NCAA: Cadougan Rides “Cutting Edge” Comeback

November 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Hoops Talk

Before the much-heralded Cory Joseph, Kevin Pangos and Myck Kabongo – the three most talked about Canadian guards since Steve Nash – there was Junior Cadougan, 2009’s top Canadian point guard prospect and Marquette Golden Eagles recruit. Cadougan, a sick-with-it passer and closer, received major praise for his game down south just as he did in his hometown of Toronto, and the hard work behind the reputation paid off. How else would he have got to play with (and help pioneer) the heralded Christian Life Center Academy way down in Humble, Texas? How else could his skills work him into a scholarship to Marquette University to star for the Golden Eagles? They were the same skills that had him relocate to the U.S.A. years earlier for his high school tutelage, forging a south side path Joseph, Kabongo and others would later follow. The same work ethic that had the Golden Eagles faithful hungrily anticipating his arrival in Milwaukee. It was all good until fate flipped the script and the path, which took a sharp and sudden turn for Cadougan just when it was all about to go next level.

“It was crazy because my dream was to go to a high major program and start right away,” Cadougan told SWAY Sports from his North Toronto base. “On September 18 (2009) I had an individual workout and I just took off from the line and my Achilles popped. It was a freak injury and I didn’t know what to do at the time. I had to make my mind up and have that mindset that my career’s not over and I’m still young and I still had the opportunity to get to the highest pro level I could get to.”

For a freshman that kind of injury can be a confidence shaker but Cadougan made the most of his time away from the spotlight. His rehabilitation routine was intense and draining and required the 20 year-old to achieve a level of discipline and stick-to-itiveness he had never before explored. That said, his hometown family offered strong support and his basketball travels under the tutelage of mentors like Christian Life coach Ro Russell, Canada Basketball coach Roy Rana and Marquette head coach Buzz Williams helped to prepare him for the challenge. The tall order of making a full recovery has its own pressures but he talks like he was ready to face them long before he even stepped onto the floor of the Bradley Center. Before that Achilles went pop. Before the answers turned to questions.

“Once I got this injury I couldn’t worry about pain,” said the 6-1, 200 pound Cadougan abut his right Achilles rupture. “If I worried about pain I couldn’t get past the steps. Now I’m just fearless on the court (and) in the classroom.”

In most ways Cadougan was very much on his own with his comeback process. When he wasn’t killing himself in rehab with team trainer Ernest Eugene he was spending more of his free time in the study hall after class. In fact, the focus he exhibited in those intense rehab sessions also translated in his approach to school and the way the two could – and should – feed each other.

“This injury had me doing extra hours in study hall and more focus on the classroom than the ball court,” said Cadougan. “It was kind of bad for me but kind of good because it was a learning experience for me on and off the court for academics and basketball. It just built up my confidence in every way.”

It was that confidence and hard work that put Cadougan way ahead of schedule for a return from an injury most predicted would wash away his freshman year. The idea of him redshirting the season to preserve his full four years of college eligibility was the logical step most observers agreed, but the kid had other plans.

On January 23, 2010 – just over four months after the Achilles fail Junior Cadougan put his improvements to the test when coach Buzz called his number in a game against the Syracuse Orange. It was a return to the court that raised the collective eyebrow of college basketball. He sat on the bench for two games prior to that anxiously waiting to debut and when he finally got in on the action his first ever collegiate shot was an air ball three-pointer. Over 12 games as a reserve he played sparingly and put up numbers that had critics quickly doubting his comeback. What they didn’t see then was the method to his madness.

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“It was a hard decision (not to redshirt),” said Cadougan. His voice lets out a sigh as if to recall the difficulty of his decision. “But it’s the big east and not every freshman can come to the Big East and dominate. I just wanted to get a feel. I wasn’t going to get to the highest pro level after my freshman year in the Big East so I just wanted to get the feel of the game, get the flow of practice, the flow of the offence so that the next year coming up I wouldn’t be shocked on the floor, so I wouldn’t be a freshman again. My main goal was not to be a freshman my second year. I worked real hard to see where I could get at and it got me back on the floor.”

Cadougan and Eugene – a former assistant athletic trainer for the Washington Wizards – barely knew each other when they began the recovery process and Eugene didn’t know much more about being the lead on an Achilles rehabilitation. It was his first. The two began quickly and met often and it wasn’t long before Eugene was impressed with Cadougan’s willingness to push the limits. A trainer’s dream.

“With Junior, because of our extensive research, we were on the cutting edge,” Eugene told Strength & Conditioning Magazine in October. It may have been groundbreaking stuff at the time but neither could be sure until the results were in. Until then, Cadougan had to put his total trust in Eugene but he had no idea that the payoff would come so quickly.

“”I was rehabbing and every time I’d go to the doctor, the things that he would tell me to do in rehab we had already done it a week before,” recounted Cadougan. “That just built up my confidence, like I can do anything because I came back from that Achilles injury. That’s one of the worst injuries you can have.”

The long road began with simple standing and sitting routines followed by pick ups (basically moving things around with your toes) designed to reacquaint Cadougan’s muscles with movement. Once the muscles in his right foot were strong again the real work began. Weeks of resistance exercises came next followed by the confidence building balancing and muscle control exercises that were painful, unrelenting and demanding. In between Cadougan kept to his books, got his rest and even found time to pull a radio stint for 540 ESPN as a guest analyst for Marquette games (“I think you could see me doing a little commentating one day,” he says). An AlterG (gravity altering treadmill) was brought in for low impact running, which provided a big step forward as a weight bearing activity. By December Cadougan had ended his radio gig and was running drills on a basketball court. By January he was back with the Golden Eagles at practice. In four months he had gone from freshman write-off to comeback story.

“I’m actually better than I was before I got injured,” said Cadougan. “My speed, my lane agility, my vertical went up. Everything went up so all the hard work has paid off.”

Along with the strength and conditioning that continued as he played out the season in bits and bites, Cadougan was also getting a view of basketball he hadn’t seen in a very long time. Ask him to self-assess his 12-game season and the answer doesn’t come in some statistical roll.

“I haven’t experienced sitting on the bench before,” Cadougan said of his biggest adjustment. “Once I experienced that it helped me learn to be humble. Anything can happen. I saw things on the bench that I can’t really see playing so it was a learning experience for me.”

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As the college season awakes Cadougan has been anxious to put his body back to work at full speed. In the first game of the 2010-11 season he registered two points and five assists in 13 minutes in a win over Prairie View A & M. On November 22 against the defending champion Duke Blue Devils Cadougan dropped seven assists with five points in 22 minutes. Despite the close 82-77 loss his performance was enough of a flare for coach Buzz to place him into the starting line up for the following contest. On November 27 Cadougan finally achieved his dream of starting at a high major school when he was on the floor with the Golden Eagles for the opening tip against Milwaukee. His 2 of 4 shooting from the floor to go with a couple of steals and assists was cool but better was logging a season-high 30 minutes of burn. His training hasn’t slowed since his unexpected late-season return last year or when the pain from his heel finally stopped in the spring. The process of rehabbing and fighting to return to the court reminded him of the value of determination, the work that supports it and the little time to spare it allows. However, there are still questions to be answered.

“Coming in as a big recruit that’s known for winning I just have to prove that I can win and that I can lead my team and try to make something happen.” Cadougan’s voice raises slightly for the next delivery. “The big statement is ‘Can he win? Can he win Marquette basketball games? Can he lead the team?’ That’s what I’m focused on right now.”

Marquette went 22-12 last season with a 11-7 record versus Big East competition and were first round losers to Washington in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. They expect to improve on that this season with Cadougan in the mix full time. He has obviously kept in close contact with Buzz and his coaching staff throughout the process and knows exactly where he stands.

“I talk to Buzz a lot,” said Cadougan “He just tells me to keep on working. Buzz doesn’t really give to you; he really wants you to earn it. He doesn’t really tell you that you’re going to be this or going to be that. He doesn’t care who you are or what status you have, he’s just going to play the five toughest guys on the team.”

Cadougan’s amazing recovery puts some more stock in that category and if he can attack the hardwood like he did his injury, coach Buzz will carry one of college basketball’s toughest competitors. He is aware of his place there too, that he is also part of a much-heralded Canadian contingent making noise across the U.S. collegiate scene.

“My era with Cory and Devoe (Joseph) and Myck and Tristan (Thompson)… we’re bringing something new to the game and to Canada basketball,” says Cadougan. “We’re showing the world that we can compete at the highest level so it’s special for us as the upcoming kids.”

And Cadougan is still one of them, a worker with loads of potential finally back on familiar ground. He may also be the strongest of the new school after clearing this major setback in fine fashion. More time will have to pass to be sure – and this may be one stage of many – but Cadougan remains ahead of the curve, sure again of his footing and finally back to what he’s always been – ready.

“My mom and my brother,” responded Cadougan when asked about his support group that helped him through his darkest hoop days. “I just have a core of people, I don’t have a lot of people that I socialize with. A lot of people from North York and the people that really know me have my back but I left Canada six years now. People done forgot about me.”

It isn’t just the northern dwellers either. All of college basketball is wondering what happened to Toronto’s next hope. Marquette’s big chip. That ill point guard with the handles and crazy end game that went down south and disappeared. In the world of what have you done for me lately just about everybody has forgotten.

Cadougan appears primed to work that out too. Smart enough to know that the hard road back may be is his testament but that ultimately, his game will be the reminder.

Andy’s World: Rautins on Hectic Pace

August 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Hoops Talk

New York Knicks guard Andy Rautins is having the year of his life. From college team to national program to NBA club, SWAY Sports catches up with the young gunner happily hurting in the middle of it all.

“I’m still a little groggy,” said Andy Rautins at his stall in the Toronto Raptors locker room at the Air Canada Center. Basketball Canada had taken it over for a back-to-back set in the middle of August to play host to Team France as part of their warm up in preparation for the FIBA world championships in Turkey, August 28. French forward and former Seattle Supersonic Mikael Gelabale caught Rautins with an errant elbow in the second half of the first game, chipping a tooth and sending him into a fog.

On the second night Rautins checked himself out of the game in the third quarter after catching an errant knee to his left leg. He grinned through the charley horse with the media afterwards when answering a question about setting tones and physical play. The road to Turkey was just three exhibition games old and already Rautins had his war wounds on display. It’s one of the traits that the undersized and young Canadians will have to play on if they are to make an underdog’s growl at the worlds. There is an edge to players like Joel Anthony, Jermaine Anderson, Denham Brown, Robert Sacre and Rautins that collectively has never been present on a Team Canada roster. A particular nastiness that isn’t incrementally taught, but rather inherency polished over time.

“It feels good to hear them say that we’re a physical team,” said Rautins. “A lot of people are doubting our assertiveness and if we can bring it every night. That’s the type of team we are.”

One the second night of the back-to-back tilt versus the French Rautins reclaimed his touch, registering his best shooting night since turning pro. A 19-point show on an efficient 6 of 12 shooting (3 of 6 three-pointers) to go with three rebounds was more than enough to lead his squad over the struggling Frenchmen 85-63. The team still had its lapses, particularly in the third quarter when the aggressive and sure footing they displayed in a first half route began to fade. All part of the process as the club continues to gel at a rapid pace given the time crunch of the schedule.

“We’ve just got to come out more fired up in the second (half),” said Rautins following that contest before the team boarded a flight to Greece for more exhibition play. “Team’s over there (in Turkey) will take advantage of that. We’ve got a lot of work to do and that’s the good thing, winning by 20 points and knowing you can get a lot better. That’s where out focus is, to just come out and play a complete game.”

For Rautins the schedule has been unrelenting in 2010 and few rookies will have gone through as much of a summer tour come October. First it was a grueling NCAA season with Syracuse University and the mayhem of March Madness before going on to the workouts and hype surrounding the NBA Draft and his 38th overall selection to the New York Knicks. Then there was his summer league play in Las Vegas that saw him shoot poorly but impress defensively. He has been in training camp with the Canadian national team since the end of that stint, signed on to play a crammed schedule of a dozen or so games over another three weeks including the worlds. Finally, after all of that grind, it will be back home to New York and into to his first NBA training camp where he will try to make the roster of the rebuilding Knicks. The physical tax of his whirlwind summer will substantial but it is the mental aspect that is the real bend with that kind of itinerary.

“Especially going from a zone type of system at Syracuse to playing in a three-on-three man-to-man type of atmosphere at NBA tryouts,” said Rautins pointing out one of many adjustments. “You’ve go to be versatile and you’ve got to do what’s asked of you so I don’t think it’s too much of transition. The way we play, our defense is similar to the style of the Knicks as well as coach D’Antoni’s system of get out and run.”

And there are the doubters; the ones who say the 6-4 Rautins may not have what it takes to translate his shooting game to the NBA. His passion though, is undeniable and matches a noted work ethic that has honed his skill as a scorer. If there is a commitment to defense as well Rautins will turn some heads. He carries a chip, his relentless barking on the court got under many a skin while he was in college. Last season he was punched in the groin by fellow Canadian and St. Bonaventure center Andrew Nicholson when the Bonnies grew tired of Rautins’ swag (and penchant for talking on the court), but it was his back-to-back three-pointers moments earlier to help stave off a comeback in that 85-72 December victory that was the last straw. Nine months later the French, clearly irritated during their Toronto visit, punished him physically. Similar poundings have helped add grit to his reputation as a premier shooter in the NCAA over the last two seasons and of this past NBA draft. It would seem a Mike D’Antoni led, light-it-up Knicks offense would be right up his alley, but with heavy competition for jobs to be won and training camp six weeks away the critics fire away.

“You look at my career at Syracuse and I’ve improved every year,” offered Rautins. “I almost doubled my assists from last year. I work my tail off and a lot of people don’t know that. When I get there my job is to knock down shots and be consistent from the three. I think a lot of people underestimate my ability to make plays.

“I was drafted for a reason. The coaching staff sees that and they like me. To almost go first rounds says something about me so I’m looking forward to making a name for myself and proving all the doubters wrong.”

Rautins, who officially announced his signing with the Knicks on August 12th, is excited at the possibilities that exist in the Big Apple and on the floor at Madison Square Gardens.

“It’s on the up and up in New York,” said Rautins. “Look at the signing of Amar’e (Stoudemire), that’s a big piece for our team – the $100M man. There is talk of Chris Paul and they got Anthony Randolph who is a great up-and-coming star. The team is making moves and I think that sky’s the limit for us.

“I talked to coach (D’Antoni) and he said my role was going to be to get out there and shoot the ball, get out there and fill the lanes and spread the floor out. Especially now since I’ve got Amar’e, the inside-out game will be great.”

Just another addition to the growing list of things that have made Andy’s world a beautiful/crazy place to live, and it gets more so. That leg tweak that he suffered in the second game against France may have caught up with the team in Greece where they continued to prepare with exhibition play. Rautins was held out by the coaching staff over the entire European schedule of tune-up games and practices and with the WBC’s at the doorstep, a healthy and ready to go Rautins vital to success. Right now that presence is in some doubt, with national team head coach Leo Rautins expressing concern (”We just don’t know,” said coach Rautins when assessing the likelihood of son Andy rejoining the team on the court). No doubt the Knicks are keeping a close eye as well. To many basketball observers Rautins was a risky pick and both he and the organization are anxious to prove them wrong.

But before he dons the orange and blue Rautins will wear the red and white colors of Canada. He has faced the underdog label for much of his basketball life and his national team will attempt to overcome a similar tag with him co-piloting the effort. He’ll have to be every bit the hot shooting, grinding, yapping, meddling and pestering presence of a guard the young nationals need him to be.

“There’s got to be a great deal of focus,” said Rautins. “It’s the world stage. We’re looking to go out there and do some damage playing against the world’s best.”