If Hedo Turkoglu has his way, people will not be asking "who is that masked man" when his Toronto Raptors play the Sacramento Kings at the Air Canada Centre tomorrow.
However, it appears likely the Raptors will insist their $50-million (U.S.) asset wears a faceguard to protect an existing injury before being allowed back on the basketball court.
"He's been advised strongly that the mask is required to play right now, to protect him from any sort of longer term or more significant damage being done," Bryan Colangelo, the Raptors' president and general manager, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
"You generally like to follow a physician's instructions and we've got someone telling us it's advisable he wears the mask."
Colangelo stopped short of saying that the Raptors would prevent Turkoglu from playing tomorrow if he does not agree to wear the face protector.
"Well, we'll see," he responded. "I think we need to sit down and talk with him a little bit more and I might have some more feedback for you."
The 31-year-old Turkish star practised yesterday - not wearing the faceguard - and afterward proclaimed himself fit and ready to play against the Kings, his former team.
"Thank God nobody touched me," Turkoglu joked, adding: "I felt good."
Turkoglu has missed most of three games after he suffered a small, non-displaced fracture of the orbital bone under his right eye after slamming into the elbow of Mike Dunleavy of the Indiana Pacers during a Jan. 31 game in Toronto.
Turkoglu has received medical clearance to return to action - but only if the 6-foot 10-inch forward agrees to wear a clear, plastic facemask to protect against any further blows, which could aggravate the injury.
A Toronto sports medicine doctor who has not examined Turkoglu said yesterday that an athlete who has suffered a fracture to the orbital bone - even a small one - should think twice about returning to the lineup without wearing a facemask.
"If the person gets hit there again and the bone gets displaced it would require surgery or else the vision could be affected," said the physician, who asked that his name not be published. "Even with a mask there's no assurance that further damage won't be done."
Turkoglu continues to insist that he will not wear a mask, complaining that he finds it confining and ill-fitting.
He said he tried to wear a mask during a workout earlier this week before Toronto's return game in Indianapolis against the Pacers, but found it too restrictive.
Turkoglu said the doctors have told him he should wear the mask for at least six weeks to allow the orbital bone to heal fully, but he wants no part of it.
"They want me to be careful about it, but like I said it's not really helping me out," he said. "It's still uncomfortable and I appreciate all the concern but I'm a grown man and I make my own decisions and I decide not to wear. Just try to focus on my game, not on my face.
"If I was wearing a mask, somebody could hit me, too. It's 50-50 so I'd rather not wear it and try to play my game in the best way."
Turkoglu said taking risks is part of being a professional athlete.
"It's part of the game," he said. "Even if I was wearing the mask, if somebody elbowed me good you're still messed up. Instead of breaking 10 bones maybe with the mask I'm going to break eight.
"So it really doesn't matter."
Toronto coach Jay Triano tried his best to distance himself from what could evolve into a standoff between the NBA team and one of its star players.
"As long as he's going to wear 26 and it says Raptors I'm good," Triano said. "Honestly, I don't want to get involved in that. It's something he's got to figure out with our trainers and doctors. I'm happy that he wants to play, that he'll be out there."
Turkoglu said he'd be willing to sign a waiver that would clear the club of any responsibility for further injury if he is allowed to play without a mask.
"There's no sort of document to sign," Colangelo said. "There's no sort of waiver that he could sign. I'm not sure who suggested that or where it came from. I'm not certain that that's even relevant."
Along with Turkoglu, the Raptors also welcomed back to practice rookie DeMar DeRozan, who has missed five games with a sprained ankle and Jose Calderon, who sat out the last game, against New Jersey, also with a sprained ankle.
Triano anticipates that both will be ready to play tomorrow as the 27-23 Raptors look to win their sixth in a row at home.
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