Leadership Through Competitiveness
Over the past week of training camp practices, the Thunder has engaged in everything from one-on-one drills to conditioning work to full on scrimmaging. In all aspects of these practices, the Thunder has maintained a high level of energy, intensity and focus. The preparation of the coaching staff and the rhythm players carried over from their offseason workouts have been major factors in creating efficient, effective practices.
In the quest for each player, and thus the entire team, to improve over the next few weeks before the regular season begins, Brooks wants his club to continue working as hard as possible, against one another, yet in a constructive way.
“It’s very important that our guys compete against each other in practice, Brooks said. “There’s a lot of things I like about our group and that has to be right there at the top. They compete, they challenge, they push.”
Brooks said that he felt Monday’s two-and-a-half hour practice session was perhaps the most physical his team has been all October, citing that while his players are close friends, there’s no “buddy ball” on the floor at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center. The requisite attitude to improve partly consists of a competitive streak that Thunder players use to challenge themselves and their teammates.
For young players like Cole Aldrich, it might have been difficult to find the correct balance when entering the NBA, but with veteran team leaders like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison to guide him, the transition has been easy.
“They’re great,” Aldrich said. “With Nick and Perk, those guys, especially being big guys, they expect a lot out of you. They make sure the intensity, the level of work is always high because they’ve been here, they’ve done it… It’s all ears to them. Those are the guys you really listen to and you respect.”
The vocal leadership displayed by the two veterans isn’t unique to Perkins and Collison. In fact, according to guard Daequan Cook, young, emerging leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are developing their skills as vocal leaders during this training camp. While the most valuable contributions in helping others know what to do comes from Durant’s work ethic and Westbrook’s relentless hustle, Cook believes the enhanced communication will help as well.
“A lot of guys are more vocal this year,” Cook said. That’s important. Most times you want to lead by action, but a lot of guys are more vocal, teaching a lot better this year. We have about four or five new guys on the team, so we just want to teach them and make sure they know their roles on this team and know the spots to be in on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.”
Communicating is always an essential part of playing successful basketball on both the offensive and defensive ends. With players like Thabo Sefolosha from Switzerland, Hasheem Thabeet from Tanzania and Serge Ibaka from the Congo, along with the wide-ranging personalities of players up and down the roster, it is up to Brooks to make it all work.
“That’s the exciting part of the job,” Brooks said. “You have to be able to figure out the personalities, figure out the tendencies on both ends of the floor and put it all together… I like physical play, I like tough-minded basketball and it’s how we win games. With all the personalities, we want guys to really compete and push each other and play motivated basketball and we do that.”
Not only do Brooks, his staff and the team leaders ensure that all of the personalities mesh appropriately and that the players work together to collectively improve, but they all enjoy the process too. The team’s overall youth, positive energy and the variety of individual life experiences makes the Thunder a unique bunch, and a group that each player treats like a family.
“There’s always a laugh,” Aldrich said. “Somebody is always making somebody laugh. It’s fun because everybody gets along. With so many different personalities, it’s a huge family. Everybody loves each other, everybody comes in and works hard and that’s the way our team is.”