What does a typical day look like in the life of an NBA Draft prospect in the month of May? We made the drive up to Bradenton to try and find out, kicking off a week-long tour of three of the top training facilities in the world.
8:00 AM- The players, Courtney Lee (Western Kentucky), Lester Hudson (Tennessee Martin), Pat Calathes (St. Josephs), Brian Roberts (Dayton), Reggie Williams (VMI), Stanley Burrell (Xavier), John Riek (Winchendon Academy) and Martin Iti (New Mexico State) wake up at 8 oclock in the morning in their cozy dorms located inside the athletes village of IMG Academy in Bradentonabout 45 minutes south of Tampa. Most of them have been here for close to two weeks nowsome still havent left the facility. They have everything they need inside this gated community, and are too focused on the task on hand and often too tired by the end of their long workout days to want to do anything else. Everywhere you look as you walk around campus, you see young, tall, tanned, incredibly fit athletes of every shape, size, nationality and age walking aroundlooking much healthier than you do. Its great here, tells me projected first-round draft pick Courtney Lee with a big smileeveryone is working on their body all the time, and working on their games. There are absolutely no distractions.
8:30 AM- Breakfast time. The players eat together in a small cafeteria with a buffet packed with all kinds of extremely healthy food. Ive put on seven pounds already since I got here, Pat Calathes notes.
9:00 AM- The players spend the next hour stretching and rehabbing any minor nicks they may have incurred in their intense workout sessions.
10:00 AM- IMG has a state of the art weight room, and this is where the players spend the next hour, lifting and trying to get stronger in the parts of their body that have been pinpointed by the staff.
11:00 AM- The day really kicks off when the basketball coaches arrive. The players still havent done much of anything competitivethey are still in the learning phase. Todays lesson? The art of creating your own shot in one on one situations. Its what the NBA is all about, and the coaches are constantly helping the players visualize the intended results by bringing up examples from last nights playoff games (the players homework) to hammer their points across.
[c]David Thorpe in action[/c]
First up: Jab-steps. A fundamental stance, compact technique, selling the move with vocal effects and exaggerated motions, emphasizing the importance of timing and aggressively keeping an opponent off-balancethe coaches here have this down to a science. Mike Moreau quite literally shows why its called a jab by quickly switching into a imaginary boxer, showing the effect a quick jab can have in the ring to daze an opponent. Every little advantage the players can gain here by utilizing perfect technique helps in the quest of dislodging a defender momentarily from his stance and beating him opponent off the dribble. If you arent a Kobe Bryant or Carmelo Anthony type talent as David Thorpe reminds them, its your only chance of surviving in the NBA, where everyone is incredibly athletic. Put your man on a puppet string, he stresses. And dont settle!
The coaches here work as a team. Thorpe and Mike Moreau are both NBA analysts with ESPNs Scouts, Inc., and they know the game as well as anyone youll find. 29-year old Dan Barto is quickly developing into an incredible asset here because of his supreme knowledge of the human body and how every part of it has to come together in unison to create the perfect athlete. He explains to me how Lester Hudsons scoring instincts and incredible wingspan are extremely important in the process of beating his defender off the dribble, but he still has a great deal of potential physically because of the strength he lacks in his ankles. He could be even more explosive off his initial jab if they worked on that, instead of building up his football muscles.
[c]Mike Moreau instructing Reggie Williams[/c]
Rocker-steps (a jab, followed by quickly going half-way into the motion of a shot, only to then explode off the back foot), and freeze fakes are followed by finishing movesfirst learning how to effectively create separation to get a shot off with a fade-away move (hand in the rim we here again and againmeaning hold your follow through), and then mixing in step-throughs and jump-stops to get even craftier around the basket. The players then combine a string of all the moves they learned over the course of the day, every time adding an additional thing into their gamehard jab, one-dribble, freeze- fake, fade-away, all in one fluid motion.
Everything is mixed in with a constant stream of teaching and encouragement, creating a very positive atmosphere in which the players are not afraid to experiment with the new tricks theyre learning.
12:30 PM- Its time for lunch. Again, the players eat together, this time alongside the coaching staff. Chicken, Shrimp stir-fry, rice, broccoli, and a big salad bar are on the menu. Dan Barto takes off with John Riek to escort him to the doctor. Theyll be the first ones to tell you how invested they are personally in their players success.
1:30 PM- The players are in for a treat today. This is their first session with acclaimed communication skills trainer Steve Shenbaum, who is based here out of IMG. Shenbaums client list is a whos who of star professional athletesCarmelo Anthony, Pete Sampras, Greg Oden, Darren McFadden, and recently O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love and many many othersgiving him instant credibility amongst this group. A former Hollywood actor, Shenbaum first wins them over with his incredible sense of humor, and then quickly gets to work.
The focal point of this session is on helping these players make a strong impression with their communication skillsbe it in the interviews theyll soon be conducting in private NBA workouts, in press conferences, in everyday life with people they meet, and beyond. Shenbaum wants them to be known for a lot more than just their skills on the courthe wants them to be confident, relaxed and charmingsmart enough to recognize who their audience is, and how to switch moods swiftly depending on who they are talking to.
Shenbaum talks to them about the importance of coinsthings in your pocket you can pull out at a moments notice and use as a means of telling a story. Dont just answer an NBA executives probes with a yes, you are a good leader/worker/teammatepull out your coins and go into some depth telling the interviewer why you are, without sounding scripted. Your family, your hobbies, things you are proud of- there are endless possibilities.
A steady stream of highly entertaining Improv games help emphasize Shambaums points. In a game called Expert Speaker, Martin Iti is interviewed by an imaginary character about his expertise in the field of Temperology and asked to explain how hes been able to make money off a two page book he wrote about Global Warming. An interview can be fun we see, its not that hard to talk and improvise about anything actually, if you know how to turn it into a conversation and win people over with your personality. For the second straight year, this might have been the most fun part of the visit.
3 PM- After getting to relax and laugh a bit, its quickly back to work, as the players conduct a very intense hour-long shooting session, practicing every type of jumper imaginable, from every distance and in stand-still and off the dribble situations. Rather than making this a monotonous affair, Mike Moreau gets the players competitive juices flowing by pairing them up and pitting them against each other, letting them run up and down the floor, yelping, celebrating each make and cursing each miss, basking in the glory of victory and crushed by the anguish of defeat. One of the more entertaining shooting sessions Ive seen, I must say. Consider the shooting percentages of the players involved Courtney Lee (40% 3P), Pat Calathes (40% 3P), Brian Roberts (46% 3P), Stanley Burrell (39% 3P), Lester Hudson (39% 3P), Reggie Williams (53% FG). There were not all that many misses in case you were wondering. There is no question that this is the groups strong-point, in addition to their extremely high character, which was always evident throughout the day.
4 PM- The last session of the day was unlike any other Ive seen over the past few years on the cross-country workout trailNFL combine guru Tom Shaw, widely considered the #1 expert in America on speed training. Shaw worked for the New England Patriots for seven years, spent time on the Florida State University track team staff, is the founder of the Nike SPARQ (speed, power, agility, reaction and quickness) program, and has helped thermonuclear athletes such as Deion Sanders, Michael Vick, Darren McFadden, Tyrus Thomas, Chris Johnson (at 4.24, the fastest player ever at running the 40 yard dash) and a slew of others. Needless to say, his resume speaks for itself in his field.
With this being the first session the players are going through with him, much of it was dedicated to explaining the theory behind speed training, and helping them understand exactly what it will take to get faster and more explosive. He explained the two methods of increasing speedincreasing stride length, and increasing stride frequency, and then put them on the track for various different drills to help emphasize those points, as well as teaching them the most effective ways to run properly.
The players were free after that, clearly exhausted after what looked like a grueling day. I was quickly informed that this was actually an easy day by their standards.
8 PM- The players are in their dorms by now, with their task for the night involving watching the NBA playoffs and processing the incredible amount of information theyve been taught over the past few weeks by seeing how it manifests itself at the highest level of basketball in the world. Mike Moreau and David Thorpe will send out a slew of text messages to each of the players to get them to notice and think about the various things they are watching and how it relates to their own game. Thorpe says his goal at this point is mostly to help increase their knowledge of the game, so they can better understand what theyre learning and more easily incorporate new things into their own skill-set.
Due to the nature of the workouts we took in (there was one more session the morning after we saw, mostly involving plyometrics and various other strength and explosiveness drills)there was only really so much you could take away from the players strengths and weaknesses in a setting like this. Things like technique, fundamentals, athleticism, shooting touch, work ethic, and other intangibles were on displaybut not to the degree that you would want to make any sweeping long-term projections off of. Having watched all of these players repeatedly in college, and for some, the Portsmouth Invitational Tournamentthis was definitely worthwhilethe icing on the cake in the evaluation process you might say.
[c]Courtney Lee and Pat Calathes[/c]
He shot the ball extremely well in the drills, displaying picture perfect form and no longer bringing the ball down before going into his shot the way he had a tendency to do during the season. Off the court, hes almost just as impressivewell-spoken, humble, confident, and obviously very intelligent. We couldnt really evaluate some of the things we have question marks aboutfor example how he will fare in a pure one on one setting against a long, athletic defender having to create his own shot excessively using advanced ball-handling moves, as well as some of the issues regarding the passivity he displays from time to timebut he showed enough in other areas here to have left an extremely strong impression.
Hudson is about as instinctive a scorer as youll findhe just has that it factor as Dan Barto likes to say. He isnt an incredible ball-handler, nor is he freakishly explosive, but he has a fantastic feel for putting the ball in the basket, particularly with his excellent jumper. He seems to be pretty laid back off the court, but on it hes mostly definitely an animal, strong and tenacious, and not willing to take no for an answer. He works extremely hard and still has a lot of upside to continue to improve despite already being 23 years oldas its not hard to tell that he hasnt been around a highly organized setting like this for too long (as his background would indicate), and is still very much living off his instincts at this point. The physical experts like Barto think he can still get much stronger and more sophisticated with his shot-creating tools as well.
Players like Hudson are hard to project, as not only is he a 6-1 combo guard, but he only played one season of college basketball, mostly against a very low-level of competition in the OVC. Its hard to say how many people really have a great feel for the type of player he is right now, and from what it sounds like, he isnt planning on making things any easier on people, as he will likely be skipping the NBA pre-draft camp.