By John Denton Jan. 25, 2018
ORLANDO – Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic recently passed a big milestone in the rehabilitation of his fractured left hand. Even though that threshold doesn’t involve shooting or dribbling a basketball, it might go a long way in making sure the 7-footer is sharp physically and mentally when he returns to game action in the coming weeks.
With the bulky cast off his hand, Vucevic isn’t just allowed to play video games again; doctors are encouraging him to do so because the activity of manipulating the controller should help improve the strength and flexibility quicker.
``They said anything where I’m using the hand – even playing video games – will be good for it, so I’m doing it,’’ said Vucevic, who broke the second metacarpal near his index finger on Dec. 23 and had surgery three days later.
There also could be another perk to Vucevic immersing himself in video-game favorites such as Football Manager 2018 and Call of Duty. Some recent studies have shown that playing video games helps with not only hand-eye coordination, but also aids athletes in keeping their competitive edge sharp. The Boston Celtics have reportedly had injured forward Gordon Hayward competing online in virtual-reality games as a way to motivate and cultivate his recovery from a gruesome ankle injury. Vucevic believes that such a practice could aid him as well as his hand injury has kept him away from the sport that he loves for more than a month.
``At first, I couldn’t play (video games) for a long time), and I just started back playing last week,’’ Vucevic said. ``I have this game that I play on my computer, Football Manager, where I’m the manager of a team and that definitely gets me motivated. I really get into it and you can just ask (teammate) Evan (Fournier), who sits next to me on the plane. He sees me getting mad.
``I think (playing video games) is not a bad idea at all,’’ Vucevic continued. ``Video games are obviously a big part of today’s world, especially with us younger guys in the NBA who grew up around them. When we play them with our friends, we always want to win, so it does help with that competitive edge, for sure.’’
Whatever it takes, the Magic hope that they can get Vucevic – their third-leading scorer (17.4 ppg.), their top rebounder (9.3 rpg.) and someone averaging a career high in assists (3.3 apg.) – back as soon as possible to avoid nights like Tuesday. Despite coming into the night off a stretch where it had beaten Minnesota and Boston and having pushed Cleveland to the brink, Orlando was sloppy with the ball and sluggish on defense. The end result was a 105-99 loss to the Kings that Orlando coach Frank Vogel still hasn’t gotten over.
``I don’t think we brought the necessary fight in the Sacramento game. There was a dramatic difference (between) the Boston game and that’s disappointing,’’ Vogel said following Thursday’s practice. ``My response is to get back to work. … We’ve got to decide whether we want to be a winning team or not.’’
The Magic (14-33) will get a chance to prove themselves once again on Saturday when they face newly minted all-star guard Victor Oladipo and the Pacers in Indiana. Orlando will have a decided rest advantage as it will have been off for three days, while the Pacers play LeBron James and the slumping Cavaliers in Cleveland on Friday prior to returning to Indiana for Saturday’s game. Orlando knows full well not to put too much stock into that theory as Sacramento was also playing on the second night of a back-to-back before beating the Magic.
Vucevic and fellow injured Magic players Terrence Ross (knee sprain) and Jonathan Isaac (ankle rehabilitation) won’t be available to play in Indiana, but they are back around the team doing conditioning drills, attending meetings and staying close with their teammates. Vogel found a unique way to make Ross – who only recently rejoined the team after injuring his knee on Nov. 29 – feel a part of things during a practice drill.
``I try to talk to them every day and we had a situation where I put Terrence into a free throw shooting contest (with the team) last week,’’ Vogel said. ``We’ve got Vooch back with us doing the conditioning drills now, so we try to keep those guys involved as much as we can. With them travelling now, it’s lot easier to do.’’
Vucevic admitted in the days after the surgery to repair the fractured bone in his hand he was a bit lost because he didn’t have the usual structure that basketball provides. While he had some pain from the approximately five-inch incision to his hand, the lonely feeling of isolation caused a difference sort of soreness.
``In season, and on game days, you are so used to shoot-around, going back home to eat lunch and sleep and then coming back to the arena for the game. Or you come and practice and then you rest,’’ Vucevic said. ``But (after surgery) I would wake up and ask, `What do I do?’ And I really couldn’t do anything because I had to rest the hand. … Then, you watch the game on TV and you don’t even feel a part of the team because you’re not there. It’s not easy.’’
Ross and Vucevic said teammates started a group chat back in October called, ``It’s Just Us,’’ and the team uses it as a way to build team chemistry and keep injured players in the loop.
Said Ross of the team’s group chat: ``The coaches don’t even know about it. But we’re always chatting and talking about anything funny that happened there.’’
Vucevic has been allowed to resume some light shooting and dribbling drills, but his hand isn’t strong enough yet to palm a basketball with his left hand. Also, there is still some discomfort when he catches passes thrown to him.
He said being unable to play basketball – a sport he’s practically been around since birth as his father played professionally in Belgium and Switzerland most of his childhood – has reminded him about how much he loves the game.
``It’s very tough to sit on the sideline and, for me, it’s never been this long (missing games),’’ said Vucevic, who is the longest-tenured player on the Magic at six seasons. ``Just watching the games, it’s like, `Oh, I want to be out there.’ Even practices, I want to be out there competing with the guys. In a way, it takes a toll on you mentally, not being able to be out there.
``But hopefully it won’t be too much longer and I’m getting closer each day. That keeps me motivated and working hard. I just want to get back out there and help the team.’’
In the meantime, Vucevic will have his video games with which to maneuver his injured hand and to use as a means to keep his competitive edge sharp. Fournier, Vucevic’s closest friend on the team, scoffs at his buddy’s love for the Football Manager game, but he’s all for him playing it if it gets him back on the floor sooner.
``He wins every time, so I really don’t like that game,’’ Fournier joked. ``He’s basically a coach in the game or like a General Manager. He controls the subs and makes trades, but I don’t like it. Vooch isn’t back playing (with the Magic), but at least he’s with us and I like that.’’
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