<
>

Jabari Parker's long journey back comes with high hopes

play
Bucks win in Parker's return (0:54)

In Milwaukee's 91-87 win over Philadelphia, Jabari Parker scores two points on 1-of-6 shooting in his first game back from a torn ACL. (0:54)

Suki Hobson is like a high-priced defense attorney. You don't want to ever need her services but if the time should unfortunately arise, she is the type of specialist you'll want.

The Milwaukee Bucks hired Hobson, an Australian rehab specialist and sport scientist, earlier this year. She's part of a wave of Australian sports science experts who are coming to the NBA. The Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors recently hired Aussies to their training staffs as well.

Hobson, though, specializes in a specific kind of disaster recovery -- the torn ACL. She has studied the injury and its rehabilitation for her entire career. She brings over 15 years of experience in the field, having run her own athletic performance company from its Melbourne base. And this was a major reason the Bucks imported her last February as Jabari Parker was about to begin rehabbing his left knee.

For the last nine months these two, the odd couple of Suki and Jabari, have been on an odyssey. It hits a major milestone Wednesday when Parker makes his return from the blown ACL he suffered last December.

"Not only as my trainer, but as a friend, she's been really good," Parker said this week as he prepared for his return against the 76ers on Wednesday. "We've built a real good relationship. That's someone I'd trust my life on."

Parker had to trust her in August when Hobson took him to Peru to do training in the Andes Mountains, hiking in the altitude to build stamina. Parker described that trip as a sub-journey in what was an extended mission.

"It was also a trip that I took for character," Parker said. "We take a lot for granted out there and you don't find out how fortunate you are even though you come from the bottom of the financial pool."

Milwaukee's best on tap

There's a point to all this and not just to get a player healthy enough to play again. The Bucks' long-term success is tied closely to how Parker comes back from this injury. Here is the reality: If this young Bucks team is going to a mature into something worth getting excited about, it's probably going to be because Parker turns into a superstar.

Khris Middleton is a high-quality shooting guard, a position of need for so many teams. Giannis Antetokounmpo is an astonishing athlete who is still learning how to use his gifts. Greg Monroe is a valuable big man who numerous teams coveted last summer. Michael Carter-Williams is a work-in-progress prospect.

With a difference-making player, that core is something. But getting the big piece is the hardest part as many a coach and executive will tell you. The Bucks are banking that Parker, the No. 2 overall pick in 2014, is it. He's got the talent to become a generational scorer.

So seeing his knee collapse last December in Phoenix made them swallow hard.

Parker has been making headlines since he was a young teen, but when teams took a close look at him before the draft there were some yellow flags over his conditioning. That's not a shocker, it is the case for many a college player, especially the 19-year-olds.

"He has been in the weight room. He looks stronger. He feels better. I think he feels the weight room this summer has given him a voice, he's talking more." Jason Kidd, on Jabari Parker's progress

The Bucks and Parker have been using this convalescence, attempting to deal with the conditioning issues. Truth be told, Parker looks huge at the moment. He came into the league as a combination small forward and power forward but seeing his size now, it's hard to seeing him playing anything but power forward. It isn't that he's cut. He's just, well, big.

Parker is listed at 6 feet 8 and 250 pounds but neither of those seem accurate up close. He seems both taller and bulkier now. He resembles Carmelo Anthony now with this size, a potential matchup problem who is a smallball stretch-4.

While he was out, Parker said he studied film at small forward, power forward and center. The last one in that list caused a pause. But alongside the lanky Antetokounmpo, who knows what position-less systems are possible? The other knock on Parker is his defense, having a lot to learn in that regard. Figuring out how to use his size is going to be a process.

But the Bucks are eager to get it going. He'll start slow. Hobson has a system and literally has written volumes on the ACL process, with 15-20 minutes a game from the start. There is no missing the controlled optimism around the Bucks, though.

Whispers about Parker's impressive play in practice have gotten out. He also had a strong showing in a public scrimmage last month. And with the Bucks off to a sluggish 1-3 start, this is a welcome moment.

"He has been in the weight room. He looks stronger. He feels better. I think he feels the weight room this summer has given him a voice, he's talking more," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "It's exciting because this is something we thought, unfortunately with the injury, it's been delayed and now we have the opportunity to see these guys play together. It should be fun."