It’s often said that injuries are a part of professional sports. Some injuries are more untimely than others, but the reality is that there is no “good” time to endure an injury. Players are left wondering if they’ll ever to return to full strength and play at a high level again.
Patric Young was playing some of the best basketball of his career last season when he suffered a torn ACL while with Olympiacos in Greece. Young was just 10 games into the season when a player collided into his left knee, sending him crashing to the court. His season was over just as it was getting underway.
Advances have been made in recent years to improve the recovery time with ACL surgery. It’s still tough to gauge how a player will return from an injury inside of the knee. Some players have been able to come back at 100 percent as if the injury never occurred, while others have endured further complications down the line.
As devastating as an ACL injury can be, it’s important for guys to maintain a positive mindset during the rehabilitation process. It can be a very tough road back from such an injury, but players know that it can be done. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson suffered an ACL tear during the 2011 season and returned the following campaign and finished eight yards short of setting the NFL record for most rushing yards in a season.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from following Young on social media or talking to him in person is that he has a very positive attitude and demeanor. It’d be very reasonable to think that an ACL injury could impact a player in a negative way, but he maintains a great outlook on his current situation and his road back.
“The thing with having an injury like this is people don’t tell you – you already have free time as a basketball player, but you have so much more free time with an injury,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “Having people around you to keep you occupied, help you stay busy, stay positive through all of the process is everything. If you’re just thinking about things you have no control over, it’s going to eat you alive. You can’t allow that to affect the present moment that you can enjoy with your friends and family and people around you.”
The former University of Florida center was producing at a very high level prior to his injury. In 10 games in Greece, Young was averaging 9.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. He was named the Euroleague Week 1 Most Valuable Player after recording 16 points, six rebounds, four blocks, two assists and two steals.
Perhaps the biggest facet of his game that was on display was his shot-blocking ability. Through his 10 games played for Olympiacos, he recorded 16 blocks. Former sixth overall pick Ekpe Udoh set the Euroleague record for most blocks in a season at 61, a mark that Young could have flirted with had he stayed healthy.
Admittedly, there was a bit of a learning curve for Young as he transitioned to his first season with Olympiacos. He struggled at first as he got used to playing with a new group of teammates. Things like when to pick, when to roll and how to play pick-and-roll defense took time to figure out. He applied the things he learned from Billy Donovan at Florida to get on track in Greece and finally it began clicking for him.
“What I was able to do is just realize that, ‘Pat, you’re stronger than 95 percent of everyone in this league even though you’re an undersized center.’ What I was able to do is just kill people with my energy, run the floor [and] seal guys under the basket,” Young said. “I was averaging 2.6 blocks a game [in the Euroleague] as well, which is something that I’ve never been able to do in my career as far as maintaining that. Defensively, in the pick-and-roll situation and post defense, guys weren’t scoring on me so I was able to be an anchor for my team while I was on the court.”
Young has spent much of the summer back in Florida, training and continuing his rehab process. He’s mixed in trips back to his hometown of Jacksonville, returned back to Gainesville to check in on his former school and spent the past several weeks in Orlando training at TNT Elite Hoops. Wherever he’s at, he still manages to hit the weight room and stay on a pretty rigorous training schedule.
“I just love working out,” Young said. “The number one thing that I’ve learned growing up is that you can have talent, but if you don’t have a work ethic to back up that talent, it’ll only get you so far. Same with being an athlete coming to basketball; you can be an athlete in basketball and jump really high and do certain things really well or hustle, but it’s only a certain small niche of guys that can do that.
“At the top level, you need to be able to make some hook shots, be confident with the ball in your hands that you’re not going to turn it over [and] things like that. It’s important that I can build my confidence outside of just being an athlete so if that’s taken away from me, I can bring something else to the game.”
Following his four years at Florida, Young went undrafted in 2014. He played on the New Orleans Pelicans’ Summer League team that year in Las Vegas and signed a two-year contract shortly after. He went through training camp with the Pelicans and was cut shortly after the season started.
He played the rest of that season for Galatasaray in Turkey with the hope of returning to the NBA. Young averaged 9.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and .8 blocks per game in Turkey. He was set to play last year for the Los Angeles Clippers in Summer League, but was offered a two-year, $1.6 million contract by Olympiacos.
The guaranteed contract in Greece appealed to Young the most. He would have had to grind his way through Summer League, training camp and the preseason with the Clippers to have a chance in the NBA. The chances of landing a guaranteed contract in the NBA were much lower than overseas, so Young wanted to play overseas and use that as an avenue to return to the NBA.
Players are just one injury away from losing the ability to make a living, so Young went to Greece. As his ACL injury proved, anything can happen and now playing in Greece (and earning that guaranteed money) looks like a great decision.
Young is hoping that a successful season in Greece can be what’s needed to get him back in the NBA. He hopes to be a player who can come in and impact games with his ability to make hustle plays and dominate defensively in the paint. At 6’10 and 247 pounds, Young has great agility and quickness for his size, and he boasts a 7’1 wingspan.
Despite the league’s movement to more small-ball, big men in the NBA are still needed. We saw the demand this summer in free agency for big men, as players like Bismack Biyombo, Timofey Mozgov, Ian Mahinmi and Miles Plumlee were all paid handsomely even though this group of players may not be the prototypical fit best suited for the pace-and-space style that many NBA teams are using.
Most players, Young included, are using what happened this summer in free agency as motivation to get to the NBA. As he is set to enter the final year of his contract with Olympiacos this season, he wants to showcase his complete skill set and take his game to another level to have an opportunity to get back into the NBA.
“I’m not even going to say any names, you guys see the contracts that are being signed for the sub-par production of some players,” Young said. “If I can take care of my business and do my job… I pray that I can stay healthy, I have no control over that. If I can finish out a full season healthy in Europe and hopefully bring Olympiacos to the championship, then hopefully it can do me wonders to come back to the NBA.”
In the meantime, Young is busy planning the First Annual Patric Young Charity Golf Classic on August 6 in Gainesville to benefit the Stop Children’s Cancer Foundation. The organization has raised more than $6 million to help fund research at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine.
Young has donated his time to visit various children in the hospital and is excited to give back. There will be a silent auction at the tournament and among the items to bid on are an autographed pair of shoes from Anthony Davis and autographed jerseys from Chandler Parsons, Carlos Arroyo and Young.
Young will continue rehabbing his left knee in order to return to 100 percent. He’s about eight months removed from surgery and believes he’s about a month away from being cleared to play again. Once his recovering leg improves to 90 percent of the strength of his strong leg, he’ll be able to resume playing. He’ll likely return to Greece some time next month.
Fred VanVleet is Finding Success in the NBA
David Yapkowitz speaks to Toronto’s Fred VanVleet about his unheralded path to the NBA and more.
Fred VanVleet is used to being the underdog. Prior to the NBA, he spent four seasons at Wichita State, a school that hasn’t always been in the national spotlight when it comes to college basketball. Even after he finished his college career in impressive fashion, leading the Shockers to the NCAA tournament every year he was there, he went undrafted in the 2016 NBA draft.
But despite the lack of recognition from national media outlets, VanVleet always knew that he was good enough to play in the NBA. He knew that his path to the league was going to be much different than many other top prospects, but he was confident. He put his trust in NBA personnel to recognize what was right in front of them.
“If you can play, they’re gonna find you. That’s the best thing about the NBA, you can’t hide forever,” VanVleet told Basketball Insiders. “You just got to try to wait and keep grinding for the opportunity, and when it comes be ready to make the most of it and that’s what I did.”
Making the most of his opportunity is definitely what he’s done. After he went undrafted in 2016, he joined the Toronto Raptors’ summer league team in Las Vegas. He put up decent numbers to the tune of 6.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 54.5 percent shooting from the three-point line.
He also showed solid defensive potential as well as the ability to run a steady offense. The Raptors were impressed by his performance and they invited him to training camp for a chance to make the team. They already had 14 guaranteed contracts at the time and had invited five other players, in addition to VanVleet, to camp.
VanVleet did his best to stand out in training camp that year, capping off the 2016 preseason with a 31 point, five rebound, five assist performance against San Lorenzo de Almagro of Argentina. The Raptors were in need of another point guard after Delon Wright was ruled out to start the season due to an injury.
Not only did he make the Raptors’ opening night roster, but he ended up playing some big minutes for the team as the season went on. This year, he started out as the third-string point guard once again. But with another injury to Wright, he’s solidified himself as the backup point for the time being.
“You just want to grow each year and get better. I had a smaller role last year, I’m just trying to improve on that and get better,” VanVleet said. “It’s a long process, you just try to get better each game on a pretty good team, a winning team. Being able to contribute to that is what you work for.”
VanVleet’s journey to the NBA is one that is not very common anymore for players coming out of college. More and more players are opting to spend one, maybe two years at most in college before declaring for the NBA draft.
Players like VanVleet, who spend the entire four years in college, are becoming more of a rarity. Although for him, he feels like the additional time spent at Wichita State helped him make more of a seamless transition to the NBA than some of his younger peers.
“I think more so off the court than anything, just being an adult, being a grown man coming in the door,” VanVleet said. “A pro before being a pro, being able to take care of your business. Coming in every day doing your job and being able to handle the things that come with the life off the court.”
The NBA season is a long one. Teams that start out hot sometimes end up fizzling out before the season’s end. Similarly, teams that that get off to a slow start sometimes pick it up as the season progresses. The Raptors have been one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference the past couple of years and this season looks to be no different.
Even with the Boston Celtics’ hot start, the Raptors are only three games back of the top spot in the East. They’re only one game back in the loss column. There was a time when mentioning the word ‘championship’ was unheard of around this team. Things are different now.
“We’re trying to contend for a championship. Obviously, we’ve been at the top of the East for the last few years,” VanVleet said. “We’re trying to get over that hump and contend for a championship, that’s definitely our goal. It’s a long year and still pretty early, but we’re just trying to grow and build and get better each game.”
NBA DAILY: Tyrone Wallace Is Breaking Out in His Own Backyard
On his second G-Leauge team in two years, Tyrone Wallace is putting up numbers close to home, working towards his NBA shot.
Located in the heart of Southern California, Bakersfield sits just on the cusp of Los Angeles’ shadow.
In terms of size, it’s not easy to overlook this Californian destination. Bakersfield is the ninth most populated city in the state. But it doesn’t hold the glamour that its contemporary two hours south down Interstate-5 possesses. Instead, Bakersfield rests its laurels on the farming past that made it the city it has become today, with three of the four top employers in the city either being farm or produce companies.
Working for a produce company doesn’t interest Tyrone Wallace, though. He’d much rather spend his time on the hardwood. Wallace grew up in Bakersfield. He’s Bakersfield High School’s all-time leading scorer and two-time Bakersfield Californian Player of the Year.
Wallace has sown his oats with a leather ball as opposed to some vegetables.
Growing up in Bakersfield is crucial to Wallace’s story, however. On the outskirts of Los Angeles, Wallace grew up a hardcore Lakers fan, caught up in the generation of kids who idolized Kobe Bryant. It’s Kobe, and Wallace’s brother, Ryan Caroline, who led him to where he is now.
Where that is, exactly, is playing professional basketball in the NBA G-League for the Agua Caliente Clippers. About another 45 minutes down Interstate-5 from his hometown.
For Wallace, getting an opportunity to work towards his dream of playing basketball at the highest level so close to home is a blessing.
“It’s been really fun for me,” Wallace told Basketball Insiders. “You know (Bakersfield) is a smaller city, not too many guys make it out, especially for basketball. It’s more of a football city, but the support there is awesome. Everybody’s behind me you know. Good games, bad games, guys are treating me, and you know the whole city is, I feel the whole support from the city. So to be so close to home is definitely a treat. I have friends and family that will come out to our games quite often. During preseason I had friends and family come out and watch. It’s been a blessing.”
Playing in front of familiar faces isn’t new territory for Wallace. After making his mark in Bakersfield, the 6-foot-4 guard went on to play his college ball at the University of California. Amid his four years at Cal, Wallace finished first-team All-Pac 12 his junior year, along with being named a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s best point guard.
Sharing the court with the likes of other NBA players like Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb in college, Wallace joined the professional fraternity himself at the eleventh hour on draft night in 2016 when the Utah Jazz selected him 60th overall.
Pick one, or pick 60. It didn’t matter to Wallace that night in June. He was just happy to get the first chance he worked his whole life for.
“It was emotional, man,” Wallace said. “You watch everybody and see them go, I had Jaylen (Brown) earlier in the first round who I was really excited for. Just sitting there, pick after pick you’re waiting there hoping you get called. But it was a dream come true, better late than never. Very few people get the opportunity to say that they were drafted so it was emotional. But after I was finally selected, I was happy, there was tears of joy. There was a lot of family with me watching throughout and we were just sitting there hoping to be called, and it happened, so it was a dream come true.”
After being selected by the Jazz, Wallace experienced his first summer league action. His performance at the time was marginal, and didn’t warrant an invite to the big league club. Instead, Wallace found himself down in the minors for Utah, with their G-League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars.
During Wallace’s first taste of professional basketball, he displayed some flashes of why, as he put it, he was one of 60 guys drafted in 2016. His first season in the G-League was promising when he posted per game averages of 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.3 steals on 27 minutes of action a night.
Alas, that wasn’t good enough for the Jazz organization. On July 18, 2017, just over a year after being selected with the last overall pick on draft night, Utah renounced Wallace’s draft rights, leaving him free to sign with any team.
For some, being let go after what could be considered a productive developmental year may have been a derailing let down. Not Wallace, though.
“I think in every situation you always reflect,” Wallace said. “And look back and say what could I have done better, on the court or off the court. So I think you know you always do that, but I’ve always stayed confident in myself, and I believe in myself. I kinda let that as a new opportunity that I was gonna have to go somewhere else and prove that I can play, and that I can belong. So I wanted to continue. I look at everything as a chance to learn and grow so I was just excited for the new opportunity that would be coming for me.”
New opportunities did come for Wallace. More than a few actually. But it was the opportunity that allowed the California native a chance to return to the place that led him to professional basketball initially, that has really allowed the second-year guard to flourish.
On Sept. 27, Wallace inked a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. They weren’t his childhood favorite Lakers, but they were the same distance down Interstate-5 from his hometown. Most of all, they represented a chance to keep chasing his dream.
After playing in the preseason, Wallace was one of the last players cut from the NBA roster, and he again found himself in the G-League. This time with Agua Caliente.
Wallace’s second go-around in the G-League so far this season feels different than his last, though. Almost as if the comfort of playing in his own backyard, something he’s been accustomed to for the majority of his basketball life, is easing him out on the court. Whatever it is, it’s reflecting itself in his performance. This year, Wallace upped his averages from last season to 22.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and five assists per game.
“I worked really hard this summer,” Wallace said. “Just going to the gym, hitting the weight room. I don’t think I necessarily changed anything. I just think being a year in, another year of experience playing in the G-League, I think that helped within itself. Then I think the system here that we run in LA helped a lot, fits my game, more uptempo. Trying to get out on the break, a lot of pick and rolls. So I think everything just took off at once. I definitely feel like I got better in the offseason, but also just playing in this system where it helps my game.”
It’s been an interesting journey for Wallace since he left college. With the way things have shaped out, especially during this season where he seems to do no wrong on the court, it’s imperative he stays focused on his own goals. Instead of looking at others across the league who may be getting a shot he feels he deserves, Wallace wants to just “stay in my own lane.” Patience and hard work are what Wallace believe will ultimately deliver the goals he’s after.
“I know it’s coming,” he said.
When that opportunity does come, whether it’s near home in Los Angeles, or somewhere else across the country, Wallace will be happy to just be wanted. Just like the way Bakersfield has always treated him.
“Man, I’ll tell you any team for me it would be great,” Wallace said. “I haven’t really had a real NBA deal, and so for me just getting to that level on a team would definitely be a dream come true. I don’t have a specific team I would like to play for. Whoever wants me, I’ll want them.”
NBA DAILY: Lou Williams Stepping Up For Injured Clippers
The Clippers have been hit by injuries again, but Lou Williams is doing everything he can to keep the team afloat.
The Los Angeles Clippers have been decimated by injuries this season. Blake Griffin is sidelined until approximately February of next year. Danilo Gallinari has been sidelined for an extended period of time with a glute injury and will continue to be out of action for some time after suffering a second glute injury recently. Patrick Beverley underwent season ending microfracture surgery in November. Milos Teodosic suffered a foot injury in just the second game of the season and only recently returned to the lineup. Austin Rivers just suffered a concussion and could miss some time as well.
With so many injuries, the Clippers currently find themselves in the 10th seed in the Western Conference with an 11-15 record. This isn’t what the Clippers had in mind when they brought back a solid haul of players last offseason in exchange for Chris Paul.
Competing with the top teams in the Western Conference was always going to be difficult for this Clippers team. Los Angeles has plenty of talent on the roster and added a few younger prospects to develop. However, key players like Griffin and Gallinari are injury prone and both needed to stay on the court for the Clippers to have any hope of staying in range of the West’s top teams. The Clippers lost 9 games straight in the middle of November and it looked as though they were on course to be competing for a top lottery pick in next season’s draft.
However, despite all of the injuries and setbacks, Lou Williams, along with iron man DeAndre Jordan, has picked up the slack and has done more than his fair share to keep the Clippers’ playoff hopes alive. This season, Williams is averaging 20 points, 4.8 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game, while shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range (on 6.2 attempts per game). Williams is sporting a healthy 21.2 Player Efficiency Rating, which is a near career best rating (Williams posted a 21.4 PER last season). His True Shooting percentage (59.3) is tied with his career high rating, which Williams posted last season as well. Williams’s free throw rate has taken a dip this season, but his ability to draw timely (and often questionable) fouls has been a valuable asset to his team once again. Simply put, Williams has been particularly efficient on offense this season for the Clippers – a team that has lost its most reliable scorers and playmakers.
“We’ve had some guys go down with injuries and somebody has to step in and fill that scoring void,” Williams said after helping the Clippers defeat the Magic. “I’ve been able to do it.”
Williams has also hit plenty of big shots for the Clippers this season. Most recently, Williams knocked down a go-ahead three-pointer in the final seconds against the Washington Wizards that sealed the win for the Clippers. The Clippers are used to having a natural born scorer coming off the bench to act as a sparkplug as they had Jamal Crawford on the roster for the last five seasons. Similar to Crawford, Williams struggles to hold his own on the defensive side of the ball. But Williams has been more effective defensively so far this season for the Clippers than Crawford was for the majority of his time in Los Angeles. Williams isn’t going to lock down the Russell Westbrooks of the world, but he isn’t giving back the majority of the points he scores either.
In addition to his scoring, Williams is a solid playmaker and has managed to facilitate the Clippers’ offense at various points of the season. Williams isn’t exactly Chris Paul in terms of setting up his teammates for easy baskets, but he has been notably effective in this role, which is very important considering how many playmakers have falled to injury this season. Williams is now, arguably, the team’s best offensive weapon and one of its most effective floor generals. Now that we are nearly two months into the NBA season, it seems as though Williams and his teammates are starting to find a little more chemistry with one another.
“I think these guys are just starting to be more comfortable. They understand we’re going to have some injuries and guys are going to be down,” Williams said recently. “So they’re just playing with a lot of confidence. I think at first you’re kind of getting your feet wet and guys don’t want to make mistakes. Now guys are just going out there and playing as hard as they can.”
Williams will need to continue building chemistry with his teammates if they are to keep pace until players like Gallinari and Griffin make it back onto the court.
The Clippers have won six of their last 10 games and are starting to steady what had becoming a sinking ship. Smart gamblers and predictive algorithms would caution against betting on the Clippers making the playoffs this season, but they are in much better shape now than they were in the middle of November — an accomplishment that Williams deserves plenty of credit for.