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Utah Jazz: Mehmet Okur regrets returning to the basketball court too soon

Published: Saturday, Aug. 29 2015 12:27 a.m. MDT

On Thursday, the Jazz's Mehmet Okur talked for the first time since the team announced that he would be out for the season. Okur said he will spend the offseason in Turkey.   (Tom Smart, Deseret News) On Thursday, the Jazz's Mehmet Okur talked for the first time since the team announced that he would be out for the season. Okur said he will spend the offseason in Turkey. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — While speaking for the first time since it was announced his basketball year is over, Mehmet Okur jokingly told reporters he finally has a concrete timetable regarding his injury.

"Out for the season."

Despite scrapping this injury-plagued year — one in which he was hampered by his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon, a sprained ankle and nagging lower back problems — the 6-foot-11 center has no plans on calling it quits for good.

His real timetable for return: Day 1 of the 2011-12 season (knock on wood for multiple reasons).

Between now and then, however, Okur has quite a bit of rehab work to do to strengthen his ailing Achilles and his sore back.

"The smart thing," Okur said, "was just to shut me down and get rehab and get ready to go next year. ... I should be OK. I'm not that old. I'm just 32. It's going to be a huge summer for me. Obviously, I'm going to keep getting rehab, especially start with my left leg and make it stronger, then my back. I can't wait."

That last phrase, however, proved to be part of Okur's problem this season.

In retrospect, the Turkish standout wishes he would've been more patient in returning.

It took Okur exactly eight months between the day he ruptured his tendon — in Game 1 of the playoffs last April in Denver — and when he stepped on the court for his NBA return in December.

Okur regrets that he was in such a rush, only participating in two scrimmages before returning. He rolled an ankle during a pregame warm-up against Kyrylo Fesenko two nights after playing his first game, and that just set the stage for his health roller-coaster ride.

"I kept trying and kept trying, day in and day out. It didn't work out. I'm one of those guys who really don't like to sit," Okur said. "This year really didn't go well for me. Everything's downhill for me. I'm old, not that old.

"I tried everything, and we tried everything. Everybody did a great job, but it didn't work out. I have to sit back and get better."

Okur's first back injury cost him six games, but his health was eventually doomed for this season because his ever-aching and weakened Achilles and back woes simply didn't play well together. In all, Okur only played 13 games — and those were far below his usual standard.

"I did ... try to come back too quick," Okur said, "because I was really hungry to play basketball."

Added the former All-Star: "It wasn't really a good thing to come back early, but I wasn't thinking right because I was hungry. I just wanted to be on the floor and play.

"If you go back to 11 months ago, I wouldn't have done the same thing. I would wait to get 100 percent then I could play."

Okur also looks forward to returning to Turkey for the offseason (however long that is with the impending potential lockout). Last summer, Okur stayed in Utah for most of the summer to rehab his Achilles.

In the meantime, he is doing abdominal and back exercises, using different movements. He isn't doing any jumping, running or anything basketball-related yet.

Okur agreed his season-long injury issues were among many things that went wrong with this season.

"It's been a rough year," he said.

One that's soon to be over for his teammates — barring multiple miracles that catapult the 11th-place Jazz into the eighth spot — but has been over for him since his progress halted when his back regressed on the road two weeks ago.

"To be honest, it wasn't really easy for me," Okur said of the decision to end his season. "But if you look at the bright side, I felt, 'OK, if no basketball I can more focus on my back. As long as I'm not jumping and coming down or running and stopping, all of those kind of movements really bother me.

"I looked on the bright side," he added. "I said, 'OK, I've got to look forward now to get rehab and to get better. But overall it was tough, but it is what it is. I've got to look forward and hopefully I'll be back next year."

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