Darren Collison is taking baby steps – his words – as he recovers from surgery to repair core muscles that were torn more extensive than anticipated.
When he landed awkwardly in a Feb. 5 game against Dallas with a modified version of the splits, the Kings point guard immediately felt a pull in his right groin and hip area. After consulting a specialist in Philadelphia weeks later, he learned he had injured his left side as well.
“Dr. (William) Meyers told me I had torn three different parts of the muscle, and it’s all attached,” Collison said. “That explains why I wasn’t getting better. I’m almost 90 percent pain-free now, but after the procedure (March 3), I was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t stand. It was hard for me to sleep. I’m basically learning how to walk again.”
Pain is relative, and in Collison’s case it’s shared by an entire organization. His absence has left the Kings and new coach George Karl in a world of hurt. The point guard duties will continue to be split between young Ray McCallum, a natural scorer who is working to develop playmaking skills, and veteran Andre Miller, a crafty, effective floor leader who turned 39 Thursday.
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While the combination works in spurts, it doesn’t compensate for the loss of Collison. Signed to a three-year, $16 million deal last summer to upgrade a position held in recent years by Isaiah Thomas, Tyreke Evans, Greivis Vasquez, Aaron Brooks, Sergio Rodriguez and Jimmer Fredette, among others, the 6-foot, 175-pound Collison was averaging a career-best 16.1 points and 5.6 assists and leading the Kings in steals and three-point percentage (37.3 percent).
Karl, who was an NBA analyst at ESPN when he accepted the Kings job, was an unabashed fan.
“Having an attack point guard with speed makes (the offense) better,” Karl said after Wednesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. “I think Ray is doing a good job trying to be that guy, but on film, you see Darren, he’s one of these guys who’s hard to cover with one man. Plus, he’s a shooter. I know any time we shoot well from the perimeter, the gaps get bigger. The guy that can make basketball plays without running plays is kind of the guy I’m looking to have. I like a flow, a rhythm. Sometimes we get it, sometimes we don’t with this group.”
As he has watched restlessly from the bench or in the training room, depending on the degree of discomfort on a particular night, Collison found it agonizing to sit still. For someone with his unique athletic pedigree, a forced lack of movement is cruel and unusual punishment.
His parents both were world-class sprinters. His father, Dennis, represented his native Guyana in the 100 and 200 meters in the Pan Am Games. His mother, June, once ranked 10th in the world in the 400 and competed in the 1984 Olympics. The elder Collisons’ concept of parenting meant keeping their fast, slightly built son off the couch, away from the video games and constantly engaged in academic activities and sports.
“We wanted to keep him busy,” June Collison said recently. “He did karate for two years in elementary school. But then he discovered basketball, and I couldn’t get the ball out of his hands. He would be out shooting baskets and I would scream at that child, ‘Darren, it’s 11 o’clock at night. You have school in the morning.’”
These days, her son walks with a slight limp and spends several hours a day working with Kings trainers to strengthen his core muscles. He can’t run and hasn’t shot a basketball in weeks. His most recent breakthrough, he said with a grin, was being able to change his 17-month-old son’s diapers.
“I wasn’t able to do that for a while,” Collison said as he sat at his locker the other night, wearing jeans, a dress shirt and tie. “I’m also starting to do more things around the house again, like wash dishes, help my wife (Keyosha) keep things clean. We go to dinner, and I can sit through movies.”
He also meets with Karl occasionally and envisions a successful, if delayed, partnership.
“I like George’s system,” Collison, a six-year veteran, said. “I see similarities with when I played under Doc (Rivers). It seems like everybody wants to play fast, which is very exciting for me, even though that makes it even harder to sit around and watch. But I see progress on the court. We’re playing harder on a consistent basis than we were. When I get back … George wants me to attack, use my speed, and defensively be the head of the snake. That’s the part of the game he won’t have to teach.”
As he eases out of his chair, his movements still cautious, Collison sighed.
“Baby steps,” he reiterated. “If I do too much rehab, I get sore. But at least I can get around. That’s a start.”
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