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Exclusive: Edmond Sumner on his Achilles tear, year away from basketball and zero bad days
Sumner last played in a game over a year ago and is set to enter free agency. "I’m so confident coming back from this," he said in his first interview since the injury.
Edmond Sumner was all set up to have the most memorable and rewarding year of his life.
He was coming off a productive season and one where he started in 24 of 53 games played. A big season with likely a larger opportunity was ahead. The shot he had been working on? He made nearly 40% of 3-point attempts. He knew he still had a ways to go, but it was all starting to click.
On the court, he was healthy and feeling better than ever. And off the court, he proposed to Audra Thompson, his fiancé whom he met while attending Xavier University, last July while vacationing in The Bahamas.
But then everything changed in an instant for the 6-foot-4 Pacers guard. Open gym, running a fast break and all of a sudden, it snapped. An unmistakeable sound.
“That was so disappointing for me because I lost momentum for the last year,” Sumner said during an hourlong conversation last month at a coffee shop in downtown Indianapolis.
“I felt so comfortable. This is the first year I’m coming in where I didn’t feel like I was playing from behind. I’m comfortable, I felt like I belonged. So then I couldn’t swallow it, it was just so frustrating.”
Sumner hasn’t done any interviews over the last year. He kept to himself, focused on rehabbing and coming back even stronger even though he didn’t have a roadmap for recovery.
In this interview, he looked back on that dark moment, detailed all that he went through, the turning point in his recovery and then suddenly being traded — all while maintaining a remarkable sense of joy and gratefulness.
“It was a great year for me,” he began, his voicing raising with enthusiasm. “I was excited about what I did on the court. Then going into the summer, I got engaged. Then we got a new coach and I was so excited. I remember coach (Rick) Carlisle asked me to come in to workout. That was the first time a head coach hit me up and asked me to come in personally. I came in and worked out. He actually put me through a workout himself and we had played some open gym afterward.
“I had a really good workout in front of him. It was like my first time really interacting with him and I felt like he liked me so I was really excited about that.”
Sumner won’t forget the date. It was Thursday, September 9, 2021. He had already been at the practice facility twice that week and now, even more players were returning for good from the offseason. That means more numbers to scrimmage.
“It was just a normal day, which is so crazy,” Sumner remembered. “I’m feeling amazing. My head is hitting the backboard, nothing is bothering me. Like nothing. This is the best my body has felt since probably now.”
That feeling, however, soon evaporated.
“Like a Gunshot Inside My Head”
Sumner’s words are racing like he does down the court. He’s describing the moment as if it’s happening in front of him.
“T.J. (McConnell) advanced me a pass, something I’ve done literally all season long,” he said. “I catch it in semi-transition and I go to step, take one dribble and I fall. It’s mostly new guys there so I’m thinking guys are going super hard. I’m about to be like, ‘Yo, you just tripped me? It’s open gym, man.’ But I looked back and there’s nobody behind me.”
Now that’s a visual.
Nobody nearby, a pathway to the basket in what should have been an easy flush at the rim. Instead, it wiped away what would have been his fifth season as a pro.
“You know how people always say you hear a pop? It literally sounded like a gunshot inside my head so now I understand why people say that,” he continued. “It’s a big difference than if you move around and your knee might crack. So now I really understand how it’s a different sound. It was like a rubber band inside my head just popped.”
This is coming from a player who already had two surgeries, one on a shoulder and the other on a knee. Once you go through this, he says, you know right away.
“I remember hearing how Kevin Durant explained it, how it feels like someone trips or kicks you,” Sumner said. “In that moment, I knew I tore my Achilles. I was sitting there crying — and I don’t even remember crying from pain. I was just so hurt because I was so excited for the season and the opportunities that I had. It just felt like it was there for me to grab. It was just so frustrating because I worked so hard, I was going six days a week, I’m in the weight room and doing everything to prepare for this upcoming season to make sure I’m ready.
“And this happened. And no one can explain to me why this happened.
“I didn’t have any issues prior to this. So it’s something I had to then dig deep into my faith. For 24 hours, it was probably the first time I felt like I was broken, like I didn’t have any more to give. After that day passed, I prayed on it and I’d never be able to look myself in the mirror if I didn’t get back out there. So that’s something I told myself. And since that day forward, everything has been so positive and there’s nothing going to stop me from returning. That mentality carried me on like nothing is going to stop me from getting to my goals I want to reach.”
He’s now approaching 10 months removed from surgery. With the recommendation from his Sumner’s agency, it was performed by Dr. Martin O’Malley in New York City on September 13. He’s is one of the leading specialists and has operated on countless professional athletes, including Jeremy Lamb and T.J. Warren recently.
When Sumner went down on the practice court — thankfully, it was at the facility with athletic trainers nearby — and he realized how his career changed in a moment, he then took 24 hours to be frustrated and question why it happened.
“After that, there was no more crying or feeling sorry for myself,” he said. “It was ‘We’re about to go attack this again.’”
Rehab in Indy
Sumner chose to rehab in Indianapolis. It’s the city he was drafted to in 2017 and where he has a support system in the Pacers. He said Malcolm Brogdon went above and beyond, visiting several times and even having his chef send over food.
Sumner’s left foot was in a hard cast for three weeks and then a boot until November. There was very little he could do for the first two months, but upon his return from New York City, he’s thankful for a special streatment he started.
The suggestion was first made by his sports performance coach Mike Robertson at IFAST, and the idea was hammered home when Dr. O’Malley independently suggested the same thing.
It was for Sumner to receive hyperbaric oxygen therapy, essentially getting in a big tube for better healing. (Victor Oladipo used to do it often in his portable one.) So Sumner began the day after he returned to town and had a daily 90-minute session, Monday through Friday, for two months in Carmel, Ind.
That would run from 8 am to 9:30 am, then he would rehab at the Pacers’ facility until noon.
Early in the process, Carlisle connected Sumner with a few of his former Dallas players who had overcome torn Achilles as well: Dwight Powell and J.J. Barea.
Powell is a great recent success story. He suffered a torn Achilles in January 2020, then was one of just five NBA players to appear in all 82 games last season. He played in 100 games when factoring in the postseason. On top of that feat, he shot a career-high 67% from the field.
Sumner found it difficult to watch basketball for the first few months after surgery, but then he moved past it and watched daily. “I always found myself watching Pacers games,” he said.
A turning point in his rehab came early on, just four months in, when he dunked for the first time. He nailed his first attempt and it was simple, but it was progress. It was a stepping stone.
When the NBA regular season wrapped up in April, Dr. O’Malley told Sumner he was two months ahead of schedule. Two months! And with a full offseason ahead, he knew there was no need to push it. It was all about being completely healthy in the fall.
“No one could have told me I’d be feeling this good and doing all this so early,” he said.
And here’s how he looked at five months.
Sumner believed his biggest weakness on the court was shooting, so he’s worked on that over the last two years He still wants to be more consistent.
He also wants to maximize his elite speed and athleticism. “That’s always been my game.” However, it’s also an area that he needed to address.
“Trying to use my speed to my advantage, but not playing at 100,000 miles per hour at all times,” he said with a big smile. “It’s hard to stop that fast, people be thinking it’s easy. So that’s something I’ve been working on in random drills.
“I’ve gotten so much better at that and that’s something we’re working on every day because I think that will take my game to a whole other level, learning to play with pace and using my speed in the right areas. Because most of my mistakes come from playing too fast.”
At this point, Sumner emphasized something very important.
Zero bad days.
“I haven’t had one bad day,” he said. “Not one. This is the total opposite of what I expected. I thought this was going to be the hardest rehab. And don’t get be wrong, it’s a grind. So many calf raises. But the ACL was by the far the worst. I was in way more pain all the time.”
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Sumner now has a label he rather not and it’s one that’s often out of a player’s control.
It started when he was a freshman at Xavier in 2014. He redshirted because he had tendinitis in his knee so it was bothering him. He had expected to play that season so when he didn’t, it was difficult to accept.
Then in 2017, everyone will remember how he tore his left ACL with six minutes left in a win at St. John’s. What most don’t know is that by then, he had already sustained an injury to left shoulder.
First, he didn’t know it was torn right away so he played a few more games and it kept popping out of socket; his arm would lock up. An MRI revealed that it was 50% torn and surgery was necessary.
“So that year, I knew I wanted to enter the NBA Draft,” he shared. “But I didn’t want to stop playing, I didn’t want to leave my teammates hanging. I just couldn’t do it. And then two weeks later, I tear my (left) ACL.
“I kept playing for myself. Nobody made me to keep playing, I chose to keep playing on it although I wasn’t right.”
He scheduled surgery in New York, but days before then, his team was playing at Madison Square Garden — The Mecca — and he wanted to join them. This was on January 29, before the Big East Tournament, and was going to be his last college game no matter what. He finished with 17 points, four rebounds and seven assists in 29 minutes, and they won.
But he was unable to finish his final game in a Xavier uniform.
“That was the worst luck,” Sumner says now. “I was 21 and that was tough to handle. I felt like my NBA dream was gone. It just didn’t make sense to me.
“That kind of shaped my whole career because now people believe I’m super injury-prone, but I didn’t miss that many games. Prior to that, I didn’t miss any games (that season). The year before that I didn’t miss any games. The year before I had a concussion when someone fell on my head; nothing I could do about that. So the whole ‘I was always hurt’ — I understand those two big injuries stuck with me, but I was rarely hurt.”
Sumner officially declared for the draft and then attended it at the Barclays Center despite having his stock slide because of the two injuries. “Draft night was the best night, but I sweated through my suit the whole night,” he said, laughing about it now.
The Detroit native thought the Pacers might take him at 47, but instead they chose UCLA’s Ike Anigbogu. Before that, they drafted TJ Leaf 18th overall. Both are out of the league and Sumner, who the Pacers selected after sending cash considerations to New Orleans for No. 52, is still playing.
Sumner then signed a two-year, two-way contract — the first two-way contract in franchise history — and his rookie campaign was essentially a redshirt season.
“The Pacers did such a great job of getting my body aligned,” he said. “I had like no knee pain going on three years. No knee issues. And the shoulder hasn’t been an issue since I got here with the Pacers. And I was done with the shoulder injury after three months.”
Notably, his three surgeries were each to his left side.
Left shoulder … left ACL … left Achilles.
Wait, I Was Traded?
With Sumner out for the season, it was likely that the Pacers dealt him to free up a roster spot. Carlisle was not comfortable with the team’s point guard situation going into the season. He values that position and having stability, and clearly did not like what he had seen in camp.
So on October 6, the team reached agreement on a trade with the Nets for Sumner and a 2025 second-round pick (via Miami) for the rights to Juan Pablo Vaulet.
Four days later, the Nets waived him.
“I didn’t know (I’d be traded),” Sumner said. “And that’s me maybe being naive. It did not run through my mind at all.”
Sumner was getting out of the hyperbaric chamber that morning when his agent, Sean Kennedy of Excel Sports Management, called to alert him that the Pacers may trade him.
Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan then called and explained the situation to Sumner, who had always wondered what it was like to get traded. Even though it didn’t truly impact him because he was injured and not going anywhere, he was still unsure how to feel.
“I was hurt about it because I didn’t want to end on this term,” he said. “There was a lot of uncertainty because this was my first time experiencing this. I was hurt at first, but I respect Chad calling me and explaining it to me.”
And Buchanan invited him to continue to use the team facilities, as I previously reported.
“But I didn’t know how it was going to be,” Sumner acknowledged. “So at first, I tested the waters and if I felt like the vibes were different or people treated me differently, I probably was gonna go somewhere else. But I get there and it’s the exact same ways. It was so easy and so comfortable being around the guys — even the new players and coach Carlisle. I felt welcomed in the building and not like a stranger.”
So Sumner continued to receive treatment from associate head athletic trainer Carl Eaton like always, worked with Jason Manikowski in the weight room and Scott Romaniuk on the court.
“I’m always appreciative,” he said. “That’s how I was raised. The Pacers changed my life, they were the ones to take the risk on me so I’ll always give them that edge over anything.”
The Pacers were there for Sumner when his brother passed during his rookie season, all while he was trying rehab from shoulder and ACL surgery. It was the hardest thing he’s had to get over.
He’ll never forget how the Pacers make him and his mother feel. Each year on his late brother’s birthday, they send her flowers.
“That’s the type of things I can respect,” he said, so appreciative. “I love that. I always felt like it was more than basketball even though everyone in the NBA knows it’s a business and what comes with that.”
And when I mentioned how the engagement is high with Pacers fans when sharing updates on his rehab, he says he sees it too. “I always see the fans’ tweets. I feel the love for sure. They comment on everything, tweet a lot of stuff. I feel like I’m loved and respected.”
It’s crazy to consider how Sumner, if not for season-ending surgery, would be the second longest-tenured Pacer behind Myles Turner. The roster has turned over a couple times since he was drafted in 2017. And the front office continues to rebuild the roster — now centered around point guard Tyrese Haliburton.
Back To School
With unexpected free time, Sumner went back to school to make progress toward completing his degree. He had about one semester left in 2017 before getting hurt during his junior year, having surgery and declaring for the NBA Draft.
His major was computer science, but he has since switched to liberal arts with a minor in computer science. That allows for him to take most of his classes online.
Of course, he lost some credits after the change in major so he estimates that he has about two full semesters remaining. He’s not taking a full course load, instead beginning with one class to start. A finance class.
Free Agency Ahead
This tweet was one month ago. He was running the length of the floor, playing 3-on-3 and finishing through contact.
“How I’m feeling now, I know I’m going to be back,” he said, smiling. “Now it’s just checking off the boxes of months.”
Sumner misses everything — being around the team, the small locker room moments, competing on the court and more. “I literally miss practicing, the whole thing,” he said.
The bounce has returned and he is now fully cleared. But over the last nine months, he hadn’t been whole without basketball. He felt incomplete. Working out on the court is the best part of his day.
“My only goal is to be 100% for training camp,” he said. “I don’t want to have no restrictions, no anything.”
Through five seasons, he’s played in 108 games, including 53 during the 2020-21 season under Nate Bjorkgren. He grew up always playing point guard, but transitioned into playing more without the ball in the NBA.
And he was poised to have a breakout season until the unthinkable happened. Nobody in front of him, nobody behind. Just him, a Wilson basketball and after one step, he collapsed on the hardwood crying in pain.
“I always felt injuries were the only thing that kept me back, it was never basketball,” he said. “I know I’m an NBA player. I just need to stay healthy and get on the court.
“Everything happens for a reason. I honestly feel like I’m better, right now at this moment, than I was coming into that season. I really feel that way and I’m only (9) months post-rehab. So I’ve had to retool from the ground up, stuff that I wasn’t able to really focus on in the past. Now I have a starting foundation. This is the first time I’m so comfortable all over my body. I just feel amazing. I’m so confident coming back from this.”
Sumner has a list of reasons to be discouraged, annoyed and wondering why me? Instead, during our hourlong conversation, his relentlessly upbeat and positive spirit stood out.
No bad days.
Blessed to be here.
Everything happens for a reason.
Looking forward to brighter days ahead.
Sumner has taken advantage of the free time and life slowing down. His parents frequently visited from Michigan, he was able to attend his niece’s recital during the season and he still has that strong appreciation and love for the game that has taken him to the best basketball league in the world.
Now an unrestricted free agent, he’s eager to play again. Most likely forgot about him.
He wants to show that he overcame shoulder surgery, an ACL tear and now a ruptured Achilles. That he’s climbed the mountain and fallen down several times, but each time he’s gotten right back up and been stronger for it.
Sumner is 26 and without a lot of tread on the tires. He’ll be a married man on the 5th of August. And come September 13, about 11 weeks from now, he will be one year removed from surgery. That’s two weeks before training camps open.
“I’ve been through injuries so I know this is nothing but a stepping stone,” he said. “I know I’m not going to be perfect coming back, there’s going to be some adjustments after being away for a year, but I know I’m going to be fine. I believe in myself to the core. Everything is just clicking for me — my shots, my handles, everything.
“I just ask God to bless me with my athleticism and speed back. Once that shows back up, I’m good. It’s just a matter of time.”