Bayno Expects Breakout Year For Pekovic

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Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Bill Bayno could see the difference immediately. When the Wolves assistant coach got off his plane to Montenegro in August for a two-week training session Nikola Pekovic, the first thing he was looking for was how the center’s body looked after an offseason trying to cut weight.

It was a message the coaching staff and trainers preached to Pekovic as he left Minnesota last season. Already set to undergo surgery for bone spurs in his right ankle in May, the Wolves’ staff made it clear in order to stay healthy in an 82-game season where he’d likely log even more minutes, he’d need to get lighter and build his core and lower body strength.

With Pekovic, ask and you shall receive.

“That’s what I love about Pek,” Bayno said. “He’s such a coachable kid. He’s as high an IQ player we have. You tell him to do something one time, you do it one time, and he does it immediately. That’s what makes him fun to work with, and I think the sky’s the limit for him. I think he could have a breakout year and be better than anyone expects.”

Bayno and Pekovic spent two weeks together training two to three hours each day in preparation for this fall’s Training Camp. The objective was to build on the skill set Pekovic already has and expand in some areas they didn’t quite have enough time to master during the shortened lockout season a year ago—in particular his ability to finish with his left hand, something opposing teams honed in on in their scouting reports.

After Pekovic was cleared to begin basketball activity following his surgery, he and Bayno talked about connecting after Summer League and really working on giving himself a good training base heading into camp.

The two would warm up with continuous repetition of moves on each block without a defense, drilling the type of footwork Pek will use throughout the season. Then they’d move to scripted moves, where Bayno would defend wearing his well-known arm pads, tell Pekovic where he was going to push him and describe how he wanted Pekovic to counter. They’d do live drills, full of physicality and fouling, as well as extensive rebounding drills tailored to help the 6-foot-11 center work on adjusting to the ball and putting it back with his left hand.

“It was great, we had a great time,” Pekovic said. “We had to work on a lot of things, so just like I say when the season starts we’ll see how it’s going to be.”

The difference this season could be pretty visible for Wolves fans. Not only is Pekovic slimmer and trimmer, but Bayno said he expects him to be more agile on the court. With his drill work in Montenegro, coupled with the hours he’s putting in leading into Training Camp in early October, Pekovic continues to log time working on finishing with that left hand. He’s working on fade jumpers and finishing around the basket.

One thing Bayno loves about Pekovic’s game is his old-school mentality around the rim—something that won’t change heading into 2012-13.

“Pek’s a little unique in that he loves the paint,” Bayno said. “He loves to go in that paint and punish people and takes hits. You don’t find that very often. A lot of guys now want to shoot jump shots. He’s unique there. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a guy like Pek.”

Pekovic said while he’s fine-tuning parts of his game, the hard-nosed, physical player he was last season will not go away. Even after he’s dropped 8-9 pounds, mostly gaining muscle and making his body leaner in the offseason, he said his ability to go head-to-head with anyone in the paint will not change.

“I’m going to play the same game I was playing,” Pekovic said. “That’s what I’m doing all my life. I was just trying, you know…to push myself to the limit to see what I could do in the summer. I know that I will be fine. I know this is going to help me a lot [more] than before. It’s going to help me stay more on the court.”

Only this year, he’s hoping his body will be able to handle the workload and feel better throughout the season.

“You can see immediately a bigger difference,” Pekovic said. “I know that all the coaches in the coaching staff were telling me I’d feel way better if I lost some pounds. The last two years, especially my first year, I gained too much and I could feel it in every part of my body. Now I try to keep myself in shape, keep myself ready for playing.”

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