Early in the offseason, Tim DiFrancesco flew into D’Angelo Russell’s hometown of Louisville for a few days of training.
The Lakers’ Strength and Conditioning Coach didn’t touch down in Kentucky until late at night and messaged Russell that he understood if he’d rather wait until the next morning to start.
But the 20-year-old wasn’t having any of that.
“He was like, ‘No way. Why wait? Where are we going? Let’s get this work in,’” DiFrancesco said. “That’s something you can’t teach. You can only hope that the guy on the other end that you’re working with has that willingness to get work whenever, wherever, however.”
Not only did Russell complete his lifting session that night, but he also put in nearly two hours of on-court skills training immediately after. The two men didn’t leave the gym until around 1:30 a.m.
The results of Russell’s offseason regiment have been seen on the floor at the Las Vegas Summer League, where he is averaging 22.7 points through three games.
In the Lakers’ very first contest in Vegas, Russell showed off a part of his game that he has spent the whole summer working on. The 6-foot-5 point guard continuously posted up on his smaller opponents, who were unable to stop him from establishing position down low.
This, in part, stemmed from plenty of weight lifting with DiFrancesco, who labeled strength as “the biggest piece of being able to body up a guard of equal or bigger size.”
“He has such good footwork and good skill with the ball in that post position as well that it will just allow him to execute those moves,” DiFrancesco said.
DiFrancesco is taking a three-pronged approach to Russell’s summer that focuses on athleticism, strength and stability.
Though DiFrancesco stresses the importance of a balanced program, he also puts extra emphasis on building Russell’s lower body.
By keying in on “the belly button down,” the strength coach says that Russell will be able to play more physically against bigger guards that may have pushed him around as a rookie.
“He’s so crafty and sneaky with the ball in his hands that — if you then add in some lean mass into his hips and some strength and pop and power out of his hips — then he really becomes a problem,” DiFrancesco said.
And while Russell’s primary focus may be on his lower body, his goal is to show that he can stand out as an overall package.
“He really wants to be able to have people see that he’s not just like an average athlete,” DiFrancesco said. “He plays the game at a pace that maybe makes it look that way, but then he’ll catch you off guard and do something that makes you (say), ‘Did he just do that?’
“I think you’re going to see more of those instances.”