For many people October means the start of fall and Major League Baseball playoffs. (Go Diamondbacks!) But ever since I was 12 years old, the only thing October has meant to me is Phoenix Suns training camp. Until training camp starts, I really can’t get it into my head that fall is finally here.

For the past several years, during the first week of October, the first thing I would do each morning was go to Suns.com to see what was new on the site. The pictures and videos of practice, the stories about the new players and the team’s goals for the season were the thing I most looked forward to during that week each year. And now I’m actually sitting here at training camp watching it all live.

I didn’t attend the entire camp. I had numbers things I had to work on (being the Web Analytics Coordinator means I have to do more than just watch practices unfortunately). But on Thursday, I was able to get in the car and head to camp. The drive down to Tucson was uneventful although I realized as I got closer to my destination that I really didn’t know where I was going. I’ve been to Tucson several times and I’ve been to the McKale Center a couple of times for the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournaments but I had never driven there by myself. Luckily, I found my way to the arena, found a place to park and then tried to look like I belonged as I walked to the lower level and onto the court.

I’ve attended a couple of practices now and if there is one thing that impresses me the most it’s how hard these guys work when they practice. Both the players and the coaches really work hard at what they do. As Stefan Swiat pointed out in a previous blog entry, Coach D’Antoni doesn’t push his guys as hard as some coaches during training camp. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t working hard. It’s just that they’ve been working on their games over the summer and most of them are trying to fine-tune their chemistry on the court as opposed to trying to get in shape. Despite not having practices that are as intense as other teams, I’m not sure any normal person would consider them a “walk in the park.” I’ve heard several people talk about how they would love to be the 12th man on the bench on an NBA team because they would just have to sit and watch games and not do a lot. But after watching just one practice I can say that there is no way most of those people would last through even one workout with the team.

Phoenix Suns players work hard during practice. 

(Dan Banks/Suns Photos)

The practice on Thursday afternoon started out with some light shooting. Then Coach D’Antoni brought everyone together and talked to them for a few minutes before the real drills began. In this specific practice, the team worked on a lot of fast break drills. They held a three-on-three drill for several minutes followed by a five-on-five drill. This consisted of almost constant running. After about 30 minutes that, the team moved onto a rotating fast-break drill where three players would run as fast as they could down the court with the middle person dribbling a few times and then passing to a wing player. The wing player would move to the middle and shoot the ball while someone would pass balls to the two other players running down the court to shoot. So three balls were going to the basket at the same time. Then those three players would then move off the court while someone would get the rebound from the ball the middle guy shot and would start the drill all over again going to the other end of the court. I thought the guys were going full-speed on that drill until Coach D’Antoni started yelling from the sideline to speed it up. Pretty soon the guys were really moving and you could see that some of the younger players were really starting to get winded.

But training camp isn’t all about running and shooting either. At least in Coach D’Antoni’s camp, it’s as much about building chemistry as it is about getting in shape for the regular season. On Thursday night there was a dinner for players and coaches. The Suns.com team was lucky enough to sit at a table in the same restaurant where we could see the action from our seats.

Part of the Suns.com team enjoys the antics of the rookies during the players/coaches dinner. 

(Dan Banks/Suns Photos)

The players all seemed to enjoy themselves and toward the end of dinner, the rookies got a little “introduction” to the team. You really haven’t experienced NBA life until you’ve seen three really tall guys skip around a restaurant singing, “I’m so pretty, I’m so pretty.” Since Suns.com was there, you can see pictures of the evening and even watch the video of the rookies’ performance at the restaurant.

Most of the players left the restaurant around 9:30 and since the Suns.com guys immediately went back to their room to start working on the site, I’m not really sure what the players did the rest of the night. But on Friday morning while I was sitting outside on a public patio reading the newspaper and enjoying the nice weather, all of the players and coaches walked by between 8:00 and 8:20 so I know they were up early and ready to go again.

The Suns vs. Suns scrimmage is on Saturday at 6:00 pm and it should be a good chance to get our first glimpse at the team as they play a game. Of course, it won’t be anything like when the regular season starts but when the Suns scrimmage on the first Saturday night in October, it finally feels like fall in my mind.

The fun thing for me is that watching training camp in person hasn’t diminished the excitement I have for the new season. I was afraid that watching all of the “nuts and bolts” of practices and training would make the games feel just a little bit less cool. But the exact opposite has happened. By watching these guys work out, it made me realize how much work really does go into the entertaining 48 minutes that happen during the game.

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