Barton's Back: The Nuggets Starter Makes Long-Awaited Return from Injury
As the days and weeks wore on, the memory of the actual moment Will Barton was injured eventually faded.
“In the beginning, I did (think about it) a lot,” said Barton in an interview with Altitude Sports. “Just because, it was so early in the season and it happened so fast. I was so excited to be playing. And even though it was a short window, I was playing well and the team was playing well. It’s like ‘man, as soon as things started going good everything is snatched away.’ But now it’s been awhile … I don’t think about it too much, not that moment anyway.”
And, why should he?
The Thrill is back.
Barton is back in uniform with the Nuggets after missing 38 games due to a hip/core injury that he suffered second game of the season, on Oct. 20, against Phoenix. There is symmetry to his return – against the team he was injured. That is not lost on the ever-attentive and thoughtful Barton.
But being back on the court period is the biggest thing. Barton began this season as a full-time starter for the first time in his still-young career. And he was out of the gate quickly. He’d scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting in just 19 minutes in the game in which he was injured. In a game and a half, Barton was shooting 57 percent from the field overall and 55 percent from the 3-point line.
He was on fire. He’d like to pick up right where he left off.
“Very excited,” Barton said. “I hate being away from the game. And seeing us have so much success, you just want to be a part of it and in the fight with your brothers.”
The Nuggets went 25-12 without him, and that, Barton said, brought him peace of mind.
“It made it easier for me,” he said. “That way, I wasn’t worried about rushing to get back on the floor, trying to play when I’m not 100 percent or really ready to be myself. So, guys out there taking care of business really made things easier for me.”
And that was key, because the rehab was difficult.
“It seems like I’ve come so far,” Barton said. “I had surgery, and after that surgery you really can’t do much. You can’t lift, you can’t run, you can’t jump. Those first couple of weeks, first couple of days, you can’t really do nothing. You’re just there. It still hurts. The incision still hurts. It’s kind of tough.
“Then you get back to walking, and being comfortable doing some things you were accustomed to doing – as far as your everyday life. You get through that and then you start making steps. Being able to run a little bit and jump a little bit and slide a little bit. And you start feeling, ‘I’m getting closer and closer to being able to workout.’ Now, I’m working out and I’m feeling good. Then the next step is getting back on that court.”
Barton had a circle of friends and family always there to support his journey back to the court. He also had to look within himself, stay positive, and take heart in each step that got him closer to returning to action.
“Every day I tried to find any kind of little small win to help me process everything and to stay motivated and to keep me happy because I hate being away from the game,” Barton said. “I hate not being able to play and compete. So, it’s easy for me to get down on myself. But I try to find the small wins, whether I’m jumping a little higher or feel myself getting stronger. Or I’m sliding more. Anything I’m able to do physically more than I did yesterday then it’s always a win.”
And staying around the team was a must.
“I needed it,” he said. “I needed for my mental. Just to still feel connected to the game, to feel connected to my teammates and the organization; not feel left out, not feeling sorry for myself. I needed that team camaraderie – the joking, the laughing, the smiling. Being able to give advice to my teammates. And getting better mentally – watching games, seeing where I can improve on, what not to do when I get back out there on the court. So, it was very valuable for me to travel and be around the team.
“I remember (after) one of the road trips I missed, coach (Michael Malone) told (director of sports medicine) Steve Short, ‘Will has to be on the road. He’s one of the biggest voices in the locker room, and we need him around; just his spirit and to be able to talk to the guys.’ And it made me feel real good. It made me still feel valuable to the team.”
Now, that value isn’t just in spirit or words. Barton’s back in a uniform.
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter