He still wears a big wrap on his left knee. But only five weeks after surgery to repair a torn ACL, Zach LaVine is moving around well. Surprisingly well. Well enough that Ricky Rubio and Brandon Rush, two Timberwolves teammates who have been through the same thing, are somewhat stunned.
“It seems like he didn’t have surgery,” Rubio said. “He’s shooting already. He’s a freak athlete, and you can tell the way he’s recovering.”
Meeting with reporters for the first time since the Feb. 3 injury in Detroit, and 36 days after Feb. 14 surgery, LaVine talked Wednesday about getting over the emotion of the injury and his determination to come back stronger than ever.
“You come back with more, because you have so much more time to focus on it,” LaVine said. “I don’t have any negative thoughts in my mind. If there are negative people around me, I just try to distance myself from that. The main thing is to stay positive and trust the process. I know where I want to get to and I know where I want to be, still, in my career.”
The injury occurred in the third quarter of a 116-108 loss at Detroit on a drive into the lane, after colliding with Pistons center Andre Drummond and falling to the floor.
LaVine didn’t want to talk much about the actual injury. He has moved past that, he said. He wants to look forward and not back. Yes, he was frustrated and angry in the injury’s wake. You’re no longer with your teammates in the fight. There is frustration after having put in so much work.
But it didn’t last. His father, Paul, has been LaVine’s main sounding board, which is to be expected. They talk about everything. “He said to take the same approach you have with basketball in general,” LaVine said. “You go into each offseason extremely hard. You work out. You’re focused. I have to do that with my knee and my leg.”
There have been others LaVine has leaned on for support. He and Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker — who is coming back from his second ACL tear — have been in contact. There are Rubio and Rush, who have experienced the same thing. LaVine has been in contact with Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson, players with Seattle ties who have been through it.
Their message: Put in the work and be patient.
“I’m pretty early on the stages right now,” he said. “I just take every day as a challenge. Go at it as hard as I can. Just like basketball. Going out there like I’m going to get 500 shots. Instead, I’m doing 500 leg lifts. Everything’s been positive for me. I’m just focused.”
There is no target date for his return. A seven- to nine-month recovery period is often cited as a typical recovery time, but each case is different. For example, Rubio — who tore both the ACL and LCL in his knee — took almost exactly nine months to return. “I have no idea right now,” LaVine said. “I’m taking it day by day. I feel great. My mind is in the right place. We will see how that goes.”
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau commended LaVine’s work ethic, and noted the 22-year-old guard is also using the time away from playing to look at the game from a different angle. He’s watching film.
“He’s making good use of his time,” Thibodeau said. “And that’s what he should be doing.”
Said LaVine: “I’m paying attention to everything. If I can improve on something, I have this time period to help me improve. I feel like it’s a blessing in disguise. If it’s film watching, reading defenses or being in the right defensive state position-wise, getting stronger. I’m taking everything seriously.”
Well, not quite everything.
Asked what he was doing to make sure LaVine still felt like a part of the team, Thibodeau deadpanned, “Yell at him every day.”
Said LaVine: “The first time I got back, he almost poked me a little bit and said, ‘I ain’t yelled at you in [a month]. Let me get some frustration out.’ ”