Daye by Day

Boosted by strength gains, Daye eager to compete for minutes

Austin Daye bulked up during the off-season, adding about 20 pounds of weight.
Fernando Medina (NBAE/Getty)
The pushup challenge Arnie Kander gave to Austin Daye? No sweat. But while Daye was bulking up this summer – he hit his target weight of 218, about 20 pounds more than he was when he returned from Russia after the lockout’s resolution in December – Kander was devising ever more devious ways to torment the troops.

“I hate it,” Daye said of the new contraption the Pistons’ strength coach designed over the summer. “I really hate it. It’s 10 times worse than pushups. I hate it.”

How to describe it? It’s sort of a basketball version of football’s time-honored blocking sled. Where a football sled is intended to keep offensive linemen low, however, Kander’s sled – he calls it “the monster” – is built for one and designed to build functional strength meant for basketball, staying upright and holding your position. You push it forward or pull it backward, but the key is to exert a consistent level of force that requires great balance.

“You can’t do it without strength,” Kander said. “Your legs have to be strong, your arms have to be strong, your shoulders, your back. There are four wheels and there’s a base underneath with carpeting, so if you lift it – 270 pounds, without weights (that can be added) – it hits the carpeting and doesn’t stay on the wheels. If you try to push it down, it hits the carpeting – it won’t go anywhere. You have to have the perfect balance to get it to move and even then it’s not easy. It has to be perfectly level, which require basketball mechanics. Pulling it backwards – which is Rasheed Wallace in the post – you can’t lean back. It has to be pure mechanics to do it correctly.”

Daye became Kander’s pet project last year after the Russia experience eroded whatever strength gains he had made. The pushup regimen Kander devised for Daye clicked where other programs hadn’t. Over the summer, Daye hit the threshold Kander set for him – going twice through a progression that requires a total of 120 pushups and a corresponding number of seconds holding the upright pushup position.

Daye, as has been his custom since joining the NBA, spent the bulk of his summer working out under the supervision of Joe Abunassar, who counts Tayshaun Prince and Corey Maggette among his other clients. Kander was in weekly contact with Abunassar and heard strong reports of Daye’s progress.

“He’s had a great summer,” Kander said. “Joe did a really nice job with him.”

It started in Los Angeles, where Daye lifted weights with Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews.

“Pretty intense,” Daye said of those sessions. “The weights he does are different than mine, but we’re doing the same routine. It was good for my body. He was really focused every day, getting his work done. I liked his work ethic. I saw just how to come in the gym every day and be focused.”

Then it was on to Las Vegas, where Abunassar makes his home base, with a highly encouraging Summer League stint in Orlando wedged in between. Daye came to Auburn Hills in mid-September and logged a few weeks of pickup games and workouts with teammates in which he continued to sparkle.

“I think it helped my confidence, just going out there and knocking down shots and making plays,” Daye said. “Overall, I’ve played really well throughout the summer. With Joe and now here, I’m playing pretty well, making some plays and knocking down some shots. It all comes with just being comfortable. I think I can play this game at a high level, but sometimes I put a lot of pressure on myself and that kind of hurts me.”

The forward positions became more crowded over the summer when the Pistons traded for Corey Maggette, signed Kyle Singler and drafted Khris Middleton. Daye played power forward exclusively in Orlando, where he was named a first-team All-Star for his performance, and comes to camp at that spot along with Jason Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva. Daye isn’t looking at depth charts, though, only focusing on what he can control – competing hard in every practice and preseason game, taking it Daye by day, so to speak.

“Every camp, I’ve proven myself,” he said. “I’ve been one of the best players. Even in preseason last year, I averaged the most points. Every year, I start off great. I’m not really worried about training cam. I earned a starting spot in camp two years ago. There’s no reason I can’t come out and do the same thing.”

The strength gains, he’s noticed, help him hold his ground better and enable him to finish scoring plays. So he anticipates continuing his love-hate relationship with Arnie’s monster.

“It works your legs so much – oh, my goodness, it’s the worst,” he said. “The quads, it feels like you just did 10,000 squats. It’s the worst. It’s definitely going to help me, but I hate it. I think it will be good for me, but I hate it.”