Training puts Missouri men's basketball players on the clock

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 1:20 a.m. CST, Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Missouri senior guard Zaire Taylor moves over hurdles during a conditioning drill. The team focuses on speed when it trains in an effort to reach the level of fitness it will need to play “The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball” that has become a trademark for coach Mike Anderson.

COLUMBIA — The second the big digital clock hanging in the corner of the weight room hits 12:30 p.m., David Deets blows his whistle.

On command, Missouri’s men's basketball players begin a stretching exercise where they climb over and duck under a series of track and field hurdles set at different heights. It's more difficult for the taller players to get under the lowest hurdles, requiring them to awkwardly crouch to the floor and turn their bodies at the same time.

Tuesday's game

Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks (0-1) vs. Missouri Tigers (0-0)

WHERE: 7 p.m.

WHERE: Mizzou Arena

TV: Fox Sports Midwest

RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM

Who are the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks?

· Coach: Jason James.

· Conference: Ohio Valley.

· Last season's record: 22-10 overall. 14-4, first in conference.

· The 22 wins are the highest in school history.

· First Ohio Valley Conference championship and first appearance in the NIT.

· As a No. 8 seed, lost in the first round in the NIT tournament to No. 1 seed Auburn.

· James was an assistant to former Skyhawks’ coach Bret Campbell, who was forced to resign in June 2009 due to concerns about his use of funds from his personal bank account for his summer basketball camps.

· Lost its best player, guard Lester Hudson, to the NBA Draft.

· The 6-foot 2-inch guard accounted for more than 35 percent of the team’s scoring, 43 percent of the team’s 3-pointers and he led the team in steals and rebounds.

Players to watch:

· Senior point guard Delrico Lane. Lane averaged a little more than 5 points a game last season, but was No. 25 in the nation in steals. Lane was also named to the All-Ohio Valley Newcomer team.

· Junior guard Marquis Weddle is the team’s top returning scorer from last season. Weddle is a great three-point shooter, making 93 three-pointers last season. The three-pointers accounted for more than half his field goals last season.

Missouri’s history against Tennessee-Martin:

· Missouri will be playing to extend its school record 37-game nonconference home-court winning streak.

· Missouri beat Tennessee-Martin 86-63 in the Tigers' 2001-2002 season-opener.

· Missouri leads the overall series 4-0.

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“Quicker. Quicker,” Deets yells.

As the next drill starts, Deets shouts again: “Quick. Quick. Quick.”

Five minutes later, as the players start weight lifting drills, Deets yells at Miguel Paul, Michael Dixon Jr. and Tyler Stone: “You’re all taking too much damn time over here.”

Get the message?

“The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball” – the catchphrase behind Missouri’s fast-paced, full-court press system – has been ingrained into the minds of Missouri’s players.

“It’s fast-paced in the weight room and it’s fast-paced out here (on the court), so you kind of get accustomed to fast-paced everything,” Justin Safford said.

Deets wears black shoes, silver shorts, a black shirt, a black-and-gold Nike watch and has a white card tucked into the front of his shorts. And, of course, he has a whistle on a gold string draped around his neck.

He looks every part of his position as the team's strength and conditioning coach. Deets is all business in Mizzou Arena’s basketball weight room, which has “40 Minutes” and “No Excuses” written in large black letters on its walls.

“Just like our system, we play the fastest 40 minutes in basketball, so when we’re training, we’re training pretty fast,” Deets said. “There’s not any standing around in the weight room. There’s not any sitting down.

“Everything’s off the whistle; it’s off of my tempo. They don’t have time to decide when they’re going to get down for that next set or start that next rep. It’s all off of me. I’m dictating how the tempo is.”

Deets came to Missouri from Oklahoma State four years ago after coach Mike Anderson was hired, and he has undertaken the challenge of getting Missouri’s players in the shape that Anderson’s all-out brand of basketball demands.

“It’s a challenge, and it’s a lot of work year round,” Deets said. “Like I said, it’s not easy on your body to play this style and you’ve got to do so much to keep the time off the court, the injuries, down. And so you’ve got to take such a different approach to build that type of player that’s long, fast. It’s definitely fun and challenging at the same time.”

Deets’ goal is to have players in peak shape for the last month of the season and into the NCAA Tournament, which is a yearlong process.

Other than the two-and-a-half weeks they get off in August, Missouri’s players are in some form of conditioning and weight training at all times.

Throughout this weight training session, Deets shouts so that all the players can hear, “You’ve got to start preparing now for the championship.”

He knows that sustaining a full-court press throughout an entire game doesn’t just happen.

“He can crack a couple of jokes, but he’s about his business too,” J.T. Tiller said. “He’s serious about the weights, and he says we put our armor on in the weight room. He’s all about that. He knows it goes hand in hand with winning.”

After watching and instructing players on one side of the weight room, Deets turns and walks quickly to the other side.

“Quick. Quick. Let’s go. Let’s go,” he says.

Deets said there are other teams that work quickly in the weight room, but Missouri’s method is unique.

“Whatever they (other teams) may do, that’s what they do, but maybe at a slower pace,” Safford said.

Tiller agrees that no one else does it quite like Missouri.

“I feel like other programs just want you to get strong so you can be strong on the court,” he said.

One of the reasons Deets runs such fast-paced weight training sessions is that players need to be able to recover quickly after exerting a lot of energy, like when they press during games.

“If you can’t go all out and recover in a short period of time, you’re going to have a hard time playing in our system,” Deets said.

Deets said he has received compliments from other strength and conditioning coaches in the Big 12.

“They’re like man, you must do a great job,” Deets said. “And I’m just like, ‘It’s the guys that are doing all the work. I’m just there.’”

Three times a week leading up to the start of the season, the team lifts weights before it heads onto the floor to practice, making practice tougher than usual.

“It’s definitely a big difference,” Tiller said. “Coming out shooting when your arms are heavy as bricks versus coming out here and you’re feeling really, really good.”

When they get to the court, players have to go through Anderson’s conditioning routine that he’s been running for years. It consists of running laps around the court, with sets of push-ups and sit-ups on the side in between series of laps. Once the second set of laps is complete, players do several sprints with their hands above their heads, which causes many of them to grimace.

When asked why that drill looks so difficult, Deets responded: “You ever tried it? You have no momentum through your upper body. It’s all legs. It makes you really have to engage your core. Just the weight of your arms above your head (makes it difficult).”

The routine ends with a sprint-and-slide drill and a three-man weave, where players sprint down the court passing a ball and one player finishes the drill with a layup. Sometimes a ball filled with water is used, and the players have to throw it as high as they can as they pass it down the court. After the players catch the ball - which often knocks them back because of its weight - they have to lower the ball slightly and release it as if they were launching a full-court shot.

These are the types of conditioning drills – ones that involve sprinting over and over again on the court – one might expect a full-court press team like Missouri to use. But the weight training portion is just as important.

“The system doesn’t begin on the court,” Tiller said. “They system is everything we do, from being in the locker room to being in the weights to everything on the court.”

At 1:05, Deets blows his whistle and the players stop lifting weights. They take turns going through the track and field hurdles to do a cool-down stretch.

Then, the players start a slow clap and gather around Deets, who steps up onto the platform of one of the weight machines. He announces that massage therapy for the players will start the next day, which triggers a jubilant “Whoop!” from several of them.

Deets ends his spiel by reminding the players why they’re working hard now, months before they even play a conference game.

“Make sure you’re preparing now for the championship.”

As the players are dismissed and start to talk with one another, Deets, like always, makes sure they keep moving.

“Hurry up,” he yells. “We’ve got to be on the floor in six minutes.”

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