On Monday morning, Ryan Anderson rejoined several of his New Orleans Pelicans teammates in basketball-related activities for the first time since Jan. 3, when an on-court collision with Boston’s Gerald Wallace ended Anderson’s 2013-14 season. That was seven-plus months ago, but at times this offseason, it felt like much longer to the 26-year-old power forward, who’d never been sidelined from athletics for such a lengthy period.
“It was the worst, sitting out for a long time,” Anderson said of his extended hiatus. “Even in the summer, I couldn’t do anything. The hardest part for me was not being around the guys, being at home and having nothing to do all day. I’m used to at least getting in the gym, working out or running. I couldn’t do really any of that. I had to stay put and rest and heal. I had to wait for my body to heal. It was tough. It was really tough during that time.”
Thankfully, after what’s been an unimaginably difficult past 12 months for Anderson, he’s back in Pelicans practice gear and expects to be 100 percent around the start of training camp Sept. 29. The 6-foot-9, 240-pounder received clearance last week to return to the hardwood, though he’s a few weeks away from being allowed to play in pickup games, due to the potential short-term risk to his fused herniated disc.
“I can do everything with the guys as far as shooting workouts, drills, weights and conditioning,” Anderson said. “I just can’t play five-on-five or (even) one-on-one basketball. My disc is fused, which is good, but if I take the risk of getting hit too soon, it just wouldn���t be a good thing. I have a few more weeks, so training camp I’ll be ready to go all out. I just can’t wait to play contact basketball again. I can’t wait for that day. Until then I want to build up strength, get stronger and really work on my conditioning, and get back to normal.”
Over a 22-game span last season prior to the accidental collision with Wallace, the six-year NBA veteran played some of the best basketball of his career, averaging 19.8 points while shooting 40.9 percent from three-point range and 95.2 percent at the foul line. All three of those statistics were career highs for the University of California product. New Orleans went 12-10 in Anderson’s 22 games, including 7-3 at home, highlighted by victories over Portland and Memphis.
“Last year was just fun basketball for me,” Anderson said, before alluding to the August 2013 death of his girlfriend, Gia Allemand. “It was a hectic year, just a crazy, nuts, wild summer. Coming back, it really sort of gave me that passion, drive and that love for basketball again, because it was really just a place I could kind of escape to. I was excited to get on the court every day, because it was something that I knew. It’s really the only thing I know. It was really fun to play in those games… I was just really confident. I shot the ball with confidence. My teammates and the coaches gave me a lot of confidence.”
Anderson’s Jan. 3 injury was quickly followed by two more key Pelicans season-ending injuries, to starting point guard Jrue Holiday and center Jason Smith. New Orleans (34-48 in 2013-14) dropped 19 of its next 27 games, essentially ending any realistic hope of playoff contention in the brutal Western Conference.
“You could see the chemistry we were building,” Anderson said of NOLA’s improving play leading up to the trio of devastating injuries. “We had such a young group, (with) all of these new guys together. (You knew) it’s going to take some time and I think we built that chemistry. I’m just really excited to see everyone healthy and see how good we can be. We had so many injuries, it was impossible to tell how good this team really can be. When we were together, we had a winning record, had one of the best offenses in the NBA. It was just exciting. It was fun. I think people should be really excited for this year.”
Anderson added that his return to the court has been aided by recent interactions he’s had in New Orleans and with Pelicans fans in various ways, including on social media. He said he’s using that support as additional motivation this fall.
Anderson: “People have been awesome to me. I just walk around town and feel like a normal guy, (but) the moments I get people saying something, it’s generally that they’re real excited to have you back and hope you’re feeling better. I get comments on Twitter, asking how I’m doing. It motivates me. It’s pretty awesome to know that people even care, or have been following me on Twitter and Instagram, (which have been) showing my recovery process.”