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  Wed, August 27, 2003


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Classy 7-footer will rise to new heights

By KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

It's described as a micro-fracture.

Perhaps, but it had macro-implications for Eric Montross. Seldom has something so small conspired so successfully against someone so big.

After 17 maddening months, Montross gave in to an injury so tiny you need a microscope to see it. At 31, he announced his retirement from the Raptors yesterday.

Officially, Montross gave in to "a stress reaction to a micro-fracture in the talus bone in his left foot." In layman's terms it is the basketball version of the old fable The Princess and The Pea. His injury may be invisible but it causes him excruciating pain.

SPECIALISTS

"What the doctors have concluded -- and there have been nine specialists who tried to assess this injury -- is that there are a couple of tiny chips obscured by the string ligament," he said. "It's a mid-foot injury and it just happens to be in the absolute worst place you can have it. They just can't get at it.

"We have been tireless in our efforts to find a remedy. It seemed too simple or too minor for it to be career-threatening but certainly it has come to that point."

He didn't play at all last season and his absence was felt rather dramatically, especially when the Raptors had no big man to do the pounding and take the pounding down low.

Montross never has been a headliner, just the kind of essential player who elevates the character of any team he's on. All he did for 10 years was bring his 7-foot, 270-pound body to work every day to do whatever he was asked to do to help the team win. He has been a willing foot soldier, ready to do the thankless grunt work against some of the largest athletes in the world.

With the Raptors, he was seldom a starter but his professional approach earned him plenty of respect.

"I've always taken my preparation seriously. I've always taken the approach top be as professional as possible.

"It's all about team success. The numbers get all the glitz and glamour but if you're a competitor, you live for the competition and you live for the team and the camaraderie you get from that."

The injury happened in April 2002, under the most innocent of circumstances, at home, walking on flat ground.

"It was a relatively innocuous situation, just a step, really," he said. "It wasn't a misstep, not a fall, not a twist. The way it has been told to me is that, over time, the wear and tear of playing basketball as long as I've been playing, this was just the straw that broke the camel's back."

Seventeen months later, he stood in front of his locker where his 00 uniform still hung and surrendered to his freakish injury.

"Not every career has a storybook ending," said Montross, who is now trying to wrap his mind around that thorny problem that every retiring player faces.

What next?

"I'm running for governor of California," he said jokingly. But then, who isn't?

He has settled his family in North Carolina. He and his wife, Laura, have a son, Andrew, and a daughter, Sarah.

"It's time to let the dust settle," he said. "It's a pretty big transition for our family. For the last 10 years, we've been under the influence of the team as far as what we're gonna do and when we're gonna do it and how we're gonna do it. Now there's a lot of flexibility.

"At the same time, I'm not one to be able to sit back and let the world go by. I need to be out in it. I'm going to take my time and figure out what the right opportunity is."

Bright and articulate and easy to like, it's a safe bet Montross will not be idle for long.

"I told him he's like the character at the end of Cast Away, standing at the crossroads looking in every direction, able to pick whichever one he chooses," Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald said.

BIG FAN

Montross is a big fan of new coach Kevin O'Neill and believes his intense nature may be just what the Raptors need.

"I think he's going to be a really good fit for this team. You've got a lot of young guys who really need to be coached. I think he's going to drive that into them and out of them.

"Coach O'Neill is going to light a fire."

Somehow, we suspect, Montross will someday be lighting some fires of his own.









Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
  Yes, new GM made great moves
  No, they will still be a terrible team
  Unsure what to make of it


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