By Adam Lucas
Carolina won’t officially take the court for the first day of 2016-17 practice until Oct. 3. But every Tar Heel was on the Smith Center hardwood on Monday afternoon for the fourth day of team conditioning.
Strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian varies the assignments during the conditioning period. In the previous three sessions, the team had run hills, run 12 33’s (a 33 is three down-and-backs the length of the court in 33 seconds or less), and then done tempo work on a field near the Smith Center. Monday might have been the toughest yet, as it incorporated circuit work plus an extensive amount of running.
The thought for the day at the top of the workout plan made it clear no one was exempt: “You can make excuses or you can make progress, but you can’t make both.”
After warmups, Sahratian put the Tar Heels through an eight-station circuit that included medicine ball work, backboard touches, band slides, quarter eagles (they sound noble but they’re actually grueling), and a quartet of other exercises. Taken one at a time, they might not have been too challenging.
But the work, done in partners, required each player to spend 30 seconds on each station. They got a quick 30-second break while their partner was doing the exercise, but then had to quickly move on to the next station and begin again.
The circuit training alone would’ve been plenty, and it left multiple Tar Heels sprawled on the court. But the day was just getting started. After a quick break, the roster was split into three groups. One at a time, each group lined up on the sideline. Next up: 16-in-a-minute. That meant each player had to complete 16 sprints across the court, sideline to sideline, in a minute. Players caught a break while the other groups ran, then had to complete a second set of 16 sprints in a minute.
There is no room for coasting in this series of sprints. “You guys who ran last year, you started way too slow,” says Brad Frederick. “You have to go right from the jump with this one.”
As usual, Luke Maye was one of the standouts. The sophomore was one of the surprises of preseason conditioning last year and has continued to excel this year. Once every Tar Heel had completed his two sets of 16, the team was given a three-minute break before the next phase. Ninety seconds into that break, while several of his teammates were prone on the ground trying to catch their breath, Maye was already standing on the baseline, ready for the next challenge.
“I’ve never really practiced running,” he said. “My mom and dad were both great athletes, and I was just blessed with the ability to run. Justin (Jackson) always tells me I look like somebody who can’t run, but I’m pretty good at it. Of course, I don’t enjoy it at all. I dread it just like all these guys.”
He does a good job of hiding the dread as he’s encouraging his teammates for the final chapter of Monday’s conditioning—the dreaded 33’s. On this day, there are four of them. The coaching staff stands around the court, encouraging the players who need a little extra enthusiasm. The level of exhaustion players feel in a game is nothing compared to what they’re going through today, and that’s the whole idea.
When one Tar Heel misses his group’s sprint and has to make it up when the rest of the team is finished, five of his teammates get on the line and run with him, taking an extra sprint to make sure he doesn’t run alone.
Roy Williams, who has largely sat on the sideline for most of the afternoon, gathers his team when they are finished. He emphasizes the importance of attention to detail, of not just running the 16’s, but making sure every turn is crisp to maximize performance. “It’s the little things,” he tells them.
Conditioning continues this week and culminates in the Carolina Mile next week. The Oct. 3 start of practice begins with the annual Fast Break Against Cancer breakfast.