Dec 9, 2016
Starting in the Sand

Photo by Brandonrush via Wikimedia Commons

The University of Kentucky men’s basketball team has already garnered a lot of attention this season. They are considered to have the top recruiting class in the country with players like Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and Bam Adebayo set to compete for the school’s ninth national championship. But one name that has not gotten a lot of attention is Rob Harris, the strength and conditioning coach.

Despite his role behind the scenes, Harris has been instrumental to turning a group of young men with tremendous raw talent into one of the strongest and fittest teams in the NCAA. The process started early on in the offseason. With NCAA rules restricting the amount of time student-athletes can participate in basketball activities during the summer, Harris had to make the most of the time he was allowed.

Summer basketball activities are limited to up to eight non-consecutive weeks, with a maximum of eight hours per week and no more than two hours each week spent on skill-related instruction. That left the players with only six hours a week to work with Harris. But that hasn’t seemed to slow them down.

Harris used a variety of methods to make sure each training session would push the players and get them in peak form by the start of the season. First, Harris established a general structure for the summer workouts. Players woke up at 5:30 a.m. and began conditioning by 6 a.m. before going to a weight lifting session. Training would then pause so players could eat breakfast and attend class. In the afternoons and evenings, the team reconvened for pickup games.

One of the ways that Harris would wake up the team first thing in the morning was with a sandpit conditioning drill. Each player has to sprint back and forth from cones to a FitLight, which each player would try to reach before the light went off. The FitLight would also track misses and measure reaction times, pushing players to want to go faster despite the extra resistance from the sand.

This was just one of Harris’s introductions to training, however. A key to his approach is to keep players on their toes. “Normally every day is kind of a surprise,” Harris said. “I kind of like to keep it that way so they’re always on their toes, always expecting the worst because that’s kind of how basketball is. You don’t know how good a team is until you get to the game, until you tip the ball off.”

When they’re not running around the sandpit for their conditioning, players might be doing yoga, running on turf, or running underwater on a treadmill. In order to measure the progress of each player, Harris fostered an environment of friendly competition. Players competed for the highest vertical and went through NBA combine drills such as the 3/4 sprint, the 185-pound bench press, and the shuttle run.

With many freshmen bringing in bad eating habits, Harris also made sure that he used the summer training to stress the importance of nutrition. “You guys are like fancy cars,” Harris tells the players. “A fancy car doesn’t take regular gas. It has to use premium gas. You boys are the same way. You’ve got to put more into it to get more out of your performance.”

Harris attests to the tremendous gains made in the summer and is excited that every player has bought into the program. “By coming here you’re going to want to get the most bang for your buck,” Harris said. “I think our guys that we have really have worked hard and bought into the program from a strength and conditioning standpoint, from Coach Cal’s standpoint, and from being a better version of yourself.”

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