Basketball season is back! I don’t care if it’s only preseason games, or if the Warriors are probably going to win it again this year—I’m just excited to watch basketball again.
Playoffs are great and always entertaining, and the offseason has its peaks, but the start of the season surpasses them. It’s the only moment during the year that there’s a collective intrigue by the whole league. No fan base has lost hope yet and anything could still happen.
Training camp is an exciting time for fans, but the players also feel that energy. In my eight professional years playing ball, the excitement to get started never deteriorated. I was as giddy about year eight as I was year one.
The offseason breaks were always much needed. I took two weeks at the beginning to travel and refocus, but after the two-week break, entire offseason were spent working. I always came up with new drills, new workouts, and new diets that made me better. I loved the training part. But it wasn’t the training I loved...it was the moment I was able to show off my work when the season started.
I had a couple of teammates I played with for multiple years. We turned our offseason workouts into a healthy competition. The work we put in that summer was to help become a better player, of course, but I would be lying to say I wasn’t thinking about showing up teammates when I walked in.
The first week of practice was all about comparing each other’s improvements. We had to take body fat tests which we—of course—compared and mocked accordingly.
We also did strength testing. One season, we started the testing by squatting 145 pounds eight times. Then we added 10 pounds and squatted eight more, then again. The point was to keep doing eight reps and adding ten more pounds until we could no longer complete eight reps. There is no motivation like competition. It took all day before everyone finally quit.
Conditioning was more of the same, filled with playful taunting like, “Who didn’t do their homework this summer?” when guys were struggling. It was all in good fun and friendly competition, but it was incredible motivation. No one ever wanted to be the unprofessional guy who came into the season out of shape. Consequently, the conditioning drills before the season were never as hard as the drills we put ourselves through in the offseason.
Our summer work wasn’t just inspired by an opportunity to taunt our teammates. Dreams of a breakout season are all in play on day one. No one comes to camp expecting to be a bench player, even if they have been told that they may be. What if they dominate in practice? What if they catch fire for a week and earn a starting spot? It happens sometimes, so why not now? Why not them?
It’s similar to the feeling each fan base has before the NCAA tournament. Everyone believes it could be their team that makes the historic run no matter what seed they are—because it happens (maybe not so much in the NBA, but you get the point). The preseason brings that same feeling, both as an individual and as a team. The best case scenarios become realistic.
The first couple practices are always the most competitive. The players know lineups are never set in stone at this point and it’s easier to convince a coach and teammates on a first impression than a second. Reputations are being changed and validated. Players are trying to set a precedent for the season.
The coaches and leaders are doing the same. Starting the season with good habits and a good mentality is critical. I had a lot of coaches who were more vocal in the first practice than any other. Personally, when I coached, I preferred to see who brought it and more importantly, who didn’t. If a player isn’t hyped and ready for the first practice of the season without me pushing them, I wanted to know it.
As much boasting and comparing as there may be, and as much as it matters to get off to a strong start and grab your spot in the lineup, the best part about the beginning of the season is being back with the team, working towards a common goal, and doing what we love.
Offseasons provide a nice break, but I was always impatiently waiting for the season to start a good month or so before it began. The preparation is vital to success, but no workouts can replace the actual thing. It was like spending two months studying and researching your NBA fantasy draft. Sure it’s important to do, but you can only prepare for so long until you start checking the calendar every day. The offseason can be like a vacation you stayed too long on.
The competition, the comradery, the feeling of accomplishment; you miss it when it’s gone. That’s what the beginning of the season means for the players—it’s getting all of that back.
...then again, for those who had more beers during the summer than workouts, I’d imagine they would probably beg to differ.