Friday, November 27, 2009
Smilin' Jeff Pendergraph
It’s not often that you see guys smiling ear to ear after an NBA practice, but when Jeff Pendergraph walked off the court after participating in drills for the first time since undergoing hip surgery three months ago, the toothy grin plastered across his face was impossible to miss.
“I’m so happy right now,” said Pendergraph. “I’m like a little kid.”
It’s not hard to understand why. After being picked 31st in the 2009 Draft, Pendergraph went on to average 10.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in five games during the Las Vegas Summer League. After that it was on to Portland to start working out in hopes of being signed to his first NBA contract. But injury struck at the worst time. A congenital impingement was discovered on Pendergraph’s left hip, a condition that would require surgery. It was an inauspicious start to his NBA career.
But Pendergraph was still signed by the Trail Blazers even though they knew he wouldn’t be available for much of the season. That gesture by the team gave Pendergraph all the motivation he needed to push through hours of rehab while the rest of the team went about training camp. For a player who had experienced only one significant injury in his career, the process of getting back on the court was a long one.
“I think my freshman year was as long, about three months,” said Pendergraph. “This just feels a lot longer for some reason.”
But the wait has been worth it. Now back on the court, though in a non-contact capacity, Pendergraph is having the time of his life.
“It feels good, really good” said Pendergraph after his first on-court workout. “I might have done a little bit too much today but I couldn’t help it. My body wanted to go all crazy.”
And that’s Pendergraph’s new challenge: not going “all crazy” as he continues to work himself back into shape. The timetable for his return is still in flux, though Pendergraph has designs on being available by Christmas. Whether or not he reaches that goal depends on how his body takes to the work and how fast he can shake off three months worth of inactivity.
“I was feeling a little robotic,” said Pendergraph. “I might be thinking a little too much. I didn’t feel like my normal post moves, but I haven’t done those in a while either. I think once I get the rust off and everything I’ll be fine.”
He’ll have two of the better bigmen in the game to help him along. Listed at 6-9, 240 lbs, Pendergraph is a little undersized, at least as far as traditional centers go, but he doesn’t look out of place working on post moves alongside Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla.
“Those guys are fun. It was like I’m the rook with the older guys,” said Pendergraph. “It was kind of fun to be around. Big guys have a thing, they kind of stick together. It was cool. They were all joking and ‘rook this’, ‘rook that,’ messing with me. I had fun. I was smiling the whole time.”
Smiling is something Pendergraph has been doing a whole lot these days. After a rocky start, what lies ahead for him in the future is giving him a much to look forward to.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” said Pendergraph. “Yesterday was tight as heck. Yesterday was a great day and I was all happy, and then today they’re like ‘get in the drills’ and I was like ‘What? Yes!’
“Everyday is a new surprise. It just makes it so cool and awesome. I’m looking forward to being in the game and everything, but really I’m looking forward to tomorrow, seeing what I can do tomorrow.”
So are a lot of people.
Two reasons why I like Jeff Pendergraph
1) After we got done with our interview, the first thing he did was call his mom to tell her he was finally back on the court.
2) When asked about how he would have responded to being dunked on by Derek Rose, Pendergraph didn’t say he’d tried to go down and dunk on the other end. Instead, he said the follow:
“I would have told Blake to come bring him off a screen. He would have gotten … just pow.”