Bender back in the NBA

Published 5:45 am Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Item Sports Editor

Former Picayune High standout Jonathan Bender, who retired from basketball three years ago, is back in the NBA.

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The smooth shooting 7-foot forward, a Parade All-American during his prep days with the Maroon Tide, signed with the New York Knicks over the weekend. He appeared in just 28 games over his last three seasons with the Indiana Pacers before chronic knee pain forced him to retire in 2006.

But three years later, Bender is attempting a comeback and turned to an old friend to help him out. Donnie Walsh, the former Pacers president who acquired Bender 10 years ago, signed the one-time Lottery pick to contract for the remainder of the season with the hope that Bender can still shoot and finally stay healthy.

“I thought it was worth the risk to bring him in,” Walsh said Sunday. “If it works he’s got a lot of talent.”

Bender, who turns 29 next month, worked out for the Knicks last summer but didn’t feel he was physically ready to make a commitment. But after extensive training with Charles Austin, a former Olympic gold medalist in the high jump who once trained Allan Houston, Bender contacted Walsh and said he was ready for a comeback. “When I came out of the NBA, the plan was to rest my knees and start over,” Bender said. “I was going to rest for at least a year and go straight into rehab and try it again at some point. I couldn’t live to be 38, 39 years old saying I at least didn’t try again.”

According to Walsh, Bender met the Knicks in New Orleans Friday and returned to New York with the team.