Hoop players flock to Las Vegas coach’s old-school approach
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Being a basketball trainer is big business right now.
NBA fans using social media can look for updates throughout the offseason, when most players post video clips of their daily workouts.
Players talk about expanding their bag of tricks, adding new moves and showing off the work they’re doing to make it happen.
Such hype videos usually include the players’ personal trainers — the ones throwing tennis balls at the players while they dribble through cones, or making them juggle Gatorade bottles as they shoot one-handed jumpers. Gurus to the stars. It’s all part of the show.
Not in a nondescript business plaza on the west side of Las Vegas. The only indication anything extraordinary might be going on? A small collection of high-end sports cars parked outside a blank storefront.
Next to a furniture warehouse is the Hoop City gym, home to Impact Basketball. It’s almost impossible to spot. Yet dozens of the best basketball players in the world work out there every summer.
On a Monday morning in September, Kyle Lowry of the reigning champion Toronto Raptors is pouring sweat as he runs pick-and-pops at full speed.
Setting the screens is Philadelphia 76ers center Kyle O’Quinn. Lowry runs off the pick and flings a hook pass to O’Quinn, and the big man sticks a jumper. Over and over again.
It’s not pretty. Lowry and O’Quinn are gasping for air and pushing themselves to complete the circuit. The work is real, not staged for Instagram. There are no cameras recording.
Joe Abunassar prefers it that way. As the founder and owner of Impact, Abunassar has spent more than a decade building one of the most impressive client rosters in the business — Kevin Garnett, Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince were some of the first to train with him. He has done it without posting his workouts on Snapchat.
“That’s not us,” Abunassar tells the Las Vegas Sun . “We don’t Instagram every day and put our workouts on video. I don’t have any interest in having a YouTube channel.”
Abunassar has built his business with the idea that top-level players will recognize legitimate training methods when they see them. A former assistant college basketball coach, he founded the IMG basketball academy in Bradenton, Florida, around the turn of the century, then began focusing on individual training as more elite players gravitated to his regimen.
After a few years, his roster expanded to the point where he had to make a move in order to keep everyone happy.
“Many of the pro guys didn’t really want to go to Sarasota, Florida, anymore,” Abunassar says with a laugh. “So Chauncey Billups, Tyronn Lue, Tayshaun Prince — my original clients — we talked about where we could open up something, and Las Vegas was the perfect location. The pros like being here, (and) not just for the Strip. A lot of them have bought homes out here.”
Abunassar took his services to Las Vegas in 2006, relying on word-of-mouth to attract players. This summer, he says, 75 to 100 professional ballers have come through his gym for workouts.
O’Quinn has been training with Abunassar since his days at Norfolk State in 2009.
“I trust Joe with my career,” O’Quinn says. “This is my 10th summer coming here, and he knows my body better than anybody. I came here in college, and I met some of the guys that were already here. You want a career like theirs. That’s what Joe does here. He knows how to get us prepared for training camp. It’s good, trusted work.”
As Lowry and O’Quinn go through their morning paces, WNBA star Lexie Brown and longtime European league stalwart Tremmell Darden take turns running a full-court fast break. All told, there are five Impact staffers, not including Abunassar, conducting the workout.
Darden swears by Abunassar’s individualized training program. A Las Vegas native, he went undrafted out of Niagara University in 2004 and made his way to Europe. He hooked up with Abunassar early in his professional career and has stuck with the program ever since. Now 37, Darden is the type of no-nonsense player who appreciates a straightforward atmosphere as he puts in his summer work.
“You have to have a social media presence to get the younger generation, but veterans and players that have been here for years understand this is championship, high-level training,” Darden says. “It’s not a lot of gimmicks. The things we do here are game situations, game speed, game tempo. Even in our pickups we have referees. We have defensive three seconds. It’s low-key, but at the same time, the vets who have been here and the pros who have been here know it’s proven results.”
Abunassar is based in Las Vegas full time from April through September. Once NBA training camps begin, he migrates to his Los Angeles office and spends much of his time flying to different locations to meet with clients who want year-round training.
What his clients don’t want, generally, is offseason attention from the outside world. When Lowry and O’Quinn wrap their workout, they walk to their cars and drive away without fanfare.
Abunassar remains confident in his no-frills approach.
“It’s not about grabbing five NBA guys and training them and putting it on social media,” he says. “It’s about building a business and understanding that what we provide for NBA players is very legitimate. They’ll find us.”
Information from: Las Vegas Sun, http://www.lasvegassun.com