As I’m sure you have noticed, I am not with the team currently. I am back home in Australia recovering from an injury, but that hasn’t kept me from keeping tabs on what’s going on. I got up at 4 a.m. local time Tuesday morning to watch Game 1 of our series against Reggio Emilia. And our defense came through again. We’ve been able to really lock in defensively this season and limit other teams from scoring, so if we have a bad shooting game, we’re still able to win. That’s sort of what happened in Game 1. The offensive wasn’t really clicking in the first half, but it was the defense that kept them to such a low total. So even when things were slow on offense, we were able to still keep the lead and the defense kept Reggio Emilia under pressure to catch up to us.
My injury happened against UNICS around two and a half weeks ago. It was on a normal play, something that I try to do regularly in a game. I was playing aggressively on defense and trying to get in the passing lanes. I tipped a pass, but they got the ball back. I was lunging and tried to change directions. I put my hand down on the floor to get my balance and my thumb went too far in one direction and I felt a snap and heard a pop. You can see in the video that I grab my thumb in pain. I played the rest of the game and had a lot of trouble catching and shooting and it being my right thumb, that’s the important side. So that’s how it happened.
We got a scan a few days later, not thinking that I had done anything too bad because it hadn’t swollen up much and the pain wasn’t too bad, but the scan showed that I broke part of the bone off and tore the ligament that attaches to the bone. It all came off in one piece and it needed to be put back in place. Stabilizing the ligament stops my thumb from going back too far. With catching, and shooting and dribbling, that’s a pretty important part, so the club and I decided it was best for me to have surgery. The surgery went well; the doctor put a little screw in my thumb to hold it all in place and now I am just sitting in a cast for at least a few more weeks as the bone heals. Once I get back to Loko, we’ll get some more scans to get an eye on how it’s healing. I should be back right at the end of the VTB regular season.
It’s been very difficult for me to have to miss the EuroCup playoffs. The timing of the injury wasn’t great – not that any injury at any time is good –with how we were doing in the EuroCup and how close it is to the finals. Fortunately, Loko won in the last series and Game 1 of this series. The way they have been playing has been fantastic. Obviously, I would love to be out there with them. Hopefully, they can continue winning. We are one game away from the finals. It’s a big goal for us and they are very motivated to do it. I hope they are able to achieve that whether I am here or back in Krasnodar with the team.
Everyone has helped pick up the slack since I’ve been out. Chris Babb was great in the last game hit some threes as well. So it really is a team effort and has been all season. If someone isn’t playing well or has an injury, like when Joe Ragland went down early in the EuroCup, we have a strong roster and are able to recover players. Having that depth has been really important for us all season. Dmitry Kulagin has really stepped up now; he’s played more aggressive and been a real focal point for our offense. The way he played in the quarterfinals series was amazing; against Gran Canaria in the second game, he just tore the game apart by himself and he has the talent to do that. And that also opens up things for everyone else when they pay a lot of attention to him and they can pass the ball inside to Qvale or to Elegar and get them some easy points.
Coach Obradovic is great at keeping our team focused; he would be very upset if players started to act like we are just going to walk into games and going to win. He very much encourages us to think about the next game. I think he gets more nervous when we’re winning games than when we’ve lost games because it can creep into people’s minds that we’ve won too many games in a row and we’ve just got to turn up to win the next. Coach puts an emphasis on keeping players humble and hungry to keep winning and not to be satisfied with what we’ve done.
It’s been very strange for me to be back home in Australia this time of year. It’s probably been about 10 years since I’ve been at home and it’s been somewhat warm. To come home and have a little bit of nice weather and be able to get out and enjoy it a little bit has been nice. I haven’t been able to go to the beach or do too much with my hand in the cast, but to be able to walk outside and have the sun is a nice change. And to get home and see my family and friends is always special to me. I was lucky that I was able to be at my nephew’s birthday party last week, which is something I’ve never been able to do before. That was pretty special.
Let me finish with a message to my teammates ahead of Game 2: I’m very proud of the way you guys are playing. I have all the confidence in the world that you will continue playing the way you have been. Stay together. Stay Focused. And believe in each other. Anything can happen!