For some 20-year-olds, more than two months off from work would seem like a dream vacation. For Jared Sullinger, the weeks away from his job as an NBA player dragged by slowly.
"I had way too much free time," he said. "It was just crazy."
The Celtics rookie underwent lumbar disc surgery on February 1, abruptly ending a promising first year in which Sullinger emerged as a threat on the glass. Instead of continuing his momentum from the month of January during which he averaged 7.0 points and 7.2 rebounds (including 2.5 offensive boards), the forward was sidelined from the game he has been playing since the age of four.
"I had to wait nine weeks after surgery to begin working out," Sullinger recounted. "I couldn't even tell you what I did. I was pretty much on bed rest. I could walk around at times, but I pretty much didn't do anything."
Sullinger, who turned 21 in early March, passed time by playing Madden and NBA 2K video games on his XBox and PlayStation 3 as well as the word game Ruzzle on his smartphone.
When he wanted to clear his mind, he watched one of his childhood favorite movies.
"I've watched 'The Lion King' four times (since surgery)," said Sullinger. "Rafiki the monkey makes me laugh. It was a family movie when I was growing up. I like it because it teaches you you can always overcome. I'm like Simba."
During his recovery, Sullinger stayed in close contact with his teammates. He frequented the Celtics locker room, often dressing in warmup gear before games, and was present on the sidelines at practices.
The rookie continued his mentorship with Kevin Garnett, who quickly took him under his wing as a student of the game during training camp.
"He still helps me out," said Sullinger. "We're constantly talking. Defensively, offensively, he keeps me in tune what the team has, what we need to do, what we don't need to do."
Sullinger has also developed a special relationship with Rajon Rondo during his rehab. Like Sullinger, Rondo also underwent season-ending surgery in Feburary to repair an ACL tear in his right knee.
"This is my first surgery and he went through his first surgery," said Sullinger. "We both say, 'Let's get back. Let's get back as healthy as we can.' It helps me a lot. At the same time, it's kind of sad. It's something you don't want to have in common, especially with someone like Rondo with the way his season was going."
After being cleared to return to physical activities, Sullinger has been working on strengthening his core and back with planks and pelvic tilts. He also began viewing the game with a different perspective. Whereas most rookies find NBA basketball to be fast-paced in comparison to college, Sullinger has been able to slow it down watching away from the court -- "You've got to take it in and know what to do, know your strengths and know your weaknesses," he said.
He is expected to be ready for training camp next season but has not been given a timetable for his return. In the meantime, he is approaching his recovery with patience.
"I learned you've just got to understand that basketball will come back," he said. "Fortunately, I'm not 40 so I know it will come back."
Sullinger is looking forward to the day when basketball returns for him. He isn't making predictions about the player he will be in his sophomore season, other than being a healthy.
"I was trying to find my niche (my rookie year). I was on an incline, then I got hurt," he said. "I have a back now, so I don't know, we'll see."