The Curriculum of Training Camp Practices

When the doors to practice at the Integris Health Thunder Development Center opened up on Wednesday, there was a flurry of activity all across the court. Whether it was players in one-on-one sessions or at shooting stations, each player was in perpetual motion.

The most interesting aspect of the entire scene, however, was that there was at least one member of the Thunder coaching staff at each basket facilitating the drill and helping it operate smoothly. Even though practice had technically already ended, the squad took up every basket in the gym with slide steps, dribbles and jump shots. Eric Maynor was one of the four point guards shooting three-pointers at one hoop, and he said there’s no surprise as to why so much action was still occurring on the court.

“That’s what it’s about, that’s what you’re going to see every day you walk in here - somebody trying to get better, somebody doing something,” Maynor said. “We got out of practice and it was a hard day but we all go to stations to get some work in and try to get better.”

Maynor credited the coaching staff for organizing practice in such a way that it is “smooth” for players young and old to come in and know exactly what to expect. In a way, Head Coach Scott Brooks said that he feels like a professor or school teacher because of the way he and his staff has a curriculum for training camp – hoping to get through all the material by the time the season starts. While there’s certainly a plan in place, the nuances of coaching dictate that some topics where the team can move on quickly and others where it needs to spend more time.

“You have to have your thoughts and you have to have your game plan and be prepared, but you also have to have the feel,” Brooks said. “We’ve been around a while now. They are familiar with one another and what we do. So it does make the transition of training camp go much smoother, but we still have to improve. We set out to be a better team, be better players and that’s why training camp, the 30 days, has always been important to us.”

To core members of the team like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison who have been in Oklahoma City for multiple years, the familiarity with Brooks’ methods makes switching gears into training camp mode easy. It also is beneficial for young players like second-year man Reggie Jackson, who despite not having a training camp last season, he was totally prepared for camp because Brooks is consistent with how practices are run now and in the regular season.

“I think Scotty’s practices, the way he has it set up is just perfect,” Jackson said. “You’re not focused on time, you’re just focused on getting better and focused on competing.”

While Brooks has a majority of the focus, he’s not the only one responsible for the rigorous yet prudently planned practices that take place throughout the year. Assistant coaches Mo Cheeks, Mark Bryant, Rex Kalamian and Brian Keefe, along with other support staff work diligently to be fully prepared for each part of practice, then assess which areas were most and least effective.

“We spend a lot of time preparing our practices and our practice plans,” Brooks said. Then we go back on the things that we did that day and going forward things that we need to work on. Our staff does a good job of staying involved and staying engaged into players’ development. We’ve always felt that that has always been our bread and butter - to make our players better. Our staff takes a lot of pride, our organization takes a lot of pride in developing players.”

Brooks didn’t go into specific practice details but it is clear since he has been at the helm that the Thunder considers defense its primary focus. While clearly the squad has some extremely talented skill on the offensive end, it is in training camp practices like these early in the season where Brooks and his staff can set the tone for the year. Most of the players already have a sense of the Thunder’s philosophy and defensive mindset, and those veterans help the coaching staff reinforce the team’s plan for the season with each day’s work.

“We definitely feel like we have a pretty good base, a pretty good foundation of the system in place,” Brooks said. “Like anything else, we’re always trying to figure out ways to improve it and sometimes we feel like it is good and we keep it with what we’ve done in the past.”