Adrenaline. It’s a powerful chemical. It can make you perform feats under impossible circumstances, whether it’s lifting a car, going into a burning building, or surviving otherwise unimaginable pain.
The latter was performed by Oregon center Chris Boucher on March 11, 2017. In the first half of the Ducks’ semifinal clash in the Pac-12 Tournament against Cal, Boucher crashed the boards and came down hard on his knee. However, because of adrenaline, he didn’t feel anything immediately and continued to run and jump normally, playing 24 minutes in the game. It wasn’t until an MRI scan the next morning that it was revealed Boucher had torn the ACL in his left knee and would miss the remainder of his season and college career that he knew this pain was more than just a temporary stinger.
An ACL tear is deadly, typically taking six months or more to fully recover from. This would be a disheartening injury for anybody, but it especially hurt for Boucher. After his circuitous journey to Division I basketball (detailed in a November 2016 SI article by Luke Winn), being forced to sit on the sidelines in what should have been his final tournament run burned deeply.
However, Boucher has been dealt setbacks in his life before, and, like those previous instances in his life, he hasn’t let this one stop him from achieving his goals. This time, that goal is the NBA. The pre-draft process is nerve-wracking and stressful for most prospects: after all, despite the large amount of media coverage at the college level, they are still largely 19 and 20 years old, and are susceptible to the same emotions and pressures as everyday young adults. All of this attention is compounded for Boucher, who has had to attend NBA workouts and meetings alongside his own personal rehab sessions. Considering all the obstacles he’s overcome in his life, it’s not surprising that Boucher has approached this challenge with positivity and good spirits.
“[The pre-draft process] hasn’t been too bad," Boucher said. "The first few weeks were hard because we had to account for crutches, find a way to extend the knee, and make sure flying wouldn’t make it swell up, but it got better soon.”
A little more than three months after his left knee crumbled, Boucher is working hard to get back to full strength. When he’s not flying all over the country to meet with team personnel (he's had nearly a dozen team workouts), he’s back at the Oregon campus in Eugene, continuing his rehabilitation plan. Boucher lifts four days a week, focusing on single-leg balance, dumbbell squats, and leg lifts, all geared around making his knee stable and strengthening the left hip and quad, both of which were also affected by the injury. Boucher still can’t do much on the court yet, as he has not yet regained lateral movement and is limited to just stationary shooting as of now, but happily reports that Oregon doctors say he’ll be able to run in a week or two. All these timelines are scheduled to end on Oct. 1 when he plans to be game ready. Boucher is hoping an NBA team picks up the phone and decides to take a chance on a 6’10” stretch-5 with elite potential.
It should come as no surprise that Boucher's made the best of this situation and looked to better his draft prospects. One of the main criticisms of Boucher’s play is his lack of feel for the game and tendency to make rushed decisions with the ball. This is well founded, as he averaged more turnovers than assists in his final season at Oregon. However, permanently sitting on the bench during the Ducks’ run to the Final Four enabled him to see the floor from a new perspective and raised his “basketball IQ.”
“Normally I was so caught up in the flow of the action that I didn’t take the time to notice details, but in the tournament I saw [offensive and defensive play] sets in a new way, and started to think about them differently," he said.
One specific sequence that was especially helpful was the oft-discussed final sequence of the Oregon-North Carolina Final Four matchup, when Oregon big man Jordan Bell was outrebounded by UNC's Theo Pinson and Kennedy Meeks on successive free throw misses, arguably costing Oregon the game and ending their season. Like most viewers, Boucher noted his teammate's lack of effort and failure to box out UNC players, and vowed never to make such a careless mistake.
On the physical side, Boucher has paid attention to the feedback criticizing his thin frame (he weighed in at just 182 pounds at the NBA Combine in May) and poor handle, and has worked hard on getting stronger and improving his dribbling this off-season, since his ability to improve the rest of his game has been limited.
While Boucher’s injury may have sidetracked his hopes and dreams in basketball, his non-sports life is thriving. He recently graduated from Oregon with a degree in sociology, and continues to support and be supported by his fellow Ducks in the draft (Tyler Dorsey, Dylan Ennis, Dillon Brooks, and Bell) and coach Dana Altman, who was in the crowd when Boucher walked for graduation. He also recently signed with Roc Nation Sports, the Jay-Z led agency. However, he's still yet to meet HOV himself.
“Not yet. But I want to meet Rihanna first," he said.
Whether it's adrenaline or Rihanna, Boucher never lacks for motivation.