GARDENA, Calif. -- Doug Thomas has been around the block for this game. Two high schools. A prep school. A junior college. The University of Iowa. NBA training camps. Switzerland. The NBA D-League. Sweden.
While the well-known superstars are all NBA mainstays, there are hundreds of players like Thomas who put their body through the grinder in a constant quest for an elusive NBA roster spot.
"Typically, I spend 5-6 hours in the gym a day," Thomas said. "As a professional athlete, that's mandatory to do--or else the next guy has an advantage on you because he's working harder."
Thomas, a 6-foot-8 power forward, joined his high school teammate, Ray Reed, for an afternoon workout recently in suburban Los Angeles. Like Thomas, the 5-11 Reed is from Southern California, had a solid Division-I career, spent a season in the D-League and is now clawing for a spot in the NBA.
Conducting the workout was Travelle Gaines, a high-profile performance trainer who regularly works with dozens of NFL and NBA players. Through a partnership with SKLZ, Gaines introduced Thomas and Reed to new training aids that will maximize their workout. iHoops.com was invited to get a glimpse of some of the innovative products.
Here are a few of the workouts Reed and Thomas went through:
The quick ladder is already a well-known exercise. It's a perfect way to build quickness in the feet, and there are dozens of variations of the drill to keep things mixed up.
It's probably more popular in football, but its emphasis on quick feet makes it a great basketball tool, as well.
Check out a photo slideshow from Travelle Gaines' workout with Doug Thomas and Ray Reed.
"The thing about the speed ladder is that it's really good for any athlete, and especially basketball players," Gaines said. "A lot of times, big men will have slow feet. Using the quick-foot ladder will help with that."
Reed then strapped 1 1/2-pound shoe weights, developed by SKLZ, on top of his shoes. It was just enough extra load to provide a significant challenge.
With the added weight, Gaines took Reed under the backboard and did a simple drill: jump up and slap the backboard with both hands, come down, and immediately jump back up. No stopping to collect yourself. The drill can go anywhere from 10 to 15 seconds.
"I definitely felt the resistance," Reed said.
Simulating a Defender
Gaines then set up a "D-Man" in the low post for Thomas. In the absence of another big man at the workout, the D-Man--a defensive mannequin developed by SKLZ to simulate a defensive player--was a worthy substitute. The D-Man was adjusted to stand 6-foot-6, and with two appendages going straight up in the air to simulate arms, it turned out to be an 8-foot roadblock between Thomas and the basket.
Gaines then passed balls rapid-fire to Thomas, who had to simulate a variety of post moves to shoot over or get around the D-Man for a full minute at a time.
"It helps you learn to shoot over a taller defender," Thomas said, "and it helps you get arc."
On top of that, the rim was covered with SKLZ's "Rain-Maker", a rubber ring that fits around the rim of the basket. With the Rain-Maker, the rim goes from 18 inches to 15 inches and the ball has to come in with better arc.
"I like it," Thomas said. "I want to have my jump shot like Dirk Nowitzki because he shoots so high."
Thomas also used two D-Man to simulate post move. He moved around one post man--simulating a screen--received a psss, then did an 18-foot jumper over another D-Man.
Perhaps the most interesting equipment Gaines used was the Reaction Belt, a simple belt that goes around the waist of two players, with a velcro leash in between them.
Gaines uses the Reaction Belt with football players, too. But for basketball players, it's a perfect simulation of man defense. Gaines typically makes a smaller, quicker guard as an offensive player, and a bigger guy like Thomas as a defender.
"That definitely translates to the court," Gaines said. "We use it all the time with the pro guys. We use it as a conditioning drill."
The 5-11 Reed and the 6-8 Thomas strap up with a 4-foot leash between them, though there are also 7- and 10-foot leashes available. Reed is the offensive player, and Thomas' job is to react to the moves Thomas makes. If Thomas can go 10 seconds without the leash snapping, he wins. If Reed can lose his man and cause the leash to break, Thomas loses.
It's competitive, practical and a perfect conditioning drill. Players love it. Trainers love to use it.
"It makes me get lower in my stance, and I have to keep the proper distance. I don't want that band to snap," Thomas said. "To play better D, you've got to be able to stay with your man."
Gaines works with several NBA players, including Brandon Roy, Keleena Azubuike and Jamal Crawford. But he also knows what kind of work high school players need to put in to be the best at that level and possibly move on to college basketball.
"The biggest thing that high school athletes can do in the offseason is focus on core strength, their stability and their conditioning," Gaines said. "If you work on those three pillars while you're working out in your offseason program, it will definitely make you a better athlete."
Even the 20-somethings chasing the NBA dream work on those areas extensively. After the workout with Gaines wraps up--the second session of the day for both Reed and Thomas--the duo finally unwind, pack up and head home to spend time with their children.
That is, until the next day. When it starts all over again.
"My dream is to play in the NBA," Thomas said, "and I won't stop until I get there."