When I came down to Tucson for training camp, I thought I was going to be watching boot camp. I figured I’d be privy to watching guys puking into garbage cans and rookies putting IVs into their arms.
D’Antoni uses the preseason to develop chemistry.
We’ve all seen Hoosiers, where the coach runs his players to death yelling, “You guys are going to be the best-conditioned team out there.” Since the Suns run like bandits and usually play a tight rotation, I envisioned Coach D’Antoni to be cut from the same mold.
However, from what I’ve seen from training camp this week, the Suns won’t be mistaken for the US Olympic Track and Field Team. Suicides have been few and far between and I haven’t seen any of those brutal 17 in 60s.
What I have seen is a great deal of full-court and fast-break drills that include a lot of running and transition work. Players are focused, intense and pushed throughout practice.
But this camp is different from most others in the league. Coaches like Pat Riley are putting his players through the ringer, so why the different approach?
“I kind of run the kind of camp I would have wanted to go to as a player,” D’Antoni said. “The whole objective is to be fresh and ready to go in April.”
Considering the amount of veterans the 2004-05 Coach of the Year has, it seems like a sound strategy.
“We do have a veteran team, so coaches who are at the bottom have to run a different type of camp,” D’Antoni said. “The veterans like Steve Nash, Boris and LB are the guys I need to worry about. I don’t want my core guys hurt, stressed or tired out in October. I just want us to keep building and getting into better shape as the season goes on.”
Often you’ll see players hit the wall after All-Star weekend or break down with nagging injuries. D’Antoni seems to remain mindful of that occurrence.
“It seems to me, I don’t know if it is true or not, but if you run them hard now, you pay for it in January,” he added. “Our fast-paced style and playing three or four times a week during the regular season is enough to keep them in shape. The rest of it is trying to keep their minds and bodies fresh.”
D’Antoni has two-a-day practices during camp.
Brian Skinner and Grant Hill are veterans that have played on several pro teams and have experienced an array of different camps. Both of them feel that this team’s collective experience has them further along at this juncture of the season than most clubs.
“It’s a veterans’ camp,” Skinner said. “Guys are professional and they know what they need to do to take care of business. It’s not a police watch. The players police themselves by working on whatever they need to work on. Teams with younger players have to be policed.
“We are just trying to fine tune,” he continued. “Most of the guys are in shape to play 48 minutes right now. In other camps I’ve been in, players use training camp to get into shape.”
Hill echoed Skinner’s sentiments.
“There isn’t a lot of wasted movement in practice,” Hill said. “It is very efficient and we get a lot covered. Most of guys in key roles are already adjusted to this style of play.”
The way D’Antoni has managed camp is another example of how he bucks conventional wisdom in favor of common sense. Instead of following the popular notion of what a camp is “supposed” to be, he runs a camp based on the players he has.
This is a team that is contending for a championship and is going to play around 100 games. The point of this camp is to integrate new veterans like Skinner and Hill and get them comfortable within the system. That’s why practices now look similar to a midseason practice. Judging by his past success, it’s a philosophy that has paid dividends.
“It’s a balancing act,” D’Antoni said. “We work our guys, we don’t run a country club here. But at the same time you don’t want to make it too much like work, because it isn’t.”