Jose Calderon has played in the NBA long enough to understand what people are saying about him, even if English is his second language.
"People were saying I couldn't defend," the Toronto Raptors' Spanish-speaking point guard said yesterday after another long practice at training camp. "It's true I couldn't defend."
Calderon's scouting report was painfully accurate. The sight of opposing point guards blurring past Calderon and into the paint, where they could either convert at the rim or find an open teammate after the Raptors rotated to help, nearly defines Toronto's disappointing 33-49 record last season.
The pain was real, too. Yesterday Calderon explained the severity of the hamstring problem that ruined his and the Raptors' season.
"I tore it," he said. "I tore my hamstring, a six-centimetre tear. It was a big hole."
The problem surfaced in the second week of the season. He missed one game, returned to the lineup, then tore it more severely in January. He missed 10 of 11 games that time, but returned to the lineup to set career highs with 12.8 points and 8.9 assists a game. The down side? On defence he impersonated a pylon. He went nearly six weeks without practising.
"You really didn't know what was wrong with him," teammate Chris Bosh said. "He'd practise and then he'd be out again. He kept saying, 'My hamstring, something's wrong, something's wrong.' It just kept lingering, and by the time he got it fixed, it was too late."
Not too late for the critics to make themselves heard.
"Yes, I read the stuff, I heard the critics," said Calderon, who will benefit this season from the presence of Jarrett Jack as a solid backup, a luxury the Raptors didn't have last season. "I was the first one who was embarrassed out there, but I'm a professional and I wanted to be out there and help my team and I wanted to play."
So far in training camp, Raptors head coach Jay Triano said Calderon has shown that his speed and quickness are back to where they were before he began having leg problems. Calderon has won scrimmages by turning the corner and driving to the basket, and he's soaked in a team defensive concept that emphasizes keeping opponents in front of defenders everywhere on the floor.
"He looks good," Triano said. "He looks strong, he's making shots, he's going straight up and down on his jumper. I have no cause for concern and I ask him how he feels and he says great. That's a good sign."
The recovery started at home in Spain on May 12, working with a personal trainer, physiotherapists and massage therapists, doing light jogging and then slowly building up to sprints, re-educating the muscles of his leg.
Bosh saw his dedication first-hand when he visited Calderon and helped out at his basketball camp in July.
"He was very eager to get the season started," Bosh said. "I kind of took that week off and he would work out in the morning and then he'd do his camp and then he'd take a nap and then he'd be like, 'Time to go work out, I'll see you guys later.' And he was doing that every day."
(Bosh sat out yesterday's practice with his own hamstring problem. Hedo Turkoglu (knee) also remained on the sidelines.)
"I could just tell his work ethic was just huge," Bosh added. "He was in great shape when I saw him and that was in July. He was very eager to have a better season."
Raptors fans and players alike can take heart that Calderon has a good track record when it comes to reaching his goals. In his rookie season, he showed flashes of promise but was held back by plantar fasciitis and a shooting stroke so wonky he made just seven of 43 three-pointers.
The foot problem has never returned and Calderon worked so diligently on his shot that he's one of the premier three-point shooting guards in the NBA now, connecting on 42.9 and 40.6 per cent of his long-range attempts the past two seasons, respectively. Heading into his fourth NBA season, he's considered one of the most efficient offensive players in the league - minimizing turnovers, finding teammates for open shots and knocking down his own at a high rate.
Now Calderon wants to prove he can defend. "I want to help my team, I want to be Jose," he said.
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