Collin Sexton says he’ll ‘absolutely’ be back before season’s end

Utah Jazz point guard has been hamstrung by his hamstring, missing the team’s past 13 games, but said on Friday evening that he is ramping up for a return.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Collin Sexton (2) drives the ball as the Utah Jazz take on the Portland Trail Blazers in NBA basketball at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.

If, as a Utah Jazz fan, you’re feeling frustrated that point guard Collin Sexton seemingly hasn’t played in forever, just know that Collin Sexton is right there with you.

Friday night’s loss to Milwaukee was the 13th consecutive game he’s been sidelined by a left hamstring strain. He last played — in an official game — before the All-Star break on Feb. 15, when he saw the court for 3 minutes and 41 seconds against Memphis before checking out with the injury. (He did subsequently compete in the Skills Challenge.)

With just nine games remaining in the regular season — including Saturday night in Sacramento — it seems fair to wonder if he’ll be back.

Before Utah’s loss to Milwaukee, he had a definitive answer.

“Absolutely,” Sexton told local media in a pregame interview. “I’ve just pretty much been ramping up and just trying to get back out there. It’s tough just sitting there on the bench and watching. It’s very tough. But I know that I can help my team [for now] just by being encouraging and being the best cheerleader I can on the bench, and just trying to continue to coach while I’m on the sideline.”

He’s aware that time is running short. He’s aware that the team is in the midst of a playoff chase.

But he’s also aware that rushing the process and trying to come back before his body feels ready will ultimately be counterproductive.

“It’s really tough, just because we haven’t been able to get any live up-and-down as much. … Because we have so many games, we don’t have any time to really practice and to play 5-on-5,” he explained. “So we’ve just been trying to do other things in the weight room and on the court to continue to simulate game reps. It’s very tough, but I feel like we’re doing we’re moving in the right direction.”

Sexton’s continuing absence certainly is not from a lack of desire to play.

All season long, the point guard’s teammates and coach Will Hardy have gone out of their way to mention that he has an insane work ethic, that coaches and trainers frequently have to encourage him to dial it back a bit.

He’s attacked his rehab with that same intensity: “They know how bad I want to be out there. So we’re working day and night, early in the morning even before practicing, before shootaround.”

Asked what his mental state is after not being able to play in more than a month, he replied simply that it’s “Very frustrating. Very, very frustrating.”

In the meantime, he’s putting his trust in the team’s training staff. He’s conscientiously following the routine that they’ve given him. He’s being honest in the feedback he provides about how his body reacts to various drills and exercises.

After missing most of last season with a torn meniscus, then suffering multiple hamstring injuries this season, he noted that he hasn’t stopped doing any of the prep work he’s always done, but that the physical therapists he’s on board with now have made a few additions to his routine in a bid to strengthen his legs for the future.

“I don’t want to have to ever revisit a hamstring issue,” Sexton said. “So now we’re just trying to correct everything and get everything right and moving forward. We know what works for me and works for my body so that we can make sure that we don’t have to miss games moving forward.”

He’s noticeably been stalking the sidelines during games, potentially risking the ire of referees tasked with enforcing a new rule cracking down on players encroaching upon the court. Hardy has noted that various refs have asked him to get Sexton to sit, only for the coach to insist that he has tried and failed — repeatedly — to get the guard to comply.

Sexton laughed and noted he’s had various officials give him polite-but-stern reminders, and that he’s had to resort to being “sneaky” about it (though it can’t really be that sneaky if everyone sees you do it).

When not prowling around like a predator about to strike, Sexton is watching intently and taking copious mental notes. He’s making it a point to ask teammates like Talen Horton-Tucker and Kris Dunn about certain plays or scenarios, asking what they saw. He’s also, at times, passing along to those same teammates various things that he has seen, giving suggestions about how they can exploit particular opponents’ tendencies.

And when he’s not getting told to sit down by the refs, he’s engaging them during timeouts — sometimes to stick up for a teammate he believes was the victim of a wrong call, oftentimes getting clarification on an official’s interpretation of events, so that he either can pass along helpful tips (”Dok, they’re gonna get you on that second bump every time”), or so that he becomes more knowledgable about what he can or can’t do when he finally makes his return.

Speaking of which, he anticipates that when he does finally get back into a game, it will be a most triumphant return to action. After some up-and-down play throughout the season, he believes he’s primed for a great finish.

“Just been working on my craft and working on things so when I do come back, I can just fit right in and just be ready to go,” Sexton said. “I feel like my craft has gotten better. I feel like I’ve gotten better even though I haven’t been playing games. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better.”

There are nine games left to see if he’s right.