Abercrombie's ailing left ankle ready to go
When you've been through what Tom Abercrombie has over the last five months or so, you take your positives where you can get them.
And for the NZ Breakers' hoops prodigy a yearning hunger to play the game again is the definite upside to an agonising off-season spent dealing with the fallout of an horrific Peter Crawford foul in the run-in to a second straight Australian NBL title.
Abercrombie went down in the dying seconds of the April 7 semifinal clincher over the Townsville Crocodile, brutally fouled from behind while completing a breakaway dunk.
He has, literally, not been the same since (and clearly still harbours resentment over the cynical nature of Crawford's take-down), requiring off-season surgery to clear up an ankle damaged much more significantly than anyone realised at the time.
The most athletically gifted player in the league limped through the last two games of an engrossing finals series against the Perth Wildcats - remarkably, still playing his part in an epic triumph - and has not taken the court since.
But he was finally cleared to resume full practice duties at the start of this week when the 25-year-old began a process he hopes will have him playing a full part in next Friday's season opener - and grand final rematch - against the Wildcats in Auckland.
"I'm definitely very hungry," said Abercrombie of the fallout of his enforced break. "Watching that whole off-season, sitting round rehabbing, watching all the pre-season games, it's really made me very hungry to get back out there.
"I'm relieved to get through my first [training] session and pretty excited about the next couple of weeks and getting the games started because it's been a long time since I played."
Abercrombie's return is crucial for the balance of the Breakers who badly need his perimeter threat to balance out a pound-it-inside style that's swung full circle with the off-season addition of Wisconsin big man Will Hudson.
Plus, with Leon Henry still struggling to find form after his own off-season travails, the three spot has been problematic for the back-to-back champions during the pre-season.
Abercrombie said he was still feeling stiffness and residual pain after his first scrimmage action but was confident that would fade as confidence and strength returned with every session.
"It's just good to run round freely and get out with the boys again," he said. "There's obviously a little bit of rustiness there that I'll work through, but my fitness is fine.
I've just got to get used to contact again, and get the confidence back I can really push off that ankle and do the things I'm used to doing."
The 1.98m streak of talent admitted it had been hugely frustrating, not only to be so restricted for the finals, but to lose his entire off-season. That curtailed plans to dip his toes in the waters of the NBA and also prevented him from taking a shot at the Olympics.
"You think it's going to heal a lot faster than what it actually does ... but I'm back out on the court now so there are no excuses any more. I've got to try and get better now and integrate myself back into this group."
There was one other positive side to his off-season frustrations. Abercrombie was at least able to get into the gym where he put on 3-4kg of muscle and did "some things that are going to help me get to the next level".
He's also pretty buoyant about the Breakers' prospects of completing a title threepeat in 2012-13.
"We've got Will and Alex [Pledger] inside now and that gives us a bit more inside presence than we had last year. That's probably the biggest difference, but with most of the same group coming back I think we'll see a lot of the same things."
Abercrombie has a daily reminder of what he's been through - the surgeon gave him the bone chips which he keeps in a jar at home - but says he knows when he'll truly feel at ease on the comeback trail.
"It'll be when I'm just not even thinking about it. It's going to take a little while because it's been a traumatic injury. But with time that will happen."
Time is something Abercrombie has had too much of since April. But right now it's his best friend as he strives for the sharpness he'll need to battle the Cats.
- © Fairfax NZ News