Leaping high has always been Jeff Taylor’s thing.
Making 3-pointers became his thing.
But patience has never been his thing.
That’s why the past nine months have tested Taylor’s emotions nearly as much as they did his body.
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Taylor, a 6-foot-7 forward, will be in Charlotte Hornets training camp Sept. 30, almost nine months after he ruptured his right Achilles tendon in a game against the Detroit Pistons.
Taylor injured himself Dec. 20 and he was given the option to put off surgery until after the holidays. That’s not Taylor’s way; he had the tendon reattached Dec. 22. He spent Christmas and New Year’s in a cast, followed by a boot, followed by a corrective shoe.
It’s the first time he was ever seriously injured, and the experience was enlightening.
“It’s been a long road,” Taylor said. “With an Achilles injury, you have to be really patient – slowly getting back all your strength, back to what you were.”
In one way, he is beyond what he was. With his lower body shut down for three months, Taylor beefed up his upper body. Constant lifting – the only exercise available to him from January through March – had a noticeable effect on his arms and shoulders.
Taylor started to look more like Carolina Panthers’ linebacker Thomas Davis than a small forward.
Taylor actually had to back off some of the body-building over the summer.
“At one point in the summer I weighed about 230 pounds. That’s not what I wanted to be during the season – you don’t need that weight wearing on (your) knees,” Taylor said. “Now I’m about 215 – still strong, but way more ready to jump.”
Taylor says he’s still an inch or two short of his previous vertical leap. He has been told it typically takes a year to be all the way back after an Achilles rupture.
It’s hardly noticeable. Last June, following a pre-draft workout, Hornets coach Steve Clifford said his only concern was Taylor pushing himself too hard and risking another injury.
As if on cue, Taylor was behind Clifford on the practice court, repeatedly making tomahawk dunks. A dozen dunks later, Clifford whirled around to realize why people were chuckling at his statement.
Taylor is proactive, as seen when he made himself into a 3-point threat at Vanderbilt. But in this case, at least the first few months, patience was essential.
He was initially fitted with a boot that tilted forward, preventing his Achilles from stretching. Slowly, a set of lifts were taken out of the boot, one-by-one, to begin flexing the tendon. Eventually the boot was replaced by a corrective shoe with its own set of lifts.
Taylor was finally cleared for all activity on May 5. He ran through a couple of summer-league practices, and now he’s playing pickup games with his fellow Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“It’s the first time I had anything more than a sprained ankle. It’s really hard to hold yourself back,” Taylor said. “I’ve always been that person who thought he could do things others doubted. But in a situation like this, you have to listen.”
And how does he feel a week away from training camp?
“Great in terms of my body,” Taylor said. “Being out there 5-on-5 has felt fine.”
The competition for playing time has risen. The Hornets signed Indiana Pacers free agent Lance Stephenson over the summer. While Stephenson’s primary position is shooting guard, he’s equipped to play small forward. Incumbent starter Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returns after a summer of working on his jump shot.
Taylor had a recent family emergency in his native Sweden, so he missed a handful of the optional workouts the team holds after Labor Day. For that reason, Clifford said last week he couldn’t really judge Taylor’s readiness heading into camp.
Taylor’s response? Nothing to sweat.
“It’s not an injury anymore. It’s healed,” he said. “It’s not weighing on my mind.”