OAKLAND — It has been well over a year since Warriors center Festus Ezeli played in an NBA game.
After reconstructive knee surgery sidelined the 6-foot-11 center for the full 82-game 2013-2014 season, Golden State fought tooth-and-nail against the Clippers in the playoffs as Ezeli watched from the bench in street clothes.
At the time, he told SFBay the frustration present since the first game of the season had mounted. But at training camp, his tune has changed.
Ezeli said he wanted to help when the team was struggling through injuries, but realized there is only so much he can control:
“Frustration. You know, I don’t think that’s the word anymore. … Eventually it kind of plateaued. I had to realize, I just have to do the best I can. I can’t control the situation, it is what it is. What I can do is work as hard as I can with whatever I have to do in rehab, with strength and conditioning, and everything. I just have to work as hard as I can.”
Ezeli calls the Sacramento area home, and was able to spend time with his family through the offseason. He said it helped him realize he has to stay in good spirits, not only for himself, but for others that depend on him.
Family, Ezeli said, is what he draws positivity from. Remembering a recent conversation with his sister about the the frustrations he has experienced over the last year, Ezeli said he has no choice but to keep a smile on his face:
“She was telling me, if I lose my smile on my face she doesn’t even know what she would do because at the end of the day I’m always the one smiling and the one staying positive. I have people that depend on me so that helps. I’m a big brother and I’m the oldest of five, so those are the things that help me keep going.”
Ezeli will need to hold on to that mentality. Ezeli has now missed two consecutive days of practice with shin inflammation after fully participating in the first session of the Warriors training camp.
Timetables are a thing of the past when it comes Ezeli’s expected return, but all parties are staying hopeful.
Rookie coach Steve Kerr told SFBay part of the process with Ezeli is pushing him so they can find out how his body will respond after being out of the game for so long.
With the little bit of inflammation in his shin, Kerr said they will back off a little as a precaution to make sure things don’t get any worse. For Kerr, his biggest concern with Ezeli is mental welfare:
“He’s just such a good kid. I want so desperately for him to have success and to be a good player for us, and he’s going to be. But we’ve got to just get through this.”
Earlier in the week Kerr expressed some concern about Ezeli being able to find game rhythm since being out for more than 15 months. Even though Ezeli hasn’t been able to play basketball full bore, he’s taken up new hobbies to make sure his body stays right.
Now considered Golden State’s renaissance man, Ezeli has been doing yoga, a lot of hiking and anything else that will mean a strong workout.
Getting his timing back will no doubt take patience, but Ezeli isn’t deterred from doing everything in his power to get back on the court:
“I’m not quite worried about that. I think once I get back fully, I think that will take care of itself. I’m going to work my hardest and my darndest to make sure I’m back on the court and back with the guys fully and caught up to speed. Once I get back on the court I’ll be fine.”
Ezeli said he prides himself on being able to adapt to any situation, and has certainly taken the last year in stride. But once he’s back in the swing of things, his role will change and he will be asked to adapt again.
Always considered a defensive player, Ezeli will have a larger offensive role with the system Kerr plans to implement. He will have the ball in his hands and be expected to make plays.
In response to the offensive expectation, Ezeli told SFBay it’s just one more thing he will have to learn and welcomes it with open arms:
“It’s going to be fun.”
The Warriors continue training camp through their first preseason games Oct. 7 and 9 against the Clippers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. How Ezeli will figure into Kerr’s preseason rotation is still to be determined.