Thunder Trainer Joe Sharpe Aiding Team USA
There is a fifth member of the Thunder organization who is playing a prominent role in the Olympic Games.
By now Thunder fans know that Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are all competing for the United States and Serge Ibaka is playing for Spain in the Olympics, but many may not realize that Thunder trainer Joe Sharpe is also in London with Team USA.
Sharpe has been working with the squad ever since the journey began at training camp in Las Vegas in early July, and will continue to work with the players throughout its pursuit of the gold medal in London. The Bedford, Va. native worked with the UConn Huskies basketball program for many years, including in 1999 when the Huskies won the national championship. In 2002, he joined the NBA ranks as an assistant athletic trainer for the Minnesota Timberwolves before becoming the head athletic trainer for the Charlotte Bobcats. Six years later, Thunder General Manager Sam Presti offered Sharpe the head athletic trainer position with the Thunder, and he has been an integral part of the organization ever since.
During his time at UConn, Sharpe made connections with men’s national team director Sean Ford at USA Basketball through Connecticut’s athletic director Tom McElroy. That relationship helped him land a spot with the USA U-18 team, where he was the trainer and worked with America’s budding stars, including current Team USA-ers Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams. Since then, Sharpe’s relationship with USA Basketball has grown stronger, culminating in the opportunity this summer in London.
Now, he helps oversee the physical health of all 12 players on the American Olympic roster, monitoring how their bodies respond to the daily stresses put on them during Team USA games and practices. Whether it’s taping ankles or wrists, helping players through stretching routines or assessing injuries, Sharpe is in tune with every player on the roster.
“I care for the athlete the best I possibly can,” Sharpe said.
It helps that Sharpe has a prior relationship with six out of the 12 American players on the roster. While his connection to Durant, Westbrook and Harden is deeper and more thorough than the ones he shares with Iguodala, Anthony and Williams from their U-18 days, the familiarity Sharpe has with one-half of Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad makes for an easy working relationship.
As for the other six players – Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis – Sharpe believes that as the march towards London and the Olympics continues, his relationship with every player on the team will grow.
“It’s just a matter of being patient,” Sharpe said. “I know I’m a new face to a lot of people, as well as they’re new faces to me. I have to basically wait and let them adjust over time. It helps when you have three guys you care for year round and they trust you. These players talk to each other a lot more than people realize, so that helps too.”
Chemistry among the players who are thrust into a national team setting with only a few weeks to gel and work together on a gameplan is always a topic of conversation when it comes to international competition, but trainers like Sharpe are also entering uncharted waters. In a matter of days and weeks, it is Sharpe’s job to get to know the players, their bodies and their lingering injuries in order to have the requisite amount of information necessary to care for the athletes. A major part of that process is maintaining an open line of dialogue with each player’s NBA team’s trainer.
“The other responsibility is to communicate with the other co-workers who are colleagues in the league who aren’t here to see their players and what they’re going through,” Sharpe said. “If there is a problem that should arise, the first thing I’d do is one, let our coaches know and then let their medical staff from their particular team know.”
During practices and games he is focused solely on the health of the players on the court and attending to those on the bench, but Sharpe did admit that he’s thought about how special this opportunity is. Not many people get the chance to travel to Europe, let alone be along for the ride with one of the world’s most popular groups of players competing on the grandest stage in the world, the Olympics.
“It’s great fun,” Sharpe said. “Guys are great. It’s a great story to tell my kids when they’re older and hopefully my grandkids, if that should happen.”