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The Trials Of Perspiration

Omer Asik and Carroll Dawson hard at work this offseason in effort to improve the 7-footer's offensive game

HOUSTON - Omer Asik is soaked in sweat. His shirt is clinging like saran wrap to his body while beads of perspiration fall from his hair, creating a miniature flood on the Toyota Center practice court floor every time he leans over to place his hands on his knees – the basketball player’s universal symbol of exhaustion.

Still, he presses on. Another dozen post-ups from the left block before sliding over to the right. Additional work at the rim, absorbing a beating with every layup and dunk in an attempt to increase his aptitude when it comes to finishing with contact. More wind sprints.

Finally, with limbs assuredly aching and fatigue shrieking at him to stop, the 7-foot Turkish center ignores his body’s pleas for mercy by bringing this two-hour workout to a close with a grim confrontation far more mental in nature than physical. Asik steps to the free throw line to test the offseason improvement he’s made against the effects of the physical duress he’s feeling. He eyes the basket, ball in one hand while futilely attempting to wipe the sweat from his brow with the other.  A flick of the wrist and swish. When the next attempt rattles in and out, however, more wind sprints beckon. Omer Asik is determined to be a better free throw shooter this year. In related news, he’ll also be in the best shape of his life.

Overseeing it all, as he has been for more than a month now, is Carroll Dawson, the Rockets former assistant coach and General Manager, and big man mentor to the stars. Dawson’s coaching resume is decorated with some of the greatest centers to ever play the game; names like Olajuwon, Malone and Yao. Asik is his latest pet project and the two men have been practically joined at the hip ever since the 26-year-old signed with Houston as a free agent in late July.  

Dawson has been doing his best to drill the fundamentals of post-play into his willing pupil, who is already a defensive demon but undoubtedly raw on the offensive end. And while he acknowledges the challenge that comes with trying to transform the instincts of a player already approaching his athletic prime, Dawson derives hope for the process from the energy and enthusiasm Asik brings to their daily workouts.

“He’s never been an offensive player,” Dawson says. “That’s a major hurdle when you’re his age. He’s 26 and you’ve got to get this in his instincts. But the way he’s so enthusiastic makes him really fun to work with. He’s a hard worker, he wants it, he picks it up well.

“I have never seen how much power this kid’s got. I’ve been behind some of the best, from Moses Malone to Olajuwon to Yao, and you can’t move this kid. He’s 295, 7-foot and he’s strong as an ox. He can get on the floor and help us defensively already. He doesn’t have to be a great offensive player. He just has to handle the situations that come to him. If he does that, he’ll be a big plus for the Rockets.”

It is that last point which is perhaps most important to keep in mind when it comes to Asik’s development going forward. While everyone involved would love to see his offensive game blossom, that’s not necessary for him to be able to make his presence felt on the court. The Rockets ardently pursued Asik because he is a defensive dynamo; a game-changer capable of shutting down the paint, the pick-and-roll and penetration thanks to his crazy combination of size, strength, length and quick feet. Any gains he makes on the offensive end of the floor are nothing more than mere icing sugar on this unique brand of Turkish Delight.

“I always say I know how I came here,” says Asik. “My first thing is always defense and rebounding. Then the other stuff coming for me, like trying to improve on offense, of course I want to play much better on offense. I also need to improve free throw shooting, too. That’s what I’ve been working (toward). That’s why I’ve also tried to get some post moves and make sure I can finish around the rim on close catches.

“We’re working everyday so that when the games come and we’re playing five-on-five I’m using those things. It’s not my instinct now because I wasn’t using the ball that much (in Chicago). It will be much different for me now and that’s why I’ve been working so hard.”

The early returns are encouraging. Dawson says Asik is devouring the drill work, showing an improved touch around the rim and hitting his free throws at a better than 70 percent clip. Of course, it’s one thing to accomplish those feats on the practice court; quite another to showcase that sort of improvement beneath the bright lights of NBA arenas. This is very much a work in progress. Significant offensive success is not something that comes overnight, or over the course of one offseason for that matter. All Asik can do is keep working, keep pushing and persevering until the floods of perspiration permeate the Rockets’ practice court, building toward that day when all these moves and all this footwork become second nature, requiring nothing more than an instinctive reaction the second the ball hits his hands in the low-post.

“After 50 years of coaching I can tell you that if they don’t have a willing heart and a willing mind to change, then there’s no point in any of this,” says Dawson. “But he does. He wants to get an offensive game. So that’s the first step and we’re over that hurdle. And I think the success we had very quickly with the free throws got him more hooked.

“He’s got to have some success with what we’re doing during games. Until that comes, who knows? Because drills are one thing; you can sit down and watch him do the drills and he does them great. But getting that into the game, getting that into his instinct, getting that into his belief where he’s got confidence in it – that’s another thing. He’s got to have some success. If we get where we can throw him the ball in the deep post and he can get us some points every now and then, that’s going to be a big plus.”