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Sheppard, Medina on restart preparations, goals for Orlando and activism
On Monday, Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard and Chief of Athlete Care and Performance Daniel Medina addressed the media in a Zoom press conference for nearly an hour. Sheppard and Medina covered everything about the Wizards’ return, including preparations from a health and medical perspective, roster updates, on- and off-court goals for the team during the restart, activism opportunities and more. Below are five key takeaways from Sheppard and Medina’s availability.
THE “RAMP-UP” PROCESS
Sheppard and Medina opened by talking about how different the last few weeks – and the weeks upcoming – have been compared to a normal training camp or practice setting.
“This is a different, unique ramp-up,” Sheppard said. “We’ve had lockouts in the NBA where guys were separated from basketball due to injury or something, but nothing where the entire league really has not played a game at all during this entire stretch…When you have such a unique time, you have to have a unique ramp-up. We’re really relying on our performance staff and their advice on how to best ramp up. We rely on them because they are the very best at what they do, and they have been great for us.”
Sheppard credited the players and staff for their hard work during the hiatus to keep the team in top condition. Over the last three months, the Wizards have stayed connected and stayed active, though from a distance – and while their efforts to stay in shape have certainly streamlined the preparation and training process, nothing can truly get a player in basketball shape like playing basketball.
“We came out of the (COVID-19 hiatus) in pretty good shape,” Sheppard said. “(In terms of cardio), everybody is a good place. Weight wise, everything is normal. But they haven’t played basketball and that is totally different. The physical demand of playing basketball is different than running on a treadmill, doing Peloton and doing workouts in your garage and on Zoom. We have to allow for that, and we have to build up.”
AN UPDATE ON JOHN WALL
“(John Wall) is not going to join us in Orlando,” Sheppard said.
“His program is a continuation of what he’s been doing here,” Medina said. “He’s been fantastic keeping his weight and being active during this period. This will be a continuation of the work and the plan that we have had for him. He’s in permanent supervision with our team, coaches, (physical therapists), athletic trainers, everyone. We’re going to make sure he has his body and mind at the highest level for a safe and successful return when he comes back.”
Wall’s progress over the last handful of months has been well-documented. He’s scrimmaged with the Wizards’ G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go, practiced with the Wizards and was a constant presence around the facility getting in high-intensity workouts as he worked his way back to full health. Sheppard and Medina noted that Wall’s focus on training, rather than competitive game play, over the next couple months is not only best for him, but falls in line with the team and league’s emphasis on minimizing risk inside the NBA’s Orlando bubble.
“Having somebody go into that bubble that’s not going to play is just more people going into the bubble,” Sheppard said. “I think the NBA is very cognizant of how important it is that we have a very small group of people in that bubble…I don’t think it’s wise to have people in that would be around the team that aren’t playing. Just for the possibility of the extra exposure.”
Sheppard made clear, however, that Wall not traveling with the team has not stopped the All-NBA guard from staying involved with the team from a distance.
“His leadership is felt every day, Sheppard said. “He’s jumping in, texting guys and calling guys. He’s been on Zoom calls with the team as we’re preparing for this. We hear from him, we see him, and we know what he’s doing.”
Sheppard expressed full confidence in Wall’s ability to use this time to his advantage as he preps for a return next season.
“The last thing I ever have to worry about is John Wall’s work ethic,” Sheppard said.
CONSTRUCTING THE TEAM’S 35-PERSON TRAVEL PARTY
For each team participating in the league’s restart in Orlando, one of the first things on the to-do list has been to determine who will be making the trip to Walt Disney World Resort. Each team will be allowed to bring 35 people, players included. Within that framework comes plenty of opportunity for strategy as team’s pick and choose the number of players, coaches, trainers, development staffers, security and front office workers who will make the trip. Sheppard expanded on the Wizards’ plan for their travel party, but stressed that the list is subject to change as the training process plays out.
“For us, you want to take as many healthy players as possible,” Sheppard said. “The final list is still a work in progress. We’re going to take anywhere from 15 to 16 players. Obviously, Davis (Bertans) isn’t going to go. John (Wall) won’t go. Then we’re probably going to have eight coaches, seven medical (staffers) and then some additional positions. I will go, we have a security person, an athletic trainer – PR has a couple folks going. Who those people are going to be kind of depends on how these next couple weeks go. We are assuming that everybody that we have listed today, they’re going to be healthy and they will go. But you have to be able to think logically and that if something doesn’t work, if somebody contracted the virus, that you have somebody ready to go just in case. So these are our 35 today.”
“We are going to over-index on medical staff to make sure we have the best health and care possible for our player as they’re going through training camp,” Sheppard said. “(Medina’s) staff will be represented by seven people there. Comparing notes with most of the people around the league, that’s about what everybody’s doing.”
“WE ARE GOING THERE TO WIN GAMES.”
The league’s restart in Orlando will provide plenty of opportunity for development of young players and for lesser-known names to make an impression on a huge stage. With games packed tightly on the schedule and a handful of players around the league opting out of participation, it’s likely that teams will be running deeper rotations than they may have back before the league’s suspension. While there will be plenty to take from a development perspective, Sheppard made it very clear where the Wizards’ focus will be in Orlando.
“We’re going there to win games,” Sheppard said. “We’re going there to try to make the playoffs. That’s 100% our goal.”
The Wizards’ GM emphasized how great an opportunity it is to be able to play in Orlando, but also touched on how challenging it would be had the team not been included – staring down nearly nine months off between competitive games.
“If we didn’t have this opportunity, our next regular season game would be in December,” Sheppard said. “And possibly late December. The idea of not playing basketball that long, I don’t even want to think about that. For us, it’s all about gratitude that we do have the opportunity to train, get ready, to go there, to have another training camp, to play the eight games, to get that opportunity to go through the playoffs – that’s a tremendous opportunity for us. Going back to the young guys, you usually can find out how a player truly is with how they respond to pressure situations. This is a pressure situation.”
A CONTINUATION OF THE TEAM’S SOCIAL JUSTICE EFFORTS
Sheppard closed the press conference with a message on the organization’s social justice efforts in the last month, thanking those who helped make them possible and stressing the importance of using the platform the team will have in Orlando to continue to drive change.
“One very important thing that we will be able to do in Orlando is continue (to use) our social justice platform,” Sheppard said. “Our players will be really free to speak on issues that are important to them. We’ve done a great job here. I can’t say enough about the contributions from Sashi Brown, John Thompson III, Sashia Jones – everybody that had anything to do with our players and the demonstration they did (on Juneteenth) with the Mystics, but also all the other events leading up to that and certainly the months ahead of us.”
“The players will have the freedom to do so many things in Orlando also and continue to raise that platform,” Sheppard continued. “We look forward to hearing from them and their programs that we support 100%. I think one thing that we continue to do is gain wisdom, get knowledge, and get educated exactly on what the issues are and how we can best serve moving forward to impact change. If it’s getting involved and getting a vote out, if it’s getting involved in local governments and how we can best educate everybody to the welfare of the whole. This is a very, very big opportunity. And the NBA has supported that for all of our players, and I think the Washington Wizards and Washington Mystics, specifically, have walked that walk. They’re challenging each other and holding all of us accountable to our actions moving forward.”