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Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker nearing return from injury

Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker, who has been out since Jan. 28 with a knee injury, says he is anxious to be back on the court instead of an agonizing 3 feet away.
Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker, who has been out since Jan. 28 with a knee injury, says he is anxious to be back on the court instead of an agonizing 3 feet away. Getty Images

The lean guard running the court Wednesday at Chicago’s United Center looked familiar, although his trademark hesitation moves and crossover dribble were absent. He just ran and shot, ran and shot, avoiding even the suggestion of pressure on his left knee.

Although his work was limited, Charlotte Hornet fans probably would have cheered.

The run and shoot session was Kemba Walker’s first since Jan. 28, when he underwent surgery on his left knee.

“I knew I could come out Wednesday,” he says about his appearance on the court. “I was anxious.”

What comes next?

“I see the doctor who did surgery on me Wednesday.” Walker says by telephone from Boston, where the Hornets played Friday. “That will be five weeks.”

Walker, who is among the Hornets’ leaders in scoring, assists and steals, was unquestionably their best player before he suffered a torn meniscus. Dr. David Altchek performed the surgery at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery, and Walker will meet with him in New York Wednesday.

Any idea when you’ll play again?

“I don’t know,” Walker says during our conversation, his first one-on-one interview since surgery.

The original projection was six weeks. But projections are tricky. Even if a player is cleared to take the court, will his confidence and conditioning permit it?

Until then, Walker, 24, watches. The Hornets conclude a four-game road trip Sunday in Orlando, and Walker will be on the bench or, if all the seats are occupied, one row behind it. Reserved when the Hornets drafted him four seasons ago, he is animated and alive, greeting teammates as they come to the bench, offering encouragement, advice and cheers.

“I’m still a leader,” says Walker. “They’re my guys. I still want to be into the game.”

Walker might have burned more calories than any fan at United Center Wednesday. The Hornets handled Chicago 98-86, a performance that was among their best of the season. I asked what got him going, figuring he’d cite a particular pass, shot, steal or dunk.

“The way we played on both sides of the ball,” he says. “The defense, the rebounding, the way we forced the tempo. It was everybody.”

Walker watched from the front row, which he prefers to the second row because he wants to sit with teammates and be as close to the court as he can. So he’s, what, 3 feet from the game? That’s a long 3 feet.

“It’s miserable, very miserable,” Walker says about life as a spectator. “I’m just so used to playing all the time and never (being injured) makes it tougher. It’s really tough. I hate it, to tell the truth.”

Does anything help?

“Winning helps a lot. My teammates are happy and I’m happy for them,” Walker says.

Lean at 6-feet and 184 pounds, Walker has been sturdy. He didn’t miss a game his first two seasons with Charlotte. Last season he suffered ankle and groin injuries and missed nine.

Yet time missed last season was a jaunt. Time missed this season is a journey.

He says he watches Charlotte point guards Mo Williams and Brian Roberts, envisions himself in their places and asks: What would I do in that situation? He says he can better see the defensive techniques coach Steve Clifford emphasizes.

Walker is excited about Williams, the veteran whom the Hornets acquired in a Feb. 10 trade.

“I’m a fan, I’m a fan,” says Walker. “I’ve played against him for years, and he’s exciting to watch. Everybody loves him already.”

As happy as he is to add Williams, he was sorry to see Gary Neal go. (The Hornets traded Neal for Williams and Troy Daniels.) “He was a great teammate,” Walker says of Neal.

Walker likes his teammates, says they are close and work hard and will get better.

Will you?

“I definitely will get better,” he says. “I was getting better before I got hurt.”

So, Walker returns healthy and perhaps better, and Williams, a sensation thus far, supplements him. This makes the Hornets considerably more interesting. It makes them better, too.

Sorensen: 704-358-5129; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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