DENVER (AP) — Danilo Gallinari took center stage on a basketball court again, chatting in a tiny gym with grade-school kids who were quite intrigued by his height.
"Can you dunk?" one child asked the 6-foot-10 Denver Nuggets forward.
"You know, I cannot," Gallinari said.
Not now, anyway. Just when, well, that's difficult for him to say.
At the moment, Gallinari has "no idea" when he will return to the court as he recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
The Italian forward is limited to rehabbing in the weight room from the injury he sustained in April. He said that while he does occasionally shoot free throws, he hasn't really been able to run the floor.
"A little bit," Gallinari said. "You always are frustrated a little bit when you can't play."
Off to a 2-4 start, the Nuggets sure could use Gallinari's long-range shooting skills. He will be a big boost for first-year coach Brian Shaw once he returns to the floor.
Gallinari hurt his knee against Dallas on April 4, when he planted awkwardly while going in for a layup. He's had two surgeries on the knee.
He spends around five hours a day working out under the supervision of Steve Hess, the team's strength and conditioning coach. Gallinari was hoping he could be at full speed and possibly back in the lineup by next month, but he would rather just wait until the knee feels completely healthy, not speculate on a return date.
"Once you feel strong, you've got to be able to translate everything on the court," Gallinari explained. "The mental part is going to be the most important."
Gallinari took a break from rehab Tuesday to spend time with kids at a local elementary school. His participation was through a program he's involved in called Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA, which supports projects to improve the lives of youth through athletics. The children played tennis before Gallinari's arrival, then assembled in the bleachers to ask him questions:
"My dad was a basketball player. I saw him, and the love and passion began at that time."
How old are you — 29?
"Do I look that old? I'm 25."
Where do you come from?
"Italy. You know where Italy is? It's far from here, very far from here. It has nice people, as you can see."
Do you love basketball?
"I love to play for Denver and the Nuggets."
With Gallinari's absence goes a team-leading 135 3-pointers from a year ago. Shaw has said the Nuggets will try to "hold down the fort" until Gallinari can return. But that hasn't been easy with Wilson Chandler hobbled by a strained left hamstring and athletic center JaVale McGee now out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his left tibia.
"It's tough," Gallinari said of watching from the sideline. "When you're a basketball player and you're injured, you see your teammates play and you cannot play, it's one of the worst feelings ever."
Gallinari is supportive, though, offering tips to his teammates.
"I'm trying to help out everyone," he said. "Trying to talk to them about what we can do better and (also) try to listen to coach. That's what an injured player can do.
"You've got to be patient and positive. These are the two most important things. If you're not patient and not positive, it makes it hard to come back."
As for the team's somewhat sluggish start — especially on the heels of a franchise-record 57 wins last season — Gallinari hopes fans understand it takes time to learn a new system as Shaw steps in for George Karl, who was let go by the team after losing in the first round of the playoffs for a fourth straight season.
"(Shaw) is going to do great with us and in his career," Gallinari said. "It's tough at the beginning, because a lot of players were here last year, here for many years, and we have to adapt to a new coaching style, a new basketball style. So, it's tough at the beginning.
"We are on the right track."