Training Grounds: The Minds Behind the Madness of Pre-Draft Workouts

Training Grounds: The Minds Behind the Madness of Pre-Draft Workouts
Jun 24, 2006, 03:42 am
Every year between the end of the end of the NCAA Tournament and Draft Day, scores of NBA hopefuls begin the intense process of preparing themselves for the audition of a lifetime. In a mere three months and change, top players from the United States and European Leagues will be poked, prodded, weighed, measured, and interrogated by the top brass of every Pro team.

For the lucky few who show themselves well, the golden ticket of a guaranteed contract can be won, and with that a chance to play and prove their true worth on the next level. But, there are only so many chances and so small a time frame to showcase any and all hidden talents that somehow didn’t manifest themselves during seasonal play. For those players who are in favor coming into the process, the hungry masses competing for status will attack relentlessly from behind, scratching and clawing their way ever higher.

There is such a weight, such a burden to all of this. Exhaustion is a word these elite athletes cannot afford to succumb to. Mental and physical preparation then becomes more than a practice, it is a survival mechanism geared toward steering these young men through the fire and to the day of destiny. But, they cannot do it alone.

While everyone pays strict attention to the performance of the draft participants, very little credence is given to how great an impact the trainers of these men have on their success. Thabo Sefolosha, Alexander Johnson, Saer Sene, and Steve Novak are all names people have seen rising up the draft boards. But to think that this type of success is simply accomplished through “hard work” and “dedication” is doing the process a disservice. Draft preparation is a finite and meticulous craft involving detailed planning and specific performance marks. It can be choreographed almost as if it were a stage performance, each sequence of motion and execution of move a scripted action to elicit the proper response from the audience.

DraftExpress is pleased to bring you a series of four interviews with some of the best minds in the business of NBA personal training. Take a look inside the philosophies and methodologies that can make such a difference in a player’s career.

Part 1: An Interview with Keith Moss

Eric Weiss: Where did you get your start in coaching or training athletes? Describe your background a little, what led you to what you do today.

Keith Moss: I coached college basketball for nine years. I coached Division I for four years at San Jose State and then I was a junior college coach for six years. Growing up before college, I worked a lot of camps and I just tried to learn from that and incorporate various drills and routines into my program. Because of that, I think I use several drills that are unusual. I try to develop a few different ones. Guys don’t typically work on defense in training, so I tried to develop some drills that incorporate some fundamental principles of defense, like quick feet or defensive slide, but you do them within the context of an offensive drill, so the players don’t realize they’re working defensively. But, I’d say that all of this started from coaching college basketball.

Eric Weiss: Who are some of the players you feel you’ve helped the most? What areas do you think you had the greatest impact in?

Keith Moss: Tariq-Abdul Wahad for one. He was the 11th pick in the ’97 draft. Right before he declared he was considered an underclassman who most people didn’t know about. The mock drafts had him in the 2nd round. We worked together for about two and a half months prior to the draft, got him in great shape and got him ready for Chicago Pre Draft Camp. He went on and won the MVP of the Chicago camp and ended up a lottery pick.

After that I took a couple of years off and then started working with the European guys. Bonaface N’Dong was a guy that no one had heard of last year; he worked out for three months, went to summer league and ended up making the Clippers roster. DJ MBenga went through the same situation with the Mavericks. Ian Mahinmi was a 1st Round pick for the Spurs last year. Ronnie Turiaf and Mickael Gelebale were both picked last year as well…and now Saer Sene.

So that’s a good mix. I try to keep it low profile. I prefer to work with just two guys at a time so they can have more of my attention, instead of working with 8 or 9 guys at once. It makes it easier to teach, easier to gain their trust. I’ve found that if you have four or five guys or more then there’s no bonding and it’s harder to teach. Without that bond they just don’t learn as much because they don’t want to push themselves that extra bit. But, with that bond, there’s more of a commitment personally and you want to get after it a little bit more because you want to make your trainer happy. I also try and keep my pairings by position, guards with guards and big men with other bigs. I’ve been working with mostly bigs recently.

Eric Weiss: Is there any reason behind that affinity? Are these just the guys that have been brought to your attention or is it something more?

Keith Moss: Well, I was a post player when I played. One of my assistant coaches at San Jose State, his name is Bill McClintock; he played at Cal during their championship season in ’59-60. Bill played for Pete Newell, who runs the big man camp out in Hawaii every year. Bill helped to run that camp as well. So, Bill has shared a lot of insight with me throughout the years in terms of footwork and so forth. He’s got a wealth of knowledge, so instead of being a jack of all trades, master on none; I decided to work with him and focus on the bigs.

Eric Weiss: How does the draft process work for you? What do you see your role as being?

Keith Moss: I think for me and my guys it’s a little bit different because they’re all coming from Europe. So, they’re not familiar with the process and even just living in America. So it’s sort of a two-fold situation as far as just getting them over here and getting them accustomed to the travel and such. I mean, there’s so much more to getting ready for the draft. We talk about the whole draft workout process, but we also talk about things like how to get to the airport and where to meet people at the baggage claim. Things that your American player may take for granted because they’ve done it before or just because they speak English. With someone like Saer, who didn’t speak a word of English and has only been to America twice, suddenly he has to fly all over the place and doesn’t know anybody…so the first stage is primarily non-basketball related

From the basketball side of it, I try and work on a lot of drills that involve conditioning. But a lot of trainers will line the kids up and have them run suicides and things like that. I think you’ll lose a lot of your guys if you do that. So, I try and implement drills that incorporate conditioning while working on basketball skills like back peddling or sprinting forward into a shot, quick-feet into rebounding work. I like the idea of working on elements that the players themselves aren’t aware of. They’re doing all this conditioning, but to them they think they’re working on shooting, which they are as well.

So for as far as the draft process is concerned, I really put an emphasis on conditioning. In this setting, everything can come down to that one workout and how you show during that one hour. If you can out-work and out-last your opponent during that hour and a half, then you can accomplish your goal. Let’s say you’re going up against Patrick O’Bryant for instance. Maybe your conditioning means you finish that one or two extra shots and all of a sudden you’re moving up the draft board from 18 to 14, or something like that.

Technically, it breaks down into a daily routine that features two sessions daily, plyometric strength and conditioning in the morning for two hours and then basketball skill development training in the evening for another two hours. Since I’m working mostly with big men we’re doing primarily post footwork mechanics and shooting mechanics. We get in four hours every day, six days a week.

Eric Weiss: Do you continue to help foster a player’s development after the draft?
Keith Moss: Most of them come back. Most of my guys are pretty new to the league. DJ is planning on coming out next week to work out. Ronnie Turiaf was coming, but then he got the call from the French national team, so he’ll be gone this summer. But he’s told me he’ll be back to get ready for training camp.

Eric Weiss: Do you put together game plans for what you’re going to work on with a player after the season, or do they come to you with one? How does that work?

Keith Moss: It’s kind of a mix. We’re usually on the same page. They know I have their best interests at heart. I tell them how it is. I don’t try and turn a 5 into a 3 man. So, we work on practical things that will help them improve. For instance, I’m not going to take a guy and waste a whole summer working on his 19 foot jumper when we both know he’s going to be a straight post 5-man come next season.

So, I’ll watch a lot of their games and then critique them. My guys are really good at calling and checking in after games asking “what do you think? What did I do wrong?” I’ll also go and see them personally at least five or six times during the course of the season to check in with them and see how it’s going.

Eric Weiss: Going back to the draft process, what are your feelings on the NCAA rule adjustments that limit a players ability to seek outside preparatory assistance such as yours without endangering their eligibility? ?

Keith Moss: Fortunately for us we haven’t had to deal with it much because we’re working primarily with Europeans. But, I’ve had some this year and the NCAA is something we want to stay far away from in terms of endangering eligibility. But, it certainly hurts the college player’s ability to get better and prepare for the draft. As a player, you’re limited in how much your own coaching staff can work with you after the season, and you’re limited with how many summer leagues you’re allowed to play in and who’s allowed to work with you, so your hands are definitely tied.

Eric Weiss: As far as public perception for your role in this process, does it ever seem like helping a prospect reach his draft mark is expected, taken for granted? Does it ever feel like you either do your job or fail to do your job and there’s no real recognition for what you’ve accomplished?

Keith Moss: That’s a good question. It depends on who you’re working with. If you have Rudy Gay, well Rudy Gay is going to be Rudy Gay no matter what you do with him and it’s going to be hard to see what areas you may have helped him in. When you have someone like Saer, who has so much room for improvement, it’s more fun for me because you get to see more improvement. I’ve stayed with the same agent, Bouna NDiaye, and he’s seen our workouts, is a firm believer in what we do. He sees the development of the player as the most important element, not necessarily the position in the draft being the ultimate importance.

I’m still always trying to improve my own approach too, though. I’m always picking other people’s brains and trying to improve. I know I’m not the best guy in the world or anything, so I’m always seeking input from other people and looking at other drills to see what is working. I talk to other players and keep up with the media. I’m just a basketball junkie, so I park my ego at the door. I want to get better at what I do so I can help these kids to get better. I don’t think I’ve got all the answers, if there’s a better way to do something, I’m all for it.

Eric Weiss: You’re privy to all sides of the draft process, being around agents, scouts, GM’s and the players themselves. Everyone’s supposed to have the player’s best interests at heart, but what have you observed?

Keith Moss: I get a lot of calls from teams and they usually ask two questions first. One, they’ll ask “how hard does he work?” That’s usually the first question out of their mouths. The second is, “What’s their upside like? What’s their improvement level?” I’ve had pretty good success in terms of having good guys that all want to work. Once you get to someone like me, I think the players realize that I’m here for them, we’re not trying to win games or anything. I think too much of the time it truly becomes just a business, but when they’re here we’re not concerned with anything other than improvement. We’re not making public appearances; we don’t have any of that stuff.

From the agent’s side, they generally stay out of it. They just like to make sure the kid is doing what he’s suppose to be doing. But, I do get information, like who’s going where and what teams are interested. Stuff like that.

Eric Weiss: This is very interesting to me because it seems that you are in a unique place as a trusted third party that doesn’t have the same vested interest as an agent or a team does.

Keith Moss: It kind of makes it interesting. As I said before, we’re only going with a couple of kids at one time, so you really get to bond with them rather quickly, almost like your part of the family. So, they’ll share information with you freely. The teams are pretty smart though, I think they know that. So the teams will ask you for your opinions and deal with you openly as well because they know. At least the good teams do. The teams at the top are at the top for a reason and bad ones are at the bottom for a reason. The good teams will call you and ask your opinion on things, while the bad teams never call you.

Eric Weiss: Well, thanks a lot Keith. I think we’ve learned a lot here today. You’ve opened up some insight into something that perhaps most people don’t know about, maybe even some teams, who have never stopped to really measure just how much thought and work goes into these relationships.

Keith Moss: Not a problem. Take care.

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