||01-25-2009 12:46 PM
Practice ended nearly 30 minutes ago and, one by one, the other Charlotte Bobcats have drifted away, leaving Sean May.
After an extra session of individual work with the coaches and before another appointment with the weight room Tuesday, May folds himself into a chair. Sweat drips from his chin.
This is Sean May's basketball life right now.
All work and no play.
And no french fries.
Still recovering from microfracture knee surgery that sidelined him all of last season and fighting to regain his conditioning this season, May's career has reached a crossroads at age 24.
He hasn't played in a game since Dec.11 and it's uncertain when he'll play again. His coach, Larry Brown, has made it clear to May: Until he weighs 260 pounds, he will not play again for the Bobcats this season. With his contract set to expire after this season, May's basketball future could be defined not by a jump shot but by a scale.
Right now, he is seven pounds too heavy. The extra weight, coupled with the forced limitations on his conditioning work while recuperating, left him out of what players and coaches call basketball shape.
Brown remarked early in the season that May played between the foul lines, meaning his conditioning wasn't good enough to let him keep up with the pace of the game. It led to Brown's decision to deactivate May in mid-December.
“I told him, ‘I'm not putting you out there until you're capable of playing the way we know you can,'” Brown says.
And another day passes.
“Coach set a pretty tough task and goal for me to get down to 260,” May says. “I haven't been that since my sophomore year in college. I'm not far from that. I weighed in the other day at 267. I'm right around the corner.”
As May relaxes after practice, the sweat drips.
The enduring image of May comes from the April night in St. Louis almost four years ago when he completed a spectacular individual run through the NCAA tournament by scoring 26 points in North Carolina's national championship victory against Illinois.
Photographs of May, voted most outstanding player in the Final Four, punching the air as confetti falls around him have become a part of the Tar Heels' rich basketball tapestry.
The drama of a college career that included surgery for a broken foot and the tumultuous change of coaches from Matt Doherty to Roy Williams between May's freshman and sophomore seasons ended like a dream.
“It's a feeling that never leaves you,” May says. “I was on top of the world. A couple months later I had my first knee injury. Then it came crashing down real fast.”
In June 2005, the Charlotte Bobcats drafted May with the 13th pick.
“We made the decision to take May because of his rebounding, because of his ability to pass the basketball and for his basketball IQ,” former coach Bernie Bickerstaff said on draft night.
Others questioned whether May could be an effective NBA player. They doubted whether, at 6-foot-9, he had the athleticism to handle bigger, stronger, quicker players in the NBA.
Before his rookie season, May had arthroscopic surgery to deal with the cartilage problem. He played 23 games, averaging 8.2 points and 4.7 rebounds before his season ended with another knee surgery on Jan.20, 2005.
In his second season, there were evenings when May looked like a star. He grabbed 17 rebounds in a November game against Atlanta and he scored 32 points in a December victory against Orlando.
However, May's knee problems allowed him to play only five of the Bobcats' final 46 games in his second season. Last season, he had microfracture surgery and didn't play at all. This season, he played limited minutes in the preseason and in 16 regular-season games.
His best regular-season performance came Dec.3 when he had 10 points and 11 rebounds in 27 minutes against Oklahoma City. It was one of only two regular-season games in which he played 20 minutes or more.
For most of the past month, May has worked out, practiced and watched games from the bench in street clothes. “Basketball is not picture perfect,” he says.
High-risk knee surgery
While the symptom is weight, the underlying issue is May's right knee.
When he had microfracture surgery, it came with no guarantees that his knee would allow him to play basketball again.
There is a relatively high-risk factor involved in microfracture surgery. In the procedure, small holes are drilled in bones around the joint to generate the creation of scar tissue intended to replace lost cartilage. The surgery has a mixed record of success.
May points to Washington Wizards All-Star Gilbert Arenas, who had microfracture surgery within a month of when May had his and still isn't playing.
Former Hornets star Jamal Mashburn never returned after microfracture surgery, and it took Antonio McDyess two years to get well. May hoped to be ready when training camp started in October, but he wasn't. He hadn't been able to run until shortly before camp started, and it showed.
“He has done everything we've asked from a medical standpoint to rehabilitate his knee,” says team physician Dr. Glenn Perry.
May says his weight topped out at 291 pounds before training camp. A diet heavy on protein took off pounds but left him short of energy.
With the help of a nutritionist, May has restructured his diet and can feel the difference. He has given up pizza and chicken fingers for healthier alternatives.
A typical day includes a breakfast of egg whites and toast, a lunch of whole wheat pasta, a dinner of fish, brown rice and green beans. May's favorite snack is a fruit smoothie with peanut butter.
He practices with the team every day but also goes through a workout regimen designed specifically for him. It includes short bursts on a stationary bike with weightlifting, pull-ups and rowing exercises interspersed. The idea is to keep his heart rate up throughout the 45-minute program.
After Brown decided to make May inactive in December, May approached his coach directly.
“I was eager to play. I thought I'd been practicing a little better,” May says. “I just asked him, ‘Hey, coach, what have I got to do?'”
May says he weighed 275 pounds then. “We made a pact. If he gets down to a workable weight, then I'd play him. He's quickly approaching that,” Brown says. “I said let's get . . . about 260. In my mind, I wanted to see him make an effort and be motivated and show he was really serious about it. I've seen that. He's not right at 260, but I'm encouraged.”
In a game filled with numbers, the only one that matters for May is the one on the scale.
“If the coach says the number is 260, then the number is 260. You have to make it somehow, some way,” says Sean's father, former Indiana star and NBA player Scott May.
Sitting beside the practice court, May says his knee has healed from the surgery but tendinitis has set in. When he walks or runs, there's a sharp pain.
“Right now, it's a process,” teammate and longtime friend Raymond Felton says. “It seems bad to people looking from the outside, but on the inside, from where he was to where he is, man, that's impressive.
“There have been days when he's been down on himself, down about things. You can see it in his face. With help, he's been able to stay positive.”
‘Oh, man, he's talented'
There is another question at work here: Can May be a productive player in the NBA?
Upon taking the Bobcats' job, Brown says assistant coach Phil Ford told him more than once that May had been the team's best player before being injured two years ago.
May has great hands and, with a strong upper body, he is a good rebounder. He can score inside, has a nice touch on his jump shot and has exceptional ball skills for a big man.
“Oh, man, he's talented,” Brown says. “His skills are off the charts. His feel for the game is incredible. When the time comes and he's in the kind of shape he needs to be, he'll be fine …
“I believe at the end of the day, he'll be playing for us.”
The game doesn't come as easily to May now.
“It definitely feels different,” May says of regaining confidence in his knee and reshaping his body. “Now it feels like getting the rebounds is just a little bit harder.”
Clinging to his job
May's original contract expires after this season, and though the Bobcats have the option of adding a fifth year, he could be looking for work when next season begins.
“He's like anybody else, he wants to keep his job,” Scott May says.
Sean May says he doesn't feel he has arrived at a career crossroads. He understands he won't get a big contract offer after this season, but his hope is to get another year and, fully healthy, use it to get a big contract after next season. May is earning more than $2 million this season.
Brown, meanwhile, says this is a critical moment for May.
“Your second contract is the one that really defines your career,” Brown says. “He's approaching his second contract, and we have to get him healthy.”
May knows what people are saying. He's been coddled. He isn't tough enough. He partied too much.
“People can say, ‘He reached the pinnacle in college and maybe he's satisfied.' But anybody who knows me, knows that's the farthest thing from the truth,” May says.
“From the outside looking in, sure, that may be their thought process about me. The bad thing is a lot of times perception is reality. It may not be who I really am.”
May wants to stay in Charlotte. He has family here, his girlfriend is here and he wants his future to be here.
“I'd love to look back and say the first four years of my career were some of the worst anybody could go through and, all of a sudden, I've played 12 years and helped the team get to the playoffs and win championships,” May says.
“I'd love to say that.”
May says when Brown calls his name the next time, he intends to be ready. Still sweating, May walks out of the empty practice facility Tuesday and heads downstairs to the weight room.
He knows where he's going. The hard part is getting there.
This article encourages me about May. I think if he continues to work he should be playing by season end, and I think he'd be perfect off the bench. He's got a nice shooting touch and be another offensive weapon out there. I can't really remember how his D is, but I'm sure with the new team philosophy about defense, he'd be brought up to speed. With DJ and May off the bench, and maybe Morrison will start playing better, that's a good bit of firepower and shooting touch we'd be getting.