The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks provide a study in contrasts.
Start with the stars who lead their teams and it's the ring-laden veteran guard Kobe Bryant versus the extremely athletic, yet mostly unaccomplished big man in Amare Stoudemire. Make your way to the sidelines and you have Phil Jackson and his precise triangle against Mike D'Antoni and his free-wheeling, seven-seconds-or-less system (which Jackson described as actually "five or six seconds" on Friday). There is even a noticeable difference in their respective signature fans -- Spike Lee in his Yankees cap and Jack Nicholson in his shades.
Despite all that, a glance at each bench on Sunday when Los Angeles hosts New York at Staples Center will show two men with a lot in common.
Derrick Caracter of the Lakers and Shawne Williams of the Knicks might not look much alike at first, but an examination of the two reveals a shared history.
Caracter is the 22-year-old rookie, a 6-foot-9, 275-pound center who was drafted No. 58 by L.A., the third to last pick, after once being considered the No. 1 high school prospect in the country before ballooning in weight and not cutting it at Louisville playing for coach Rick Pitino.
Williams is the 24-year-old fourth-year forward, a 6-9, 225-pound swingman who was drafted No. 17 by Indiana in 2006, just a couple of picks out of the lottery, but was out of the league by 2009 after a string of off-court incidents.
The two came together at IMG Academy basketball program in Bradenton, Fla., in April, both looking to resuscitate their once-promising careers. It was a two-pronged reclamation project -- first their bodies and then their minds.
"He looked more like an offensive lineman," said Dan Barto, IMG's pro/college training coordinator, describing Caracter when he first arrived. "You know how college offensive linemen are; you can see how muscular they are up top and how V-shaped they are, almost to where his traps [trapezius muscles] were going through his neck. … He was big."
He was 315 pounds big, having put on 10 to 15 pounds of excess weight in a couple of weeks from the time his season ended at University of Texas El Paso.
"I really busted my tail this past summer for a certain image," Caracter said. "I wanted to make sure I looked good, my body would perform well on the court."
Williams showed up after being away from organized basketball for almost 10 months, missing the entire 2009-10 NBA season because of legal troubles.
"His body was a little bit more pear-shaped than V-shaped," Barto said.
The two went to work with Barto and Corey Stenstrup, who started them on what he calls layered hybrid training.
"We have year-round dialogue on how to continue to push the training element into the forefront of players' minds," Stenstrup said in a recent e-mail. "Increased productivity, decreased prevalence of injury, increase career length."
For nearly 10 weeks the two of them spent three hours a day on the court. When they weren't playing, they were lifting. When they weren't lifting, they were stretching. When they weren't stretching, they were doing yoga. When they weren't doing yoga, they were watching what they ate. When they weren't eating, they were playing. And so it went.
With neither player guaranteed any NBA future, Barto said the daily focus was to look toward a chance at summer league in Las Vegas, where they could showcase their play.