The wait is finally over.
After two surgeries, almost a year of rehabilitation, a stomach virus and countless questions about whether or not he would ever be able to return, Joel Przybilla will finally get back in the game Friday night against the Wizards. When he steps on the court of the Verizon Center, it will be the end of a journey that started with a gruesome fall in Dallas followed by a potentially career-ending slip in the shower and now completes with an uplifting testament to the will of one of the toughest players to come through Portland.
"It’s been a long time coming," said Przybilla. "It’s just going to be good to be out there no matter if it’s a minute, five minutes. It’s just gonna be good to be out there with the guys, going through warmups and just going through the battles that we go through every day. It’s not the same when you’re sitting on the sideline in a suit. You want to help the team so much and it’s tough when you're doing that."
Neither Przybilla nor Head Coach Nate McMillan are expecting the center, who hasn't played since Dec. 22, 2009 to save the Trail Blazers from their sixth-consecutive loss, but whatever Joel can give in limited minutes will be a welcomed contribution for a team struggling to find something to feel good about.
"It'll be good to have him back, but the thing is, he's been off for a year and he hasn't played basketball in over a year, live basketball," said McMillan. "So this will be the first time. For him it's going to be about getting his feet wet out there and I'm sure he's going to be a little nervous and a little cautious about what he's doing. Having him back, he does a good job of screening and doing some little things for us, so it will be good to have him back in uniform."
McMillan said the plan is to play Przybilla five to seven minutes a half in his first game back as he gets back in game shape and the team gauges his progress. But after declaring himself healthy to play weeks ago, he now will be tasked with remembering the little things that separates NBA players from tall guys playing in rec leagues around the world
"I feel confident in my knee to tell you the truth," said Przybilla. "The only thing I don’t feel that confident about right now is my basketball level. I had my frst surgery Christmas eve so it’s been ... almost a year. So as much individual work and as many practices as I’ve had, nothing compares to a game, being out there and going up and down."
"I'm just expecting him to get on the floor, try to get a rhythm out there," said McMillan. "It's going to take him a few games. This is his first game back in over a year, so what do you expect? Get him out there and get him some time. This is time for him to, as far as rehabbing, it needs to be in the game now."
That that will be tonight, and none too soon at that. There's been a toughness that has been lacking as the Trail Blazers have struggled to find confidence and points, especially in the fourth quarter, over the last ten games. While Przybilla's play likely won't have much of an affect on the outcome in Washington DC, his prescience as a leader on a team looking for answers could make all the difference.
"It’s tough because when you’re sitting on the sidelines, you see things from a different perspective," said Przybilla. "When you’re on the court, it’s totally different. It’s tough to pinpoint certain things because you’re not out there battling. You don’t want to say certain things, but you don’t because you’re not out there. I just want to be out there and help this team as much as possible."