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Bucks rookie Johnny O'Bryant hints at return from knee injury -- and adjusting to life away from the South

Johnny O'Bryant's NBA regular season debut has been on hold since spraining his MCL on October 9.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It may not be factually proven, but the average human being has probably never tried Kool-Aid pickles or hog head before.

But for Milwaukee Bucks rookie Johnny O'Bryant, those snacks were common in his childhood household in Cleveland, Mississippi. Growing up in a city with a population just over 12,000 in the heart of the South, O'Bryant has not only had to make the jump from college basketball to the pros, but for the first time in his life, he's also had to make the cultural jump from his Southern roots.

"I'm sure as time goes by, I'll learn the culture in the Midwest. I haven't had a bad experience with nobody." O'Bryant explained last Saturday ahead of the Bucks' matchup with the Wizards. "You're raised on family values, morals, it's the first thing tied to you."

On an odd day in his middle school gym class, the already-big-for-his-age O'Bryant wanted to embark on a new adventure and finally give dunking a legitimate shot for the first time. As a seventh grader, he connected well enough on a 360-dunk in front of his friends. The room erupted, and he sprinted across the gym with his classmates, excited just like any middle school kid would be. In disbelief, he attempted the dunk again, with the same result.

That was when he started to get a feel for the game of basketball.

"I had been trying to dunk for a while and could never do it," he said, "and one day, it just happened."

Once enrolled in East Side High School, O'Bryant was a two-sport start at first, playing defensive end and wide receiver for the school's football team forward for the basketball squad. With football being the dominant sport in the South, producing many of today's NFL players, he began to focus basketball, knowing it was what he was better at between the two. With so much attention from the public on green grass and white chalk, he aggressively put the work in to become better. It's what he knew he needed to do to prepare for physical players that were his size.

"Most of the guys in the South you have to work at." O'Bryant said. "Down South, you really got to find a gym, get yourself in the gym and make yourself better.

"It's not really a tradition, I think the guys that are really good (from the South) ... go make themselves become basketball players."

At East Side, O'Bryant went on to average 21.0 points, 16.0 rebounds and 5.0 blocks, while being named a McDonald's All-American and Parade magazine All-American after his senior year. Once graduation rolled around, he didn't go very far, opting to attend LSU.

In three seasons with the Tigers, O'Bryant helped LSU win 57 games and finish with a 20-14 record during his last season, averaging 15.4 points and 7.7 rebounds. The highlight of his final season came when he dropped 29 points against Kentucky and No.7 overall pick Julius Randle. After a loss to Southern Methodist University in the NIT, his career in Baton Rouge ended. It was off to the NBA.

The Bucks selected O'Bryant with the 36th overall in this year's draft, adding his big 265-pound frame to Milwaukee's frontcourt alongside the likes of Larry Sanders, Zaza Pachulia, Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson. Despite being a rookie, the physicality the 21-year-old brings in the paint is something Milwaukee can utilize inside.

During the Bucks' 2014 Summer League campaign in Las Vegas, O'Bryant made four starts and averaged 8.2 points, along with 5.2 rebounds in 18.1 minutes per game. Yet just two games into the preseason, he suffered the worst injury of his career against the Detroit Pistons on October 9: A grade-three sprain of his medial collateral ligament (MCL). The Bucks soon after announced that he would be out indefinitely, putting a hold on his first NBA action.

"It's tough,"  O'Bryant said, "for the most part, it's very difficult trying to come back and get your mind right, but it's a challenge I look forward to."

Even on the second-youngest team in franchise history, teammates such as Pachulia (the oldest on the team at 30), Henson and Sanders have made him feel welcome.

"They do a great job of making me a feel a part. Being able to travel with the guys and watch the games, and encouraging as much as I can. It's a family atmosphere so, it's pretty cool."

With the first month of the season practically in the books, O'Bryant said he feels a month or so away from returning to the court, which sets him up for a debut around Christmas or the early portion of January.

Coping with life away from the court for a significant amount of time has caused frustration for the rookie, but he believes the time he's missed has helped him prepare for his debut that is soon to come.

"I try to look at it as a life lesson," he explained, "just teaching me patience. It's my rookie year, I'm excited, I want to be out there, I want to make a name for myself early in this league. To be sidelined like this, you got to be patient and trust the process, trust the journey, so that's what I'm trying to do."