By John Clayton | September 2, 2004
Except for an occasional transaction, the NBA is mostly quiet these days. No games. No summer leagues. But this is when Pacers Strength and Conditioning Coach Bill Dean earns his paycheck – and then some.
He is available to players who have remained or return to Indianapolis during the offseason. He also has made several trips to visit players who are spending their offseasons in other cities, including Jonathan Bender in New Orleans, Austin Croshere and Reggie Miller in Los Angeles, and Fred Jones in Portland, OR.
“The summertime is when you can make dramatic improvements and changes in your body,” said Dean. “It’s very difficult to do it in-season with the schedule that we keep.”
Dean’s offseason programs are conformed to the needs of individual players with an eye ever on the NBA’s nine-month, 82-game regular season. The goal is, of course, fitness, but with that goal is the ability to survive a long season in the physical professional game.
“Every guy has a different goal and we have different goals for every guy, probably, under the umbrella of come in fit, come in strong, come in flexible and come in at a decent body weight with a good percentage of body fat,” said Dean. “I would love to say that we’re here to make guys perform better, but the reality is playing 100 games, when you get into preseason and postseason, the guys who can stay healthy are the guys who excel. The vast majority of it is injury prevention. The nice thing about that is it goes hand in hand with becoming a better athlete, becoming stronger and becoming more fit.”
Minutes earlier, Dean had been working with centers Jeff Foster, Scot Pollard and rookie David Harrison in an impromptu Pacers “big man’s” camp at Conseco Fieldhouse. The workout left all three players doused in sweat and included weightlifting, cardio and shooting.
The goal for Pollard and Foster was to maintain the level of fitness they have routinely achieved as professional athletes. The goal for Harrison continues to be enlightenment.
“No matter how much you think you know, you don’t know anything when you come in as a rookie. That’s not a knock on him – or any of the rookies. It’s just a different game from any level they’ve played on in college,” Dean said. “A large part of what we’re trying to do with David is educate him as to how big everybody is, how strong everybody is and how fit everybody is.
“I’ll bet he was the biggest, probably the heaviest and the tallest player in the Big 12 all three of his years, but he’s going to be just another guy here. There are a lot of 7-footers in this league and a lot of guys at his weight, so from my standpoint with him, it’s an education process. You’re not going to just knock guys out of the way and shoot layups all the time. I’m trying to educate him that this is an everyday proposition. It’s not just when you feel like it. There’s going to be tons of days when you don’t feel like it.”
Dean said Harrison has been a good pupil so far, working diligently to become ready for his first NBA campaign.
For his part, Harrison has been relieved to no longer have to split his workout time between practices and classes at Colorado.
“My weight routine I do here is strenuous, but it’s made more for endurance than strength,” Harrison said. “Basically, what they’re telling me is I need to get my core more stable and stronger because I already have the power aspects. It decreases on back problems and knee problems and it goes down from there. I do my core workout every day and an intense one every other day. That’s my worst day. I dread coming in on that day.”
Harrison also said he can feel a difference as the season draws nearer.
“I feel like I can go longer and longer out there every day,” he said. “It’s a process, but I’m leaps and bounds above where I was when I came in here after draft day. But I’ve still got a far way to go.”
While Harrison becomes increasingly acclimated to a new way of conditioning, other players, including Jermaine O’Neal, Jamaal Tinsley, Jones and Bender are both conditioning and rehabilitating injuries that occurred last season.
O’Neal has worked to return to form after injuring his left knee in the Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit. Dean said O’Neal has been working out in Los Angeles, Portland and Atlanta.
“All reports that I hear are that he’s doing just fine,” said Dean, who has not worked personally with the Pacers All-Star forward this summer. “I know he’s working hard, even though I haven’t seen him myself. I think the summer off from playing in the Olympics, which was a mandatory thing – I don’t think he could have done it with how bad that knee was at the end of the season, I think the rest coupled with the hard work is going to set him up to come into camp feeling great.”
O’Neal, who had played three straight summers of International competition with USA Basketball, eschewed a slot on the Olympic Team to heal after injuring the knee against Detroit.
Questions surrounding Bender’s durability have swirled since a more slender version of the athletic 7-footer arrived with the Pacers out of Picayune (MS) Memorial High School in 2000.
Though he has bulked up as a professional, due in large part to the effort of Dean and the Pacers training staff, last season did little to stop the concerns about his ability to stand the test of the regular season. Bender missed 61 games after undergoing left knee surgery during the 2003 preseason.
This summer, he has reunited with trainer Mackie Shilstone, with whom Bender worked prior to his rookie season.
“Mackie has talked extensively with me and our other physical trainers, staff and physical therapists,” said Dean. “We tried to put together a real well-rounded program to work on the left side of Jonathan’s body and his core strength as well as his conditioning. It’s been going great. The knee is getting more and more stable and his core strength has improved, which helps the stability of all the rest of the limbs.
“We hope after another solid month of training that he comes in ready to fight for those minutes that are being vacated because (of the trade of Al Harrington to Atlanta.)”
Recently cleared to resume workouts after shoulder surgery, Jones is back in the program and working with a trainer in Oregon after a 12-week layoff.
“His major emphasis has to be on getting back in shape,” said Dean. “The basketball will come, but right now he’s a better basketball player than a conditioned athlete. To take 12 weeks off after surgery is a long time to take off, especially in the middle of an offseason when a lot of guys are gearing up.”
With the addition of Stephen Jackson in the Harrington trade, playing time at the shooting guard position could be tougher to come by for Jones, but Dean said he believes Jones will do what it takes to keep a spot in Coach Rick Carlisle’s rotation.
”He understands the opportunity that presents itself this season,” said Dean. “He got a taste of it last year and he liked the taste that he got. Now, he wants to build on that. He doesn’t want to take a step back. . . . If he needed any motivation, I think the 12 weeks of being forced to sit around helped to fire him up to get back in the gym.”
The offseason regimen imposed last season on Tinsley seems to have taken hold and perpetuated itself this summer as he has worked in Atlanta with Anthony Johnson and here with Dean. Last summer, Tinsley shed about 25 pounds of unwanted weight that slowed him in 2002-03. This summer, he kept it off.
“He looks very good,” Dean said. “I don’t think (weight) is a factor for him anymore. He showed that was a blip on the radar and it’s really not a factor anymore.”
Miller and Croshere:
Both players have reportedly spent a lot of time working together near Los Angeles, shooting together twice a day with weightlifting on their own in between shooting sessions.
The seemingly ageless Miller’s workout regimen has been legendary and one reason he will return for a 19th NBA season with the Pacers.
After being used little in 2002-03, Croshere appeared in 77 games last season and made a surprise start in the playoffs in an attempt to help spread the Pistons’ tough interior defense. Croshere knows first-hand about the intense competition for playing time for the deep and talented Pacers, something Dean said serves as a catalyst for offseason workout participation.
“It’s a big help for me because it keeps guys wanting to see me, wanting to get together in the summer and wanting to follow the program and make sure they come in fit,” Dean said.