Each year, roughly 100 young men place their names in the pool of players who will be eligible for the NBA Draft. From anywhere between one and four years,these players have worked at perfecting their skills in college, and now they think they’re good enough to play in the best league in the world, the NBA. As soon as their eligibility is up, they’ll sign an agent, hopefully after asking the right questions and being advised by someone they trust. Once all that happens, the real work beigins: players start going through some form of pre-draft training.
Pre-draft training is a part of any agent's pitch, and it has taken on an insane amount of importance for draft-eligible players. In the recruitment of a top player, an agent will typically spend anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 in flights, meals, and hotels for he and others to see just one player throughout a season.
Then, if the agent is lucky enough to land that player, he will have to empty the piggy bank again, this time probably spending in the neighborhood of $25,000, most of which isn’t reimbursable, mind you. Of that $25,000, at least $10,000 of it will go towards a pre-draft training program for the client, and the rest will cover anything from meals, travel, to new gear (every soon-to-be NBA player needs to look fly).
No one questions that a player must train to get ready for his individual workouts. Players might be great on court in 5-on-5 situations, but struggle in the specific drills teams put the players through in every NBA city. We’ll give you our take and an example of each of the big training facilities: ATTACK Athletics, Impact Basketball, and Frank Matrisciano’s “Chameleon."
A prime example of a great 5-on-5 player who struggled in individual workouts is Chris Douglas-Roberts. CDR was a First Team All-American at Memphis and a Player of the Year candidate, but he had his lunch eaten by other wings in the draft process that didn’t have nearly the credentials including: Joe Alexander (eighth overall), Brandon Rush (13), Courtney Lee (22), Nicolas Batum (25), and Kyle Weaver (38).
The end result was Douglas-Roberts falling to 40th overall to the Nets. Obviously, CDR’s agent could have done more, right? Actually, no. Leon Rose sent Douglas-Roberts to who many would argue is the best trainer in the game, Tim Grover of ATTACK Athletics .
As head trainer, Tim Grover says, “We're getting guys ready. We know the teams and the kind of testing they do. The NBA game is different from the collegiate game. There are different things you can do at the NBA level that you can't do in college. We show them all of that stuff and some of the things they'll see in different workouts. We make sure they're in tip-top shape." The cost at ATTACK is about $10,000 for the entire pre-draft process.
Now, the fact that Chris didn’t shoot up draft boards with the help of ATTACK Athletics isn’t to say the training has no value. ATTACK also trained first rounder picks OJ Mayo (third overall), Jason Thompson (12), and Brandon Rush (13). Mayo was very impressed with the facilities stating, “When you get done working out, you can take a shower, lie down, and then work out again. It’s the best facility you can possibly train in. As a basketball player, it’s like heaven.”
Comparing a training facility to heaven certainly isn’t praise to be taken lightly and the 110 inch flat screen in the rec room of ATTACK certainly sounds heavenly to me. The facility’s locker room is the main reason upcoming rookies want to work out there. The nameplates around the room read like a Hall of Fame roster: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, etc. That is why so many of the players entering the draft want to go to ATTACK: the success of its alumni.
If ATTACK’s draw is primarily from its alumni, then the draw of Impact Basketball is probably its location. The Las Vegas-based basketball facility is run by head trainer Joe Abunassar. The focus of Impact Basketball is on “performance corrective coaching, nutritional guidance, and skill instruction that allow the player to continue developing well into the remainder of their career and life.” Like ATTACK, Impact’s alumni are incredibly impressive: Kevin Garnett, Chauncey Billups, Baron Davis, Monta Ellis, Ron Artest, and Chris Bosh, just to name a few.
In the last draft, Abunassar worked closely with Gonzaga’s Austin Daye. Daye opted to declare early despite not putting up big numbers in college and the team that selected him knew they were drafting him based on “potential.” In order to be the best he could be in workouts, he chose Impact.
Abunassar says his approach is “from the court backwards”, meaning they work on maximizing each player from a basketball perspective first and let the conditioning and strength come later. He claims that he can “change a kid in a week.”
He focuses on emphasizing players' positive strengths before the draft because, “When you go into an interview, you want to make sure that you get a chance to speak about your strengths, the things that would be considered a positive to the employer. The draft is a bit different than preparing for the regular season because it’s almost like you are preparing for a big show.”
This approach creates personal connections, something Abunassar is always quick to mention in interviews, and in some cases players actually become family (Al Harrington is his son’s godfather).
Frank Matrisciano’s “Chameleon”
The draw of Frank Matrisciano is not the posh location or Hall of Fame alumni, but rather the intense workouts. Matrisciano focuses on preparing players for life on and off the court.
Based in San Francisco, he doesn’t do any of his workouts on a flat surface, and the bulk of exercises are done wearing weight vests. Matrisciano’s biggest client so far is Blake Griffin who said this of the “Chameleon” workout: “When I went back to Oklahoma last year when we were done [in San Francisco], the guys were complaining about having to go to the weight room and do our 30-minute workout or our 45-minute workout, and I was like, ‘Man, I could do this all day, this is great.’
I don't have to go on a sand hill wearing a 40-pound weight vest and run up it carrying a 20-pound ball or do pull-ups. This has made that easy. I'm not saying we work harder than anyone else, because [other] people work hard. But this is definitely tough, and it pushes you."
The problem with the rigors of “Chameleon” is that a lot of top athletes get by on potential and God-given ability, not hard work. It takes a player with a certain amount of drive, like Blake Griffin, to survive the training. Matrisciano puts it this way: “This isn't for everyone. People say one day of my workout equals two weeks of training.”
To drive the point home, he’s invented “Law 7”, which states that for every 10 players that begin the training, only three will continue it. As he tells it, "Guys need a challenge. One guy called his agent and said, 'Get me the f--- out of here.’”
Not only is the training ridiculously intense, there’s also dealing with Matrisciano, who is eccentric to say the least. He never shows his entire face and his only companion is a husky named Seminole that he takes with him on training sessions.
Sending a player there certainly has its advantages on the court. Aaron Afflalo, who was drafted by the Detroit Pistons and now plays with the Denver Nuggets, added 10 pounds of muscle and dropped from 10 percent body fat to 6 percent in six weeks with Matrisciano.
Afflalo recognizes the growth that came from such intense training: "He changed everything in my life: my diet, mentality, and focus towards training. His training is grueling, but it's a sigh of relief and a mental advantage once you complete it. Once you do, you can go through anything."
Last summer, University of Kentucky standouts Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton worked out in San Francisco, and you’ve seen the benefits in their NCAA Tournament performances. While most players are run down by this point in the season, they are thriving.
The question is, if Douglas-Roberts fell to 40 after his agent paid $10,000 out of pocket, is the pre-draft training really worth it? Does Impact Basketball’s approach to skills development raise a player’s draft stock? Will a player even be able to survive “Chameleon?” Is the experience of pre-draft training really as valuable as agents and players seem to think?
The Douglas-Roberts example would suggest that even if you pay for the best training possible, a player isn’t necessarily going to achieve a higher draft position. It would take an entire draft class or a super agency like CAA to say: “You can work out at home and we’ll make sure you’re doing the right drills,” to break this wildly expensive cycle.
However, in an industry where agents are always being judged by other agents, it’s unlikely that anyone will stop sending players to these workouts.
For more information about the 2010 NBA Draft check out: The Rookie Wall