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

Training Grounds: The Minds Behind the Madness of Pre-Draft Workouts
Jun 25, 2007, 02:51 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. Yi Jianlian, Joakim Noah and Jared Dudley 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 continue a series of 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 One, Keith Moss
Part Two, Joe Abunassar
Part Three, Idan Ravin
Part Four, David Thorpe

Part Five, an interview with Dan Barto

Dan Barto works with Joe Abunassar at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California training draft prospects such as Yi Jianlian, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Gabe Pruitt and many many more.

DraftExpress: Where did you get your start in coaching/ training athletes and can you describe you background and what led you to what you do today?

Dan Barto: Well my dad was a high school coach for 26 years in Pennsylvania so I grew up in a basketball coaching household. Because of my relationship with him, we just talked basketball every single day. So I guess that’s really where it all started, and as a kid I played a little bit and then when I went to college I was a manager at Miami University of Ohio.

At that time, one of my high school teammates, Danny Fortson, was at Cincinnati. But through that work and volunteering, I just got real into college basketball. I did some work helping out Wally Szczerbiak when he got ready for the draft. I did some rebounding and things for drills. Obviously Wally got drafted pretty high and that was my first taste of the training.

With the development part of it, my dad was always big on more emotional development than physical development. He worried more about helping players get through high school, changing roles and getting ready to go on to college basketball and being prepared for all that stuff. Me going to school where I did and working with coaches that were similar was big. It’s like the players were family and that’s where my training started. I didn’t know any better so I thought you treated everybody like family.

After college when we had the Sweet Sixteen run [with Miami Ohio] and four good years there, I went back to Pennsylvania to coach high school basketball and got to coach Ben Howland’s son, Adam. From there I got involved with the Pitt program as far as just spending a lot of time with their staff and attending practices and seeing the players around. At the time I had been working Five Star basketball camps in the summer and from there I got involved with the IMG Academy doing an internship which was my first real experience training kids and college players and pros as far as it being my job. From there it just kind of parlayed into a full time job. And then I just kind of got blessed with this opportunity out here. That’s basically how I later ended up where I am today.

DraftExpress: Who are some players you think you have helped the most and what are the areas you made the greatest impact in?

Dan Barto: Well I take kind of a secondary role to Joe Abunassar. Joe has done most of the development with those guys. I spent a lot of time last summer with Joe’s whole crew. I really don’t want to take any credit for the guys I have worked with because Joe does most of the work with them long-term. Last year was my first class I really helped prepare for the draft, guys like: Marcus Williams, Shawne Williams, Louis Amundson. But again I just kind of played the assistant coaching role for them. I’m not real comfortable taking credit when he did most of the work. But that crew of players we had at here last year Marcus Williams, D.J. Strawberry, Shawne Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Al Harrington; those are the guys that on a daily basis I got cool with and really got to know. They respected the workouts and saw that I knew how to develop things as far as drill work.

DraftExpress: What do you look for in a player as far as trying to determine their potential?

Dan Barto: I would say probably the biggest thing I look for is the way that they treat people and the way that they treat themselves. If they treat people and themselves with a professional approach then you know that there is a chance to capitalize on the potential that they have. Because I think that they all have potential. You can just usually tell, guys that ask questions and are open to things in that first workout then you know they really want to carve a niche it and really master their trade. That mindset will keep them internally hungry. They might have bad days here and there and take some time off, but you know that when they get in there, there’s something ticking that means that they want to improve and get take care of themselves. They want to get better.

Some guys just want to use this as a quick fix. They don’t use training as a way to master basketball. They say, “I want to get in shape,” or, “Everyone else is doing it.” You can usually pick those guys out in that first conversation. The guy out there that when the ball hits the rim is going to be the one to grab it for you, that’s the guy that who is in it for the right reasons. Whereas if they just kind of let that ball go they are so into themselves that they aren’t in it for the long haul. The guy who gets the ball has a chance to reach his potential. Some guys demand the best out of themselves and really want to be the best, whether it’s with me or Phil Jackson. They want to go out and make 9 out of 10, they don’t want to miss, you know they want to get better. These guys respond to the cues quickly, they might get frustrated with it but they really want to do it because they think, “I’ll try this because it might give me an edge.” It doesn’t matter who’s giving it to them and they can always just go back to what they do.

DraftExpress: Do you feel that you give each player an individual evaluation on how you are going to approach him before you start training, or do you treat each player relatively the same based on his position?

Dan Barto: With the drill work, we are usually doing groups of two or three or four, so with that it’s usually the same. But the off court conversations and specializations, that’s where the approach changes. You can say, “You are going to be able to do this,” or “This is something you are going to have to work on.” That’s where you try to engage and figure out how to motivate these guys. That’s where the trust is built. You have really look into it. You have to know where the guy came from, what kind of staff and coaching he’s used to and you have to know what he needs to do to make that next step. And by next step I mean go from a starter to a top three contributor on the team. Or go from a bench player to more of starting role. This way they can eventually A.) make more money and B.) continue to keep moving that goal higher and higher.

DraftExpress: And you think those are some of the attributes that make for a successful professional?

Dan Barto: Right, because they have to have a vision of where it’s all going to led to. If you put in all this time over the offseason and you will be healthy, relatively injury free. You should be sharper, know how to train yourself, you should know how to get your shot back on track and know when you’re not doing well enough. You should know what your optimal playing weight is when you feel the best. This allows you to self correct during the season.

DraftExpress: In terms of draft preparation, how important do you feel it is for players to train with someone they are familiar with during the pre-draft process?

Dan Barto: To me, I think it’s about confidence. Its not easy to do five or six workouts and deal with the stress and change in environment. You need to mentally prepare them for both the good things that could happen as well as how to recover from a bad workout. Or what the next goal is going to be, just say ‘here’s what this team is going to do, so here is what you need to look great at’. You have to make sure they aren’t focused on all the distractions, otherwise they won’t perform to the best of their ability.

DraftExpress: Which do you think is more important for realizing success, the situation they get drafted into or the position they get drafted at?

Dan Barto: I would say definitely the situation. It is prestige and ego and pride to want to get drafted high but in reality it’s like a $200,000 swing and if they invest their money right, they can make that money back in a month. If they take care of their business off the court, then the situation is really what’s key.

DraftExpress: Is there any kind of philosophy or methodology that you bring to your work? Is there something that you try to accomplish beyond getting them in shape?

Dan Barto: Yeah, my biggest areas are finishing and body control. All players should do the workouts because even if they never use the stuff they are doing, it increases body control, makes them more stable. It makes them able to move better defensively. I’m a big feel guy, can you feel yourself moving easier, can you feel yourself releasing the ball better.

DraftExpress: Do you hope to continue to foster development with any of the players you have worked with post-draft? What types of long term plans do you establish with continual clients?

Dan Barto: Yeah, a lot of times the communication is good throughout summer league and throughout August and September when guys are required to report to their teams. These guys are all pumped up going into the season and during the first 20, 30 games they roll with it, and then as January hits and All-Star Weekend rolls around, they realize all the stuff that you try to explain. They get all the stuff you emphasized about taking care of their body, eating well, getting extra shots off, and working on sharpening their skills, and spending the extra time stretching. More maintenance stuff, they start to real how important that is with all the travel involved. From there, if they see the results they want, they usually do come back.

DraftExpress: Being a young guy yourself, who hopes to be at the beginning of a long and promising career, what would you like to improve on the most as far as your approach goes? What areas of interest do you have as far as expanding your technique and who has influenced you in your own work?

Dan Barto: The guys that have influenced me: obviously Joe Abunassar and guys down at the IMG Academy. I would just like to really improve on learning more about individual rebounding, individual shot blocking, individual running the floor. That’s all stuff that ties into being a better player but it isn’t just work when you have the ball in your hands. Most of the stuff I feel I’m good at it is ball in hand type stuff.

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