A Chat With Strength and Conditioning Coach Bobby Medina

Bobby Medina Interview
February 5, 2008

"I want Portland to be the model franchise." - Bobby Medina

Last night following the Nuggets game, Ben Golliver from BlazersEdge sat down with Bobby Medina, the Trail Blazers' Strength and Conditioning Coach.   Seated on a hard bench in the Rose Garden's in-house weight room, Mr. Medina discussed his role with the organization, the development and rehabilitation of Greg Oden, the squad's unique chemistry, and what it takes to motivate young millionaires.  

BlazersEdge:  I took a look in the Media Guide and saw that you're originally from UNLV and then you found your way to the Seattle Supersonics.  How'd you end up in Portland?

The guy who hired me from UNLV was Bob Whitsitt, who was the General Manager of the Seattle Supersonics and then when he left Seattle to come to Portland, he hired me to come here.  Great man!  Great man!

Blazersedge:  Obviously, it's a new regime now.  How has that transition been for you, going from the old guard to the younger Kevin Pritchard?

It's been great, Kevin has done a lot of great things, he has a great vision for where he wants this team to go.  He always talks about the culture of the team, getting the right guys in here, and trying to do it the right way: guys that want to work, guys who are committed, guys who are going to be here for a long time, guys that we can build around...character guys.  

Blazersedge:  There was a lot of talk during the draft selection process about how the team went through the prospects point by point, trying to do a thorough job of analyzing those players.  Can you talk about your role in that process?  How did management and the coaches consult you?

Every step of the way I've been there.  Every draft pick that we bring in, I'll spend the first 45 minutes with them.  I do all of the physical testing: height, weight, body fat, wingspan, vertical jump.  They also send me to Orlando for the pre-draft combine where I get to see all of the NBA pre-draft guys and I get to spend time with these guys.  Management and the coaches always ask me, "What kind of guy is he?"  "What's your feeling on him?"  Every time we bring a free agent in or a prospective player, they always get my opinion as well.  Now I'm sure all of those things just weigh in.  It's not just my opinion that matters, but it substantiates what management is looking at.  I'm involved in every phase of that because I spend a lot of time with these guys.  I'm with these guys every single day.  

Blazersedge:  What were your first impressions of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant last spring?  When you see players that talented up close it must just be an instantaneous reaction.

I actually had the opportunity to work with Greg when he was a junior in high school at an Adidas All-American camp.  He was a specimen then.  But it's two different ends of the spectrum with those guys. With Durant, I'd never seen such an athlete.  He's a guy that makes everything look easy.  When we had him in for the workout, he was making shots.  He runs like a deer, very skilled athlete, in great condition, can do just about anything you wanted him to do.  But looking at Greg, he's just a dominant guy. He's big, he's strong, he can rebound...very skilled player.  He's a rebounder.  You can't go wrong with either guy but I think we definitely made the right choice with the guy we got.

Blazersedge:  Speaking of Greg, there's been some talk and even some concern about how big he's gotten.  Is that a concern for you or was that a non-story?

It's not a concern at all.   Greg is a great worker.  When he comes in here, he is very committed to being a great basketball player.  We are at the stage of his rehab where he can start doing a little bit more cardiovascular activity, get into some light running.  Once he gets running, he's going to lose some of that weight.  We want to get him as strong as we can.  We want to get him to be an animal.  We want him to just dominate next year.  It's been really healthy for him to see guys like Shaquille O'Neal...to see guys he's going to be going up against and see how physical it is.  Every time he sees those guys it motivates him to come in here and work harder.

Blazersedge:  Over the course of your tenure in the NBA, the players have been getting younger and younger.  Does that make your job harder or, counterintuitively, does it make it easier because you've got these guys in the program at an earlier age?

I think it makes it easier.  For a long time, we were drafting guys right out of high school or maybe one year of college and it's an advantage to me because these guys really haven't done much strength training and you can teach them the right way to do it.  I like having a young team. I like having young guys that you can bring them in and spend a lot of time with.  Their bodies are still growing and they really buy in to what we are doing.   Older guys, they are kind of limited with what they can do.  When you've got guys on the other end, like Sabonis, he can't do the athletic moves that we do with guys like LaMarcus.

Blazersedge:  How many years, in your experience, does it take a young body to acclimate to the 82 game schedule?

I think typically it takes a guy into his second year. Typically, their first year everybody hits the rookie wall.  That fatigue hits them.  In college, you don't play 4 games in 5 nights in 4 cities.  The travel, the physical demands of the NBA, affects guys.  I'm looking at Brandon now, in his second year, how he has really blossomed...how he's playing through a lot of these injuries.  You watch Brandon through the course of the game, he hits the floor 7 or 8 times.  He just understands how to take care of his body now and how to rest his body.   For me, this is LaMarcus's rookie year.  He missed a good portion of last year at the beginning and the end with his shoulder injury and then his heart condition and he's going through the rookie wall right now.  Even Greg, though he's not playing, is feeling the fatigue from the travel and the practice and the working out everyday.  It typically takes about a year.  I look at Jermaine O'Neal when he was here.  His first year he really struggled.  Once he started to get into it and he started to blossom, the rest is history.

Blazersedge:  Are we seeing that with Travis Outlaw right now too?  He's taking huge step forwards on the court.  Is that due to him completing the adjustment period that you're talking about?

Oh, sure.  With Travis, it took him a little bit longer than a year, maybe into his 3rd year, before he started to figure out that there are some things that he needs to do to take care of his body, to stay in shape, to get treatment and to rest.  

Blazersedge:  We've seen a lot of on-court chemistry from this group.  Do they work out together as well?  Do you get to see that chemistry off the court in ways that maybe the average fan doesn't get to see?

I've never been with a team that has this kind of chemistry.  They are all young guys, they all encourage each other.  To answer your question, they don't all work out together.  Some work out before the game, some work out after.  On a game day like today, we probably had 11 of our 15 guys work out. Some guys work out during shootaround, some work out before the game and you saw the guys in here afterwards.  [ed. note: LaMarcus, Travis and others.]  Tomorrow on a practice day we'll probably have anywhere from 13 to 15 guys that will work out.  It's a very individualized program but they all are in the gym encouraging each other.  When they are not on the court, when we're on road trips, you always see these guys hanging together.  You NEVER see that in the NBA.  These guys will all call each other and go to a movie or go to dinner.  I think it's helped us a lot.  Guys accept each other for they are and let each other be who they are.  Even our best player, Brandon, he's very supportive of the other guys when he's not in the game.  If it's not going well for him, he wants other guys to do well.  He just wants to win.  You don't see that in the NBA.  The NBA is very selfish.  

Blazersedge:  We hear a lot about the "Spurs Model" of the franchise and culture that Kevin Pritchard has tried to create here in Portland.  Is there a team in the NBA that has the "model" strength and conditioning program?  

I try to get input from every coach on what they do and try to pick up different ideas from different teams.  I think it all starts with the management.  San Antonio is successful because their management is supportive of everything...not only the basketball program but the strength program as well.  Utah has a great model.  They've had the same coach for a long time and they've been successful.  I think San Antonio does it the right way.  You've got to make your strength program a mandatory thing, like we do here.  You've got to have everyone buy into it.  One thing they do in San Antonio which is new in the NBA is that even though they have an older team, they will have the whole team in the gym after the game to work out and then give the whole team the next day off.  I'd like to see us get to that point.  

Right now it's mandatory for our guys to work out 10 times a month but we'll probably average 15-16 workouts per guy a month.  Some guys like Greg will get in 25-30 workouts a month.  Sergio Rodriguez broke Joel [Przybilla's] all time record last month with 33 workouts.  He was in here everyday doing stuff.  We are trying to build this right now.  I want other teams and other players when they come in here and to be impressed when they see how we're doing things. I want Portland to be the model.  I want people to say, "They have a nice facility, it's a mandatory workout program, the players are into it, they're excited about it, and the management is supportive of it."  

If the management isn't behind you, it's very tough to make it work.  Our management has done a great job of creating a great facility here in the Rose Garden and at the practice facility in Tualitan.  I think we have the best facility in the NBA. In fact, I know we do, because I've seen every other facility.  If somebody ever gets anything better than us, we're going to get it.  

Blazersedge:  Going back ten years or so, the consensus was that Michael Jordan and Karl Malone were the players in the best shape in the league.  People would point at their body fat percentages and the number of minutes they played.  Who would you consider, outside of the Blazers roster, to be the best conditioned players in the league?

I know hands down Kobe Bryant.  I've had the opportunity to work with him.  He's a relentless worker.  I've never seen a guy like him that will work as hard and as long as him.  I would put LeBron in that category too.  He's a tireless worker.  Tim Duncan, historically, stays in great shape.  He starts his workouts in early August.  Most of the Spurs stay in town and they work out with him.  He kind of controls the workouts in the summer time.  Those are three guys that would be on the top of my list.  

Blazersedge:  And they're three of the best players in the NBA.

It's no coincidence.  And I want our guys to see that.  I want our guys to see that it takes hard work to be a great player.

Blazersedge:  Last question and it's a little off-topic.  Recently, Major League Baseball and to a lesser extent, the National Football League, have had to deal with ugly situations regarding Performance Enhancing Drugs, Steroids and Human Growth Hormone.  Somehow, the NBA has been able to completely dodge that bullet.  Why is this?  Is it because of the nature of these drugs, a successful league testing policy, or something else?

I think basketball players want to maintain their athleticism.  They don't really want to be big, bulky guys.  So they're kind of afraid to take that stuff.  The testosterone, the HGH, that's not really in their game.  They want to just be agile, athletic.  In my time--this is my 17th year in the NBA--I've never had any of that, or guys even asking about it.  And the NBA does test.  And the guys know that.  But for the most part when our guys come in to the gym you don't see record boards in here.  You don't see who benches or squats the most.  They just want to be healthy and to be better basketball players.  The things we do in here are to maintain that athleticism, maintain that flexibility, maintain their explosiveness.  I've been very fortunate. I've never had a guy I even suspected of doing it.  I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but I've never run across it personally.

Many thanks to Mr. Medina for taking the time to give such thoughtful answers to our questions and thanks to Ben for conducting the interview!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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