‘Bright, Talented’

Arnie Kander scoffs at notion Monroe lacks athleticism

Greg Monroe, who had minor surgery on his toe in June, expects to start workouts next week.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
The predraft book on Greg Monroe categorized him as highly skilled but lacking athleticism. Monroe would be the last one to beat his own chest, but the very suggestion makes him come as close as he’ll ever get to bristling. “If it were track and field,” he said after the Pistons made him the No. 7 pick in June’s draft, “it would be a problem.”

Arnie Kander rolls his eyes, too, when he hears the rap that Monroe lacks the athleticism to emerge as an NBA difference-maker.

“They do an eight-stage test and come up with this formula,” the Pistons’ strength and conditioning coach said this week of NBA draft combine testing. “His vertical, his shuttle speed. We’re not training those things. You’re looking at an entire athlete together, meaning his visual components on the court, his reactions on the court, within basketball. That’s very different than running a shuttle drill or a vertical.

“Basketball is a reaction game. That’s where a lot of my testing is – teaching it one way and then calculating the speed they can get in the other direction. I think (Monroe) is actually a very good athlete. He’s got to get a little stronger, he’s got to get a little more explosive, but what I’ve seen so far I’m very impressed by.”

Kander takes a holistic approach to basketball, and to life beyond basketball, and that means the mind is a significant component of how he measures athletic capability. And on that score, Monroe stacks up exceptionally well. Between Summer League and Monroe’s minor toe surgery, Kander spent a week with him and found Monroe to be a sponge.

“He’s bright, talented – picked everything up immediately,” he said. “I explained one thing the first day, he had it memorized. The fourth day, we were repeating what we did the first day with a couple of variations. I looked at him and he was like, ‘Yup, I know.’ Some of the stuff we do (among the weight stations and workout areas of Kander’s design) is pretty complicated. He picked it up immediately.

“Very cerebral. Wants to understand, wants to know. Very body-oriented, meaning that he can see movement and can inhabit the movement into his body. Some guys see it but they can’t put it into their body. They’re very mechanical in what they do. But he’s got a very fluid motion, so when he gets a little stronger – a little more explosive – with that fluidity of motion, he’s going to be a very special athlete.”

Monroe had heard all about Kander before meeting him, but still found himself amazed at what Kander had learned about Monroe merely by studying film and over the depths of his knowledge on all things involving training and nutrition.

“It’s been amazing to talk to Arnie Kander,” Monroe said in late July. “He’s given me a lot of information. Everybody around here says he’s the best. Just being around him for a few days, I can believe it. All the information he gives out, he’s really good.

“When I first met him, he said he had watched a lot of film on me from Summer League and college and it was amazing. Just from watching me on film, he had measurements of my stride, how quick I jump and things like that. It’s funny – somebody that in-depth. Just what I learned about water – he said all water is definitely not the same and he was giving me the science behind different water. It’s amazing how smart he is.”

Kander’s work with Monroe will focus on helping him make the strides necessary in strength and explosion to enable him to exploit his ball skills, the shooting and passing touch that should help diversity the Pistons offensively.

“He’s middle of the road right now (in strength), which is very good for a college guy coming in,” Kander said. “He’s going to be playing against power forwards and centers, the strongest guys in the NBA, so that’s where his learning curve is going to have to be fairly quick. But I think he’s got the ability here” – Kander points to his head – “and what I love about him is he plays wide. Big guys who play wide have tremendous potential because they’re always in their legs.

“Guys who play narrow get pushed around. Wider stance, drop your legs, get into your hips a little bit, wider wing span. One of Austin’s (Daye) gifts has been teaching him how to stay wide. That’s what Tayshaun (Prince) does. Tayshaun doesn’t get moved around. He stays wide. Every movement he does, he stays wide. He’s one of the lankier guys in the NBA, but it’s amazing how he holds his base.”

Monroe, who expects to start workouts at the practice facility next week once he gets full clearance from the surgeon who operated on his toe, just turned 20 in early June, so simple maturation will be one component of adding the strength necessary to bang with NBA big men over 82 games. Working with Kander should accelerate the process as he focuses on core strength specific to basketball.

“When I say core, I don’t separate the core from the legs, but a lot of guys don’t train core properly,” Kander said. “They do a thousand situps. You never sit up during a game. You never crunch down during a game. You pivot. Everything in basketball is pivot, turning, rotations. So we spend a ton of time rotating the spine, getting quick in crossover dribbles, defensive slides, moving the upper body. So core is core, but there are many ways of working core specifically for basketball.”

Greg Monroe’s going to learn all about them starting next week, and based on everything he knows about the Pistons’ No. 1 pick so far, Arnie Kander expects he’ll pick it all up in short order.