TrueHoop: Train Like a Pro

Memo to the Aging Baller

October, 29, 2008

TrueHoop reader John, in Canada, recently had his doctor tell him something a little bit sobering.

At his age, says the doctor, instead of playing basketball to stay in shape, he ought to start staying in shape to play basketball.

The memo there is something along the lines of: If you don't put some special effort in, you're going to age out of the game.

John is about my age. I totally understand how that must have felt.

I decided long ago that I would be one of those guys who keeps playing decades past when most people stop. I'm committed. I'm nowhere near stopping. So people talking like it's almost time to wrap it up ... I'm not having any of that.

I know how John must have felt, though. Not long after I got back from Training like a Pro, I asked David Thorpe if I was best served playing as much as I could, or instead taking some of that time to perfect new skills, like the new shooting stroke or handle I learned in Florida.

His response was basically: You might as well play as much as you can, because you don't have that much longer to play. (Thorpe, I should point out, is not that much older than me but stopped playing some time ago. My dad, on the other hand, has a couple of decades on Thorpe, and still runs marathons. Fear my genes.)

Anyway, when we were at IMG, the guru of physical preparation for basketball was IMG Athletic Performance Specialist Corey Stenstrup. I e-mailed him about impertinent comments from doctors, and playing for exercise, vs. exercising to play. He wrote back that the doctor was right on the money, and shared some general thoughts about how to physically prepare for basketball:

Basketball is great ... the body needs to move and be active.

Basketball is also phenomenal cardiovascular exercise because of the interval nature of the sport.

However it is not an end in itself. The body will adapt to the stimuli applied to it ... so with that in mind my goal is to challenge the body in ways that will improve performance.

Playing without training, you are like to develop compensatory patterns through poor movement habits. That not only limits performance, but increases the likelihood of injury.

As a performance-based trainer I aim to help the athletes have there bodies explosive, balanced, and moving properly.

To achieve this I have the athletes perform exercises that teach/retrain proper firing patterns. The medicine ball is an ideal way of accomplishing this ... performing functional movement, using proper biomechanical technique, maintaining good posture, with resistance. Some of the exercises we did on Day 1 were good examples. (A little of that is on video here.)

We also work on movements that are targeted at coordination and training the central nervous system. The jump rope during warm-up and the ladder drills we did are good examples.

Strength-based training is again based on training basketball-like movements. We did primary lifts (Olympic based and derivatives, squat, lunge, step up, upper body push, upper body pull). Many of the lifts we did with your group were based on being explosive and using your whole body to maintain postural stability while also performing the primary movement. Maintaining strong and correct posture while using primary muscle groups to move weight is a basic philosophy that will serve athletes of all levels well.

Another concept I feel is of value is multitasking. I usually have about 60-75 minutes, sometimes even less, in a given training session. In your sessions at IMG you saw how we did medicine ball for warm-up one day, the agility ladder another, and the barbell the last ... each one addresses one of three concepts I discussed above.

Our strength training was done circuit style with stretching done during rest periods so we can get strength, conditioning, and flexibility done concurrently. Being efficient during workouts keeps people focused while also getting everything accomplished.

Lastly emphasizing recovery is essential to any training program. The first point I made was that the body will adapt to a stimulus ... in order to achieve that adaptation, recovery must occur.

The foam roll we did to help massage and release tense muscles, the ice baths for nervous system recovery, and the recovery shakes after workouts were intended to facilitate recovery so you could tolerate the heavy training load.

You must support your training program with good recovery strategies to help achieve the gains. Overtraining will lead to injury and decreases or plateaus in training ... so make sure to cycle heavier and lighter training loads and build in recovery strategies and rest into your program. 

Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard was at the Pro Training Center at IMG Academies when I was there a few weeks ago, and he has written a great piece about it.

Here's one of his many good anecdotes:

In the evening session, we practice finishing strong at the rim -- always overhand rather than with a scoop or finger-roll ("Remember Patrick Ewing," warns Thorpe). Then, after practicing coming off of screens -- drills Thorpe refers to as "Reggie Millers" -- we pair up, a guard with a big man, and work on ball screens, turning the corner and, my favorite, running the "pinch post." If you've watched many NBA games, the play is familiar. First, the big man comes to the foul line extended to receive a pass from the guard, who's at the top of the key. The guard can then cut off the big man's hip and receive a handoff, picking off his defender in the process. Or, the big man can fake the handoff and then hit the guard with a dump down pass as he continues looping toward the basket. Or, finally, as Chris Webber used to do for the Sacramento Kings, the big man can fake the handoff, then spin and shoot a free-throw line jumper. Only, unlike Webber, we try to actually put arc on the ball.

That learning dovetails into his local pickup game a little clumsily, as I have found. (Ideally, I guess, you'd being your entire pickup crew to this camp ...):

In the weeks that follow, I find myself clinging to the glow of the experience, fighting to make it part of my daily life, which again revolves around typing and diaper changes and unfreezing food that looks like perhaps it should stay frozen. I exchange e-mails with Henry at ESPN, who writes, "I really, really, really need some time to perfect the things I kind of learned" and I can't agree more.

At my local YMCA in Berkeley, Calif., I continue incorporating elements of the warm-up routine, and focus on the little details when I play -- keeping that foot forward on the drive, curling tight off screens. Once, I even find myself inadvertently blurting out "Pinch Post! Pinch Post!" to a teammate. Since it's Berkeley, he isn't fazed in the least. After all, people shout crazy stuff all the time around here.

I am aware that expecting someone in a pick-up game to run the Pinch Post is complete lunacy. It's like going to McDonald's and asking for your burger medium rare. I can't help myself though. The impulse is like a vestigial tail from my week at IMG.

(Since getting back from training like a pro, I have learned that we journalists were the guinea pigs. As none of us was hospitalized, and we all seemed to have a good time, IMG has launched similar programs open to the paying public.)

Traveling to Europe

October, 7, 2008

Steven Kyler of Hoopsworld has posted a lot of video from our Train Like a Pro session in Florida last week.

TrueHoop readers from Europe saw one little part of it and were indignant. They could not believe that David Thorpe and Mike Moreau were teaching us to travel.

And this is a big deal!

Spanish players were extremely upset during the Olymic gold medal game, because Team USA was getting away with the kind of stepping that FIBA has not traditionally allowed.

As international competition gains a bigger and bigger spotlight, these little differences will have to be ironed out, so that top international competitions can maintain maximum credibility.

What is and is not a travel is one of the hottest areas of dispute in international basketball. (Right up there with that Asian eye thing.)

Of course, one part of the debate has to do with athleticism. America has a disproportionate number of basketball's best athletes. And our looser rules about handling the ball let those players better exploit their speed, strength, and length. Very strict traveling calls keep everyone closer together.

Watch near the end, about the 8:10 mark of this video, to see what the fuss is about.

Thorpe is demonstrating catching the ball, pivoting, taking a step and a dribble before a hop step and a score.

The question, however, has to do with that dribble and that step, and which comes first.

Thorpe demonstrates very slowly, and in his demonstration, certainly he is showing to lift the pivot foot, and then initiate the dribble.

Anthony Macri works at IMG with Thorpe and explains by email:

Technically in demonstration it is a travel. The ball has to be released prior to the pivot foot being 'alighted' to use the words of the rule book. This is very hard to do in demonstration and in FIBA rules it would likely be called a travel.

In the NBA and even in American high school and college basketball, it is unlikely to be called a travel.

When we have a player who is playing in Europe, like Daniel Santiago, we would be mindful of that as a rule, as he would encounter that interpretation of the rule while playing internationally.

Keep in mind, at full speed it does not look quite as mechanical and it is hard to tell the timing of the alighting of the foot and the releasing of the ball. To avoid the travel call, the move should be completed as such:

1.) Receive the pass on a hop.

2.) Inside pivot while ripping the ball to the right hip.

3.) Push the dribble out in front while shifting weight to the right foot.

4.) Lift the pivot foot and drive it forward.

5.) Hammer dunk. 

Mike Moreau is in that video, and explains even further:

Any time we do a demonstration like that at a slower speed, it comes across looking like a travel. At game speed, the ball would be heading toward the floor as the pivot foot is lifted, which is a legal move in America.

All slow demonstrations, because of the nature of emphasizing individual points, and because we can't necessarily do the move at the speed of the athlete, come across looking that way. If you filmed a baseball coach demonstrating the "balk" rule toward first base for a left handed pitcher, you wouldn't expect him to stand perched on one foot with his leg in the air for the entire explanation, would you? He might have to put his foot down to maintain his balance as he showed different parts of the motion. Some guy standing there wouldn't yell, "BALK!" in the middle of it.

However, the European/International/FIBA rule governing a travel when initiating a dribble is different -- the rules are not the same. Without the benefit of video, try to visualize these three legal moves by European standards -- using a toss from left block to right elbow (as you face the basket) and a left foot pivot foot and right foot lead step:

1. Right hand dribble -- then right foot step. You must dribble first -- then step. Legal.
2. Left hand dribble with right foot step. You can take that big step with the right foot, but the dribble must be made with the left hand across your body. Legal.
3. Right hand dribble with left foot step. You must step across your body with your left foot (crossover step) and dribble with your right hand. Legal.

The way we teach it in America for high school, college and the NBA (Ed. note: In this case with a right-foot step while releasing the dribble with the right hand.) is perfectly legal at all levels in the United States, and any international player coming to play here must learn the way we teach it -- in order to get the length and distance necessary to get by the kinds of athletes they will face. If they stay solely with the European version, they will get locked up on many of their drives.

Just as American players go overseas and learn to eliminate that rip move and big first step so that they won't be called for travelling, European players must learn to "travel" by their standards here in order to get to the basket. But, it is a perfectly acceptable and legal rule in our book.

We run into the same issue when we have international high school players in our summer camps. They initially balk at the move, saying it is a travel. But, we have them "Americanized" by the end of the workout!

The American theory is that these Euro/International/FIBA travelling rules were put in place to "slow down" the American players. The rules certainly accomplish that objective, as it keeps the Iversons, Wades and Pauls from really exploding by their defender -- forcing them to take an extra dribble or shorten their step to get to the basket.

Maybe I am missing something, but I can't see where the rules are different. FIBA says:

"To start a dribble, the pivot foot may not be lifted before the ball is released from the hand(s)."

The NBA says:

"In starting a dribble after (1) receiving the ball while standing still, or (2) coming to a legal stop, the ball must be out of the player's hand before the pivot foot is raised off the floor."

However, on the court, there is certainly a difference in how this would be called, and what the referees actually call matters a lot more to players than the rulebook, I'd imagine.

Just for fun, after the jump are the relevant parts of the FIBA and NBA rulebooks.

(Read full post)

Monday Bullets

October, 6, 2008
  • Mark Cuban loves the national anthem (and imported Gap stuff).
  • Handicapping the early favorites for the scoring title, including Corey Maggette, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Kevin Martin, Dwyane Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. This award is fool's gold, and means nothing to me ... but just for fun, I'd put my money on the guy from Akron.
  • The longest article anyone has written in five years on Jarvis Hayes. He's a Net now, in case you lost track.
  • When Brandon Jennings -- a top American high-schooler last year -- decided to spend his mandated pre-NBA year overseas instead of atttending college, there was speculation that he might not play very much. European teams play to win now, and seldom give valuable floor time to young point guards. But The New York Times' Pete Thamel's report from Italy makes it sound like Jennings will play: "The 6-foot-2 Jennings, Roma's youngest player by five years, is coached by the demanding Jasmin Repesa, who also coaches Croatia's national team. The team practices twice a day, with skill work and weight lifting in the morning and more traditional practice at night. Jennings is comfortable because he has three American teammates, and the team's primary language is English. He lives with his mother and half-brother in a posh apartment provided by the team. Yet during training camp in September, Repesa, whose booming voice could quiet an Oktoberfest beer tent at last call, threw Jennings out of practice one day for not cutting hard in a drill. 'I was like, Man, I got kicked out of practice for that,' Jennings said. 'But it was lesson learned, and we moved on.' That moment was an anomaly. Repesa said Jennings had improved significantly, especially on defense, during his first month. He led the team in scoring, averaging about 20 points through five exhibition games. Roma's general manager, Dejan Bodiroga, said he had been impressed with Jennings's attitude, work ethic and determination. That has coalesced with his natural ability. 'He's one of the top talents that I've ever seen,' Bodiroga said. So far, Roma seems happy with the result, and Jennings is likely to play plenty of minutes when the 65-game season begins later this month."
  • I still remember very clearly the day that Alonzo Mourning addressed reporters at Nets' media day and essentially said that he thought his team sucked. (I'm paraphrasing, but not all that much.) It was most unusual, especially as his microphone was amplified throughout the gym for his teammates to hear. Uncomfortable, and not classy. (Before too long, he was traded to Toronto, where he refused to report, and was eventually bought out for no small price before joining the Heat.) In Alonzo Mourning's new book, he talks at some length about his complicated relationship with the Nets. 
  • There seems to be some real anti-Monta Ellis sentiment on Golden State of Mind. He's their guy. The sticking point is lying about his injury. This is a powerful lesson in why you come clean -- because not coming clean is insulting to people, and people hate to be insulted.
  • Part 2 of Hoopsworld's video from Train Like a Pro. And in Part 3, you'll learn David Thorpe's jab step, and see a bunch of white guys dunking on low hoops.
  • Of the high school players I'm aware of, the one that is the most fun to watch on internet video is DeMar DeRozan.
  • Amir Johnson gets to taste the starting lineup.
  • Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer points out something that might concern Grizzlies fans, especially as around the hoop and behind the 3-point line are the most efficient places on the floor to score: "Last year, the Grizzlies opened the year with a proven post scorer (Pau Gasol) and two elite three-point threats (Mike Miller and Juan Carlos Navarro). Those elements are sorely missing from this team, which doesn't necessarily mean the Grizzlies are doomed to be worse offensively, but does mean that points will come in different ways this season. Expect fewer post plays and three pointers and more free-throws, fastbreaks, and mid-range jumpers. On the latter, expect a lot of them to come from frontcourt players. After Mayo, the three best mid-range shooters on the team will probably be Warrick, Gasol, and Gay."
  • David Berri of Wages of Wins wonders about players complaining of a lack of discipline: "A few days ago I thought I heard Rasheed Wallace in an interview make the same argument. Apparently Saunders is not enough of a disciplinarian. This whole argument is not a new to sports, but still strikes me as odd. And it's not something that just players argue. Professional athletes are well paid and it's the owners who agree to these contracts. These very owners -- who freely pay the salaries of professional athletes -- often argue that a salary cap is necessary because owners cannot control themselves. In other words -- like players -- owners need external discipline. Again, this strikes me as odd. You often hear people want to find ways to get other people to behave better. But I just don't hear many people outside of sports argue that they personally would behave better if someone simply made them behave better. At least, I can't imagine a person accused of a crime getting very far with the argument that the crime wouldn't have been committed if someone just stopped them from committing the crime. Yet in sports, this kind of argument about discipline is offered frequently. Aren't owners and players generally adults? Given the money being paid, shouldn't these adults simply discipline themselves? My sense is that Flip Saunders would argue that players are indeed adults. And as adults, they have to do more than blame their own perceived failings -- and remember, in the case of Hamilton this was just a perception -- on the coach." I understand it though. Think of it like your own office. Hypothetically, if half the staff is regularly a half-hour late to the 45-minutes staff meeting, don't you have a lack of discipline? You might be super professional. But you still might complain that your boss needs to crack the whip. 
  • A little while ago, in the midst of the latest Josh Howard brouhaha, I made a comment about his putting himself in the position of a civil rights leader. People e-mailed to say that they thought I was insane. But think about it. Josh Howard, by being famous and saying these kinds of things, threatens to get himself on something like Larry King Live. And when he gets there, one of the topics they'll have to cover is: Why might being bla
    ck give you second thoughts about the national anthem? It's a deep and rich topic, and one that people should think about. But is Josh Howard the best person to lead that discussion? I have met the guy, I like him. But I think that conversation would be better served by any number of other people, namely actual civil rights leaders.
  • The WNBA, getting nothing but respect.
  • Britt Robson of the Rake watches a Timberwolves' scrimmage and says Sebastian Telfair still can't shoot. Then, describing Rafael Araujo, he writes two sentences you'll seldom encounter: "For all you old Wolves fans, he reminds me of Stoyko Vrankovic. Jason Collins can't come back too soon."
  • The Shaun Livingston project is going to take some time.
  • Little player.

The last morning, they promised, would be tough.

And it was, especially coming after the previous three days.

After an hour or so of weights and agility, then the kind of loosening up that leaves the floor drenched with sweat, and then some other taxing drills.

Then I was directed to an eight-foot hoop, where we got to dunking.

We worked on a whole series of different moves: Run to the free throw line, catch the ball, pivot, fake, power dribble into hop step, violent fake, and then a vicious hook dunk. (In this gym, things are practiced in the context you are likely to use them. Lots of fakes and movements mixed in with the other skill stuff.) Many such combinations, again and again. Fun!

Then we got to the real stuff. Dunk twenty times in a row, instructs David Thorpe. He has lots of particulars about how you do this. For one thing, so as to not hurt your lower back, you want to put the force into the dunk with your arms, while jumping more or less straight up and down. No using your core to put force into the rim.

But you are to dunk viciously. And you don't get to rest, or even really land, between dunks.

Just dunk it, grab it, and dunk again. If you can't get the ball again immediately, you jump in place as you collect it. So you end up with more like forty jumps in a row. 

I felt great! Who doesn't love dunking! 

Then after brief rest, we repeat the whole thing, this time doing fifteen dunks. Still feeling good. Please sir, can I dunk some more!

Well, yes I can. Seeing my elbow near the rim on the eight-foot hoop, they moved us to the ten-foot hoop. My partner on this one was agent Jason Levien. He played in college, and has tons of skill I don't, but he hasn't been exercising as much as he'd like, and wasn't feeling so spry. He had been a model of enthusiam throughout this drill. Screaming for my successes and his own. Fired us both up, and made a difference. You should have seen the look on Levien's face, though, when they asked us to trade baskets with part-men, part-machines Chris Ballard and Ryen Russillo who were at a nine-foot hoop. 

Ten dunks on there.

I am proud that I got maybe three or four actually dunked. I'm screaming.

Then another final set, of three. I missed them all, and didn't care. With legs that had been going that hard for that many days, this is great.

Then we did a drill where you stand more or less where you would stand if your teammate was shooting a free throw, and you were lining up to rebound, second from the baseline, along the side of the key. You pass the ball from there off the middle of the backboard. Of course, it's headed to the opposite side of the lane, right? 

Well, you better go get it. You have to run, and then jump to get it so that you land outside the paint on the other side. Do that twenty times without stopping. 

(I'll wait, if you want to try doing that now.) 

This, by the way, is an awesome drill that is teaching your mind to seek rebounds that are out of your area. You ever run all the way across the lane to get a rebound? Most people only really fight for boards that come to the area where they are boxing out. But there are balls out there to be had, if you run and get them. Thorpe teaches that point hard, and people like Udonis Haslem have profited nicely from it. A lot of what Thorpe teaches is seeing opportunities where you might not have seen them before.

Then, if I recall correctly, we lined up to work on defense. Some very cool points were taught about how to shuffle sideways faster. And we practiced it. Back and forth across the lane, as fast as you can.

When we finished that, was the first time I felt a little dizzy.

After a week of fourteen-hour days, we were ten or twenty minutes from done. I hadn't missed anything. No moments of not going softer than I could, no sitting things out. Hoopsworld's Steven Kyler had started calling me Mad Dog, and I wanted my Boy Scout merit badge, dammit. I am a finisher.

As Coach Mike Moreau explained the next drill, I breathed carefully and got by head back in gear, the dizziness now gone. 

Now we were sliding some more, this time not quite as far. Boom, OK, good to go, got it.

And at the end, dizzy again. More breathing.

Then we did some really cool drills which teach you how to punish opponents for driving baseline, a big no-no at the Pro Training Center. ("The baseline," says Thorpe, "is death. Attack the middle.")

When people drive baseline on the other side of the court, they are likely to want to pass to the opposite side. If you're over there playing defense, there are some clever ways you can anticipate where the ball is going to go. Then you can pick that pass off. We practiced it. When you pick the ball off, though, you then get to enjoy the fruits of your labor by flying to the far basket for an uncontested layup.

More running. More practicing. Four or five times. A little dizzy each time.

Then there was some work moving around chairs, pretending to be Richard Hamilton, Kevin Martin, or Reggie Miller, being agile, crafty, and quick dancing and cutting and getting free. 

Then there some drills where you hit the pick, and then curl or flair and hit a jumper. 

Each bit of sudden movement made me a little dizzy. Each bit of rest and slow steady breathing kept it bay.

Breathing is great.

There was water a few yards away, but water is really for breaks.

And when this was over, the whole week's instruction was over. Some people had already left.

Eventually, we circled up and called it a day. There was talk of scrimmaging, for fun. I don't think I have ever turned down an opportunity to play basketball. Hats off to those who played. But I was done. I told Thorpe I was a little dizzy, needed some water.

He looked at me, cocked an eye, and said "I'm worried about you, Henry."

I walked over to where Corey Stenstrup (the guy who got us to get in that tub of ice) keeps a massive treasure trove of recovery shakes and the like. He is a young man, but he is wise in the ways of the body. For instance, when I exercise, I often end up with slightly sore knees. Not this week. All that pounding, and my knees feel great. Corey knows. He talked to me for twenty minutes or so, while loading me down with many thousands of carefully crafted calories in various fluids. I was due to hop in a car to drive an hour to the airport, so he gave me more for the road.

Then I did some hasty blogging with bad syntax. My body was feeling fine, but my brain was ragged. ("Many thanks to Coach Anthony Macri," I wrote, "who shot just about all of the video from this trip that I am in." It's a hard sentence to read, and it's not even totally true. When you see me getting in the ice tub, that's David Thorpe manning the camera.) 

After a quick shower and stretch, I was on my way, icing my knees as I drove.

Only towards the end of the flight home to New Jersey did I start to feel mentally sharp again. (I might be the only person who actually got smarter watching "Get Smart.")

So, as you can imagine, today was my first real chance to actually gain some perspective on what I had experienced. 

I am absolutely certain that what I learned will be informing how I watch and play basketball forever. I'll be writing about this week for years to come. (Especially as I really hope to keep going to something like this for years to come.)

And there is more video on the way. But, for what it's worth, here are some vivid memories:

  • Coach Mike Moreau has a certain way of hitting his hands together and saying "BAM" in a way that will wake up the kids. It's violence. BAM. Like a punch in the face. Basketball players need many different speeds, and mixing them is the key. But when the top speed is called for, this is wha
    t it's like. This is how you come off the pick. This is how you attack the rim. That's going to be in my head for a long time. And it's not like Emeril adding salt to his turkey kebabs. It's more like a turkey getting hit by a truck.
  • Stretching yourself like a professional is good. Getting stretched by a professional is far better.
  • Everything in this program runs on time. You just don't show up late. And you don't bounce the ball while one of the coaches is talking. And, knowing Thorpe, I'd advise you come in clean clothes and freshly shaved too. He's old school like that.
  • The current state of my shooting stroke, per David Thorpe, as I make my way from a lifetime of messed up form: "All jacked up."
  • OK, you're standing still with the ball and want to take an explosive step to the hoop leading with your right leg. That means you're powering off the left. Now, just before you take that power step, do you shuffle your left foot backwards just a little? A lot of people -- even some bloggers -- do. If your goal is to beat your defender somewhere (and that is your goal) then does stepping backwards make any sense? Have a friend put his foot behind your foot as you do this move, and see if you kick him. (Sorry I kicked you, Coach Macri.) Learn to stop doing that, and you'll be to the rim quicker.
  • Or, here's another one: If you are on the wing, and cut backdoor to get a pass at the rim, but instead cut back to where you started ... where do you want that ball? You want it on the wing, right? I mean, almost nobody makes the same backdoor cut twice in a row. That means that if you're defending that backdoor faker, you can anticipate and pick off the pass to the wing. 
  • If there was one part of the week that really did not work, it was when they showed us inspirational video of us, interspliced with video of Michael Jordan and the like. If you are Kevin Martin, and see the highlights of your workout next to highlights of Jordan, I imagine it makes you feel like Jordan, you know? But if you are a six-foot nothing, exhausted white writer dork, on video short-arming a layup you'd normally hit, the last thing you want is to have Michael-freaking Jordan in the next clip, you know?
  • I ate five meals a day, drank as much liquid as I could find time to drink, and lost seven pounds from Monday to Thursday. I also feel great today. No blisters. No injuries. No nagging anything. This is well-designed training.
  • Mike Moreau and David Thorpe watched Chris Ballard's shooting stroke and identified that it was from the midwest. Turns out Chris is from California. But his dad, who was part of his learning process, is from Indiana.

Getting in a Big Tub of Ice

October, 2, 2008

IMG Athletic Performance Specialist Corey Stenstrup explains why you would do something like getting in a big tub of ice. It's not great when you first get in, especially if you like oxygen. And you only stay in two minutes. It's also not just ice. It's ice, and water. It was 50 degress when we started. We did two minutes in, then some time in an 87-degree pool, then two more minutes in the ice, then back in the warm pool. Best regeneration I have ever done. Luol Deng and Tyrus Thomas, they tell us, did this every day they were here, and just loved it.

I'd like to do this again right now. It makes you feel amazing when you're all done.

Actually Playing Basketball

October, 2, 2008

There are some very good basketball players hanging around the Pro Training Center at IMG. I asked one of them -- a 6-6 teenaged pillar of lean muscle -- how we looked. And he said: "Tired."

True enough.

After everything else was done for the day, we played some basketball. Gassed, really. But fun. Grey shirt and blue shorts is Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated. I'm telling you: He can really play. Guarding him made me feel, more than anything, dumb. And slow. Just couldn't get to where he was, and he punishes every mistake.

He can shoot, and move -- the clear MVP of this camp, from day one.

(Many thanks to Coach Anthony Macri, who shot just about all of the video from this trip that I am in.)

Towing Big Men Around

October, 2, 2008

That's ESPN radio's Ryen Russillo manning the bungee. What may not be obvious to you, but was very apparent to me, is that he has about thirty pounds of muscle on me.

We did this several times. I sweat so much that every time Ryen and I did it, we had to move to a new part of the court, because anywhere I had been was insanely slippery. I am a one man flood.

The Good Ol' Double Cramp

October, 2, 2008

I have gained an immense amount of respect for professional athletes. The work involved to be one of the fastest, strongest, and most skilled basketball players in the world is truly remarkable. 

After the last few days, and all I have learned and experience, I could write fifteen paragraphs on this topic. 

Just one little story, about the kinds of things bloggers experience when they masquerade as real athletes: After all the drills, the weightlifting, the workouts, the two-on-two ball screen drills, and then actually playing full-court four on four, I was spent. And I made a big mistake, not instantly drinking a ton of water after the last game concluded. 

I uploaded some video, got some ice, and drove two minutes back to where I am staying.

As I got out of the car, I felt a hamstring cramp. Pretty shocking when you get a big muscle going like that. (If you've never experienced it: You know that funny kind of foot cramp that happens sometimes, especially when you're in the pool? It's like that, only much larger.)

So I threw my leg out of the car, and straightened it out as quickly as possible to stop the cramp. 

The only problem was, as soon as my leg got wholly straight, the big ol' quad fired off with a nasty cramp of its own.

It occurred to me that there was a small chance somebody would find me, lying next to my car, locked up in cramping, thirsty, overworked muscles, entirely unable to move.

Eventually I made it inside, however, and after some liquids, food, and stretching, I'm feeling much better.

David Thorpe promises the workout tomorrow -- the last day -- will be the toughest yet.

Plenty more video to follow.

I am not insecure about the way I shoot the ball. At least I wasn't.

But now?

Last night I learned from David Thorpe that I do everything well except:

  • My feet.
  • My hand motion.
  • My release point.
  • My follow-through.
  • My elbow.
  • My landing.
  • And a couple of other things.

We discuss:

  • Waking up for what should be a pretty tough day, it's sad to feel legs that just are not peppy at all. My strategy: Maybe coffee can fix that. Coffee, or grit.
  • Overall, everything we do here has been fun and instructive. But it's also a lot, pretty fast, and I have a to work on, as you have seen in the videos, I guess. Today's sessions will include some defense, and perhaps some work in the post. Funny line from ESPN radio's Ryen Russillo, who sat out a few minutes yesterday with a sore leg. When he heard we were going to do some defense today, he joked: "I'm probably going to be injured for that."
  • At the end of Tuesday, we actually played some full-court basketball. It was a lot of fun -- what everybody here has been wanting to do. But it was also pretty embarrassing. Here we are in front of coaches like David Thorpe, Mike Moreau, and Anthony Macri, people who notice every detail, playing at our most exhausted. They're noticing things like when you shot fake on the perimeter, before driving to the hoop, do you take a little step back, or do you just step forward as you should? Meanwhile, my thought process was along the lines of "I wonder if my legs will agree to run this play?" I tried to employ all the lessons I had learned, but that kind of fatigue, in the course of a full-court game, is tough. Earlier in the day, we had done all kinds of ball-handling and shooting drills, not to mention a session with a strength and conditioning coach, doing things like jumping as high as we can and touching a heavy medicine ball to the wall. I think I speak for every participant (except for maybe Chris Ballard, who seems not to tire) here when I say we'd like not to be judged by this night of basketball.
  • TrueHoop reader David writes, in response to the ballhandling video: "So, my ball handling is garbage and it's an aspect of my game that I've been looking to improve as of late. I was really excited to see you had posted about some ball handling drills but was hoping for a little more detail on what you were taught. Why did they want you to dribble hard? I'm sure you learned countless new things, but did anyone else in particular really stand out about ball handling?" There is a lot here that would be best addressed to one of the coaches, but I'll paraphrase them: When you dribble, the ball is vulnerable to being poked away, especially because for some of the time it is out of your hands entirely. Getting low, and dribbling hard, makes it so the ball is out of your hand for a very short amount of time, and is thus harder to get at. Also, when you play against an elite defender, you'll find yourself wanting to dribble hard to keep it away from him/her. When that day comes, you'll want it to be second nature to dribble that way. The coaches here don't really ever want you to be loosey-goosey with the ball. 
  • TrueHoop reader Kyle writes: "Hey, just wanna say thanks for these video updates. I'm learning loads, much more than on my own on the pick-up court. And I also learned that you're so white, you glow. Any pukes yet?" Thanks Kyle. I should make clear: That glow has nothing to do with my whiteness. I just sweat so much my aura was starting to leak out. I'm pleased to report, however, that we have not had any pukes. 
  • Unrelated story I just noticed that's pretty interesting: Erik Spoelstra's playbook for the Miami Heat is in a book, but it's also on iPods that have been distributed to all the players.

Ballhandling with Mike Moreau

September, 30, 2008

Late Tuesday morning, we spent a lot of time learning how to dribble the ball.

One of the big points of emphasis is to dribble hard. Very hard. Like hammering nails. It's hard to do, and we made a lot of turnovers. And you know what? The coaches cheer those turnovers -- as they're a sign that people are challenging themselves beyond their comfort zone.

Coach Mike Moreau explains.

How To Talk to the Media

September, 30, 2008

Lesson number one: Pretend you hunt lobsters.

An explanation. One of the crown jewels of IMG is Steve Shenbaum, who has trained a Who's Who of athletes -- from Greg Oden to Pete Sampras -- in how to talk to the media.

He has a very cool and unconventional approach. Far from giving players boring scripts to follow, he manages to find innovative ways to make people comfortable, and to find stories they are comfortable telling to the TV cameras.

It involves a lot of improvisation games, like you might see on some kind of comedy show.

Here you can see Shenbaum leading HoopsWorld's Bill Ingram, Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard, and myself in a game where we are pretending, for some reason, to be lobster hunters.

Camp Video: First Night

September, 30, 2008

ESPN Radio and Celtics broadcaster Ryen Russillo was nice enough to handle the camera and the interviewing on a little check-in from last night.

OK, still hoping to get you some video from Day 1 of training like a pro at IMG in Florida.

In the meantime, here are some observations:

  • IMG is a magnet for elite athletes from high school on up. The thing about walking around this campus is that it is wall-to-wall young athletes who would be the most natural athletes in any high school in America. I wish you could have seen this one dude I saw from the car yesterday. As much of an athlete-looking guy as you will ever see anywhere. You look at all those skinny waists, six-pack abs, defined calf muscles ... and it has a couple of effects on how I think about athletes. The first is that it makes me think that super elite athlete bodies are almost commodities. It must be sobering for those kids to get here, and for the first time, everybody looks like them. It also makes me think that if you don't have one of those bodies? You're facing some long odds.
  • Along those lines, when David Thorpe introduced us regular-looking journalists to one of the strength coaches here, he cocked an eyebrow and said: "A little shorter than the regular guys, aren't they?" Not since seventh grade have I felt the urge to explain or defend my height.
  • On the court, led my Coach Mike Moreau, we did "dynamic stretching." There's a lot to it, but more or less it's a series of stretching movements that you can do while making your way running or stepping across the court. Seemed pretty effective too. And the gym is hot. We each got our own towel before the session, and I used mine again and again just during the stretching.
  • Then we spent a lot of time each at our own hoops, following simple instructions. Make a jumper from here. Dribble from the wing and make a jumper from there. Coaches circulated reminding us to jump straight up and down ... stuff like that. A lot of that was hand-specific, and the left-handed stuff was fun to watch, for sure.
  • In groups of three, we worked on making one long dribble from the free throw line, to make a short jumper. Then we did that with a pump fake (all you need to move is the ball and your eyes -- that big pump movement you did in high school is a waste of movement) then a jab step, then those in combination, which is a rocker step. 
  • All throughout, Coach Moreau told us all kinds of interesting stuff. One of the most memorable things to me was the idea that this is a laboratory where it is good to find errors. Just working on what you're good at ... that's not what the best players do. In this gym, turnovers and mistakes are signs you're discovering and working on fixing weaknesses. The best players love to discover new weaknesses, although they hate them and work hard to correct them immediately. It's a good way to think about time on the basketball court.