Between the consistent rehabilitation time and a rollercoaster of emotions, Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins is happy to be back in the comfort of his own home in Portland.
Collins returned to Rip City this past Monday marking his first time back since the revision surgery on his left ankle.
Tuesday morning he had his cast removed.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Collins said Tuesday in an interview with NBC Sports Northwest over Zoom.
For many, it may be hard to believe that Collins’ second ankle surgery was over a month ago, December 30th. It's the second surgery on that same ankle he injured in the NBA restart on September 1st.
That could sum up the laundry list of Collins’ feelings about the past 16 months.
One shoulder surgery and two ankle surgeries can be more than enough to handle for any NBA player.
But Collins is taking it in stride.
His frustrations are obvious, justified, but also inescapable.
He must meet them head on.
Some are things he can control.
Others, he can't.
One of those frustrations has resolved itself. After his ankle surgery in Indianapolis, Collins flew back to his hometown Las Vegas where his family still resides and where Collins has a house. That's where initial rehab began.
And as nice as it was to be around his family and get meal drop-off from his mom, Collins said of his prolonged absence from the Trail Blazers weighed on him.
“It’s definitely not something you want to do midseason.”
But as Collins continues to read several books, including some of the works of Dan Brown as well as one to help stay sharp while dealing with mental challenges, he continues to keep his eye on the prize:
Returning to the court.
Getting back to “mucking things up” on the defensive end.
That’s what he wants right now as he sits and watches his team struggle with inconsistency on that side of the games.
At 23-years-old, and only 11 games logged between last season and this year, Collins is obviously eager to be back on the floor, but he knows he still has a long way to go in the rehab process.
“Up until this point, I haven’t really gone through a lot of injuries in my life and this is the most rehab time I’ve ever done consecutively. It’s taught me that I can get through it and I can handle it.”
Collins has been using a scooter to get around for the past month.
And even though it may feel like the news just broke about Collins needing yet another surgery on his ankle, in fact that’s not the case for the Gonzaga alum.
“It feels like it’s been a year,” Collins said. “It’s been a very long month. You know the first month is never really fun. You’re having your foot up and you’re icing it a lot and you’re bone stemming a lot and you’re just resting, you can’t walk on it.”
The Second Surgery
The Blazers and Collins were diligent in the days leading up to the decision to have another surgery.
Somewhere along the way, Collins' fracture increased in size. The Trail Blazers big man says, “it’s hard to tell” if there was one incident that led to the stress fracture becoming worse following the first procedure. But it was the new reality.
The decision was made.
The team announced that Collins underwent “revision surgery today to repair a left medial malleolus stress fracture,” on Dec. 31. Dr. David Porter at Methodist Sports Medicine in Indianapolis performed the procedure.
The second surgery was more involved than the first. This time, Collins left surgery sporting a hard cast.
“This operation was a little bit more in-depth, so we just thought it would be better to put a cast on to really just immobilize everything and get everything set before we start doing things.”
The good news, though, Collins and his doctors are extremely confident in this latest produce.
Collins explained that while having a stress fracture meant a more detailed surgery than his first surgery, that also meant the body now has a better understanding of what is needed in the healing process.
Those are the conversations Collins has been having with his doctors about the difference from his first and second surgeries that were just under four months apart.
As for the first surgery, Collins knew the risks.
"It’s definitely just a surgery that can go wrong and unfortunately for me, this was one of those times."
Collins was slated to make his return mid-January.
And then all of sudden, instead of ramping up for his first game back, he was in a walking boot and back to the hospital.
But despite the first surgery not being a success, Collins is staying positive.
Why the Stress Fracture Happened in The First Place
Collins’ doctors attributed the initial small fracture to bone spurs.
It was these bony projections that Collins says were accumulating in and around his ankle. Bone spurs are typically caused by joint damage, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The bone spurs grew larger over time.
Collins says he doesn’t know when the bone spurs started and it could’ve been from a minor ankle sprain that didn’t keep him out of action. And, since he wasn’t in any pain, there was no need to have an x-ray or any imagine done on his ankle.
So there was really no way of knowing about the bone spurs until the Blazers did the imaging in the Orlando Bubble after Collins came up limping while grabbing a defensive rebound in the first quarter of Portland’s first play-in game against Memphis.
The Rehab Process
Now that Collins is back in Portland, he’s able to start the rehab process with the team.
The current plan is for him to not travel too much and instead to work with one of the team’s physical therapists.
He will slowly be introducing load to the ankle, while working out every other part of his body that he can.
But since having shoulder surgery on Nov. 5, 2019, Collins mentioned that because he’s been down a road to recovery like this before, he now knows what to expect with rehabs.
As for when he will return, the team has said Collins is out indefinitely.
Collins says the second surgery is similar to the first one with its four-to-six-month rehab process.
But the 7-footer is not ready to circle the calendar quite yet.
The Blazers training staff is going to make sure not to rush Collins back and as Collins puts it, they’re “going to be more detail oriented” this time around.
Because, more than anything, the concern is to not have the bone fracture again.
Staying Connected with the Team
While in Las Vegas, resting his ankle for the first month post-surgery, Trail Blazers Sports Performance Specialist Todd Forcier sent Collins workout plans.
The Blazers big man didn’t miss watching a Trail Blazers game while resting on his couch. He says he feels like he’s a student of the game again watching his team and other games around the league.
But he also makes sure to keep up with what’s being taught and focused on in practice, while “staying in contact with the coaches and the players and asking them things,” after shootarounds and practices in order to stay locked in.
Collins says he is really looking forward to seeing his teammates again next week after he’s cleared to return to the practice facility and the team returns from its six-game road trip.
So Many Injury Prone Comments
Big Z also got real about his feeling towards shedding the injury prone label.
With Collins missing significant time for the second consecutive season, there are many fans out there, who have concluded there’s no hope of Collins staying healthy.
This has been especially hard on Collins since this is the first time in his entire basketball career that he has dealt with significant injuries.
“It pisses me off a little bit,” Collins said. “If you look at it at face value it’s hard to kind of argue that trait.”
As the four-year player sat there expressing his feelings about seeing the various injury prone comments on social media, he still said it with a smile.
Does that seem odd?
It may make Collins angry to know that the Injury Prone Label is currently attached to his name, but, just as Trail Blazers fans have witnessed Damian Lillard playing with a chip on his shoulder, this looks like the biggest chip of Collins’ young career.
Between the tone of his voice and the way he talked about discarding that label as quickly as he can, Collins is ready to go mentally.
Now, he needs his body to catch up.