When Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough walked across the stage at Barclays Center last June, things were looking up for the Nets. Chad Ford begrudgingly gave Billy King an A- for the draft and called Hollis-Jefferson the most underrated player in the draft. McCullough, it was rumored, could be back on the court as early as November.
Instead of competing for the Rookie of the Year, his now admitted goal, RHJ fractured his ankle and missed 50 games, returning to a lost season. McCullough wasn't ready in November or December of January. He didn't debut until February, like his teammate missing 50 games. (Meanwhile in Argentina, the Nets second round pick, Juan Pablo Vaulet, missed 19 games, also to a fractured ankle and may not yet be fully recovered.)
Still, as the Nets Kathryn Przybyla writes, both took a lot away from their rookie seasons.
"I definitely changed as a player," said McCullough. "Feel like my game got a lot better than it was in college. My body changed and I got stronger. I shot the ball more this year."
"I had a goal to get Rookie of the Year, but then the injury happened so that kind of set my back. I think they said I can still get it next year [laughs]. I’m just joking," Hollis-Jefferson said.
The biggest takeaways though had to do with team. Despite a 21-win season and 100 missed games, the two said they had the support of teammates and staff throughout. "They told me, there are situations where things can go either way. Situations where you feel the need to express yourself, but they all aren’t necessary," Hollis-Jefferson said. "You have to understand that and grow up… have to grow up and learn how to bite the bullet."
The two also pointed to meetings they had during their downtime with players who had been role models, Kobe Bryant for Hollis-Jefferson and Shaun Livingston for McCullough. The two meetings, arranged by Nets staffer Matt Riccardi, were meant to bolster their spirits. After tearing his ACL at Syracuse, McCullough had said he read and re-read Livingston's Players Tribune story on rehab and recovery.
"I was talking to Shaun Livingston a lot about it [being injured]. We had similar injuries; we talked about it a lot," McCullough said. "He told me to stay grounded, to stay focused and to work hard because you’ll be out there soon."
Starting in summer league, now 10 weeks away, the two will get a chance to show their stuff to the rest of the league. Should be interesting.