Thad Young knew something was up when, as he spoke to reporters over Zoom the morning of the Bulls’ Dec. 11 preseason opener against the Houston Rockets, his left leg began to feel numb.
He’d been battling an ailment of some kind in that leg the entire week of practice, and even participated in shootaround that day. He figured it was “just a nick.”
“If you notice, I was a little fidgety,” Young said of that media session in his first public comments since. “My leg started to go a little numb. And it just kind of swelled up on me. I told (Bulls head athletic trainer) Todd (Campbell), ‘Yo, I need to go to the hospital and get this checked out.’”
By the time Young arrived, he said his leg had swelled even further, and that he was in a considerable amount of pain. Numbness persisted. A gaggle of doctors identified the infection as MRSA, a common abbreviation for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterial infection that once notably threatened the career of Grant Hill.
“At first I wasn't scared at all,” Young said. “Until I got to the hospital and I seen my (swollen) leg, and then I seen, like, she went and got three or four of the doctors. Usually when they go get three or four of the doctors and get them in the room with you, then something's wrong. Like, really wrong. So, that's when I started to get a little worried about it.”
From there, Young said doctors quickly “drained” the infected area to subdue swelling and pain. He’s relieved to have caught it early, and says he’s now healing well.
“Thank God we caught it super early. Just been dealing with it, trying to get myself back,” he said. “It’s healing well now. I just got cleared to start doing some kind of activity, whether it’s like getting on the bike or a light run and shooting. I’ve been doing upper body lifts. Hopefully I can start doing lower leg stuff soon.”
The infection, Young said, isn’t a rare one for athletes. And indeed, the CDC has identified athletic facilities as a common spreading ground for the bacteria “because of shared equipment and skin-to-skin contact.”
“I had never heard about it because I never had to think about it,” Young said. “Obviously, now I'll be thinking about it a little bit more and trying to keep myself away from it. But the biggest thing is like just, I think it's more along the lines of just properly cleaning all the equipment to its entirety and properly cleaning all of the things that I'm using or are doing the things that.
“Just because the bacteria just kind of lingers around and you touch it and then once it gets on you it can create this big problem. So, for me, like I said, it's just making sure everything is properly cleaned and properly done in the right way.”
Young, who missed all four preseason contests due to the infection, remains without a timetable to return.
“There will probably be some sort of ramp-up period for [Young], so to speak, in terms of he’s missed some conditioning and a lot of practice,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “He was dealing with a hamstring right around the time we started training camp. We’ll have to work to get him back. He’s a veteran guy, a smart guy, but most importantly just his health. He’s doing a lot better just based on where he was a week or 10 days ago.”
Denzel Valentine speaks
Valentine fully practiced for the second time on Monday after returning from a hamstring strain the day prior. He said his body is “feeling good” and he’ll be available for Wednesday’s regular season opener after playing the role of the “team’s biggest cheerleader” during the preseason.
“It’s not ideal to come into camp and have an injury and pretty much miss all of preseason. But it is what it is,” Valentine said. “I’m just blessed I’m back and available now. I’ve just got to keep moving forward and help this team as much as I can.”