Based on what I have heard about what you are doing with the players, you are definitely more than just a strength coach. What all do you do with them?
"When you look at performance, and I tell the guys this each day, you can't just have one piece of the pie and expect to perform on the court. You have to have all aspects of it. So, I tell them you have to have the entire pie in order to perform. To me that entails not only the court work that they are putting in with the coaches, not only film, but also the pieces of the pie that I provide, flexibility, mental conditioning, nutrition, recovery. We are teaching them the tools that will give them the best opportunity to succeed on the court.
"When we talk about things in here it is not only about strength. We will take them through a screening. What I mean by screening is we will take them through a series of tests to see if maybe one side of their body is stronger than the other or there might be a flexibility issue. So, not only are we going to do weight room, old school exercises, but we are also going to do things that might make you think you are in a physical therapy clinic if you should walk in here. Guys will be doing individual exercises based on the tests that we did.
"(As an example) you take a guy like Johnny Zuppardo who last year had knee surgery. The muscles in his surgically repaired knee aren't strong enough yet. He would have what I would call an A-Symmetrical shift where he is going to put more weight on the opposite side of where that surgically repaired knee is. That will cause him to overuse it. What we are looking for when we do those type tests are are they doing certain things when we take them through certain movements of the tests. That will give us a blueprint of what we need to do with each guy.
"The start of each workout, after we go through a series of warm-ups, will be more physical therapy type things. We call them corrective type exercises, trying to correct any deficiency, flexibility, mobility or muscle weakness that they might have. We are trying to balance the body out with those things so we don't overuse either part of their body.
"After we do that in the weight room, then we will get more into our weight lifting. From that, we will get into a certain part of the workout where we will split into forwards and guards. We do that because each position has specific demands. We will have certain exercises that they do. And if you walked into the weight room you would think now that is basketball. They are trying to get themselves into better positions so that they can get into the right positions on the floor.
"I can get every guy on our team to squat 500 pounds. But if we get on the floor and 2 seconds into a defensive possession they stand straight up then I haven't done my job with their conditioning to play basketball. That is the thing about it, they are not coming here to be weight lifters, they are coming here to be basketball players. So, we have to get them ready to perform at a high level on the court. To to that, I research trying to find things that is out there that I can bring to the table to better do that.
"From there, I go into nutrition. What we do is map out their entire day eating-wise, snack-wise. What I tell them all the time is you can't out-train a bad diet. What we are doing is giving them the tools to make the right decisions when they aren't around us. I am trying to break habits that they have had since they were young. I'm trying to break those habits in a short amount of time. It's not going to happen overnight but it is something that we hit on every single day because it is such an important factor of them staying healthy. Nutrition is a big piece of the pie that we talk about.
"Next we have flexibility and mobility. The pre-screening that we do tells me if they have some flexibility issues. They have some exercises that helps them with those issues. But it's not just being flexible, it's being flexible for our sport. We are not trying to be flexible for gymnastics. We are trying to be flexible for basketball.
"What I tell them is we want to make our space as big as possible. Then we want to own that space. So, finding a fine balance among strength, mobility and flexibility is important. To help do that we are bringing in a yoga instructor twice a week. We will go through two 30-minutes sessions. It is not like a yoga session you would see in a studio. We are concentrating on hips, t-spine (thoracic spine) flexibility, shoulder flexibility. The thoracic spine area is important to basketball because it helps you to be able to run the floor and turn the upper body without turning your feet. It helps to keep you from slowing down while maintaining the right positions on the floor.
"For me, I don't really look at basketball the same way the coaches do. Their job is to teach sets, things like that. My job is the performance aspect of it. So, when I watch basketball and watch an individual I am watching how he moves. Are they able to stick their foot in the ground a certain way? Do I see that they have restrictions? Then, when we do agility work we can work on those things. Agility is another piece of the pie. We will do things that helps us plant right. I want to help them get to a spot the most efficiently that they can. The more efficient we are, the quicker we will be, the better they will be.
"Speed and explosiveness are other aspects of the pie. One day a week, Friday, we will come in and do what we call flight club. We will do a lot of basketball movements on flight club day. We will try to work on more explosiveness besides just the things that we do in the weight room. We have already been to the sand pit to do a lot of agility work, to do some jump stuff where we aren't on the court and taking pounding on the legs.
"Then the next aspect of the pie is the mental conditioning. We will have different thoughts of the day, different lessons that we will go over. We will show them how to clear their mind. I will ask them where are they and they will say right here, right now. Whatever just happened, that is now in the past. That is called sports psychology. I call it mental conditioning. It is something that you have to work on. One thing might be concentration. That is one of the lessons. Another one is what I call right here, right now. I call it whistle to the next possession. The whistle it blown, then you need to be able to clear, deactivate, find out what matters, then move on. That is something that I tell them all the time, when you walk through these doors you have to be right here, right now. We can't be worried about what happened in class, what happened at home. This is a room to get away from everything and where we come to work to get better.
"Some of the other mental conditioning things that we will go over is confidence, positive self-talk. Positive self-talk is a choice and it is the most important conversation that you will have with yourself. The most intimate conversation that you have is with yourself. Putting the right thoughts into your mind is something only you can control. Confidence is the same way, it is a choice. How you perform is very much a part of confidence. Depending on how the year goes, during the season we will have a mini-session on just a topic. From that session we will put a piece of paper in their locker that talks about it in more depth.
"The last piece is rest and recovery. What are you doing to help your body recover from your last workout. Every day we will have foam rollers and they will have to foam roll each day before they leave. It is like doing a self massage every day to help break up adhesions. During the season, besides doing the foam rollers every day, we will also bring in a massage therapist to work on our guys and girls to help them aid in that recovery process.
"And something that I tell them is this is not just about today but it is about the long haul of the season. It is about playing our best basketball in February, March and, hopefully, in the first of April. And this is not only for this season but also for the future. If you are lucky enough to play basketball after you leave here, whether it be in the NBA of overseas, then having all of these tools will help you extend your career. The healthier you are, the longer you will be able to play. "
The things that you are teaching them are really new. Since they are new, how do you prove to the players that they work?
"You look at DeMarre Carroll, who played for the Hawks this year. We used to do all these things back with him. He just signed a deal that is worth 15 million dollars. He is a guy who really changed his body. He did those things to help his performance because he knows it will make him more money for the long haul. Bobby Portis (of the Chicago Bulls) is another kid (that worked with me). He was a first-round pick this year. Another one is Phil Pressey. He plays guard for the Boston Celtics.
"But I also tell our guys not everybody is going to make it to the NBA. What they do here will also help them with the work they do in the real world. If you don't work hard, then you will get fired. If you always have an excuse for not getting the job done, then you are probably going to get fired. So, this can also help them with every day life. The nutrition that they are learning can help them live long, healthy lives, too."
What you are teaching your players is really very innovated stuff. Where did you come up with all of these things?
"I have been lucky to be around a lot of great people. I have been lucky to be around sports psychologists, physical therapists, nutritionists, athletic trainers, chiropractors, massage therapists. Also, having a lot of friends in the field and guys in the NBA that I am really good friends with that I can talk to it allows me to continue to learn. To be able to combine all of that into making, hopefully, the best program I continue to do research. Research is a big deal to me. I love to learn new things. I want to know what is out there that gives us the best chance to succeed. If I am not continuing to make myself better everyday and learn new things, then I am not doing the best job that I can for our kids and our teams.
"I want to win. I love to win. And Coach (Howland) is big on giving me the tools that is going to help us succeed. He is a big believer in it. And the guys on the team see how important it is to the head coach. Seeing how important I am to him and our staff, that makes my job a lot easier. Having that support from Coach Howland and Coach (Vic) Schaefer is very important. You can tell Coach Schaefer's teams are used to winning by how they show up every day."
How well have the players progressed during the four-plus weeks that you have worked with them?
"It would shock you how well they have progressed from week-one to week-four."
Johnny Zuppardo has gotten down to 230 pounds while Fallou Ndoye has increased his weight to 239 pounds. And both look outstanding. You can tell they have both muscled up. What you have done with Fallou is dramatic.
"He is not the only one. Aric Holman, who is a freshman and has only been here four weeks, has put on 11 pounds. And that is not fat. A lot of that is due to the way that we are eating. We are eating right, so we are putting on the right kind of weight. It is not fat weight. We are also teaching them how to stay properly hydrated. We have a nutritionist who works in the athletic department, Kelly White. She helps us out. We feed them three times a day."
And you design the three meals for each player, don't you?
"We do. We make sure they are getting the right quality of foods and not a bunch of fatty foods, fried foods. We have cut out all that out. We are now having them eat lean meat, fish, greens, vegetables. We are also able to give them snacks in between their meals. Certain guys can't have certain snacks. You can see the results with a lot of our players."
Fallou is eating like that and he is still gaining weight?
"Yeah, he is still gaining weight. But that is because he is putting in the right amount of calories versus the amount that we are burning per day. Whereas if you saw Gavin Ware right now you would notice that he is leaning up his body. We are changing his body. He is about 258 now but we are going to lean him up a little bit more. He can't play at 265 or 270 and be efficient."
You also weigh each player daily, don't you?
"We do. Every time we work out we weigh them. That helps me because if a bunch of guys are losing weight, then we are starting to over train them. That means we will need to back off a little bit. Also, if something is going on with one player (weight-wise), then we will need to figure out what is going on."
I want to ask you about another player, Malik Newman. He is a guy who works extremely hard. In fact, he sometimes works so hard he loses too much weight. What do you do with a guy like that?
"For him, he has not really done this part of it. He has always worked really hard on the court. He has never really lifted or done a lot of the agility work that we do, never done a lot of the basketball movement stuff that we do. This is foreign to him. His body was in shock the first two weeks. The thing with him is teaching him the aspect of rest and recovery. You can't go three straight days without rest. Your body has to rest. Sometimes to get major gains less is more. It is not more is more. In that case your body starts working against you. You will get injured or your performance will decrease because your body has not recovered and is not ready for the next workout."
Think about this. Malik has accomplished all that he has accomplished, and he has accomplished a lot, without most of the tools that you are providing him now. There is no telling what his potential is once he learns all of those tools.
"That is the thing about him, he has done all of that because the one thing that he has had is hard work. He also has natural ability. Now learning how to do all the things that we are doing is just going to elevate his game even more.
"I tell my players this all the time. If you come into this room as a elite player, it is going to make you even better. If you come in here as a great player it will make you an elite player. This room can help take you to a level that you never thought you could get to. We don't want to set a ceiling for any of our players. We want them to go through the ceiling.
"We are going to do everything that we can to help our guys and girls get an advantage over other teams on the floor. We want to know what gives us that advantage. Anything that we can do to give them an advantage I am going to look for and then bring it to the table. I am going to tell them about different guys. We talk about NBA guys all of the time. (NBA player) Ray Allen, who has played a long time, didn't eat fast food. Look how long he has played (19 years). He made choices that changed how he took care of himself. So, he gave himself a chance to stay healthier. Another guy is Michael Jordan. There has not been another guy who has worked any harder than him. The next closet is probably Kobe Bryant. Now, you have a Stephen Curry."
How do you know those three guys have worked so hard?
"Because I know the guys who trained them."
You keep mentioning this room. You are about to add additional tools to your room. What tools are you adding? My guess is it won't really look like your typical strength and conditioning weight room.
"There is not doubt about that. We are going to totally change the room. I wouldn't call it a weight room. I would call it a performance center. We are really investing in our players so that we give them a chance to be successful.
"Not only will I be able to take them through a screening, I will also have force plates in here that they will jump on that will give me instant feedback that will allow me to get those measurements to see what kind of loading they are getting.
"Besides that, we are also going to have a treadmill in here called an Alter-G. It will allow us to put less stress on their joints than is put on them on the court or elsewhere in this room. It will allow me to take them within 10% of their body weight and have them run where they are not getting stress on their joints. We will have one of those.
"We will also have 16 pieces of what are called Keiser (machines) and each will be air pressured. It will give me what is called power output. Whatever exercise the player is doing it will allow me to measure that power output. Then off of each rep it will give me the percent of their highest power output rep. So, instead of me giving a person let's say 8 reps I can go off of the percentage. If I give you 8 reps, it doesn't matter if it is lighter or heavier, when you get to 6 your mind automatically knows that you are going to 8. So, all of sudden your body will only work as hard as the number that I gave you. With this machine I don't give them a set rate, I tell them to keep going until they hit the power output that I am looking for. There will be sixteen of those pieces and each one will be for different parts of the body. A lot of them will be upright, so we will be doing movements standing up. We will be working on vertical strength which is how we play.
"On our racks that we will have in here we will have 3-D cameras. We will be able to capture the guy or girl doing the lift and also the speed of the bar. They will then be able to watch themselves on a replay.
"We will also have what I call quick boards. They have sensors in each of the dots. You will have an iPad and have to react to whatever sensor it is. Or I can give a guy or girl a certain exercise or a quick foot drill for foot speed and it will count the reps.
"Everything will be geared to the players performance. So, to me it is a performance center that will give us the best chance to win."
Has what you are about to do been done anywhere else?
"This will probably be the best basketball-only performance facility in the country, college or pro, because of the technologies that we will have in here."
Did both head coaches know beforehand that you wanted to build this kind of performance center?
"Both Coach Howland and Coach Schaefer knew because we talked about it. They believe in the things that I am doing here. They know how important this is for our guys and girls to see improvement in their performance. My goal is to win a national championship. And I am going to do everything that I can to help them do that. That is what drives me."