Everywhere Derrick Caracter goes, his weight follows him.
It partly contributed to his abrupt transfer from Louisville. It partly contributed to his low-draft stock after his days at Texas El Paso. And it partly influenced how he structured his eventual two-year contract with the Lakers.
At each stop, he's managed to shed pounds. But not enough to make teams and stop fans from expressing concern. That's why, in addition to proving he's matured since his days at Louisville, Caracter also hopes he can prove his conditioning is working better than his bulky frame suggests. Caracter said he dropped from 305 to 277 pounds after his career with the Miners because of more sleep and better eating habits. And after impressing the Lakers in Summer League, the team currently lists him at 265 pounds. In an interview shortly after the Lakers selected him with the 58th pick, Caracter singled out his work with Dan Barto, IMG's pro/college training coordinator -- both before Caracter's senior year at UTEP and before the NBA draft -- as being a strong factor in his weight loss. I talked with Barto recently to get his take.
When did Derrick start working with you?
I first developed a relationship with Derrick last summer [in 2009]. He came down with Earl Clark. Earl Clark came down for pre-draft training that year and Derrick stayed for a couple weeks in July just trying to stay in shape after Earl left for the draft. We helped get him ready and continued to work, since he had taken some time off with training, to just be sharp when he went into school and make sure he was continuing to improve his body. He was in good shape last summer, but not as good as he got into this spring. He called in the middle of March after he finished [with Texas El Paso] and he said he wanted to do his training down here for the draft. He felt comfortable with it and he was here in early April. That's when we got rolling. He came in and the season had taken a long, hard toll on his body. He had just taken two weeks off so we started from scratch and looked at a eight- to 12-week plan. Anytime you have a player who's really trying to trim up and lose their body, you have to analyze the strength and conditioning program they came from and the position they played in college and translate that program into what you foresee him becoming. We took a lot of time to really look at what Derrick used to be when he was younger and how his body had changed and the different amount of coaches he worked with and really tried to peel back some of the layers and lay out a full 12-week plan for him so he could buy into something. When you have as many voices in your head, with assistant coaches and AAU coaches, it was important for us to really, really level down. We assessed what we needed to change, what's his goal weight and what skills will be effective.
I had a vision of him having a ground and pound low-post game but also have the ability to play in that pinch-post area at the mid-post and the ability to pick and pop. Those are things that are important in the NBA. He has the power in his body and strength and footwork. It was more the connectivity and smoothness and efficiency with what he was doing than his 315-pound body was not allowing him to do. When he came in, he was very broad shouldered. He had been lifting very strong with his upper body -- chest, shoulders, arms and back. We cut him out of all of that and focused on narrow muscular firing patterns and elongating of the muscles and strengthening of his shoulders above his head with his arms fully extended. That stuff translates into jump hooks and little touch shots around the basket. He wasn't going to go from playing in Conference USA to the NBA with guys playing the same size. They were going to be bigger, strong, faster, longer. When you watch Synergy, I watched almost every possession he had all season, a lot of his stuff was just him bullying to people and beating them to spots. We wanted to make sure he could make shots over top of people. In the Summer League, he was able to do some of that but he also missed a lot of opportunities to do that. That's going to be a work of progress that hopefully he can continue to improve.
He was doing Bikram Yoga three days a week. We have a muscle loosening specialist that came in once a week to work with him and do all the tension release, an hour of prehab a day, plus he had an extra half-hour of cardio before every workout. So you're looking at an extra hour-and-a-half of cardio, not sprinting, but trying to keep the calories being burned all day and then adjusting his diet. The reason it was 12 weeks is because it takes 90 days for your metabolism to really change. People a lot of times try to crash diet and lose all the weight at once. Our goal is 12 pounds a month for three months. That put him in optimal playing shape for the Summer League.
What's the next step for Derrick in terms of work he needs to do?
He needs to continue work on his lower-body efficiency and movement. He still has choppy moves in the post. He has trouble decelerating. His legs are so powerful that catching the powerful movement and slowing down when he gets to maximum speed is still a little bit difficult. Extending his arms to those touch shots and full extensions on his jump hooks will kind of be the last part. He really developed that turnaround jump shot over the right shoulder and his freeze fakes and step-throughs have improved. We worked a lot on the dream-shake series where he's engaging his whole body. It's not necessarily that we want him to make those moves in games, but it's all about body control. I think he'll be able to bump people back with his first dribble. Then what is it going to be after that? A: How deep does he establish post position after he goes to the low block? B: How much of a bump in body control can he use to get his own shot? C: When he does face-up from the elbows and is catching the ball in transition, can he make moves with body control? He's capable, but just training them doesn't necessarily translate them right away. Sometimes you have to really learn and study the game and I think that will be something that's very important for him when he's not in the game and he's in practice. He has to constantly self-correct and learn from other people's mistakes. Learning how to play off of the triangle is very complex and they ran it in the Summer League and he seemed to do OK. I think the rebounding and the effort with the lights on will never be a problem for him.
Derrick singled you out individually as well as IMG as the main reason he lost so much weight and improved his nutrition. From your perspective, how much different does he look now than from when you first started working with him?
When these kids make these transitions from an amateur to a professional player, it's easier to reference everything that you're treating yourself as a business. Everyone says it, but very few give you a plan. I feel we were able to give him a plan that was fair and motivational for him. He was able to do the work and execute it. We had no ulterior motives. Whether he was second or 58th [in the draft], we don't get one more penny. Our motivations are pure and his goal was pure. He wanted to get better and he wanted to learn how to use his body better and get in better shape. It's really about in the business we're in, figuring out what the athlete wants, agreeing on a plan and then holding them accountable to it. The first time in the last seven or eight years of Derrick's life, he was left alone. There was no distractions down here. There were no promises or expectations other than to show up. On his good days, we pushed him harder. On his bad days, we hugged him. College basketball, AAU basketball and agents don't necessarily take that philosophy. He was a kid who had very high expectations with a consistently changing plan. Now he's really been able to execute a plan and stick to it. Hopefully now he can do the same thing, stay patient with his playing time and pay his respects to the veterans and allow them to build trust in him and screen the hell out of people and grab rebounds. When they throw him the ball and they need him to score, he needs to make the right decision.
Has he indicated he'll work with you again?
I'm hoping we continue our relationship. I was just in L.A. last week for the Under Armour combine. He called me seven times on Saturday to work out, so I went to the practice facility and we got some shots up with him late Saturday night at like 9:30 p.m. Then he called me again Sunday, but my flight was leaving. He checks in two or three times a day. I think we have a pretty good relationship. But I also think the ultimate compliment is if he does it on his own and isn't dependent upon us. That would be the ultimate compliment that we did our job and hopefully he can make a guy like Devin or some of the guys that come in next year, or be the leader of next year's Summer League team or have everybody in the organization talking about his character and his commitment. I think those are the goals. He was amazing here. He came to our full-time orientation for our kids, introduced himself to parents and worked with kids on the side during summer camp. All of those little things go a long way and he has a special attachment to it. If he never came back and we get positive feedback and three years from now can move himself into a starting role somewhere, that'd be great.
How much weight did he drop from when he started until now?
At his highest, he was at 313-314 pounds when he arrived. There was a point in Summer League where he was down as low as 267 pounds. We had cut him off weight lifting. When he lifts weights, he bulks up very fast. He has a very unique body. When he worked out before the draft, he weighed 276. He was under 280 by the combine. By the draft, he was ranging from 275 to 280. When he got into Summer League, that's when he really got to his lower weights. When he weighed in here after the [NCAA] season, he weighed in at more than 312, but that's coming off of a season, he's beat up and he's doing no physical activity. I imagine he played in the high 290s. Before, he hadn't made a commitment to change his metabolism. That's the commitment we wanted him to buy into so he understands it will take three months and he can't have bad days and a three- or four-day vacation. He needs 90 straight days where he's shocking his body into a different eating system. That's when he cut out the red meat. If he treats himself, he treats himself to sushi.
What was his day-to-day routine?
Guys would get here at 9 a.m. They would do their prehab. Three days a week, they'd do their Bikram Yoga down in Sarasota (Fla.). Monday, Wednesday and Friday, he'd be down there. The other days he'd be here doing all the stretching with our trainers and the prehabilitation for any little nagging problems. Then we started on the court at 10:30 a.m. We'd go on the court until 11:30 a.m., immediately into the weight room and then into lunch. The second workout of the day was a multitude where some days it was just shooting, other days it was a second full workout with a lot of sprinting. We tried to stay away from the jumping because the jumping bangs up the guy's knees. But we did a lot of ground work with footwork. He'd go in Saturday mornings for a half day just in the morning, work out, lift and do all their pool activities with regeneration cold tubs.
Knowing where he's at at this point, what's your big-picture expectation of Derrick?
He needs to mentally be prepared. [Andrew] Bynum is starting the year a little bit banged up. They have a history of guys being banged up. And Phil [Jackson] is obviously going to challenge him as a project anyways or possibly even ignore him. He needs to be prepared for all of that. Long term, there's no reason 18 months from now he's not one of the sought-after free agents in the summer of 2013. If he makes it through his contract, that has to be the next goal.
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