Road To Recovery: Nuggets Forward Danilo Gallinari

Maybe you forgot about them, or simply blocked their injury from your mind — convinced they were never on your team anyway. Perhaps you’ve eagerly awaited updates about their return to the hardwood, but we doubt it. When an NBA player goes down with a serious injury most fans figure he’ll never return to form, or he’ll be out of the league soon. We’re not most fans. Welcome to the first edition of the “Road to Recovery,” where we spotlight those players working their butts off to return to the court.

This past season the Denver Nuggets were a shell of the team they were in 2012-13. Despite changes in the front office and on the sidelines, the Nuggets were still expected to be a playoff-worthy challenger in the Western Conference. Even though they retooled with the highly coveted Brian Shaw as their head coach, the team could not overcome the myriad of injuries that plagued them throughout the year.

Chief amongst those injuries was the setback Danilo Gallinari suffered in January that required a second surgery on his torn ACL originally suffered on April 4, 2013. The January surgery sidelined Gallo for the entire season and effectively crushed any hopes the Nuggets had of legitimate contention in the loaded west.

Gallinari averaged a career-best 16.2 points per game in 2012-13 and seemed to be coming into his own as a go-to scorer for the Nuggets. Now injuries have robbed him of a playoff appearance last spring as well as a full 82-game set this past season. He is rehabbing hard but is unsure of his status for next season and it would be a shame to see him in a suit to start the 2014-15 campaign.

Gallo took some time to talk to us about his rehab, the Nuggets and even about the World Cup in an interview from Italy as he finished his appearance at the adidas Eurocamp.

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Dime: How is the rehab going for you right now?
Danilo Gallinari: Rehab is going very well. We are a little past four months since the last surgery. It’s going to be a summer of rehabbing and working to try to be ready for training camp.

Dime: What have you learned through this process over the last year and a half two…what’s been your biggest take away from all of this?
DG: Well I know a lot about knees right now. I know a lot about knees and the body that I didn’t know before. An experience like this — when you go through injuries, it makes you stronger mentally. So that’s definitely one thing that I have gotten out of this injury and rehab. I have also learned a few things about my focus on the court and off the court.

Dime: Have you learned any preventive measures to take to hopefully avoid further injury?
DG: Oh, definitely. I think especially for NBA players prevention is key. It makes you stronger, it makes you better and makes your body ready to handle extreme situations in a basketball game.

Dime: What has been the hardest part of all this?
DG: The first part of the rehab is the toughest part because you can’t do much. Not even in the weight room or in the training room. You can’t move a lot of stuff. But the more the rehab goes on you can move more and spend more time in the weight room and the basketball court. But for sure the first few months of the rehab is the toughest part.

Dime: How have you been keeping motivated, especially after the setback in January?
DG: I think I’m pretty good by nature in doing that myself and I like to find different motivation each day. I want to do the best that I can each given day. Then I was lucky enough to have Steve Hess and trainers from the Denver Nuggets behind me. And my family behind me. I think those two or three things have made the rehab much easier

Dime: That leads into my next question of who or what group of people have been able to keep your emotional spirits high through your injuries?
DG: I think my family first in general has helped the most. My dad and my mom– both in the same way. Also Steve Hess our team trainer. I don’t think there is anybody like him. He’s 24/7 energy, always positive and I was very lucky to go through the process with him. He gives me the motivation every day. It’s not easy to convince a player to stay in the weight room instead of staying on the basketball court, but he’s been very good in doing that.

Click to hear how Danilo is working with JaVale McGee and what parts of his game he’s improved…

Dime: The team has undergone some hard times with injuries lately especially with your injury and that of JaVale McGee’s. Have you worked with him at all during your rehab?
DG: Well it’s not nice to have another teammate injured but if you look at the positive side there’s the opportunity to go through rehab together. Every day you face a different problem — the pain and discomfort and the routine of rehab. So it helps to have someone with you going through the day and going through the workout.

Dime: So you have worked with JaVale directly in rehab?
DG: Yes we have. Clearly we had different injuries but we had a chance to work together every day. I was on one bed and he was on the other bed and it was like that for the last month of the season. So to see myself and to see him improving every day is one of the best things about rehab.

Dime: Often when players are injured they work on deficient parts of their game. What can people expect to see from you that will be better and different going into next season?
DG: My focus once I was able to step on the basketball court was to improve my mid-range game because I thought it was the weakest part of my game. So that is something I wanted to keep working on. There aren’t a lot of weaknesses in my offensive game but that is something I had to focus on. But then I was always talking with the coaches to see what was the best thing for the team, so it gave me a different perspective on the game from the coaching side.

Dime: That leads into my next question. What’s your relationship like with Brian Shaw?
DG: It’s been a great relationship. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to work together a lot because I was injured and I was spending a lot of time in the weight room. But we are excited to work together next season. I think he’s a great coach.

Dime: Having played for George Karl and now under a new coach with Shaw, what are some of the subtle differences in style that you have noticed?
DG: I think the styles in both offense and defense — the concepts — are a little bit different. I think it’s going to be a process. Not just with me, but with the team once we get healthy to get on the same page as coach (Shaw). He was great player and great assistant coach, so he’s had a winning basketball career. And so has Coach Karl. They have the same winning mentality so there are a lot of things in common for sure. But as far as differences I think its concepts and in the style of the game that he (Shaw) wants us to play it’s a little different from Coach Karl.

Dime: Transitioning away from the Nuggets, what are you going to do the rest of the summer? Any plans with Team Italy in basketball?
DG: My hope is to practice with the Italian national team as they prepare for the next European Championship next summer. So my goal is to be able to get with them and just practice a little bit with them.

Dime: Speaking of Italy, how much of the FIFA World Cup will you be watching? Will you get to see any of the games in person?
DG: I’m a huge soccer fan. If I didn’t have to rehab and rest maybe I could be there live. But I have to practice and rest. I have to spend time on myself so I don’t think I am going to have time unfortunately.

Dime: I’m sure you are the favorite player of many young kids growing up and in your home country of Italy. But what’s great about sports is that athletes are also fans of other athletes. Do you have a favorite player or someone you relate to on team Italy?
DG: I’m pretty close to one of our defenders. His name is (Giorgio) Chiellini and he is one of our backliners who I know very well. (Mario) Balotelli is our guy, our scorer and we have a lot of faith in him and I know him too. I have a very good relationship with them and that’s why it’s unfortunate that I won’t be able to go there. It would be great to go there to see them going through practices and when they hang out in the hotel but I will be watching from TV.

What do you think?

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