Hard Work Continues in Manchester


When opponents manage to enter the lane against the Thunder’s defense, there’s always a slight hesitation before the shot goes up. In the back of their mind, they’re worried about one man- Serge Ibaka.

The league’s leader in blocked shots per game each of the past three seasons comes into his fifth NBA year with the same driven mindset that brought him out of the Congo, into the professional ranks in Spain and eventually to the Thunder. His prowess is on the defensive end, which is why he wants to perfect his craft in a multitude of ways. With his leadership on that side of the floor, Ibaka hopes to elevate the defense as a whole.

“I want to talk about defensive rebounding,” Ibaka explained. “I’m sure we need to improve that. It’s something we need to focus on this year, and also playing one-on-one in the post. That’s something we’ll try to really be focused on too.”

Ibaka has also been working hard this summer to improve his all-around game and become a complete player. By refining his ball-handling skills, his basketball IQ and shooting touch from various parts of the floor, Ibaka wants to continue his offensive ascent.

“I’ve been working my game to create my shot,” Ibaka said. “I’ve been working on putting the ball on the floor with post moves. I’m sure I will be better than last year because I put in a lot of work this summer.”

As a core member of the Thunder, Ibaka has an investment in the organization’s overall success. From representing the team abroad with Basketball Without Borders to immediately visiting those affected by the May tornadoes in the Oklahoma City area, Ibaka always tries to give back. After battling through his own difficult journey, Ibaka has an appreciation for citizens like those in Oklahoma who persevere despite challenges and obstacles.

“I always think about where I come from,” Ibaka said. “I always think about how those people are living with those problems. That’s why I go whenever I get a chance to help them, because I know how it feels. I enjoy doing it.”

MANCHESTER -- Istanbul’s beauty and cultural intrigue has been matched by the positive spirit and familiarity of Manchester, but in both places the Thunder has maintained focus and managed its time effectively.

Even in the midst of this week-long, two-city European swing for the Thunder during training camp, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team has kept an even keel and stayed consistent with its working habits. This month of October, after all, is completely geared towards individual and team-wide growth and development as Brooks and his staff tries to build a full unit of players who work well together. The trip has been an incredible bonding opportunity, and as players said Monday at the team’s practice session at Phones 4u Arena in Manchester, it has also been a productive trip from a basketball standpoint.

“It’s been fun,” guard Thabo Sefolosha said. “But we’re a team that every time we step on the basketball court, it’s about business.”

Before the Thunder got on the court and began to stretch and warm up, it took part in a film session to go over some areas to correct after its 95-82 victory over Fenerbahce on Saturday night. While it was only one preseason game and the first time the Thunder played an actual opponent after only four full days of practice, the film session allowed the Thunder to get a baseline reading of where it is as a team and as individuals. Team leaders like Nick Collison, Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins can use opportunities like those film sessions and practices to help the team be collectively accountable for its performances.

“It’s good to have some sort of reference point to watch film and go from there,” Collison said. “We watched some film before and it’ll be good for us.”

“There are definitely things we need to work on,” Durant said. “Coach (Brooks) does a great job in film sessions and not showing us good plays at all and giving us the stuff we did badly. Guys want to be better. That’s the best part about our group. We want to get better and we don’t take anything personally. We talk things through.”

Specifically, the Thunder wants to continue building the habits that make up its core philosophy of sharing the basketball, playing smart team defense and giving perfect effort regardless of circumstances. As Brooks took a look at Saturday night’s contest with his staff, there are also a few other areas where the team will focus as the month of October rolls along.

“We still need to play with a better pace offensively and get into our offense much quicker,” Brooks explained. “From a technical standpoint we need to do a better job closing out on their shooters and not allowing easy drives. Those are things we’ll work on as this month unfolds.”

While some of the major components of the game are areas where the Thunder has found success in the recent past, as evidenced by its top-three ranking in both offense and defense last season, the team must work every day to maintain those skills. In addition, the team continues to delve deeper into the minute details of the game that can go a long way towards on-court success. As a veteran who has won a championship, Perkins can attest that it’s the parts of the game that don’t show up on the stat sheet that can make the difference between winning and losing.

That’s the attitude the Thunder takes during every practice, film session, shoot-around and game and it all starts by setting that as the standard in training camp.

“We go out there and just try to clean up,” Perkins said. “The championship teams pay close attention to the little things. Are you going to set a screen? Are you going to space to the corner when you need to? Are you going to make the hockey assist and not try to make the homerun pass? Are you going to take good care of the ball? It’s the little things that matter. Great teams do the little things better than everybody else.”