Editor's note: This season, journalism major Marcus Paige will be writing an exclusive first-person column for CAROLINA magazine and GoHeels.com on a monthly basis.
By Marcus Paige
When I first came to Carolina, I thought of "conditioning" as running line drills over and over in practice. That's what we do in practice, and that's what I was used to doing in high school.
I never thought, for example, that weightlifting had anything to do with conditioning. But every day before we condition we lift for an hour. That makes a big difference. What you do leading up to conditioning can be just as tough as what you do in conditioning.
Our strength coach, Jonas Sahratian, gets pretty creative with our conditioning. The most fun day we've ever had, which was also one of the most challenging, was last year when we did sand workouts on the volleyball courts. He set up obstacle courses and we had to chase each other around, and we had a bunch of competitive sprints in the sand. It was really hot and it was really difficult, but it was by far the most fun we have had in conditioning.
When I know it's a conditioning day, I think about it all day. We don't know exactly what the workout will be until we get to the Smith Center. Last week, I texted Jonas in the morning and asked, "What's it going to be today?" He just wrote back, "Court." That's when I knew we were in for a battle. When I saw some of my teammates, I told them, and I thought about it the rest of the day.
When I know it's going to be a tough day, I pay more attention to hydrating. I keep my water bottle with me and refill it a bunch of times. Sometimes, I even find myself thinking about it during class. Ultimately, we only do conditioning for a couple of weeks, so every day is important.
It's important physically, but it's also important because it's easy to see who takes pride in pushing themselves. A lot of things we do are timed, and certain guys are gifted enough to make the times without a lot of effort. You can see who the real athletes on the team are, and I am not one of those. I learned that very quickly. Guys like Nate (Britt) and J.P. (Tokoto) who are so athletic, you see that on the basketball court, but it's a very different kind of athleticism to watch in conditioning.
It puts me in a different position than I'm in when we are playing basketball. On the court, I feel like I can lead from the front, both vocally and with my actions. That's easier for me, because when we're playing, I feel like that's where I excel. But in conditioning, I'm not as physically gifted as some of the other guys. I can't lead by winning every sprint. I have to lead by giving maximum effort and pushing guys who I know might need an extra push.
With our style of play, there's no question that conditioning is very important for us. But I really don't look back on it much during games. In games, I'll usually think, "OK, there is this much time left until the next TV timeout, I can grind for another minute and a half."
In practice, though, I definitely think about the conditioning we've done. If Coach Williams is wearing us out with 33s, I'll think to myself, "This is not as hard as the circuits we did." Or if we're doing a box out or defense drill, I'll think, "This isn't as bad as the sand workouts." We run more in practice than we do in the games.
Sometimes, when we go out to the track for another conditioning workout, you might hear one of the guys say, "Come on, we're not track athletes, we're basketball athletes." That's a different kind of athlete. Truthfully, there have been times I've been in the group that might say that. The reason is pretty obvious: I'm not the fastest guy on the team. If I was the fastest, I'd love going to the track.
What I have learned during my three years of preseason conditioning, though, is that it is really tough when we're actually doing it. But once practice starts on Saturday morning, that's when we're going to appreciate that we went through it.