Camping isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, especially when it’s cold and rainy outside. See, I grew up in a family whose idea of roughing it was staying at a local motel rather than a national hotel chain. It’s not that we were hoity-toity, quite the contrary; we just weren’t what you’d describe as the outdoors type (we barely even hung out in our backyard, let alone the woods). Despite my aversion, after 28 years I’ve finally found a type of ‘camping’ that fits my style. Phoenix Suns training camp.
Instead of a tent, I have a curtained off section of Grand Canyon University’s Thunder Alley (which, after some intense investigation, I found out is in fact not named after Dan Majerle). In place of the tall trees of the forest, I’m surrounded by the tall players of the Suns and instead of wild animals lurking, there are wild college students and sleep deprived reporters all around. It’s my kind of ‘roughing it.’
The backdrop for this little excursion brought back the memories of that first day back at school after summer vacation when I was a kid. You know, that excitement in the air. The energy around campus. The overall feeling that anything was possible that year. Things like getting straight A’s or having a chance to date the cute new student even though you were a member of the Latin Club could happen. (OK, maybe that last example only applied to me).
That’s the feeling around the first few days of Suns training camp. There has been a buzz in the gym at Grand Canyon University. Anyone who is around the players can tell they are enjoying being back on the court together.
While there is a sense of relief and exhilaration like you felt back in school among the guys there is also a sense of intense purpose — think Denzel Washington in Man on Fire — similar to the one that many of the students on campus cramming for midterms are displaying. A feeling of trying to learn as much as possible as fast as possible because the big test is right around the corner.
That feeling is a byproduct of a schedule that is like that wool sweater you left in the dryer one cycle too long, familiar yet shrunken.
Even Suns coach Alvin Gentry senses it from his players thus far in camp.
“I think guys are well aware that they are going to be playing for real in less than two weeks,” Gentry said after practice. “I think their focus is trying to get ready and be ready to play. Another big factor is that they’ve been away from the game for awhile. Overall the intensity level is up a little bit more because of the shortness of the time before the regular season starts.”
It provides for an interesting mix of optimism and extreme preparation. Both of which should be exciting to Suns fans.
Last season may have ended like The Sopranos, abruptly and with a feeling of unfinished business — minus the Journey soundtrack — but this is a new year and a fresh start. With Marcin Gortat emerging as a legitimate center, Jared Dudley looking as athletic as ever and Markieff Morris, Shannon Brown and Sebastian Telfair joining the team there is a new energy. Not to mention when you have Grant Hill and Steve Nash, anything is possible (including defying the effects of aging).
The boys are back in town. It’s exciting but there’s business to attend to. Gentry’s team knows it and seems ready to get it done. As for me, I’m just enjoying camping for the first time in my life.
Make sure to check back daily for updates from Suns Camp from Espo.