Training Grounds, Part Seven: An Interview with Rob McClanaghan

Training Grounds, Part Seven: An Interview with Rob McClanaghan
Jun 27, 2007, 01:27 am
Part One, Keith Moss
Part Two, Joe Abunassar
Part Three, Idan Ravin
Part Four, David Thorpe
Part Five, Dan Barto
Part Six, Mike Procopio

Part Seven: An Interview with Rob McClanaghan

Rob McClanaghan is a trainer at Abunassar Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is working with current and future NBA players right now such as Ryan Gomes, Julius Hodge, Jared Dudley, Marcus Williams, Aaron Gray and many others

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

Rob McClanaghan: Well I played at Syracuse. From there I went and coached at South Florida for a year. After that I went back up to Syracuse that summer and that’s when a lot of their players were looking for someone to work with in the off-season. I kind of thought, well, this is something I could be good at and we went from there. We were able to get some great fundamental work in. I really got started in the Northeast, around the Providence area. I continued to do it and I started my own company and now I’ve been with this for the past four years. I really just went out and started doing it on my own.

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

Rob McClanaghan: I think the player I’ve really helped the most is also the player who has helped me the most, and that’s Ryan Gomes. This is a guy I’ve worked with since he was a junior in college. I’ve been able to see him grow and I’ve worked with a bunch of guys and had them come and go, but he’s one of those guys I’ll work with on a long term basis. I think I’ve helped him the most because we work on things here and there and I try to make him realize that he has to do a lot of the same hard work off the court as a part of being a pro athlete. That’s as far as eating well, just doing the right things in the right way in which you live your life. He is part of why I said, “Maybe I could do this a job for a while.” We have a very good working relationship, so you can imagine how great it is to keep working with him.

Matthew Modderno: You have to admire Ryan Gomes because he’s one those guys who puts in the extra work and took the criticism about him and got better.

Rob McClanaghan: Exactly, I mean I love Ryan. Like you said he’s a guy who got called a tweener. He went from undrafted, to not really playing, and then he ended up being Second Team All Rookie. And just beyond that, never mind basketball, he’s just a great all-around person. He’s an example of: If you can play, you can play.

Matthew Modderno: Do you continue to help foster a player’s development after the draft?

Rob McClanaghan: Definitely, I mean obviously like with Ryan, I’ve been helping him part of the time for the last three or four years. It’s just as important after the draft because you need to help them mature. They have to know that this is a business. I tell them I approach this like I’m the CEO of a company. There are people who work for me just like I have to go out and still do my job.

Matthew Modderno: Do you think the fact that you played college basketball and can kind of relate to some of these players gives you an edge in your work?

Rob McClanaghan: I think it definitely does and with the coaches I worked with it goes a long way. There are a bunch of guys that are in the NBA and will do pretty much whatever it takes and I know those guys and I know who these people all are in my mind. I try to take what it is that they did and help my guys to do it. I can give them advice because some of the great players and great coaches I’ve been around have changed my life and I mean forever. If I hadn’t played where I did and for who I did, I don’t have any idea where I’d be right now.

Matthew Modderno: A lot of trainers have big things they focus on, like some guys are footwork guys and so on. Are you like that?

Rob McClanaghan: Well, footwork is definitely one of them. I think if you don’t have the proper footwork it is going to make things near impossible for you down the road. The important thing for me, though, is if you’re a complete basketball player. I want to see if you can play defense. I want to see if you can post up. I want to see if you can deliver a good pass. So it’s more important to me that you’re a basketball player. If you’re a big man, I want to see you be able to handle the ball. If you’re a point guard I want to see you post a guy up. I don’t worry too much about positions; I worry about if you can play. You can’t just go out and be athletic or just be a shooter; not at this level.

Matthew Modderno: Do you put together game plans for what you’re going to work on with a player? How does that work?

Rob McClanaghan: Well I mean maybe I used one for the first year. Now I usually know what I want to work on coming in to a session. Every player is different. Every day is different so every time you work with a guy needs to be different. You tell them what you would like to see them accomplish for that day. Whether it’s ball-handling work or doing things off the dribble or working in transition. Its kind of his call too as to what we work on, but if I suggest some areas they are usually going to go along with it. With every drill I kind of give them an idea of what I want to do and what we are going to work on. But for my first year, everything was definitely planned. Now that I have a lot more experience I don’t know if I’d do it that way again but it worked for then.

Matthew Modderno: So now you just kind of let the workouts flow?

Rob McClanaghan: Exactly, just let it flow and see where it takes you. I definitely learned that’s the best approach; well best approach for me anyway.

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

Rob McClanaghan: I think my role is just to help them no matter where they end up in the draft, if they get drafted at all. That’s my role, just to help them get better as players. I help them get ready for whatever is ahead of them. Ready for what is going to be in store whether it’s physically or mentally. I help make sure they are looking good and that they have the right attitude going in. It’s the same as any job, if you go out there with a bad attitude, you aren’t going to last, even if you are the 21st pick in the draft. You have to look at how they are off the court and see how they approach this whole process. Things like the way they interact with people, they way they eat, and again, their attitude. I just do my job to help them with those things the best I can.

Matthew Modderno: You spoke a little about it in your last response, but could you talk a little about the importance of being mentally prepared for the next level as compared with being physically prepared?

Rob McClanaghan: A lot of guys think they can make it on physical skill alone, but if you come in and don’t have a good approach mentally, its going to be a shock. It’s a big leap to the NBA and the only way to be ready both physically and mentally is through hard work. The best players in the world enter the draft and they all have the physical tools, but if you aren’t up to par mentally it isn’t going to be easy. Look at Ryan Gomes, he wasn’t playing too much his rookie year, but he came back the next year more mentally ready and had a great year. He was already doing the physical work the next year, but the additional mental work is what set him over the top. At some point you just have to overlook some things and play basketball. I just kind of tried to tell him, “Your time is going to come, so you need to be ready.” To Ryan’s credit, he was ready and is playing a pretty high level. A bad mental approach can ruin a whole career.

Matthew Modderno: You have a reputation as a no nonsense type of guy and as a trainer, how do you think that style influences your work?

Rob McClanaghan: I just kind of say, this is what we are going to do and this is how we are going to get it done. Basically I lay out what we are going to be doing and there is no bullshit going on. I try to take that approach, because you don’t want guys just kind of goofing off. Basketball is fun, but I try to make sure they know its serious because this is their job now. They are guys about to go 20th or 30th in a draft so they have to be prepared for what corporate life is like. It’s not just, “Oh I guess I don’t have to go to class anymore.” You go out on the court, then you hit the weight room, then you go back out on the court and handle your business. I want to make sure they can handle all the pressure they are going to have on them. If they don’t show up mentally ready, there is no sense in them being there so I guess that’s where my style comes back into play. I guess it goes back to my days at Syracuse; they didn’t take nonsense from us.

Matthew Modderno: I understand you’ve been doing some work with Herbert Hill. Can you tell me a little about that?

Rob McClanaghan: I’ve been working with him for three years actually. I really had to stick with him because he was a kid who just needed a little confidence. He is one of Ryan Gomes’ best friends, so he has the opportunity to learn a lot. They work together on a lot of one on one, footwork type stuff. He has worked so hard to get to the point where he is at now. He was first team All Big East and a guy who averaged twenty and ten this year. He accomplished that with a lot of hours of hard work. He’s a great, great kid and I can’t say enough about him.

Matthew Modderno: Do you catch any grief working with the two Providence guys, being that you are from Syracuse?

Rob McClanaghan: No, no, not for the most part. I don’t really catch too much grief. We had a better record than them for most of the past few years so it’s not too bad.

Matthew Modderno: What would you like to improve in your own approach?

Rob McClanaghan: All areas I’d say, I’d like to get better at everything. I’ve learned from all the guys I’ve worked with and I’d like to continue to do so. That shouldn’t be a problem because I still have a lot to learn from some of the guys out there. I want to be the best and to be the best you have to learn from the best so hopefully that will happen down the road.

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