Keeping players healthy during a season is always a challenge for a NBA team’s training staff. In an abbreviated season, like this one, it becomes even harder. Proper training and conditioning is key to a team’s success, and for the Denver Nuggets, strength and conditioning coach Steve Hess has been in charge of that aspect of the team for the last 15 seasons.
Hess took some time from the team’s busy schedule to chat with Dime about the team’s season, how they train during the playoffs and the work ethic of Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee.
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Dime: From the training staff perspective, how has this shortened season been going for the Nuggets? Have the training adjustments you made at the beginning of the season worked out?
Steve Hess: I got to be honest, the young guys have done unbelievably well. Even the veterans have really given so much. You know going into it, we knew that the season was going to be compressed, so there were going to be some hurdles that we would have to deal with. I think, the training staff and the entire staff pulled together incredibly well and optimized the most they could get out of the players and the players bought in as well.
Dime: What was the preparation like for the back-to-back-to-backs and how do you think it went throughout the season?
SH: I want to reiterate the excitement I have with the incredible training staff and here’s why – the most positive thing was, this goes for the coaching staff as well, during the back-to-back-to-backs, the entire organization stayed positive and didn’t feed in to their own tiredness. They led by example and that really helped the players.
You can never be fully prepared for those games but we utilized much more ice, more hot and cold, we did a little more stretching, and more muscle activation. We were much more effective in how we got nutrients to the players. We made sure they consumed their glycogen replenishment drinks. We made sure they had amino acids as well. So we were a little bit more conscientious, and thorough. But again, the amazing training and coaching staff really helped the players. Once again the players bought in, they did it.
Dime: Speaking of players, I wanted to get your thoughts on Kenneth Faried.
SH: Well Kenneth, was one of our top guys in the weight room. I mean the guy is pretty much in there every single day. He buys in to what we are doing. He does a ton of extra work with the coaches as well.
He is the only guy, and I can honestly say this, that in my entire 15-year career has changed the energy of my stretches. He’s done it just with his positive energy. It’s the most amazing thing I have ever seen. You got to understand, that I am loud, I’m obnoxious and that annoys some players. Kenneth is the only player that has absolutely and unequivocally has changed the warm-ups with his energy. I have never ever experienced that before.
Dime: Wow, can you elaborate a little more?
SH: He rolls in and does the drills we are trying to accomplish with so much energy that he gets me pumped up. A lot of times guys don’t really understand the importance of an adequate warm-up, but he does and its not only that, he has this infectious, positive way of getting the stuff done. It’s amazing! He is in the weight room so much and I tell him we have to limit this but he’s like “Hell no, I’m not doing that.” I’m okay with that, as I have to understand that he loves it.
This is my opinion of people in life. It’s very hard to get someone that is one 100 percent perfectly balanced. They either do something too much or too little. Our job is to adequately, expand the “too much.” I would much rather have a dude who has “too much,” and utilize that talent opposed to a guy who has too little. Kenneth has been absolutely exceptional. But the other new guys have been amazing as well.
Dime: Speaking of new guys, JaVale McGee joined your team midway through the year. I know he has asthma and the altitude in Denver has been a challenge for him. What type of training or exercises do you do with him, to help him deal with this issue?
SH: We started to do some quick sprint drills to help him open up. You have to understand that he is rolling in and has to play right away. So we have to be very careful not to overload the system. The one thing that is astounding about JaVale, is that for a guy his size, he is functionally put together really well. He has a good understanding of his body and is about to get a better understanding of it. The thing that amazes me is that he is committed to getting better and he does whatever it takes to get better. People think that it’s been like a honeymoon ever since he got here, I am just telling you when it comes to specifics like extra stuff in the weight room and extra conditioning, guys don’t have to do it in the middle of the season and he does it consistently. So I have been so freaking impressed with this dude.
Dime: I remember reading in a recent SI article about McGee how the whole Nuggets training and coaching staff were so impressed with the size of his hands…
SH: I mean the dude is 7-1 with a 7-6 wingspan so a lot of times when you get a guy that big, they don’t have control of their body. I am watching him and am like, “Dude you are unbelievable. Your ability to utilize this body is amazing!” It’s just exciting; he’s just a freaking athlete.
Dime: The playoffs are coming up, so as a training stuff what do you guys do differently? Do you switch up the routine in any way?
SH: Generally, you want to pick it up a notch. Get a little more mentally focused. Get more succinct in everything you are doing because there is only a certain amount of time and we have to maximize the players’ efforts. But understand if you go to the next level and the round after, you have to say what can I do to help make these guys better? Is it rest? Is it lifting? Is it stretching? Is it hydration? Is it nutrition? You have to be a little more precise. You like to say you are not because you want to be that consistent all the way through. But yo, the playoffs are so freaking exciting, it’s amazing.
Dime: I know you are a health/fitness nut, but what’s your one guilty food pleasure?
SH: A big cheeseburger with disgusting toppings, disgusting cheese and so big…so huge, that would be it. (Laughs) There’s a place in Denver called The Cricket. They got a cheeseburger, that oh my gosh, I don’t even like to have it that often but that’s the most unbelievable hamburger I have ever tasted in my whole life. I eat that eight ouncer with everything on it and I go to heaven but then I feel like shit afterwards but it’s unbelievable.
For more on Steve Hess follow him on Twitter @SteveHess1
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