Jabari Parker truly embraces his second ACL rehab: 'It's going to be fun'

Jabari Parker is a positive example. (AP)
Jabari Parker is a positive example. (AP)

Jabari Parker is a spiritual man, and that’s a good thing, because it takes a whole lot of faith to embrace the rehabilitation of a second season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in three years.

The Milwaukee Bucks forward spoke to reporters for the first time since tearing his left ACL again in a game against the Miami Heat on Feb. 8, and he was in more than good spirits given the circumstances.

“It’s going to be fun, to tell you the truth,” said Parker, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I love challenges. I love being in the position I am. I didn’t really feel like talking, but I feel like God has given me this for a reason because he knows I can handle it.

“So I take that burden, because I know a lot of people can’t go through this.”

For what it’s worth, Parker is a Mormon named after a Muslim who has been vocal about President Donald Trump’s “hate“-fueled rhetoric. According to the Journal Sentinel, he recently met with Bucks legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who encouraged Parker to continue his social activism during his rehab.

Still, it’s one thing to support the idea of faith and another to battle with it internally, and two threats to one’s promising career in a three-year span is the kind of thing that can test even the most faithful of men. But in a month’s time it appears Parker has found the mental strength to face the challenge:

“I don’t want to be the same player,” added Parker. “I wouldn’t be myself if I don’t challenge myself to do better things, bigger things.

“I know I can be better.”

At least Parker has experience to draw from. He believes he can be better after the injury if only because he’s done it before. In his second season after injuring the knee for the first time 25 games into his rookie year, Parker was averaging career highs of 20.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists before his third Bucks campaign came crashing down in a heap against the Heat last month.

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“We’ve got the blueprint,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd told reporters, “it worked the first time.”

Milwaukee’s timetable for Parker’s return was set at a year, but he’s shooting to play 40-50 games next season. The Bucks would certainly welcome the opportunity to get Parker, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo some playing time together in 2017-18, but the former No. 2 overall pick’s plan to come back even stronger wouldn’t go into place until at least the following season, after which he will be a restricted free agent and Middleton will have a player option to declare his unrestricted status.

That’s a concern for a different day. Parker’s mission now is this rehab, which will once again be overseen by Bucks senior strength and rehabilitation specialist Suki Hobson, an Australian who has trained Olympic athletes and is considered a world leader in rehabilitation from ACL injuries.

Hobson’s previous rehab work with Parker included hikes in Red Rock Canyon and the Andes Mountains in the summer of 2015. It was the latter trip that helped Parker rediscover his spiritual center before returning from his first ACL surgery, as Parker told The Vertical’s Michael Lee at the time:

After meeting each incremental goal, the turning point in Parker’s rehab came last August, when he took a much-needed getaway — which the Star Wars fan called a “Jedi trip” — to Peru, where he tested the knee and his endurance by hiking the Andes Mountains. Hobson accompanied Parker on the journey, and he is grateful for her dedication to his return.

“Not only as my trainer, but as a friend, she’s been really good. We’ve built a real good relationship, and that’s someone I’d trust my life on,” Parker said.

This “maybe it’ll be good for me” mantra in regards to another ACL rehab isn’t just lip service, either. Parker’s father and coach said the last go-round gave him his first real shot at building an NBA body.

“This was the first time he’d really worked on his body consistently,” his father, Sonny Parker, told Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated in 2015. “It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. This time, he took his time.”

Likewise, Kidd told The Ringer’s Jordan Conn before the latest ACL tear, “In a lot of ways, the injury was good for him. It gave him some time to work on his body and really prepare himself in the right way.”

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Whether or not that will hold true again remains to be seen, Parker still has the mental part down.

“I kind of tricked myself, my mind-set, because when people look at it pessimistically, they think with the wrong mentality,” Parker said upon returning to action roughly 11 months after his December 2014 injury, according to Matt Velasquez of the Journal Sentinel. “You’re probably going to be a different person and it’s pretty traumatizing. For myself, I really didn’t treat it that way, I wanted to treat it as positive as possible, saying that I was going to be able to start back over and build myself up.”

His first rehab was the “Jedi trip,” but this one may be more G.I. Joe, because knowing is half the battle.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!