Orlando Magic rookie Mohamed Bamba moved across the floor at the AdventHealth Practice Facility at Amway Center on Thursday morning, stopping along the way to share a word or two with team staff.
Don’t worry, Magic fans. Bamba was using crutches, and a walking boot cradled and protected his injured left leg.
The center was nearly a week into keeping weight off his leg, and his metallic crutches almost seemed to stretch out as far as his 7-foot frame. They looked taller than 90 percent of the people in the gym.
With relative ease, Bamba worked his way over to the sideline and sat down.
Nearly a week since undergoing a procedure to treat the injury, Bamba was focusing on his road to recovery, and he was in good spirits.
“I feel pretty good with now eight days, seven days removed from the whole procedure. I feel pretty good,” Bamba said. “Just taking it a day at a time, and just the steps that have kind of been laid out [for me] has just kind of been, like everything, just how this organization runs and how well they’re looking after me.”
Bamba, the Magic’s top pick in the 2018 draft, hasn’t played since Jan. 31. He was in uniform for the Feb. 2 game against the Nets but was a late scratch after feeling soreness in his shin.
Bamba did not travel with the team to Oklahoma City for the Feb. 5 game with the Thunder. That same day, the team announced Bamba had been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left tibia.
Because the injury was detected early, Bamba did not require surgery and the team said his return will depend on his response to treatment and his rehabilitation work.
“I’m just happy to have caught it sooner than later,” Bamba said. “Just attacking this rehab and this rehabilitation process as fiercely as possible.”
The same week he was diagnosed, Bamba saw a specialist in New York and received an injection to strengthen the injured area in his left leg.
Bamba, who said being away from basketball has been “super tough,” said Thursday he would be using crutches and the walking boot for at least another week. He also appreciates the patience and care being shown by the Magic.
“It’s really not as bad as people think. Not nearly as bad as people think,” he said. “Right now it’s two weeks [with] no weight bearing, the boot and crutches, and then kind of the liberty of playing for this organization is you know you’re not being rushed back into playing, so get ready to go as the bone heals.”
While the Magic won’t rush him back, Bamba said he would not rule out a return before the season is over.
“I don’t think it [return] is necessarily off the board. It’s definitely something that keeps you going right now,” he said. “Who knows? Hopefully I’ll be able to finish the season up, but I’m kind of just going as it is and going with the game plan that the guys have put in front of me.”
That plan involves proper nutrition, treatment, rehab and being a student of the game.
And “Swole Bamba.”
Those words written on the white board in the team’s weight room reflect the training regimen to increase the 20-year-old’s strength.
“Just getting my nutrition to where it needs to be, lifting consistently hard, [and] heavy, four or five days a week, a day in between to where you’re just doing core work, [and] treatments [and] being on top of that. [And] just studying the game,” he said.
The last part is where Magic coach Steve Clifford and his staff come in. Clifford has said Bamba’s NBA learning curve will continue despite the injury.
“There’s still plenty of things we can do to continue to help him learn what the NBA is all about,” Clifford said Wednesday at practice.
Clifford has said he’ll try to use Bamba the same way he did Michael Kidd-Gilchrist while he was coaching in Charlotte. Clifford and his staff had Kidd-Gilchrist charting shots, meeting with coaches and offering input on player personnel while he recovered from shoulder injuries.
For his part, Bamba has enjoyed watching the Magic put together their five-game winning streak.
“Just super-excited,” he said. “We’re moving the ball well, [and] we’re doing the right things. You know, it’s scary how good we are.”
In 47 games, Bamba has averaged 6.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and a team-best 1.4 blocks a game.
Bamba’s absence marks the second straight season the Magic’s top draft pick has missed time due to an injury. A series of ankle injuries limited 2017 top pick Jonathan Isaac to 27 games his rookie season.
Now healthy, Isaac is developing into a key player for the Magic. Bamba said he watched Isaac put in the work during the offseason to come back stronger from the ankle injuries and hopes to emulate some of that.
“What people don’t see with JI is his demeanor off the court and what he was doing to sort of get back to it. Doing treatment, totally focusing in on treatment, being fully transparent with how he was feeling,” Bamba said. “It was just something that I don’t really want to compare myself to but you want to relate to his successes.”
A stress fracture certainly does not end a player’s career. In fact, Bamba worked with members of the Magic staff to develop a case study on players with the same injury.
Bamba said he is encouraged by what they discovered.
“In our case study, we found that out of 25 guys, 24 of those guys never saw a recurrence of this injury,” he said. “I like my chances with the early detection and the injection portion of it.”
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