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The (ironic) medical journey of Caris LeVert

2016 NBA Draft Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

It’s easy to say now, in October 2018, that Caris LeVert was a no-brainer as an NBA player ... maybe even more than that. But in December 2015, nothing seemed assured. He had broken his foot for the third time while at Michigan. And although he had first round talent, he didn’t know if his history of injuries would prevent him from even being drafted seven months later.

“I didn’t know where I stood with the NBA Draft. It was up in the air. I didn’t know how significant it would be,” he said of the impact of the injuries. “I didn’t know how long i would be out for. I didn’t know how I was viewed in NBA people’s minds.

“(So) I had to go with a doctor who I thought was the best and who I felt most comfortable with.”

Through a remarkable set of circumstances laid out in a video on the Hospital for Special Surgery website, LeVert wound up at HSS and a member of the Brooklyn Nets medical staff ... months before the NBA Draft!

After looking at other surgeons in Michigan and elsewhere, LeVert chose Dr. Martin O’Malley an ankle/foot specialist at HSS in Manhattan who is also the Nets team orthopedist, who specializes in foot and ankle issues. The surgeon has repaired a number of ankles and feet of NBA players, from Kevin Durant to Brook Lopez.

LeVert described their first meeting ... after his mom called O’Malley and told him, “you have to take care of my son!”

“In our meeting, Dr. O’Malley laid out his plan for me, and his demeanor and personality gave me confidence that he and HSS were the right choice.” At that point, of course, he had no idea where he was headed in the draft ... or if he would even be taken.

“Dr. O’Malley recommended that I have surgery to repair the fracture in my foot. I was initially nervous because I knew the recovery would impact my ability to participate in the NBA Draft Combine, but Dr. O’Malley and his staff made me comfortable that I would return to the court better than ever.”

LeVert had surgery in March. It was not simple. Dr. O’Malley took a piece of LeVert’s hip bone and grafted it to his left ankle to strengthen the joint. It worked and LeVert wound up on the team O’Malley advises.

In June, the Nets traded Thaddeus Young for first and second rounders and despite everything, took LeVert at No. 20. Sean Marks has said that he knew LeVert was someone he wanted from the time the Nets interviewed him at the Draft Combine in May. None of the draftniks’ mocks had him higher than No. 38, but the Nets had faith in his talent and his character. In fact, the Nets thought of him as a lottery talent.

They had another advantage of course. They had also spoken with Dr. O’Malley. Just as LeVert had confidence in O’Malley, so did the Nets. Asked if O’Malley’s double-connection to the team and player had helped the Nets take what many thought was a risky choice, a Nets insider smiled and said, “It didn’t hurt!”

In the HSS video, Dr. O’Malley doesn’t say what he may have told the Nets about LeVert back in 2016, but he was clear in the video about how he saw LeVert as an NBA prospect.

“He’s one of those players who’s going to get better in the NBA because he works,” said O’Malley.

The two worked out a 12-week plan for LeVert starting with the surgery on March 27, 2016. That plan permitted LeVert to walk across the stage at Barclays Center on June 23 to greet Adam Silver on Draft Night. He was just off crutches ... almost 12 weeks to the day after he had foot surgery a few miles away in Manhattan. He got an Indiana cap, but quickly switched to Brooklyn head gear. So he became not only Dr. O’Malley’s former patient, but one of his charges in the Nets locker room as the team’s primary orthopedist!

“Hearing my name called during the 2016 NBA Draft was one of the proudest moments of my life. And now that I am a Brooklyn Net, I feel even more lucky to have Dr. O’Malley and Dr. Riley Williams (the Nets medical director and also an HSS surgeon) treating the team and with us every day.”

Williams acknowledges that HSS’s reputation as the best orthopedic hospital in the world is going to draw pro athletes. So is O’Malley’s reputation.

“His reputation and the reputation of the hospital were a significant draw and I think if you know Dr. O’Malley, he’s a pretty compelling personal guy who projects confidence as well as approachability,” said Williams who’s been with the Nets now for more than a decade.

Will all that be a draw, part of the recruiting pitch for the Nets come July?