There are still more than two weeks until the 2004 NBA Draft, but not only do the Seattle SuperSonics already know who their top rookie will be next season, he is already toiling away at the team's practice facility.
Collison spent the season taking notes from veterans like Ray Allen.
That player is forward Nick Collison
, the Sonics 12th pick last June who missed the entire 2003-04 season after undergoing surgery on both shoulders.
It has been more than eight months since Collison last participated in live basketball, but he is making progress in his rehab effort and nearing a return to the court. Near the end of May, Collison was cleared to resume shooting and lifting weights with his right shoulder, the one operated on more recently. Another doctor's appointment is scheduled for June 28, when Collison will learn whether he will be able to join the Sonics summer league team in Salt Lake City for Rocky Mountain Revue action.
"We'll see what he says," said Collison, "but he's not going to clear me unless he feels that I'm totally 100%, because there's no sense in sitting out a year and then coming back too early for summer league and getting hurt. But if I'm ready to go I want to play. I don't know what the chances are, but I feel good, so hopefully I'll be able to play."
A reporter who met with him last week can testify to how hard Collison is working to rehabilitate his shoulders and get back on the court. An interview was scheduled for 2:00 in the afternoon, but by the time Collison finished his work, it was after 3 p.m. Collison apologized for his tardiness, but there was no need, as his time is being put to good use.
"I get in here, usually, at around 10 or 11 and will lift weights," Collison said, asked to describe his daily schedule. "I can pretty much do everything now, it's just trying to build strength. I usually do that for around an hour, an hour and a half, and then got on the court for an hour, an hour and a half and doing a lot of shooting. They're still limiting me somewhat in how many shots I can take, but a lot of shooting, court work, some running and stuff on the court.
"Then I go in and do some range-of-motion exercises with (assistant trainer) Sheri Hedlund, who's done a great job. After I get on the court, I go in the pool, do some range-of-motion stuff in the pool. Then I usually take a shower and go in with Sheri and do more range-of-motion exercises with her, and then ice (the shoulder). It usually takes me about three to four hours each day."
Inevitably, missing what should have been his rookie season and rehabbing instead of playing has been frustrating at times for Collison. However, he continues to put in the work because he realizes that how well he rehabilitates now will not only determine how effective he is next season, but also throughout his NBA career.
So far, so good.
"I'm not where I would be if I had been playing all year, but I'm surprised at how well my shot has felt, coming back," said Collison. "It's only been two weeks since I was cleared to play, and I already feel pretty confident in my shot. I don't feel like I have all my timing and I still get tired, I'm not in as good shape as I will be, but I'm real pleased with where I'm at right now."
Sitting out has also helped Collison to gain appreciation for his opportunity to play at the game's highest level - and for substantially less prestigious aspects of the game.
"I'm real anxious," he explained. "I can't wait to play. I just can't wait to play pickup games, things like that this summer. That's one of the things, knowing what it's like not to play. Coming back, when I could first pass the ball, play catch with the ball, that was kind of exciting to me, to be able to do something on the court. I definitely don't take the game for granted anymore. I don't think I ever did too much, but I definitely love to play, and I realize that so much more after missing a year."
How Collison's game will be affected by missing the season and undergoing surgery is impossible to project, but one of the few players in recent memory to undergo a similar procedure, Chris Webber, then with the Washington Bullets, returned the following season to make his first All-Star appearance.
Sonics management has been extremely supportive of Collison throughout his rehab process, and it appears he will be given every opportunity to earn the starting power forward job next season.
"I think they're expecting me to help the team," Collison said. "I think we definitely need help inside and rebounding, some of the things I can do. I think they're counting on me to play a role, it will be wait and see how big of a role, no one knows yet."
That line of thinking matches up well with Collison's own expectations. While humble, he is confident in his ability to help the team.
"I feel like I'm going to definitely be one of the main guys on the team," said Collison. "I feel I can help the team a lot of different ways and I expect to make an impact. It's tough to say numbers-wise or minutes-wise, how much I want to play or make goals that way, but I know in my head I'm going to be a guy who's important to winning and someone who's going to stick around a long time."
Helping those expectations has been the performance of Collison's college teammate, Kirk Hinrich. As a rookie with the Chicago Bulls, Hinrich averaged 12.0 points and 6.8 assists per game while earning raves for his intangibles. Hinrich ended up on the NBA's All-Rookie First Team and was picked Bulls Player of the Year.
"I knew he'd do well," said Collison. "I was real happy for him. I thought he did great, obviously, but it gives me a little more confidence because I know I can do a lot of the same things he did."
And he can't wait to get the opportunity to prove that for certain.