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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Staples Center Part I:

Posted by tdifranc on December 6, 2009

Well I now have my first road trip under my belt!  I can take a deep breath and now get ready for the next one!  My duties as an athletic trainer, strength coach, and travel coordinator seem to grow each day but that’s fine because I didn’t come out here to get a tan!  A road trip for 14 people (10 players, 3 coaches, and me) is not the easiest thing in the world to coordinate.  Now I have one under my belt and all the others will be easier and easier (theoretically).  Let me take you through coordinating the trip, being the athletic trainer, and being the strength coach:

We were prepared to leave for Albuquerque on Thanksgiving Day and on the night of the 25th I felt a bad sinus/ear infection coming on (this will develop when you get no sleep, barely have time to eat, and help everyone else workout without finding time for your own workouts).  I tried to ignore it but it kept me up all night!  I had prepared a minute to minute itinerary from Thursday (Thanksgiving) through Sunday night (when we were due to return).  I dropped Chris off at the bus station so he could take the bus to LA and fly to visit his brother in Phoenix.  I went back and sleep on the couch for 2 hours and then began to pack.  My ear infections were hurting and slowing me down but I was determined to not let them stop me.

Somehow I had pulled enough strings to find a sandwich shop that would make sandwiches for our lunch prior to leaving.  That wasn’t easy to do on Thanksgiving Day!  I lead the players through a lift at 10 and the sandwiches arrived and it was time to load up!  We packed the van and the suburban to the brim with bags, players, and coaches.  I was driving the suburban and one of our assistants was driving the van.  We were headed for LAX (LA International Airport).  We got on I-99 and I was moving quickly because I knew we had a schedule to stick to and I had no knowledge of LAX and how busy it would be.  Our flight was 5:25pm and we were attempting to arrive at 3:00.

I was feeling good about the lack of traffic and the 70mph speed limit and then suddenly a cop on a bike pulled out and lit up his lights!  I was going 79mph and he apparently did not like that!  It’s not my fault he was the guy who had to work on Thanksgiving Day!!!  The kicker is that the van behind me being driven by our assistant coach had stopped to wait and the cop decided to give him a ticket as well!  So the trip was off to a rough start.

With that under my belt we were officially on our way!  The trip from Bakersfield to LA requires you to go up and over the mountains in between.  My ear infection did not really like moving up into higher elevation but I was just focused on getting to the airport.  We got there perfectly on time and then unloaded two coaches and ten players for baggage check-in.  Meanwhile me and our other assistant jumped back into our team vehicles and drove them to the hotel that we were staying at when we returned from Albuquerque to park them.  We parked the vehicles and took the hotel shuttle back to the airport.  Met up with the rest of the team and boarded the plane.

The plane ride was not fun with my ear infection but finally we landed in Albuquerque!  We arrived at the hotel around 9:30pm (MST) and were ready for Thanksgiving dinner!  I had convinced the hotel to create a Thanksgiving buffet for us at 10pm and we devoured it!  The gravy was red, the turkey was in a stuffing/cranberry casserole, the tamales were warm, and the green bean casserole was made with green chilis.  It didn’t have the traditional dishes that most of us were used to but to be perfectly honest we would have eaten anything at that moment so it tasted pretty darn good!

We woke up for breakfast at 9 and then headed to the gym for a shoot-around.  The D-League gyms are anything but consistent.  D-League teams typically inhabit whatever local civic arena or large gym available.  The Albuquerque Thunderbirds call the state fairgrounds their home and in the arena a beautiful, shiny basketball court sits.  Unfortunately they run monster truck events there every time the Thunderbirds are on the road so the floor is not very sticky due to the excessive dust in the building.

I spoke briefly with their athletic trainer (from MA) and he expressed experiencing similar challenges to me in my situation and this made me feel a bit better about life in the D-League.  We came back from the shoot-around for a pre-game meal of whole wheat pasta and chicken.  Our head coach is very in tune with appropriate performance nutrition strategies and allows me the freedom to design each meal on the road.  Each player and coach gets $40.00 per day ($7 for breakfast; $13 for lunch; $20.00 for dinner).  This is slightly different than the NBA where they receive over $100.00 per day!

Our team has collectively decided to pool this money and purchase group meals on the road.  We feel that this enhances team cohesion, allows us to get better deals because we purchase in bulk/pay with cash, and finally it gives us some control over what these players are putting in their body!  They bitch and moan about it every once in a while but overall it has worked out perfectly!  I am in charge of getting us the deals from the restaurants, creating the menus, and coordinating pickup or sit-down.  We have one player who does not eat pork and one coach who only eats a vegan diet so I always must keep this in mind.  I have educated the players on the 70:30…80:20…90:10 rules and they seem to have bought into that!

What are those rules???….you ask!  Those ratios simply represent the percentage of time you are eating the right stuff vs. the wrong stuff.  Good choices vs. bad choices.  So for athletes at a high level I recommend following 80:20 most of the time and 90:10 on game day and while in heavy periods of competition.  The lower end of the ratio represents the percentage of time you make a poor choice or let it slip a bit.  When a high level athlete is truly following 90:10 this can make a good athlete a great one!  This means that out of all of the food and drink they are consuming in a day they are only making questionable decisions/choices 10% of the time while 90% of what they are consuming is high quality.

Now it was time to load up in the shuttles and head to the game.  The first game ever in the D-League for a majority of our players and coaches was about to be our only care in the world!

On game day/during the game my responsibilities are as follows:

–       Set up all meals and meal times for the day (including having a meal waiting for after the game)

–       Set up film sessions and ensure that we have a room in the hotel for that

–       Get the directions to the arena

–       Do all treatments for the day

–       Make sure we arrive at the gym 2 hours prior to tip-off

–       Do all tape jobs prior to the game

–       Bring the team through the dynamic warm-up prior to the game

–       Get the referee’s names

–       Have a water bottle under coach’s chair

–       During the game keep track of:

  • Timeouts (more complicated than you might think)
  • Team and individual player fouls for both teams
  • Free-throw attempts for both teams
  • Possession of the ball at the start of each quarter
  • Getting the white board to coach for each timeout
  • Getting the chair set for coach for each timeout
  • Getting the stats from the scorers table to the coaches during each timeout
  • Make sure the score is being put on the scoreboard correctly (more of an issue than you might think)
  • Keeping track of each injury that occurs during each game

–       After the game:

  • Ice for players
  • Meal
  • Report the schedule for the next day

So I did all of that and the rest was up to the players and coaches.  We started off great but after the first quarter it was like a slow leak in an air mattress (feels great when you first lay down but the next time you open your eyes you are laying flat on the floor and you feel like you got hit by a truck).  My head/ears became progressively worse during the game and so did our performance!  The scorers table made 5-7 mistakes on the scoreboard, I was trying to keep track of all of the above and to top it all off one of our high flying point guards fell from an impressive drive to the rim and landed on his head.  Just above his eyebrow he had a huge gash that was bleeding heavily.  So now I was using steri-strips to stitch him up as the game ended…insult to injury or injury to insult…????

After the game my ear infections had become so bad that I could not stand it any longer and I somehow convinced the hotel shuttle to take me to the ER!  Trust me – if it was bad enough for me to get myself to the ER it was BAD!  I spent the next few hours in the ER and finally got some antibiotics/pain meds on board and convinced the hotel shuttle to come pick me up, take me to a 24hr CVS, and then back to the hotel (it was 1am).  I got back to the room, packed, slept for three hours, and then woke up for breakfast/departure for our flight back to LA at 6:30 am.  WELCOME TO THE D-LEAGUE ON THE ROAD!!!!!


My best "game face"


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