Training Grounds Introduction, and Part One (Keith Moss) Eric Weiss:
How did you get your start with training athletes? What is your background and how did you go from there to where you are today? Joe Abunassar:
Well, I was a manager for [Bobby] Knight at Indiana and then I coached four years at the University of Wyoming. After leaving Wyoming I was in the process of moving on to a different school but I got the chance to work out a couple of guys for an agent while I was in between coaching jobs. Now, it was suppose to be just a temporary thing. Ive always had my strength and conditioning certification, so I ended up taking over all those responsibilities for the agent, he had three guys at the time. It just kept growing and growing from there.
I started running summer camps for Kevin Garnett
, Joe Smith
, and Chauncey Billups
while also training them. Two years later I got rid of the summer camps because I started getting more and more guys. So I got kind of lucky with those three, theyre pretty good guys to have. From there it just grew to the point where now weve got kids, draft guys, and veterans, the whole thing. Eric Weiss:
Going along those lines, who are the guys that you feel youve helped the most. The players you mentioned obviously have great name recognition, but who do you feel youve had the most impact on as a coach? Also, what do you do with players developmentally after the draft process?Joe Abunassar:
Billups and Garnett for sure. Tayshaun Prince
and Al Harington most certainly. Michael Ruffin
, whos been with me since he came out of Tulsa and just signed a two year deal. A guy like Reece Gaines
, who hasnt had much success since, but we really got him ready for the draft and got him to go at 15. Jared Jeffries
is a guy that Ive been training since he was a junior in high school because he was in Bloomington Indiana and obviously so was I. So, guys like Billups and Prince, Ruffin and Jefferies, guys who Ive helped coming into the league, have helped stay in the league, stay prepared and find a niche for themselves to get it done.
Ive got about thirty-five to forty guys that I work with every summer. There are about ten which Ill travel to go see while theyre on the road, just to work with them a bit closer. Dahntay Jones
from Duke is a guy that worked really hard with me preparing for the draft and he did better than anyone expected going at 20. He hasnt gotten the consistent minutes yet because of Memphiss personnel, but hes a guy that Jerry West
loves and thinks is going to be a very good player. So, all the guys Ive mentioned, plus some others like Chucky Atkins
and Tyronne Lue; these are guys that I work with all year long.
Once the seasons over then Im in charge of setting up their off-season schedule and getting them ready for training camp for the next year. [Sebastian] Telfair is another guy that I forgot to mention who I work with on a year round basis. Kris Humphries
is down here with me right now, Alex Acker
is from Detroit is a guy I love, hes another guy spending the summer down here with me along with his teammate Amir Johnson
. Theyre two young guys who pretty much entrust their summer to me and say this is where I want to go, you tell me what I need to do to get there. So now that I have the facility out here in LA, theyll be coming in over the summer as well as going out to Vegas when we open there on August 6th. Eric Weiss:
So, is there a certain philosophy or methodology that you bring to your work? Joe Abunassar:
I guess the best way to describe it is that we build the player from the court backwards. What I mean by that is we analyze everything from a basketball standpoint first. For example, what can Al Harington do to be a better player next year? Im fortunate in that coming from IMG and now being situated out in LA, Ive got performance coaches, nutritionists, physical therapists, and psychologists, just anything you could ever want.
So, from the goals we set on the court, we then build a program. The strength people and myself will sit down and review what we need to do in this area, do we need to gain weight or lose it, etc. The physical therapist will then come in and well determine if we need to increase flexibility, is there a hip mobility problem. Then the nutritionist will come in and figure out what needs to happen there.
Im big into periodized training for recovery purposes. You cant take a guy April 20th when the seasons over and just beat the hell out of him until October and expect him to have a good season. So, we build our plan from the court backwards and carefully plan our whole summer out. Im not a big fan of working with guys unless we get them for months at a time. Getting a guy for a week at a time is fine, but were about peaking his body. Im into triathlon training myself, so Im very in tune with the body and how to peak it effectively, how to get the endurance, how to create a muscle base.
We ask the NBA coaches, What are your guys doing in June? Even a KG, a veteran like Garnett asked me for his program three weeks ago because he knows that what hes doing in June will set the foundation for whats going to happen in February. Its not like hes training on the court, but hes doing yoga type stuff, hes building muscles that need to be built. Hes increasing his flexibility. You have to strengthen the tendons, strengthen the muscles and ligaments so that when you load them up come August, guys arent getting injured. I think not doing this is what makes a lot of guys not make it through the season. Guys like Billups and Garnett, its not like Im taking them and saying you need to be a better shooter, these guys are well established in their career. So, what were trying to do is just fine-tune things.
But, you take a young guy like Alex Acker
and Amir Johnson
and we can really do a lot of things in the summer. Well consult with the Pistons staff and ask them, Where do you need him to be next season? Then I bring together my performance team and we sit down and say, This is where he needs to be by the 4th Thursday in June to be where we need him to be by October. So, weve taken it to a pretty scientific level. Were trying to create a complete athlete. There was an article in Stacked magazine a while back with KG on the cover, and it went into our training regimen and the 6 levels of it. The skill work, the performance training, the performance movement, the corrective work-such as making hips more mobile or strengthening shoulder muscles that are weak and causing mobility problems, the nutrition, and then finally, recovery. The recovery part is something that guys dont get. You go Monday and Tuesday hard and then Wednesday you recover. But, recovery isnt sitting around on Wednesday and playing PlayStation, its an active recovery. We might just shoot that day, we do massage work, we do cold tubs, hot tubs. Theres never a resting moment to training the body. Eric Weiss:
Its good to hear you take it to that level because its something I dont think people really understand or pay strict attention to. I dont think the level of depth is fully appreciated. Joe Abunassar:
Ive been doing this for ten years and I hear guys all the time saying Im going to LA to work out. But, guys are working out all over the place. Were interested in specific area improvement. Fortunately we dont need to go out chasing guys down to do this, if a guy isnt interested in putting in the time and taking it to that level then were not interested in working with him. Eric Weiss:
Going back to the draft process. What is your perception of the whole thing? What frustrates you, if anything, and what do you see your role being? Joe Abunassar:
Well, the hardest thing from my perspective is the pressure on the kids. Then again, you want players that can perform under pressure, so I dont really think the process is that bad. The scouts have seen the Cedric Simmons
, Patrick OBryant
s, and Kyle Lowry
s all season. The Pre-Draft process is really more for the GMs and coaches who may not have gotten a chance to see them as much. Many of my scouting friends say, We dont even need to watch this guy, weve seen him seven times a year for three years.
The Pre-Draft process is great for us because I can change a kid in a week. A lot of these kids are coming from college and they have no eating habits, they never stretch, their body composition isnt great, their movements are off, they dont know how to dip their shoulder on dribble penetration pull-ups. So, the weeks leading up to Pre-Draft are a bonanza to me, I love it.
The key to getting the guys ready are finding what they do very well. When you go into an interview you want to make sure that you get a chance to speak about your strengths, the things that would be considered a positive to the employer. The draft is a bit different than preparing for the regular season because its almost like you are preparing him for a big show. Preparing for the season, youre getting a guy ready to take six months of pounding.
Most of the kids coming out are not prepared, and this is no disrespect to the colleges, but its college. These kids are staying up late and eating fast food. I coached in college, so I know what theyre dealing with. If I could change anything it would be stuff like that. For instance, Quincy Douby
came to work out with us last summer. Your can ask his college coaches about it, but he returned for his Junior year a completely different player. So, what we do with a Pre-Draft kid coming out will completely shock him the first week. Youre not drinking enough water. You dont stretch. You cant eat that and come into a workout. I mean when I coached in college, youd have a 3pm practice and nine out of ten guys would come in without having eaten a thing, and if they did they grabbed something terrible.
This is part of our nutrition program. Lets say Kyle Lowry
has a workout with Philly on Thursday and Boston on Friday. Hes going to eat a certain way on Wednesday to get his body ready. Hes going to increase his sodium a little bit, increase his carbohydrate intake. Were also teaching them how to eat right after. Chauncey has a back-to-back, there are certain things he needs to put in his body Friday to recover for Saturday. For the Pre Draft kids this is important because if you go into a workout and you didnt eat the right stuff, you could have a really bad day and this is not the time to have a bad day. In college, they could go out and score 30 points and they probably had Burger King for lunch. Eric Weiss:
I understand. Ive had a similar experience with proper nutritional training and then going off to college and sort of falling off that wagon. Joe Abunassar:
The great thing about it is that with Pre-Draft you get close to 100% compliance because the guys are motivated. This is the chance to reshape their careers. If you get a guy early and program him to do it the right way, hell do it throughout his career. You might get a guy who goes off and has a bad rest of the summer, doesnt have the rookie year he wanted to have and comes back the next summer and is like ok, Im ready to work now. Eric Weiss:
I understand. It really helps to drive home your points when you tell them something, they dont adhere to it and then dont get the results they wanted. Joe Abunassar:
and I dont want them to fail, Im calling them all the time trying to get them to do it. I have very personal relationships with my clients. Al Harrington
is my son Jacks godfather. These guys are my guys. Weve built up the business in so many areas that I can really give them the attention they need and make sure they have good years. Eric Weiss:
Looking at all of this, it must put players at a significant disadvantage going into the draft process when they are worried about NCAA rules violations and they cant get this type of education without worrying about their eligibility. Joe Abunassar:
I think it does for sure. I think it forces more kids to make a poor decision because it gets the kids thinking, If I dont commit I cant do the training, and if I cant do the training then Im at a disadvantage going against all the other guys. Most kids cant pay. Obviously, a top ten ranked pick can get his line of credit and thats not an issue, but an agent or somebody is fronting the money for these guys to do this, which is obviously illegal from an eligibility standpoint. So, guys are just throwing their names in and the system kind of encourages them to sign so they can get the training they need to compete. Eric Weiss:
One of the interesting parts in all of this is the role you have as somewhat of a third-party whiteness to all the interplay between agents, executives, and scouts. Everyones suppose to be representing the best interests of these athletes, but it seems that you may have the most genuine role in this. What are your feelings on this and what youve seen? Joe Abunassar:
The unique thing for me is that I have all those veteran guys, so I know a lot of the agents and team personnel already and they know me. Im welcome around almost anywhere and Ive found that Ive unintentionally sandwiched myself right in the middle of all of these people. Ive been neutral to all of them. Im not aligned with an agent, Im not aligned with a team. When I prepare Chauncey and Tayshaun to have the type of seasons theyve had, that establishes a good relationship with the Pistons to the point where theyll call me and ask for my opinion about something and take it at face value, not like its etched in stone or anything, but the trust is there. I enjoy it and the way I think Ive been able to do that is real simple. Im for the player, thats who I work for. I just train. Im not trying to be anyones GM or anything like that. The player knows that Im for him.
That doesnt mean Im going to lie though. If youve got Chauncey the last thing you want is to tell Joe Dumars
or John Hammond that a draft player is good when hes not good. Because theyll look at you and it will make Chauncey look bad. So, I try and be honest. A lot of the guys that train players in this process are trying to get NBA jobs, or work for Adidas or something like that, I dont want any of that stuff, I train, and thats what I do. Im aligned in the middle because of it. If the team wants something then Ill help them out, if an agent wants something then Ill help them out, but if a player wants something thats my first priority. All I care about is making sure the guys I train have a great year, thats really it. Look at Jay Williams
, Ive been thrilled by his workouts. People have been surprised, as you guys were with how much progress hes made and thats just
cool, it makes me feel great. Eric Weiss:
Thats an absolutely awesome place to be, and Im with you on Jay Williams
. Joe Abunassar:
Ya, the news is out, so to speak. The only bad thing is that now everyone wants to watch him in summer league, thats step two. Theyre all convinced hes back, but theyre all like ok, now lets watch him play summer league. But, hes a high quality backup point guard in the NBA right now. Eric Weiss:
Exactly, and thats just the building block for a 24 year old whos worked as hard as he has. Joe Abunassar:
No kidding, look what the guy has overcome. He couldnt walk two years ago and now look at him. Who wouldnt want him on their team? Eric Weiss:
Well, this has been a real eye opener. When I set out to do these interviews I was thinking a lot about purely physical training, but seeing the comprehensive approach you take to this has really been rewarding. Joe Abunassar:
I think it works, it really works.