West Coast Workout Swing: Day 2 (Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, etc)
West Coast Workout Swing: Day 3 (AIB Player Evaluations/Josh McRoberts Workout)
West Coast Workout Swing: Day 4 (Nick Young,Bobby Brown,Danny Granger)
West Coast Workout Swing: Day 5 (Marcus Williams, Jared Dudley, more)
West Coast Workout Swing: Day 6 (Jermareo Davidson, Aaron Brooks, etc)
Mid-West Workout Swing: Day 7 (Julian Wright, Thaddeus Young, etc)
Metro New York Workouts: Day 1 (Demetris Nichols, Jared Jordan, more)
Oden, Cook, Landry at Champions Academy
After some much needed R&R following a whirlwind private workout tour across the country, our last stop before the NBA pre-draft camp took us down I-75 for a checkup with David Thorpe at his new home at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. It's only fitting that we close our circle of workouts here, as Thorpe's gym (then in Clearwater) was where we took in our very first private workout three years ago, featuring a real sleeper by the name of Kevin Martin.
Coach Thorpe, also an NBA analyst from ESPN.com, recently moved his Pro Training Center to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, partially to get a chance to work with another very well respected trainer in Mike Moreau, but also to take advantage of the outstanding facilities they have to offer. The training we had been doing in Clearwater simply cannot measure up to what we can now offer with all that the people here can add. Remember, it's not about me, it's about we, and the collection of talented professionals surrounding our players here is proof that I made the right decision."
In addition to the one hour skills training and five on five game we took in, largely centering around ball-handling, shooting, triple-threat moves like the jab and rockerstep, the art of the many different pick and roll situations, and very specific things the players (all five of whom will be playing in Orlando) will see at the pre-draft camp, the players have the extra benefit of working on the mental side of their game as well through IMG's Sports Performance Department.
Thorpe swears by having at his disposal a well-known sports psychologist by the name of Trevor Moawad, the Director of IMG Academies' Mental Conditioning Department, as well as a former Hollywood actor (American Pie II, Scorched) in Steve Shenbaum, who founded Game On Media , which helps athletes improve their communication skills with the media, their coaching staff, and in their everyday life.
We sat in on sessions featuring both specialists and came away fascinated by the way the athletes here respond to this training. Trevor Moawad, the Mental Conditioning expert, first puts together an inspirational highlight reel DVD composing of the players' best plays throughout their college and high school career (for example, Ron Lewis' NCAA tournament game-winning 3-pointer against Xavier), something that the player can rely on to uplift them when their confidence is down. They go through guided visualization techniques, muscle relaxation sessions, and internal concentration drills when the players are tired. We sat with them for example and conducted an exercise on paper composing of circling scattered numbers in a certain order on a grid while being timed. First the players did it alone, then they did it with a partner counting for them, and finally they did it with their partner trash talking them right in their face and music blaring on and off. This is intended to teach them how to deal with different types of stress, particularly in specific moments they talked about that might come up at the Orlando Pre-Draft camp.
After that, we watched a video composed of highlight reel footage from their latest scrimmage, mixed in with uplifting music, passages from speeches (Jim Valvano's at the ESPY awards) and things like Vince Carter dunking over Frederic Weis at the Olympics in 2000 or Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls. To finish off the session, the players lied down on the carpet and conducted an 11 minute muscle relaxation exercise.
After that, we visited the over-the-top Steve Shenbaum for one of his media training sessions. Shenbaum helps the players out with learning how to effectively communicate (in interviews, and with coaches for example) through improv exercises, role-playing, and studying the nuances of body language. He uses a lot of positive reinforcement with Coaches Thorpe and Moreau sitting right next to him, tying everything into basketball and life and getting some incredibly positive responses from his players. He talked to us at length afterwards about the importance of building confidence in his clients, never having them sound rehearsed, quelling fear, smiling a lot and validating players outside of basketball. It might sound a bit corny here, but it definitely left a strong impression in person.
Shenbaum has worked with players like Carmelo Anthony and Emeka Okafor in the past, and had just returned from spending time with Mike Conley Jr. and Greg Oden in Indianapolis. It didn't take much for us to get him going on how much he enjoys working with the two. It's not hard for me to tell why Mike Conley Jr. is moving up draft boards. He's like a little Ferrari with the way he charges on people. He's a guy that I want on my team. He also raved about how enjoyable it's been to work with Greg Oden, calling him an incredibly refreshing young man, and lamenting the very black and white way he's portrayed by the media. Want to get a feel for the job Shenbaum is doing with Oden? We just happened to conduct an interview with him this past weekend
With the end of the day nearing, we returned to the gym for a five on five game the players would conduct. Thorpe made sure to give plenty on individual instruction on things the players were doing right and wrong, and strongly encouraged them to utilize the new tools they were learning here in their laboratory. With the pre-draft camp just a week away, Thorpe had plenty of advice for them on how to maximize themselves: Be a pro be an alpha male cooperate with your teammates pass the ball work for your teammates be a leader talk to them take responsibilities off the court. And of course Thorpe's favorite be a beast!
Zabian Dowdell, 6-3, Senior, Point Guard, Virginia Tech
Dowdell showed great potential in the pick and roll drills the players ran, thanks to his outstanding handle and great patience picking whether to slip, split or drag the screen. He's the one who needs the least coaching it seems on his technique, looking highly instinctive in the way he executes everything efficiently and with great fundamentals.
Even if Dowdell looked impressive in the drills portion of the workout, it was in the five on five that he clearly separated himself from the pack. It was here that his decision making skills as a point guard really came out, making outstanding reads time after time on the pick and roll, and a number of fantastic passes setting the table perfectly for a teammate to easily score. Dowdell made Thorpe really happy on one particular play, as he showed perfect timing utilizing a pick and roll, and then splitting the two defenders abruptly to open up the entire floor precisely the way he had been taught to just a few hours prior.
His ball-handling skills are definitely top-notch, showing a great little wiggle to create offense for himself with sheer craftiness, rather than with incredible explosiveness, and a beautiful pull-up game from the mid-range area. When given an inch, he knocked down the NBA 3-ball at a pretty solid rate as well, and when challenged on the other side of the floor, he took a lot of pride in locking down his man. One particularly impressive play in transition had him matched up with J.R. Reynolds trying to contain him in a one on one situation. Dowdell moved his feel beautifully, kept his strong body on him without fouling, and used his massive wingspan to just wrap him up and force him into an extremely difficult shot.
The lone negatives to come out of this workout would be for one his less than prototypical explosiveness getting by his defender and finishing at the rim, and two, his over-enthusiasm at times penetrating too far into the lane.
Between what we saw here, during the season (where he was named 1st team All-ACC), and at Portsmouth, we're starting to think that we might have a very intriguing NBA prospect on our hands here. Dowdell is exactly the kind of big, strong, versatile and steady point guard that NBA teams like to bring off their bench, and his stock is quietly rising amongst those in the know around the league.
Players who can shoot, defend, pass and handle, and have the size and length to defend two positions are definite commodities these days, especially when they have extremely strong intangibles, big-time college experience and a high basketball IQ to boot. Thorpe considers him the most sure-fire pro in my gym, and raves about the fact that he way he's responded to his training so far. Like all of the five players in attendance here, he was the captain of his team.
J.R. Reynolds, 6-2, Senior, PG/SG, Virginia
In the five on five, Reynolds played the point and clearly showed a scoring mentality. He took some early shots that looked a bit ill-advised at times, and the fact that they weren't falling for him didn't really help matters much. Later on in the scrimmage when he committed himself to being more patient creating his own shot and reading what the defense threw at him, he had more success finding his way into the paint and putting the ball in the net. When playing off the ball, he looked very good coming off screens, knocking down some impressive shots with a hand in his face. Defensively, he struggled at times trying to keep up with the screens that were set on him while guarding Zabian Dowdell. Reynolds will be playing at the Orlando pre-draft camp and will definitely be a name to keep an eye on. The NBA is moving more and more in the direction of smooth combo guards in his mold, so it wouldn't be a surprise at all to see him find a niche somewhere in the league.
Ron Lewis, 6-5, Senior, Shooting Guard, Ohio State
Lewis probably isn't even going to be a shot-creator at the next level, as his ball-handling skills just aren't strong enough to consistently keep his man off-balance. Besides, he isn't the biggest or strongest guy in the world. He is more than athletic enough to get to the rim off one of two short dribbles, though, something that he showed when utilizing a quick pump-fake or punishing a defender who was scrambling frantically to get out and guard the perimeter. Lewis has been working pretty hard on his man to man defense here, modeling his game after Phoenix Suns shooting guard Raja Bell. It was tough to evaluate this part of his game in this particular setting, so we'll have to keep an eye on that at the pre-draft camp.
Justin Cage, 6-6, Senior, Small Forward, Xavier
Cage showed some flashes of being able to do a bit more on occasion as well, though. He hit a spot-up NBA 3-pointer in the scrimmage on one occasion, and made some fantastic passes to open teammates virtually every time he put the ball on the floor. He doesn't quite stand out in all the things he does unless you really pay attention to him, as he's a smart, tough role-player who doesn't need any plays called for him, but still finds a way to make an impact on the game. He played fantastic defense on basically anyone he was asked to guard, using his strength and wingspan to their fullest combined with his excellent lateral quickness.
Cage was a last-second addition to the NBA pre-draft camp, after previously being named a late addition to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. We'll see how far he can continue to make his run. He might be Thorpe's favorite pupil here so far. He sees him being able to develop into a James Posey type player in the pros, as he already has one skill NBA teams can rely on off the bench in his defense, and is making strides shooting the ball from behind the arc as well.
Avis Wyatt, 6-10, Senior, Power Forward, Virginia State