I guess it was 8th grade that I decided where I wanted to go to college. As a hoops junkie living in New Jersey, I naturally rooted for Big East and ACC teams like St. Johns and Duke. After visiting my grandma in the Bay Area that year, though, that all changed. A few years ago I found a picture of me wearing a shirt that my mom bought me on that trip to San Francisco. A Stanford basketball shirt. It was the first time I had Stanford Basketball written across my chest, but it definitely wasnt the last. There was something that just drew me to Stanford. The palm tress and the sunshine didnt hurt, but I think it was the amazing mix of basketball and academics that got me fixed on Stanford.
My family moved from New Jersey to Milwaukee, Wisconsin after my freshman year in high school. As time went by and colleges started to recruit me to play basketball, I always had my heart set on Stanford. After a summer of playing AAU ball, Coach Montgomery told me that a scholarship was waiting for me if my application would be accepted. I went through the process and eventually committed to play ball at Stanford, like I had always wanted to. It almost felt like a dream come true.
On and off the court, my four years at Stanford were awesome. It was a great experience just to be around so many smart, talented, and down-to-earth people on a daily basis. Aside from being cool, the people at Stanford are really into basketball, which made it a great place to play. Coach Montgomery, who was at Stanford for my freshman and sophomore years and who is now head coach of the Golden State Warriors, really believed in making his young players pay their dues. And that is what I did. During those two years that I came off the bench for Stanford, I learned the system and grew as a person and as a player. I was also part of two really good teams, one of which (my sophomore year) made a historic run at an undefeated season while being the #1 team in the country for most of the year. Not many people can say that they were on a team that started the season 27-0. That was a wild ride.
When the ride ended and both Josh Childress and Coach Montgomery left Stanford for the NBA, I knew that a lot of people doubted our team and that I needed to step up. That summer, I was on a mission to show those doubters that they were wrong. I trained in San Francisco all summer (3 sessions a day/6 days a week) and came back to Stanford ready to help the team win. We started off slow and lost a few disappointing games early on, but by the middle of conference we hit our groove and became one of the top teams in the Pac-10. Then, in a home game against our rival Cal on February 12th, I tore my ACL in my right knee on a fast break. Getting hurt at that time and not being able to finish the season was hard. My team was in 3rd place in the conference behind Washington and Arizona and I was 3rd in the conference in scoring behind current NBA players Ike Diogu and Dijon Thompson. I had surgery, watched my teammates finish out the year, and started to rehab.
To say that the rehab process was long would be a huge understatement. I worked as hard as I could to get back for my senior season. It took me a month just to be able to walk again. 8 months after surgery, just as practice was starting, I started playing 5-on-5 again, with a large protective brace on my knee. I knew that the brace slowed me down significantly, but my main focus was my health, so I wore it. Anyone who knows about ACL injuries says that it is an 18-month recovery process, and even though I was not my normal self, I really felt blessed and thankful just to be able to play my senior year, even if it was at 50 or 60 percent capacity. A lot of people ask me why I didnt redshirt a year like most people due after that type of injury. The truth is, the thought of redshirting never entered my mind. I am extremely close with my teammates (my classmate Matt Haryasz is one of my best friends for life) and I wanted to be there to help my team win and to finish out my career with the guys I had been playing with for four years.
People also ask me if I regret playing a year while still recovering from a very serious injury and the way that it may have hurt my draft stock. The truth is, I dont regret it at all. I did what I thought was best for my team and for my knee. I knew I needed to play and get my confidence back in order to recover, so thats what I did, even if it meant having to wear a knee brace and not being able to move the way I would have liked to. Injuries dont change the type of player someone is, and I have been pleasantly reminded of that now that it has been over 15 months since I had surgery. I havent worn a knee brace in months and I never think about the injury anymore (the knee I had surgery on is actually stronger than it was before). Everyone who has seen me work out says that they can never tell that I was injured and as far as Im concerned, I never was. I feel better than I ever have and I am excited that the draft process gives me a chance to show people that. Its been a long time coming.