DraftExpress writers Mike Schmidt and Jonathan Watters were on site this past weekend to observe all the action at Champions, located just north of Indianapolis on what appears to be your average country farm. Oden headlined the workout, but was far from the only attraction. Other notables in attendance included fellow Thad five member Daequan Cook, power forward Carl Landry and wing David Teague out of Purdue, and Wisconsin lead guard Kammron Taylor.
With NBA-caliber players performing the same drills as the junior high and high school age kids taking the court moments after they are done, the spirit of local basketball is impossible to ignore from the moment one walks through the door. Champions works with players of all ages, so younger members of the program continually filtered in and out to steal a glance at Indianas biggest star. Schillings own father came in for a while, along with a handful of other regulars, all greeted warmly upon arrival.
While the atmosphere of the workout is a refreshing change from the ritzy downtown clubs these types of events are usually held at, the preparation and development Champions players receive is nothing short of comprehensive. Schillings on-court tutoring is only one aspect of the process. Ralph Reiff and St Vincent Sports Performance Center prepare players to fully maximize their time on the court in a variety of ways, from nutrition, conditioning and strength development to injury recovery and even a mental training program.
The concept of the academy came about after Schilling and former Houston Rocket Dave Jamerson traveled to Lithuania to run a camp and marveled at the fundamentally skilled young players they found. Recognizing the same principles they were taught as youngsters and their erosion in todays American development system, Champions was founded with the European mold in mind. Schilling, originally from Lebanon, Indiana, stepped down from his assistant coaching position at Memphis in 2005 to form the academy.
A Day at St Vincent Sports Performance Center and Champions Academy
The day begins at St Vincent, who works with elite level athletes in a number of sports. Trainers help players maximize their on-court potential in a number of ways. We viewed trainer Robb Rogers lead Landry, Taylor and Teague through a variety of basketball-specific strength building exercises. These involve players using their own body weight in combination with a variety of equipment one wouldnt usually expect to see in a state of the art athletic training facility. More traditional weight training took place the previous day, but according to Rogers, even these sessions involve less repetitions than one would experience in programs for other sports.
After over an hour of training with things like rubber bands, plastic pipes, balls in various shapes and sizes and even a martial arts bag, it was time for a leisurely lunch and then off to the gym, where Schilling and his staff would take the reins.
The session began with a series of 2-ball drills that appear to be as grueling as any stationary dribbling drill wed ever seen. The players are given one minute to complete as many dribbles as possible using just about every 2-ball dribbling technique imaginable. Coach Schilling begins each minute by announcing the academy record and record holder for that technique. Mike Conley, Jr holds several of the records, but the names are more diverse than one might expect. Kammron Taylor set a record on the first drill of the afternoon, and a 7th grader holds another. Needless to say, the players were exhausted after pushing themselves on approximately 15-20 of these drills.
Next up was a full-court drill designed to improve endurance, ball-handling, shooting, and mental toughness, all at the same time. The players would dribble from one end of the court and execute a series of ball-handling moves at full speed, then return to the basket for a layup. Then they would rebound their own shot and take off for the other end of the court immediately. Guards shoot a pull-up jumper, and big men attempt a jump hook. If either the layup or the second shot is missed, the entire process must be repeated.
Players were split up by position for the latter half of the session, where they received specific skill training. Jamerson worked with Cook and Teague on various midrange scoring techniques, with a focus on increasing the amount of space created on contested shot attempts through physicality, footwork, and other tricks of the trade. Taylor and current IUPUI standout combo guard George Hill spent time on their penetration techniques.
Landry and Oden started by receiving a pass approximately 12-15 feet away from the basket and taking hook shots. They continued with several variations of the Mikan drill, and followed that with several footwork drills near the basket. Landry also spent some time working on his perimeter game, including shooting contested shots off the dribble. All instruction was very specific, and the coaches actively participated in the drills from Jamerson aggressively contesting the shots of Cook and Teague, to Schillings near-constant stream of encouragement and instruction.
Needless to say, Champions is a lot more than just a training program for Greg Oden. As we interviewed the draft prospects after their workout, Schilling was already back on the court coaching a group of younger players through the exact same 2-ball drills mentioned above, maybe even more enthusiastic than he was with his group of future pros.
While no competitive basketball took place during the workouts we were able to view, the Academy staff kept the pace brisk and utilized drills that required significant mental focus throughout the strenuous process. Thus, it was possible for us to make a few conclusions on how these draft prospects are coming along.
At the risk of sounding redundant, evaluating Oden up close and in person is quite the special experience. His size and physique leaves one a bit awestruck, and that is before he shakes your hand. Looking at the way a player like Dwight Howard has improved his physique in the last two years, Odens potential impact on the game due to his physical and athletic gifts alone is out of this world.
As one would expect, Cook sizzled in this workout setting. The elevation and effortless motion on his jump-shot are quite unique. But just as impressive was the way he continued to knock down contested jump-shots late in the workout session, as he was pressed by Jamerson to fully elevate on every shot he took. Off the dribble, fading away, set, shirt soaked with sweat he didnt slow down a bit. This is a prospect that is going to put on some dazzling shooting exhibitions in front of NBA decision makers between now and draft night.
His all-around scoring tools should translate over very nicely in the NBA, though there are a few things Cook can continue to work on. He doesnt appear to have the quickest hands or tightest handle for a 65 NBA wing, with his left hand in particular need of continued work. Furthermore, his frame is in need of added strength so he can create the separation needed to properly utilize his midrange game at the next level.
Cook confirmed his intention to play in Orlando, and as a player nobody expects to return to college, will have a lot on the line in a very competitive environment. Going up against more mature opponents could make it tough for him to show off his all-around scoring tools in such a physical half-court environment, but Cook is a player who is more than capable of putting on a scoring exhibition that would send his stock skyrocketing.
The most intriguing scouting-related developments uncovered over the weekend at Champions probably centered around power forward Carl Landry, who is building significant momentum heading into Orlando and the latter stages of the pre-draft process. Matt Painters interior warrior started to really make a name for himself with a superb showing against Floridas imposing frontcourt, and followed that up with a successful Portsmouth camp. Landry also measured in at 68, after Purdue listed him at 67 for the last three years. The added size should alleviate some concerns about whether Landry will be able to make the transition to the NBA, and the weekends workouts clearly proved that growing isnt the only thing hes been doing since the season ended.
The first issue to address is Landrys physical condition, which was somewhat of a question mark headed into the offseason. Landry tore his ACL near the end of his junior season in 04-05 and would redshirt the 05-06 campaign. And while the burly power forward bounced back quite nicely to become the Big Tens most statistically prolific big man as a senior, he was never known as one of the most explosive players around. The knee doesnt seem to be affecting his mobility, and there have been all-around physical improvements in his time at Champions. His frame is significantly more sculpted than it was in college, and he has clearly replaced a lot of fat with muscle. Landry still has work to do with his conditioning and can certainly get more explosive, but he appears to be headed in the right direction.
In terms of skills, the stunner was a beautiful jump-shot. Landry looked comfortable taking shots out past the college 3-point line, and has exactly the type of form you want to see from an undersized power forward who will need to step outside and force opposing big men to come out and guard him. The high release will do a lot to make up for any disadvantage in the height department, and his effortless stroke should allow him to come in off the bench and knock down the occasional jumper without having to shoot himself into a rhythm. This ability to stroke the outside shot improves his value to an NBA team as a role-player dramatically.
Given what players like Craig Smith and Paul Millsap did in the training room last summer and their respective immediate impacts, Landry has a chance to really turn some heads in a draft camp environment that is perfectly suited for him to display his aggressive, physical style of play. Landry still has work to do before he is ready to make the immediate impact of a Smith or Millsap, but his production, on-court mentality, and willingness to work are very similar. On the whole, there was very little not to like from Landry this weekend.
David Teague -
Check back over the next several days for more on the Champions Academy workout, including an exclusive interview with Greg Oden.