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Spears: Festus Ezeli’s Road To Recovery

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated checks in on the rehabilitation of Trail Blazers center Festus Ezeli.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers-Media Day Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Portland’s offseason acquisition of Festus Ezeli hasn’t gone according to plan to say the least, but it appears that the injured big man is finally on the road to recovery. Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated recently spoke with Ezeli about the progress that he is making after undergoing cadaver ligament replacement surgery earlier this season.

The gravity of the situation isn’t lost on the 27-year-old big man, as he understands that there is a family associated with the cadaver ligament he received earlier this year.

“I’m actually working on my letter right now because I really do want to meet them,” Ezeli told The Undefeated this past week. “I have no clue who I got it from. It had to be a big person. There are so many different requirements to getting the cadaver. It was kind of crazy. It had to be a big person, about my weight and size, so that I could handle my weight as I play basketball. The person had to be young so it’s not brittle. And there’s all these different restrictions.

Ezeli expresses his gratitude, while also touching on the process of waiting for a donor to surface:

“It’s kind of crazy. You’re literally waiting for somebody to pass away. It’s the saddest thing. And I feel so blessed. I don’t know what the word is. For them to choose me, I’m just thankful. I don’t know any information. The hospitals are very tight-lipped on information about their patients. I’m just hoping that they contact me after they get my letter.”

Under the guidelines of his rehabilitation, Ezeli now spends the majority of his time off of his feet. The former Warriors center has been relegated to watching the playoffs instead of participating in them, but that wasn’t the plan when he signed with the Blazers in the offseason.

After returning to Golden State’s lineup in the 2016 Playoffs, Ezeli appeared to be ready to return to the court in a Portland uniform for the following season. Unfortunately for both parties, the big man’s knee discomfort resurfaced in the practices leading up to the season.

“The second day I practiced and the pain was more pronounced,” Ezeli said. “Walking after that was tough. By the third day I tried to practice but the pain was unbelievable. I shut down workouts for a while, hoping that it would calm down. A doctor visit later showed that the defect in my knee was actually getting worse and bigger.”

While discussing the lingering issues associated with his chronic knee problems, Ezeli made it clear that shutting down for the 2016-17 season wasn’t the original plan.

“This decision was not a decision to just stop,” Ezeli said. “It was a decision to continue my career and continue to play for years and years. I just want [Blazers fans] to understand that this is me making the decision to continue to be out there on the court.”

Spears was also able to talk with coach Terry Stotts about the Ezeli injury saga that played out over the course of this season.

“He practiced one day. He has been dealing with the injuries all year and waiting to have the operation,” Stotts said. “First of all, deciding whether to have the procedure or not was a difficult decision. Now he has a long road ahead of him with rehab. He knows how to play. Obviously, with what he did last year and the glimpse of what I saw in practice, it was going to be encouraging for him and us. It was very frustrating for him.

Along with Stotts, a sympathetic CJ McCollum also expressed his views on the situation:

“It’s very frustrating. I know he wanted to be out there. He worked hard. I don’t know what happened. I’m not on the inside. It has to be a frustrating year for him.”

Even after missing his second full season of action in his five-year career, Ezeli is still determined to return to the court, and he hopes to do so as a member of the Blazers. Given Portland’s tricky salary cap situation, coupled with the reserve center’s partially guaranteed contract, it is unclear if that dream will come to fruition. Despite his murky future, Ezeli did have this to say about his potential return:

“I really want to put the Blazers uniform on after this whole time,” Ezeli said. “I didn’t choose to go there just because I saw the money was there or anything. I chose to go with the Blazers because I saw the opportunity and I saw how good we could be. And I would really love to put a Blazers jersey on, and be able to be in the playoffs with my team. It would be nothing I love more than that.”

Ezeli has a long road ahead of him before returning to the court, but he has shown he is capable of contributing at the highest level of NBA competition. The Blazers will be forced to make a decision on his future with the team later this summer, all without ever seeing him suit-up in a Portland uniform.