The Wollongong Hawks' scintillating start to the NBL season has received another boost with Tyson Demos and Tim Coenraad both expecting early returns from serious injuries.
Forward Coenraad expects to be playing by the end of the month, while guard Demos is ahead of schedule on his return from a knee setback.
Demos was on crutches a week ago after initially being told he would be sidelined for 6-8 weeks with a small fracture.
It turns out he has bone bruising and is now aiming to be back for the New Year's Eve stoush with the Melbourne Tigers at WIN Entertainment Centre.
December 31 is also the date Coenraad has pencilled in for his first action since being diagnosed with plantar fasciitis late in the pre-season.
The 200cm Queenslander has plenty to offer the Hawks in their bid for a play-offs berth and is looking forward to returning.
But Coenraad is wary of pushing too hard too early. More than anything, he knows he has to walk before he can run - literally.
"There's no running as of now. It's just walking and some light shooting," Coenraad said yesterday.
"I've still got a lot of rehab to do. I have to build my calf muscle back up and strengthen my plantar fascia.
"I want to get back out there as quick as possible, but all the doctors and specialists agree that if you rush it and try to come back when it's not ready, you go back to square one. I'd hate to rush it and have to start the rehab process all over again.
"I'm going to take it slow and if it's not feeling right I won't do it. It's not just about playing this year, it's your career you have to think about as well. I'll keep trying to do all the right things and hopefully I'll be back out there before I know it.
"They can't give me a time frame on this type of injury, which is the frustrating thing. It's purely on how it feels and how it responds to rehab.
"I'm hoping after next week that I can get back into running, and the week after that back into practice. From there, hopefully I can play the New Year's Eve game. That's pretty optimistic, but that's what I'm aiming for."
Coenraad had enjoyed a long injury-free run before having to deal with the first major setback of his playing career.
"It's been a long road. I've never been out this long," he said.
"I haven't missed a game since my first year of college. It's a bit frustrating, but there's definitely light at the end of the tunnel now. I've gone past the frustrating point and feel that I'm closer to returning. I'm just trying to get it better and do all the right things.
"The pain I'm getting mostly now is just letting me know that it's still there. It's not a pain that makes me start limping or anything.
"It kind of reacts like Melbourne weather. Some mornings I warm it up and it feels great, like I could go out and run. But then towards the afternoon it tightens up a bit. You just never know what you're going to get each day.
"I'm just hoping the good patches and good days continue to out-number the not-so-good ones, and that eventually the bad days disappear altogether."