. ``Doing treatment, totally focusing on his treatment, being transparent with how (Isaac) was feeling, it’s something that you want to – I don’t want to compare myself – but I want to try and emulate his successes.’’

Bamba, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, hasn’t played since Jan. 31. He was held out of action just prior to a home game on Feb. 2 when he felt pain in his left shin area. Then, on Feb. 5 it was determined that Bamba has a stress fracture in his tibia.

Because Bamba alerted the team upon first feeling pain and the Magic’s medical staff caught the injury early, the 7-footer was able to avoid surgery. A week ago, in New York, he underwent a procedure where he received an injection to strengthen the weakened spot in his left leg.

In a walking boot and on crutches for at least another week, Bamba said the Magic have crafted a plan to bring him along slowly and not rush him back to the floor until he’s fully healthy. He has not given up hope just yet of getting back into action again this season – if his health allows it.

``It’s not nearly as bad as people think (upon seeing the walking boot and crutches),’’ Bamba said with a laugh. ``Right now, it’s two weeks with no weight-bearing with the boot and crutches. Then, the liberty of playing for this organization, is not being rushed back to playing. So, we’re going to go as the bone heals.

``I don’t think (playing again this season) is necessarily off the board,’’ Bamba added. ``It’s definitely something that keeps you going. Who knows, hopefully I’ll be able to finish the season off. But I’m just kind of going as it is and going with the game plan that has been put in front of me.’’

In 47 games this season, Bamba has averaged 6.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and a team-best 1.36 blocked shots. Owner of the longest wingspan in NBA history – 7 feet and 10 inches – the 7-foot, 221-pound Bamba has scored in double figures 10 times, grabbed 10-or-more rebounds three times and blocked two-or-more shots 19 times.

Bamba, 20, has worked throughout this season to add weight and strength that should help him better compete defensively and in the post. Now, that he is out of action for the foreseeable future, Bamba said he can turn more of his focus to bettering his body so that he is more physically ready for the rigors of the NBA.

``You’re not happy that you’re not playing, but I’m happy that I’ll get the chance to really better myself in season,’’ he said. ``Right now, we have a whole game plan in the weight room. If you look on the (grease) board in (the weight room) it says, `Swole Bamba.’

``It’s just about getting my nutrition to where it needs to be, lifting consistently and hard and heavy about four or five days a week, doing core work in between, getting treatment and studying the game,’’ he added.

Magic coach Steve Clifford dealt with a similar scenario with a young player back in the 2015-16 season when he was coaching in Charlotte. That season, forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist missed all but seven games because of a shoulder injury. Clifford had Kidd-Gilchrist chart defensive plays during games, watch film with the team and meet regularly with coaches to discuss what he had learned while watching.

Clifford has already shared that plan with Bamba.

``It’s about staying plugged in with our coaching staff,’’ Bamba said. ``Coach Cliff, (on Wednesday), I was leaving the facility and he said, `Listen, this is the game plan now.’ We’re going to sit down after All-Star break and we’re going to learn everybody’s tendencies.’’

The analytical type who likes to ask questions and observe situations from all angles, Bamba worked with Magic High Performance Director David Tenny, Athletic Trainer/Manual Therapist Aki Tajima, Physical Therapist Sameer Mehta, Business Manager Greer Love and the Magic front office to develop a case study of players who had suffered tibial stress fractures. He liked the results that were found.

``In our case study, we found that of the 25 guys (with tibial stress fractures), 24 of those guys never saw a reoccurrence of this injury. So, I like my chances with the protection from the injection,’’ Bamba said.

He stressed that he feels lucky to play for a Magic organization that cares for his health and isn’t rushing him back to the court. After talking to many of the players in his draft class, he is well aware that it isn’t always like that among other teams in the NBA. Bamba said he considers himself lucky to be playing for a Magic organization that cares so deeply for the well-being of their players.

``The steps that were laid out says a lot about how well this organization is run and how much they are looking after me,’’ he added. ``Everyone in this organization, literally from ownership to our cleaning people, (have offered support). It’s been a blessing because in some organizations, that’s not the case.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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