Magic Training Camp 101

Free scrimmage open to public on Saturday, Oct. 9, at 6:30pm in the UNF Arena in Jacksonville

Magic training camp will be held October 5-9 in Jacksonville, Fla. A free scrimmage will be open to the public on Saturday, October 9, at 6:30pm in the UNF Arena in Jacksonville. Camp will conclude Sunday with a closed practice at the TD Waterhouse Centre, and the team is slated to participate in the Great Magic Seat Rush from 2-5 p.m. that afternoon back in Orlando at TD Waterhouse Centre. The event is free and open the public.

It’s an annual rite of passage - just assuredly as the seasons come and go and the hurricanes head toward the state of Florida, NBA teams all around the country are getting revved up for the pre-season of the pre-season: training camp. Yes, the seven days of torture players look forward to, and dread, each early October. While the coaching staff and players are immersed in this world for a week, there are many facets to an NBA training camp that are unknown beyond this scope of personnel. Now, the Orlando Magic takes you on this behind-the-scenes look at training camp to give fans the ultimate insight - from how the teams pick their location, to what a typical day at camp is like and how teams use these seven days, you can find all the information you’ve ever wanted, or just might not have known, right here.

LOCATION:
When it comes time to pick a location for training camp, it is no surprise that almost every team decides to go away from their home city. It might not be the weekend getaway feel that most teams desire; the decision is mostly based on taking the players and coaches away from their element for one week to submerge them in a world where basketball is all they concentrate on, 24-7. Most teams even choose smaller venues and cities to re-locate for their camp, as it allows the team to focus on what they are there for without distractions phasing into the background. After staying in nearby Lake Buena Vista last year at Disney's Wide World of Sports, the team decided to pack their bags again this season to a familiar place for the Magic’s training grounds - Jacksonville, Fla.

“Scott Herring, our Director of Basketball Administration, usually works with John Weisbrod, our GM, and Johnny Davis, to decide on a site to hold training camp,” Joel Glass, Director of Communications, said. “I think one of the key components to finding a site for training camp is that it is an important time for the team and players to bond. More often than not, in our situation, it is good to get away, and that is why Jacksonville has been a site for us several times. The emphasis is now on team bonding - we have done the team building, now we have to do the team bonding. They just have to do it through blood, sweat, and some tears.”

Fleeing the familiarity of home isn’t just a practice used in the NBA. As Glass points out, almost all of the major professional sports in the United States use this technique to force team togetherness.

“This is a normal practice for just about any sport - in baseball, they get away from their hometown for spring training, and in the NFL, they sometimes go to cities you haven’t even really heard of. The facilities are important, coupled with the importance of having the feel of training camp. It doesn’t have to feel luxurious, but it does need to have the feel of a training camp.”

ROSTER:
The roster for an NBA team heading into training camp tends to expand, and some teams even use their camp as a sort of try-out for potential spots left on their team. The NBA stipulates that a team can have no more than 15 players on their roster; therefore, if a team has less, they can invite players to camp that they feel will have the chance to fill in those 15 coveted spots. Unfortunately, for any NBA hopefuls, the Magic already have 15 guaranteed contracts for the 2004-05 season. That means that the squad can sign extra players for the camp, but the chances of them making the team is ’slim to none,’ according to Director of Player Personnel David Twardzik.

“That’s the difficult part,” Twardzik explained. “Agents know how many guaranteed contracts you have, so when you call them to try to get a player to come in, they ask a question knowing the answer, and that is, how many guarantees do you have? Does a guy have a chance to make the team? Probably not. So, it makes it difficult to fill a camp roster if you want more than 15.”

Though most teams have their regulated 15 spots solidified at this point in the year, about every NBA team will sign and bring in extra players to complement their own players. Coaches use the extra bodies in scrimmages, drills, and in certain exercises to rest their players and give them less minutes so as to not wear down them down during the week. This year, the Magic brought in four players with the absence of center Andrew DeClercq, who is still recuperating from an off-season knee injury.

“[Head Coach] Johnny Davis wanted to go with 18 players, and Andrew is not going to go full speed, so we are going to go to 19 and that means we had to bring in four invitees [Earl Barron, Corsley Edwards, Jemeil Rich and Ajani Williams]” Twardzik said. “First of all, you target what you need - we don’t need two’s or three’s, and we could use another point guard, which we went after and got. And we could use a couple four’s and five’s, especially with Andrew being hurt. You target what positions you want, then you start to make the phone calls to the agents, and that’s when the questions come. Then you start bringing in the guys, but it makes it difficult when you have 15 contracts. You’ll get better players if you have potential roster spots.”

But just having the extra guys there, Twardzik explained, helps out the team much more than most people expect.

“The team is going from what they think is pretty intense activity during the summer to real intense activity during training camp. To cushion that a little bit, you bring in a couple more players so they don’t have to go as many minutes or as long, whether it's drill work or scrimmaging. In scrimmage work, with 18 healthy players, our coaches have six sets of three they can work with. A lot of time when you break up to do individual skill work, most of the time it is in a series of three. Part of it is, you don’t have to practice your players as hard. It gives you four more guys you can rotate into the mix and rest your players once camp starts. ”

PRACTICE:
Once the team has all the members it wants, the only thing left to do is put it all together. As Twardzik mentioned, the players may have already experienced moderate conditioning and individual workouts during the summer months, but it isn’t until training camp that the players, and coaches, get the feel of what the team dynamics will be like on the court for the season to come.

“I think [camp] will be multi-faceted this year - it’s going to be a bonding process, it’s going to be a get-to-know-you process and it’s also going to be a tremendous teaching process. With so many new players, and since this is Johnny Davis’ first training camp as a head coach here, he is going to want to put his system into play, where, before, when he took over early in the year last season, he couldn’t just say ‘Ok guys, now we’re going to have training camp. Everything we’ve learned the month and half you’ve been here, forget about it and we’re going to start from scratch.’ This gives Johnny the opportunity to put in his system, offensively, defensively, defensive principles, offensive principles. So this is going to be a multi-faceted camp because positions are really wide open; the slate is clean. If I am a player on this team, I look at our roster and say, ‘you know, I can carve some minutes out here, whether I start, or whether I help somebody else out and come off the bench.’ It’s going to be a very important process for players to carve minutes out, learn the system, to get to know each other, and its going to be very important for our coaching staff to teach the system, to figure out who plays well together and what combinations they can use. I think the beauty of our roster is, most of our players can play multiple positions, so that gives our coaching staff tremendous flexibility with combinations on the floor. I wish we could have training camp for two weeks instead of seven days and then get right into the first day of the pre-season.”

NBA RESTRICTIONS:
To limit the number of hours a team can practice during the week, the league and the players’ association have limits imposed on all the teams, so they all enter the pre-season on a level playing field.

“There are certainly restrictions from the league,” Twardzik said. “You can only practice a certain number of hours a week - if you do two sessions, you are not allowed to do certain things in the morning that you do in the afternoon. The league and the players’ association definitely restrict a lot of what you can do.”

Specifically, the teams can practice three hours a day, but only two hours of that can be contact, whereas the other can be used for conditioning purposes. However, Glass has found that most players prefer the contact portion of the day, because that last hour is, as the players say, ‘just running.’

A TYPICAL DAY AT THE ORLANDO MAGIC TRAINING CAMP:
A typical day at Magic training camp will consist of two practices, morning and afternoon. The first practice is from 10-noon, and prior to that, the players will travel from the team hotel to the arena in vans. As expected, the rookies and training camp invitees usually occupy the first van and are therefore the first to arrive at the site, whereas the veterans follow later.

“It usually seems, that while practices start at 10, everyone is so gung-ho to start that it always ends up starting at like 9:15 because everyone is there,” Glass said. “There is a lot of spirit and enthusiasm in every gym I have ever been in for training camp. It’s like the whole baseball saying: hope springs eternal. That’s what it's like. Everyone is sitting there going, ‘we could be the team.’ They all have that good feeling, and they believe this could be the year they put it all together.”

After the first practice, the team will take their turn with the media, as they do after every session. Local beat writers, out of state sports writers, and reporters from outlets such as ESPN.com and USA Today will be in attendance to monitor the progress of what one could argue is the most overhauled team in the NBA.

After team practice is over, the squad will likely break up into three-on-three groups, or the position players will work with a coach on more drills or position work. The team then heads back to the hotel for a team lunch, which includes a lot of high-calorie foods that will keep their bodies energized through the rigors of the week. Lunch follows with an afternoon lull, usually used for sleep, and the whole process starts all over again for the night practice, which is usually more focused on conditioning than team drills.

“When they are done, most of them probably come back and just order room service,” Glass said. “Being in Jacksonville, it’s not like we are really close to anything, so it almost forces them to be together, which is very important.”

Team bonding is also usually reinforced one night during camp, as typically the evening practice of the third day is cancelled for a team dinner of some sort, which gives the veterans a prime time to take their first jab at rookie initiation.

“It’s always Grant Hill’s birthday during camp,” Glass said. “Each of the last few years, the rookies have had to get up and sing ‘happy birthday’ to him and so forth. One of the veterans will call on the rookies to get up and sing, so you can expect that to happen.”

Here’s hoping Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson are warming up more than just their basketball skills.