Kenny Atkinson walked out of a quiet locker room and into a small press conference area with a handful of reporters. Brooklyn's head coach was in near tears having witnessed a gruesome right foot injury to his 24-year-old rising star and development poster boy, Caris LeVert. He did the best he could to answer questions, but they weren't really answers.
No timetables. No clue what was going to happen next for a kid who already endured three surgeries.
But then he finished with a powerful statement, a true testament showing how much he believes in his young prodigy.
"I just know Caris," he said, "like if anybody's coming back from this [it's him]. Knowing the human, the character, the person, the player … he'll come back from this."
LeVert's injury looked similar to other infamous injuries that have haunted players for quite some time, Gordon Hayward being the most recent. After tears from the players and prayers from NBA players all around the league, LeVert's test results came back much better than expected.
It was a dislocated foot that required no surgery. The crazy part? He was set to return later in the season.
"When I saw that injury, I thought he was done for the year," Jared Dudley told SNY after Brooklyn knocked off Philadelphia in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. "Hate to see it, but luckily the results were good and now he's good."
"We didn't know, like, 'Is he gonna be back this year? Is he gonna get it back this soon?' I was doubtful. I was expecting okay, let's get what he can from him and next year he'll be great Caris again," Atkinson said after Game 1. "It's huge the timing of him getting well and playing well."
LeVert came up big in his playoff debut against Philadelphia. He scored 23 points in 23 minutes and exploited the 76ers' lack of paint presence on the defensive end, especially with Joel Embiid in and out of the lineup.
"My teammates have been confident in me every step of the way, telling me to keep going, and that's all you can ask for," LeVert said. "I think any time you go through adversity like that, it definitely makes the reward sweeter."
Although he struggled to find consistency following the injury, he finished the regular season strong, averaging 16 points and four rebounds on 49 percent shooting and 45 percent from 3-point range. He regained his touch and he was just as spry as he was early on in the season.
"You've seen him go from a starter's role then back to the bench, grind his way back, look past all of that and work hard. He worked to get back to how he's playing, now it's about confidence," Dudley said. "Man, when you get hurt like that, things are in your head, you worry about the injury or you're worried about getting injured again. But with Caris, he's not a shooter; he's a scorer. He drove the lane which set up his jump shot. It's gonna help us going forward in this series."
LeVert worked tirelessly to get back into the frame. He stayed in shape as he worked out with assistant coach Jacque Vaughn on a day-to-day basis.
"What makes Caris so special is his work ethic," DeMarre Carroll told SNY. "I've seen a lot of guys in this league and he's one of the hardest workers. People don't really get to see how much work he puts in, both in the offseason and after the injury. He don't give up. Before the injury, I was with him the whole summer -- me, him, Jarrett Allen."
Carroll went on to discuss how LeVert's resiliency is another key in what differentiates him from other players.
"He's a strong kid, man," he said. "You got to think with him playing like this, it shows his resiliency."
LeVert's no stranger to adversity. He overcame three foot surgeries by the age of 21 and entered his rookie season having rehabbed for eight months. There's more to his story than just injuries. Some of the things he endured off the court help explain why he's famous in Brooklyn's locker room for his hard work, resilience and a strong mentality.
"An injury … that was always minor for me,'' LeVert said in an interview with the New York Post during his rookie year. "I was never really worried about that, because, life [toughened me]. I've been through things in life that are way worse than a foot injury."
When LeVert was 15-years-old, he ran downstairs to his father lying on the floor, dead from a heart attack. A few years later, his mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. An injury? That can be fixed.
"When he got hurt, he didn't cry about it. He wasn't whining to nobody. He just got back in the gym," Carroll said. "I think it shows the maturity in him as a person that he was able to come back the way he did."
LeVert's surge couldn't have come at a better time as Brooklyn won its first playoff game since 2015 behind his lead. The Nets looked like the team they were in the beginning of the season with LeVert, D'Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie leading the attack.
"His confidence comes with who he's playing with," Dudley said. "He's coming off the bench playing with me, DC, Ed [Davis], you know, we all know our roles as vets. We want him to attack and keep putting pressure on them, play downhill, just like the Caris we saw before the injury. It's great to see him playing at this level again, I'm happy for him and I'm happy for the team because we obviously need him out there."
Some may say LeVert personifies the Nets in the sense that nobody expected him to be here. After seeing the injury and watching him stretchered off the floor, players crying and a dead silent arena, it seems like a miracle he's even on a basketball court and not rehabbing elsewhere.
Instead, he's the X-factor for the Nets in the playoffs and one of the most respected players in the locker room. The adversity he's gone through has paid dividends, so far.
"He's just gotta keep working and keep growing," Carroll said. "I don't know where we are without him because he helped us a lot late in the season. I think of Caris and I truly believe the sky is the limit for him. He's got all the tools to be great."