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HURLEY DOING ALL HE CAN TO RETURN

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He's 23 now, tanned, recovered and ready to go after six months recovering from an auto accident that nearly took his life and threatened his promising NBA career.

An accident after a game in December left Bobby Hurley with two collapsed lungs, five broken ribs and a severed windpipe, among other injuries. But the former Duke star is working out with the Sacramento Kings again this summer and is excited about the prospect of playing again."I need the three full months I have to get ready," Hurley said during a break in the Salvation Army gym, the Kings' practice facility. "That's no lie. It's a lot of work."

Tuesday was Hurley's 23rd birthday, but it was hardly a day of rest. Under the watchful eyes of coach Garry St. Jean and vice president Geoff Petrie, Hurley dribbled between chairs to launch jumpers and shot free throws.

"He looks great," Petrie said. "He's doing everything possible to get himself back."

Those who remember the gray pallor and gaunt face from the months after the accident were surprised to see that Hurley has gained much of his weight back and had been spending time in the sun while playing in New Jersey summer leagues.

Al Biancani, the team's strength coach, said Hurley had not been lifting weights prior to the accident. He is now.

"By camp, he will be stronger than before," Biancani predicted.

Hurley still has pain in his left shoulder, and undergoes physical therapy to treat it three days a week. That injury has thrown off his ball-handling skills.

"My hand sometimes is not there to get the ball," he said. "My reactions are not as quick."

Hurley still doesn't have much stamina. But he has stopped wearing a knee brace.

"I'm not ready for NBA competition, but in the pro-am summer league I'm holding my own," Hurley said, noting he scored 20 points in one game.

Hurley was the Kings' No. 1 draft choice last year, and signed a six-year contract worth $16.2 million.

He was averaging seven points and six assists before leaving Arco Arena after a Kings' loss the night of Dec. 12. His vehicle was broadsided by another and knocked onto its side.

Hurley was thrown into an irrigation ditch. He suffered two collapsed lungs, five broken ribs, a fractured left shoulder blade, ligament damage in his right knee. The windpipe that connects his trachea to his left lung was torn free.

On Tuesday, Hurley seemed more worried about missed free throws.

These days basketball is the most important thing in his life, he said. "A lot of people want to see me back out there."