Perth Wildcats swingman Mathiang Muo has been given two simple instructions to follow when he returns to competitive basketball tonight: take it easy and don't try to be a hero.
Muo was the hard-luck story of the Wildcats' 2013-14 championship season, missing the entire campaign after tearing his left Achilles tendon on the second day of pre-season training last August.
He spent nine months following a strict rehabilitation program and will suit up for State Basketball League club East Perth against South West Slammers at Eaton tonight.
Muo will be restricted to about 15 minutes on court and expects a mix of nerves and excitement when he runs on for the first time.
“I don't know if I'm going to air-ball my first shot or miss it, but just to be out there will be exciting after all these months,” Muo said.
“To run and play and compete against other guys is going to be really exciting.”
Muo, 27, fled war-torn Sudan as a boy and first played basketball as a teenager in Sydney, instantly falling in love with the game.
He fought through adversity at a succession of US high schools and colleges before eventually earning his first professional contract last year, signing a three-year deal with the Wildcats.
His 2013-14 season was over before it began, but Muo said he was well prepared to cope with the setback.
“This is my first major injury but I've been through a lot of tough things in basketball,” Muo said.
“I didn't really cry when I got the injury, but there's things that I've been through that made me really cry for days when I didn't know what I was supposed to do or where I was supposed to go.
“Those things prepared me for this injury. It is tough, but it's one of those things where you've just got to fight it and just let it go and hope they'll be back 100 per cent doing what you do and doing what you love.”
Muo's teammates, friends and club staff all helped keep his spirits high as the Wildcats took all before them to secure a record sixth NBL championship last season.
But Muo reserved special praise for Wildcats strength and conditioning coach Will Markwick, who was with him every step of the way.
“He was there working with me every day, showing me new things that I could improve on to get stronger and faster.” Muo said.
Wildcats championship winner Tom Jervis and development player Sunday Dech will line up alongside Muo for East Perth, who are coached by Wildcats assistant Adam Forde.
Jervis has returned from Melbourne, where he discussed a possible NBL future with the Tigers.