It's safe to say there are a lot of people who follow the NBA with great devotion while seldom actually stepping onto a court themselves. This is even true for, ahem, a few of us who actually work in the NBA in one capacity or another. Thus it was a pretty easy decision for me when I got the invite to the IMG/David Thorpe 'train like a pro basketball camp for media' to say "Yes, I will be attending."
"Have you ever wanted to know what it is like to 'train like a pro' and live the life of a prospective NBA player? If so, come and spend four days and three nights at the pre-eminent basketball training facility in the world just before the season gets into full swing." ...so the brochure reads and a short time later I found myself driving down from Tampa (after a quick stopover for Bucs-Packers week four action) to Bradenton, home of the IMG Academy.
IMG actually covers a lot of ground with its most famous component being the Nick Bollettieri Tennis training, but there's soccer, baseball, golf, swimming, fitness and conditioning (or as they call it 'performance training'), and of course hoops. We gathered together late afternoon on a Monday, and I was pleased to recognize a number of the participants:
You would be hard pressed to find a more fearsome group of ballers...if you were a basketball rim, and quickly after a little introductory talk and dinner we were put through the first actual basketball session, ominously labeled in the camp daily schedule as "On-court evaluations" aka how bad are these clowns.
Of course I'm being a tad facetious as most of the participants are more than respectable. Henry plays regularly and was arguably the most driven at the camp to take the teachings home and put them to use. Chris plays in three separate games a week, including a league, and has 'college basketball player' on his resume. Ryen, Eric and Bill were our big man contingent and while the first two were power-oriented players in this crowd, Bill mixed in a lot of finesse, with a nice pinch post pass captured in one of Henry's posted videos.
The primary coaches, and their formal titles, tasked with turning us into real players include:
Mike Moreau -- Director of Basketball at IMG, with years of training players at all levels
David Thorpe -- Executive Director of the Pro Training Center @ IMG with many notable NBA clients
Anthony Macri -- Recruiting coordinator and Player Development specialist
Corey Stenstrup -- Performance specialist...our basketball strength and conditioning guide
Before we were allowed to strut out stuff, Mike put us through an extensive warmup. Various moves across and back the width of a court, including slides, high leg lifts, butt kicks, windmilling arms, ballet like stepping, calf raises, toe touches, and more leading to a few specialized stretches had us ready for action. The warmup was well appreciated and something easy to integrate back at home. As Chris Ballard commented after the camp "I've been trying to maintain a shortened version of the warmup routine and I think - or at least I *want* to think - that it's helping".
..and then we were off and running through the preliminaries. Over the next three days we gathered at the IMG clubhouse dining hall for breakfast, with a schedule of events laid out before us that kept us busy and entertained. One of the things I personally enjoyed about the experience was having a structured day where you knew what you would be doing at each particular hour. NBA athletes do indeed have a similar path through the days with practices, conditioning, meals, flights, naps, games, film sessions, etc.
Now a month removed from the camp, I can still vividly remember certain drills. While improving my own game was a plus, gaining new perspective on basketball and what to watch for was of massive benefit for what I do. As someone who has watched tons of games, many in almost constant slow motion, it's humbling to hang out with guys like Mike and David where you quickly realize they are seeing things you hadn't even been aware of.
So many memories, but some highlights include:
- My favorite court session was probably the dribbling, where we focused on trying to establish five separate speeds or gears. Watch pros like Chris Paul and you will see they do change speeds as they move about to disrupt defenses. Then later on coach Dan Barto came in with extra gear...
- Finishing drills -- get your go-to moves down, add a touch of violent attitude, and the hoop is helpless. All of a sudden one of the coaches shows up to knock you off the shot with a pad ("take the contact").
- Dunk drills -- well yes, some of us had to use lowered rims, but try dunking, catching the ball as it falls through the net, and going back to dunk again 10 times in a row...next work on dunking over a defender!
- Shooting drills -- not my strong point, particularly when I was trying to completely rework my shot in accordance with the coaches' recommendations...some of the participants got the smooth shot going.
- Conditioning -- Corey led us through all kinds of innovative exercises and equipment, always focusing on moves that replicate what you actually do in a game. And who could forget the ice bath!
- Coaching -- through it all the coaches provided outstanding instruction and encouragement...not always easy one would imagine when they are used to working with top NBA players!
This was just an unbelievably great experience that left many of us wistfully thinking back to the camp in the days that followed and wondering when we can do it again. For sheer pleasure, entertainment, education, and appreciation of the game and what the players go through, you can do no better I think then spending a few days at IMG.
The photos above only scratch the surface of what took place on the court. We also had rebounding drills, defensive sessions (playing the passing lanes and taking the steal the other end for a layup), Rip Hamilton/Reggie Miller drills of constant motion for the catch and shoot, screen usage and screen defense...and the proverbial 'much more'.
In addition there were all kinds of special seminars off court, with a motivational talk from Nick Bollettieri, a "positive thinking" expert, communication training/improv sessions, and the wonderful IMG physical crew who could stretch out and massage the participants as needed. Top it off with relaxed social evenings at the local sports bar.
The food included as part of the camp was outstanding (the Kings' Kevin Martin apparently refuses to eat off campus when he comes), and the on-campus guest housing featured nice rooms, although a little pricey (and the internet controls designed to shield the youngsters in full time training wouldn't allow me to access my own football site!)
If I were to quibble, I can think of a couple of improvements I might suggest. One is to have some more actual games, since this is a chance to take some of the learning and try it out, and preferably not always at the end of the day. Having a coach call in plays during the game could also take it out of the typical pickup realm.
Two, some film sessions would have been great, and while breaking down NBA action would be excellent, if there was some footage captured of actual participant games, that would have allowed for yet another fun element and one that again closely resembles a real athlete's life...seeing your play taken apart afterwards by the coaches! Who wouldn't want to be chastised by IMG gurus for poor shot selection or blowing a defensive assignment?
Additional points of view
As I'm clearly not a typical 'basketball media' type you may want to check out some of the more thoughtful writings and videos on the camp experience from other participants, including:
- Henry Abbott's Truehoop notes
- Chris Ballard for Sports Illustrated
- Steve Kyler/Bill Ingram for Hoopsworld
Your next vacation
Some people long for a week lying on a beach in Hawaii, or perhaps enjoying some time in a city like New York or Chicago. If you are a basketball fan though, IMG is now offering a Train Like a Pro Fantasy Camp and you too can experience this brilliant program. Offering far more fun (with health benefits!) than any vacation you can probably imagine, the camp gets my highest recommendation. Go train like a pro athlete at IMG for a few days and the only disappointment will be re-entering the 'real world' afterwards.