Frank Martin Kansas State NCAA TOURNAMENT RECORD: 4-2
EMBRACE THE GAME Ranked No. 3 in the nation in the preseason ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, Kansas State jumped out to a 9-1 start this year. Their only loss in that early-season stretch came against last year’s national champions, the Duke Blue Devils. With top competition throughout the Big 12 conference, the Wildcats needed to play with a chip on their shoulders to hold their own. Led by senior guard (and NBA prospect) Jacob Pullen, they’ve done just that. Scott Greenawalt, the Kansas State strength and conditioning coach, makes everything a competition for Wildcats players—everything. “When I blow the whistle, we’ll compete to see who can get to a stretch faster,” he says. “When we do a warm-up lap around our football field before weights, no one wants to be last.” He and head coach Frank Martin try to instill that spirit once voluntary workouts begin in June. It spikes on Competition Fridays, when players push sleds, flip tires, and carry 100-pound sandbags in teambuilding contests. He says, “Every day, we’re trying to do something to be the best.” Mark Few Gonzaga NCAA TOURNAMENT RECORD: 12-11
KEEP YOUR GOALS FLEXIBLE Every year, fans seem to be waiting for the Gonzaga Bulldogs to realize they’re not supposed to be a national title contender. But NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton’s alma mater is always a tough out in March. Travis Knight, Gonzaga’s strength and conditioning coach, says no matter what you’re working toward—a six-pack or an NCAA title— you have to be able to set new goals periodically. That’s how he keeps the team motivated through the long season. A day before a really tough workout, head coach Mark Few might let the team play Ultimate Frisbee or Home Run Derby. “The team embraces the change and performs better on the court,” Knight says. He also encourages variety at the training table. By grocery shopping with players, he helps them become familiar with new foods. And unlike schools that cut back on weights at the end of the season, Knight’s guys train whenever they can. “If you’re a pro,” he says, “you have to be able to lift on game days.” John Calipari Kentucky NCAA TOURNAMENT RECORD: 28-12
HUNKER DOWN AND FOCUS There are few programs with as storied a tradition as Kentucky basketball. Head coach John Calipari keeps it going by using his gift for grabbing media attention—and top talent. But he doesn’t believe in training gimmicks. “We use more of a business approach,” says Kentucky strength and conditioning coach Mike Malone. That means discipline for new recruits, many of whom may have never trained strenuously. Outside the gym, Malone makes sure his guys are eating the right things, with meal- replacement shakes or raw nuts, like cashews, for snacks. “I’ll have guys texting me from the cafeteria asking what they should get,” he says. As the season progresses, the team tapers off from training to recovery (ice baths, hip-mobility exercises, stretching with bands). When the tourney comes, Malone hopes it’ll be business as usual for a team that has seven national titles, second most of any program—it will add to that if the players stay healthy late in the season. Thad Matta Ohio State NCAA TOURNAMENT RECORD: 14-8
THINK LIKE A SOLDIER Traditionally thought of as a football school, the Buckeyes basketball team is starting to hold its own on campus, thanks, in part, to strength and conditioning coach Dave Richardson. His military background helps create a “good soldier” mentality that meshes perfectly with head coach Thad Matta’s intensity. “Thad would have made a great general,” Richardson says. The duo want their team to view every game as a battle. That means detailed strategies and plenty of pregame videos. Players have seen Gladiator, Mike Tyson knockouts, and nature shows featuring lions running down their prey. That imagery stays with players as they take the court to compete. Off the court, the trainers stress staying fit year-round to minimize the chance of hitting a wall in late-season games. “We don’t go on that wave-up and wave-down stuff ,” Richardson says. Having the right mentality is the key to success, Richardson says. “That’s what we try to build.”
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