It’s an exciting time right now as the summer draws to a close, and workouts ramp up with the season already fast approaching.
I’m currently in Las Vegas getting ready to join Team USA for a minicamp, and discuss the chance to represent our country in the Olympics next summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I’m really looking forward to getting back in the gym with all that basketball knowledge and talent. It’s a great opportunity for me.
I spent several weeks with Team USA last summer, and it was an incredible experience. There is so much talent in that USA Basketball pool. Being around them, talking with them, and playing with them has been very beneficial to me. The time I spent there last year motivated me to be a better player.
That’s consistently been my focus since my first day in the league: becoming a better all-around basketball player. I think I did that last year from the previous year, and I’m working harder now to do that again for next season.
The training I did last offseason helped me out a lot. I was stronger, and I was able to stay on balance a lot more when I attacked the basket. I was able to defend multiple positions. So I pretty much stuck to the same game plan this offseason. I’ve continued my training at St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis, and I can’t say enough about how important all the guys I’ve been working with there have been to my evolution as a player.
I’ve trained at SVSP since I decided to enter the NBA Draft, and that continuity has been invaluable to me. You can’t underestimate how important it is to work hard in the offseason if you want to improve as a player.
The way things came together last season had me even more motivated about continuing to progress this offseason into next year. I was able to do a lot of good things last year, and it kind of opened up my eyes again to how much further I can go. The success of the team over the last half of the season pushed me, too. It made me to want to be even better next year so we can make the leap. I’ve been using that as motivation all offseason.
Dealing with the heel injury and coming off minor surgery early this offseason was kind of a blessing and a curse. Initially, it was frustrating because I couldn’t really put any weight on it, and so I couldn’t really do much. For the first couple weeks after the surgery, I was stuck using crutches and in a boot, and kind of planted to the couch. Mentally, that’s pretty tough. But once I was able to shed the crutches and the boot, I was able to look at the situation more positively, and turn it into a good thing.
Early on, because I still wasn’t able to move as much as I wanted to with the foot, my focus was on ball handling. I was able to do more ball handling drills that didn’t involve moving my lower body that much. Not spinning and dunking or anything like that, but little movements with my ball handling. My ball handling improved a lot despite the fact that I really wasn’t able to move.
In the gym, I focused on doing lifts and exercises that didn’t include that part of my body, so it was a lot more upper body lifting initially, and I got a lot stronger through that. And through the rehab after the surgery, I was able to become way more flexible in my foot and ankle. So by the time I was done rehabbing it, I wasn’t just as good as I used to be — I was better and more flexible. So I think having that injury to overcome this offseason has been a good thing for me.
I’ve definitely gotten stronger again this offseason, but in basketball being strong isn’t just about how much you can bench press, or how much you can squat. Being basketball strong requires strength of your core. That’s why the work I’ve done at St. Vincent has been so important. Every year when I go back there, we start with, “Is there anything that’s bothering you? How did the year go? What do you want to do this upcoming off-season?” And then we kind of go from there.
Those guys over there — especially Greg Moore my strength and conditioning guy — do a great job of making me a better basketball player, and making me a strong basketball player (as opposed to just being a powerlifter). That’s something that I really appreciate.
It’s extremely important to have somebody who knows what they’re doing. Greg isn’t a meathead who lifts weights. He was a basketball player through college, so he knows what it takes to train for the sport. He’s all about mobility and flexibility, and incorporating things to make me a better basketball player. He’s also really good with injuries, assessing why you’re feeling pain somewhere, and what you need to work on to become stronger in those areas. He and the PT staff there will put a plan together to help you overcome those things. It’s extremely important to have help like that as a pro athlete in the offseason.
I also can’t say enough about the work I’ve done over there with my basketball trainer, Rob Blackwell.
I’ve trained with Rob the past three years, and working with him has been really crucial in my development. He is a student of the game, and he’s up watching film all the time, which is something I really appreciate in my trainer. I know I can contact him during the season and say, “Hey, did you see this?” He always knows exactly what I’m talking about because he watched it on film. He helps me break it down, and address what I adjustments I need to make.
He’s also very honest with me, and we have a relationship where he can text me certain things like, “You’re shooting the ball flat,” or “You’re not attacking downhill,” different things like that. I can take that information and apply it to the next game. So he’s been great for me.
It’s been even more beneficial this offseason getting to work with him one on one. He puts me through some pretty intense workouts, so it’s tiring, but I know the goal is to make me a better player. Any chance to work with him is really important, and allows me to get some really good work in.
Last week, I took my offseason workouts at SVSP to another level by inviting some other players to come, and work out with me and all the trainers there in Indy for a week.
It was a great thing for me to do in terms of taking another step, and being a leader even in the off-season. I actually invited all the guys on the Jazz. Unfortunately, a lot of them are pretty busy this summer, so they didn’t all get a chance to make it. But Rodney Hood and Jack Cooley came out, and it was great to see those guys. We also had Josh McRoberts, Rodney Carney and Daequan Cook there, along with a bunch of other guys who’ve been playing overseas, and some guys who train in Indianapolis during the offseason.
It was one of the first times I’ve ever done something like that, and we had a really good turnout, so I’m proud of that.
The thought process behind the whole thing was to give all of us a chance to get in the gym together, and play some good 5-on-5 in an environment where guys aren’t going to be reckless and try to hurt somebody. All of us are in the same position and we’re just trying to become better basketball players. The guys took it seriously and they worked hard, so we had a good week.
The whole week was a great showcase for St. Vincent Sports Performance as well. Ralph Reiff and the staff there did a tremendous job hosting us, and giving us all the things we needed to be successful in one place.
We were able to get plenty of basketball work in with Rob Blackwell. He really led the basketball portion of the workouts, and had us doing a lot of skill work. It was good for me to be able to show him off to the other guys too.
We were also able to get some gym work to become better athletes with strength and speed, and that was led by Greg Moore. We had great trainers available, so if somebody got hurt, or needed to be stretched or iced, they could go over and get treatment. To have something organized where all three of those things were available in one location was pretty great. I think in the future, we’ll probably get more guys, and it will be even better.
Getting that work in was also important for me from a competitive standpoint because it was the first week I’d been cleared to play 5-on-5 since my heel surgery back in May. So I was glad to be able to get some really good work in with those guys.
Recently I’ve gone to work a lot on my post game. I’m trying to develop some things that will allow me to take advantage of my size in certain situations. If point guards switch on me, or smaller guards switch on me, I want to be able to take advantage, kind of punish guys, and give myself or one of my teammates a great scoring opportunity. A big part of it is being more patient and waiting just a little longer in the post and on pick and rolls.
Having the strength that I’ve developed is a big thing. Now, it’s a matter of utilizing it. Using my body a lot more has been a key emphasis that I’m looking to put into my game. When I have that size edge, I want to be able to take advantage of those mismatches. It’s something that I’m learning from watching a lot of other NBA players and some of the things they are able to do. I’ve picked up a lot from just watching, and then I try to incorporate it into my training sessions.
But I don’t think you can really truly add things into your game unless you practice it against somebody else, in a game situation. So working with those guys last week was really good for that. We did 5-on-5, 3-on-3 and even some 2-on-2, giving us a lot of different game-like situations, and allowing me to really put some of the stuff I’ve been training for to work in my game. I was able to get some match up differences and take advantage of it, and post up, and try different things. It was another really great opportunity for me to get better, and I think I did that.
I owe a lot of credit to the coaching staff back in Utah. The Jazz are always on top of things as it relates to player development. Johnnie Bryant and Coach Quin have been in my ear about things all summer, and they’ve been great about sending me film and anything else I might need.
Coach Quin and I talk once a week, if not once every other week. He even came out to Indy to visit me not too long ago, and we went to dinner. He’s somebody I can talk to man to man, as well as being my coach. That’s important for building our relationship moving forward.
I’m really excited to get back to Utah and continue working with him, the staff there and my teammates, to build on what we accomplished late last season. I think we are all really looking forward to that, and getting anxious as it gets closer.
Even though everybody is kind of doing different things this summer and we have a lot of international players on the team, we’ve kept the lines of communication going between all the guys and the coaching staff. I’m in touch with most of the guys on a pretty consistent basis. I know Derrick Favors has been getting in a lot of work in out there in Utah, and a few other guys are playing for their national teams.
On that note, I want to send my best wishes out to Danté Exum. He was playing with his Australian team when he suffered a knee injury, which is really unfortunate and pretty tough to hear about. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody, let alone one of your teammates. So it’s a tough situation.
I reached out to him when I heard and I know he was pretty bummed and probably getting phone calls and text messages from everyone. So I just told him that we’re all here for him, and that sometimes, you’ve got to take a step backwards to take two forward.
For us, I think it’s just the mentality of the next man up. We will find a way. There is still a lot of time to think about what we’re going to do next season. The coaching staff and the front office will find a way. But that’s not what we’re all thinking about right now. We’re just all focused on Danté, and making sure he’s ok and in a good place. He’s only 20 years old. He’s got a bright future ahead of him, and he is a hard worker. I’m confident he’ll come back stronger than he was before.