Speed Strength is composed of three main people: Eric Lichter, Tim Robertson, and Bob Donewald. From what I saw, Eric seems to mainly focus on the on court training with the strength bands, ladders, etc. while Tim seems to focus on more of the actual weight room training. The third member of the group, Bob Donewald, was an assistant coach in the NBA over the past few seasons under Paul Silas for both the Hornets and the Cavaliers.
The on court explosive training is one of the things that make Speed Strength very unique. In one drill that Speed Strength likes to do, Eric Lichter wraps a strength band around the waist of a player and pulls it back towards himself as the player tries to dunk the basketball. After the player has attempted three dunks, they then take the band off of him and have him dunk the ball three times normally in order to get the body used to what it would actually be like. While the players might only be doing normal unspectacular dunks with the bands on, once they come off, the players absolutely fly through the air soaring far above the rim due to the fact that they no longer have any constraints on them. It is emphasized that the players jump off of both their right and left legs in order to develop both legs equally so they are able to comfortably finish off of either leg in game situations. Lichter also has his players run through deep beach sand, which provides resistance and improves explosiveness and quickness drastically. The Cleveland trainer also likes to have his players do ball-handling drills through ladders which are basically 2 foot X 2 foot squares that are all connected in a row, forcing players to do specific footwork drills through them while dribbling the ball, improving balance and coordination drastically. These are just a few of the very different and effective methods that Speed Strength uses.
In the weight room, Tim Robertson puts the players through a large amount of plyometric (activities that enable a muscle to reach maximal force in the shortest possible of time) drills and exercises involving strength bands. For example, instead of doing a normal bench press or squat, they choose to have players do them with the bands on, using their own body weight against them and isolating the specific muscles that are used in the bench press. Robertson, who served as an assistant strength coach for the University of Miami (FL) football team, pushes the players through a number of exercises on gel pads, which make it extremely hard for the players to balance, causing one to improve coordination and core strength aside from the muscles used in the actual exercises. Leg training is a very key aspect here, as players are forced to do squats, lunges, and vertical jump exercises with each leg individually, along with the resistance bands. They end each workout with a grueling pushup, sit-up circuit in which I was asked to partake in. To give you an idea of how intense the training is, I will use myself as an example. I work out 4 or so times a week and am in very good shape, and I was sore for nearly a week after doing not even one fifth of one of Lichter and Robertson's workouts as they force you to use and work muscles that you didn't even know existed with extreme intensity.
The final part of Speed Strength's training is the actual on court basketball training with ex-NBA coach Bob Donewald. Donewald puts the players through a series of ball handling drills with cones that are approximately two feet away from each other in which the players must zigzag in and out while keeping their head up and keeping the ball low and tight. Bob then has the players go through drills coming off of simulated screens, a la Richard Hamilton. The players come off of the screens with basically every imaginable read (flare, curl, etc) and shoot contested jump shots with a hand in their face. Donewald also helps the players learn how to read defenses, how to sell a defender on shot fakes, etc. He has trained LeBron over the past two summers and we have all seen how that turned out, so why not learn from someone who has helped make arguably the most talented player in the league into what he is today?
Donewald had this to say about their training: Indeed a lot of the same stuff that we've done with LeBron the past two summersfootwork stuff into his jump shots, game NBA cutslike the curls off of the baseline action like you saw last night in the Pistons-Pacers series. You see those baseline cuts where they come out on the floor, and the reads from there. Whether its one dribble pull up, two dribble pull up, both going right and left, different flares, different zipper actionjust a lot of different cuts that way. A lot of ball handling stuff, a lot of shooting, but everything we've done, we've done game intensity on the cut, game intensity on the shot, trying to get them game ready. Then we usually end the day with some one on one stuff. Yesterday when you were there, we cut it a bit short because Eric had took them through such a long workout, but we always end the day with a lot of one on one stuff. Thus when they get into these NBA workouts, you know a lot of the guys that we brought in over the last three years when I was in the league, these are the types of things that we look for. These are the types of things we did with them. They are now accustomed to them, and as they get ready to play, everything is game speed as to what we're doing.
Now that you know a little bit of background information on the workouts, here are our individual player observations:
Louis Williams, 6'2 SG/PG; HS Senior; Committed to Georgia
The two things that impressed me most in Louis' game throughout my two days of observations were his jumpshot and his explosiveness. Starting off with his jumper, Louis has drastically improved the consistency, form, and lift off of the ground on his shot since the high school all star games. At that time, I thought he was a good shooter, but very streaky. While he is not the most consistent shooter in the world just yet, the improvements he has made on his shot over the past month or so are substantial, as he can knock down the mid range jumper, collegiate three pointer, and NBA three pointer with relative ease. In regards to his explosiveness, believe it or not, Williams has an even quicker first step now and possesses an even higher vertical leap then he did when he wowed fans during his high school days. I was told that his vertical has increased by 4 or so inches since he arrived in camp, and it was shown as Louis jumped 37 inches with one step while not even being warmed up at all.
Physically, Williams' upper body still has a bit of work to go. He is still very thin, although he has put on a substantial amount of muscle since his high school season ended. The Georgia high school star has extremely powerful legs, allowing him to dunk with ease in all of the band and rebound drills. From what I saw, he has been trained very well in order to lengthen his strides, which is key for a diminutive scorer of his size. From what I saw, he can go from beyond the NBA three point line and take one dribble with two long strides and dunk the basketball easily.
While there were many positive things about Louis throughout my observations, I must note that he did struggle a bit throughout the ball handling drills, losing the ball quite a few times and not really showing the tightest handle in the world. One thing that really did stand out to me was his great work ethic, which leads me to believe that while he might not have all of the prototypical tools that GM's want in a point guard at the moment, you have a kid on your hands who is going to put forth the work to develop those skills as soon as he can so he can contribute.
Bob Donewald: TALENT. Really, really talented. Young, has to get stronger. He needs to get that body built up. I'm impressed with his work ethic thus far since he's been here. Eric has been kicking his butt every day. We've been going at it every day on the floor, and he's responded. As long as that continues, the potential that he possesses will come out of him and his talent will shine. Again, his body needs to get stronger. It's going to be the hours that he puts in the gym, and so far he's been able to do that. You want to talk about a kid who can put it in the hoop, he as a variety of different moves, he can go to his left, he can go to his right, he's a high flyer. He's putting up a lot of shots and he has nice form on his shot. You're dealing with a kid whom I'd be surprised if he definitely isn't in the first round.
Eric Lichter: Louis Williams fantastic leaper. Very gifted leaper, very explosive leaper. Jumps just as explosively off his right as he does off of his left. Louis is a kid at 6'1...there are not many guys who can get 24 or 25 feet away from the rim, take one dribble, two long explosive steps, elevate, and finish at the rim. Louis, he can do that. It's a testament to his leaping ability. Another thing about Louis that's very impressive is his maturity. There are not a lot of high school kids who can come in and go through this draft training. The three hours a day physically in the weight roomthe type of work and punishment that we put these guys through. They get two hours of sleep and then they have to be on the court for another two hours at night. Day in and day out, it becomes a grind. High school players are nowhere near ready or used to that kind of academy mentality. Louis has pushed through it. Louis has been here for three weeks and his maturity and mental approachhe knows that this is the most horrible thing that he has went through in his life and he's taken it head on and he's done a great job. Another thing about Louis is that he's gotten considerably stronger in his upper body. When Louis came in, he had decently built legs, but they're much stronger now. He's made a ton of improvement in the lower body, in his jumping ability from when he came in, but his upper body strength has increased significantly. As a matter of fact, I can say that his bench press has increased 100% from when he came in. Louis is on track. It's going to be exciting to see what happens when we get to the finish line with Louis.
Devin Green, 6'7 Collegiate SF, NBA PG; SR; Hampton
Devin Green is a very intriguing prospect in that he is 6'7 and has a terrific handle for a player of his size. Throughout all of the ball handling drills, it was very evident that he was the best ball handler of the group as he keeps the ball extremely tight and low to the ground. I find it interesting that what was once one of Green's main weaknesses, his mid-range jumper, is now one of his biggest strengths. In the drills that I saw, I counted him making 17 straight mid range jump shots on the move. His shooting range doesn't stop there as he can shoot the ball all the way out to the NBA three point line with solid form and nice lift on his shot. In the one on one drills, Devin showed the ability to create space against smaller defenders so that he could shoot right over top of them. He did a great job of reading what the defense gave him, pulling the three pointer when opposing players' hands were down and driving to the basket when crowded. Defensively, he held his own against the smaller guys, staying in front of them for the most part, but he really impressed me with how he was able to recover when he was beaten to either block or alter their shots because of his long arms and good leaping ability.
In the physical drills, Devin was exceptional in that he easily dunked the ball off of both his right and left legs while being pulled back by Lichter and his bands. When the bands came off, he really put on a show flying through the air and dunking with ease. He also passes the look test for a big NBA PG or WF for that matter, sporting a very long and muscular physique. From what I saw, he was the second strongest player of the camp, not too far behind Ricky Shields. Green also showed the ability to get to the rim from approximately 30 feet away from the basket with one dribble and two strides, a testament to how long and athletic he actually is. For you draft fans out there, you really have to try it for yourself to fully understand how hard it is.
Now you may ask yourself Ok, so where does this kid stand in terms of the draft?. Well, you have a very good question there. I feel that if he can convince teams that he is a point guard, he is a legitimate prospect for the second round. If teams think he is a small forward, he is merely a marginal draft prospect. From what I have seen of him, he has the necessary ball handling and shooting skills needed to play point guard, but I have not had the chance to see him play point guard in a game situation due to the fact that he was forced to play small forward in college because of his teams lack of height. I was unfortunately unable to make it to the Black College All Star game in which he was named MVP when he played as a point guard. Draft fans should definitely keep Devin Green's name in their head because I'm confident that if he is able to convince a team that he can play point guard, you will be seeing him in the NBA within the next few years. He has already worked out for Denver and has an upcoming workout with Lakers scheduled.
Bon Donewald: Devin is a kid who I think people will be very surprised with because of his body. You're dealing with a 6'7 long armed athlete whose going to be a point guard. He's played point guard in high schoolonce he got to college, he played off the ball. People who have seen his college tapes don't realize his ball handling skills, his passing skills, and his ability to run an offense. His mid range game is what we have really honed here with him in the last 4 weeks and I think its really starting to come around. I think he's a kid who if you see him between now and draft time, he could definitely go in the second round. He's surprising people who don't know about him, but I'd also be surprised if he doesn't wind up on a roster within the next two years.
Eric Lichter: Devin GreenI can't say enough good things about Devin. I think that this kid is the biggest sleeper in the draft. He's a 6'7 long player. He's got great strength. Devin is an incredible leaper as well. Devin can probably go 28,29,30 feet away from the rim and finish with one dribble and two steps. Another kid who is a great leaperFAST JUMPER. His vertical is not just high, but he's quick. Very strong. Upper body is built. His conditioning is phenomenal. His mental approachDevin is a lion. He just attacks, attacks, attacks. If you tell Devin we're going to train for 10 hours a day, he'd do it and he wouldn't question it. He's just ready to go and he's hungry. Devin is a very exciting, very strong, and very athletic player. Footwork, agility, moves as well laterally as he does forward, backwardhe's got the total package. I think that any team that brings Devin in for a workout will see how physically talented he is, which is my area of expertise, but as well as skill. You saw a little bit of his work ethic today. All of these guys have been great and I can not say enough about all of them.
Ricky Shields, 6'4 SG/PG; SR; Rutgers
I must start off by saying that I only had a chance to observe Ricky Shields for one day, as opposed to the two days that I had with all of the other players because of his workout with the Portland Trailblazers. I was also told that Ricky suffered a bruised back during his Portland workout, limiting his mobility and explosiveness. With that said, I was definitely surprised with the game of a player who was merely known as just a shooter during his college days at Rutgers. While he does possess an absolutely terrific jump shot with great lift, form, and NBA range, the thing that really surprised me most about Shields was his explosiveness and quickness. The guy has an absolutely devastating crossover in which he breaks down just about anyone who guards him with. If you combine that with a great first step, you see why he is constantly being called in for workouts. His athleticism doesn't stop there, as he is a very good leaper who dunked with ease while being held back in the rubber band drills. He uses this athleticism on the defensive end as well, moving his feet well enough to do a really good job staying in front of his man at all times. In the one on one drills, the scoring guard showed off his aforementioned crossover and basically broke down whomever he was up against, either for an open three point look or getting the ball right to the basket.
The easiest way to describe Shields' physical physique is jacked. He's absolutely ripped, has very low body fat, and long arms. Lichter told me that Ricky is definitely the strongest player in his camp as far as upper body in concerned, and he definitely passes the look test. Like Devin Green and Chet Mason, Shields is very intense in the weight room, also motivating others as they go through their workouts. He showed nice leg strength in all of the squat and band drills as well. Physically, there is not much more you could ask for out of a shooting guard, except maybe another inch or two.
While Ricky is a bit more of a proven player then the other members of this group, there are a few things that he must show scouts in order to land a place in the league, because of his height and the way he was played in college. First of all, he must show his ability to create off of the dribble, which I am confident that he can do after this workout. Secondly, he must show the ability to get his teammates involved, which is absolutely impossible to measure from a workout such as this. If NBA teams get the vibe that he can develop into a serviceable combo guard who is lights out from behind the arc then his chances of making the league will be very good. What is interesting is that in almost all of his NBA workouts so far he was brought in to play against PG's, such as Filiberto Rivera, Chris Thomas and others. I feel that if Ricky is placed in the right setting and improves upon his already solid ability to break people down off the dribble, he could find a place in the league as a sparkplug scoring guard off of the bench who can step in, defend, get his teammates involved and knock down the three point shot when needed.
Bob Donewald: He's an interesting athlete, really put together well. He intrigues people because of his shooting abilitybecause of his scoring ability. I think that people that saw him at Rutgers and have since worked him out are surprised by his athleticism, by his ability to go one on one. He's a kid that could probably pop into the second round if he continues to do well in workouts.
Eric Lichter: Ricky Shields is a great shooter, but a well built kid. You see physically how well he is put togetherhe's ripped. Very strong kid whose in phenomenal shape. His body fat is probably under 5%. I mean, that kid doesn't have an ounce of fat on him. The only fat he's got on him is his organs and tissues on his body. Great leaper. Incredibly quick. Ricky is probably the quickest kid we have in here. While Devin and Louis may be explosive, Ricky is so quick. His crossover, his footwork, he's just got incredible quickness. Cat like quickness. Very strong upper body. Ricky is the strongest kid we have here upper body wise. Work ethic is greatgreat kid, smart kid. What else do I want to say about Ricky? Ricky is a lion, kind of like Devin. Very aggressive. His maturity is there. He is a proven player. He was in college three, four years. He just comes in and everything is business like with Rick and we're glad to have them all.
Chet Mason, 6'4 PG; SR; Miami (OH)
As I mentioned in my open gym article, Mason is one of the better defensive players in this year's draft. He is all you can ask for defensively of a point guard, combining great length, lateral quickness, and rebounding ability. The MAC defensive player of the year also led the all guards across the nation in rebounding, but still has some work to do on the offensive end, specifically his ability to get to the basket and his outside shot. Bob Donewald made it very clear to me that he will do everything in his power to clean up Mason's shot by the time workouts come around. Although his mechanics need some work and he does not have much lift, Chet did a very good job of knocking down midrange jump shots and collegiate three pointers in the shooting drills. When the ball handling drills came around, it was evident that the Cleveland native had only done them a few times, as he struggled a bit at times due to his inexperience in the drills themselves, not an inadequate handle. Once the one on ones came around, he was able to show his defensive skills, often forcing opposing offensive players into contested outside jump shots. Offensively, I was very impressed by his step back midrange jumpshot in which Mason does an excellent job of creating space. He also showed another big time move in a turn around jump shot out of the post, a la LeBron James. Chet learned both his step back jumper and turn around jumper out of the post from his one on one training with ex-NBA star Ron Harper.
Mason has a very good build for a long point guard, possessing a frame that could very easily add twenty or so more pounds to it. Like the on court drills, Chet had only had the chance to do the drills that they had him do in the weight room a few times previously. The thing that stood out most about him in the weight room was his very explosive drive in the squat drills and the fact that he was really a leader in that he pushed everyone else to succeed just as much as he did himself. Constantly motivating and cheering on his fellow prospective draftees, Mason showed that he is all you can ask for of a teammate at whatever level he plays on next year.
Bob Donewald: Chet's a kid who I've just had a chance to work with for the second day. His shooting is a bit suspectwe have some work to do on his shot. He's one hell of an athlete. He's a hell of a defender. He's probably a kid whose going to end up in Europe initially. We've got to make sure that we clean up his jump shot to begin with. He's got great demeanor. He attacks the basket well. Again, a hell of an athletebut there's work to do on the offensive end.
Eric Lichter: We've only been working with Chet probably three or four days, but what I've seen of him initially, very quick and very aggressive kid. He's got a great work ethic in the three days that he's been here in the weight room. From what I've seen, he's a very good leaper. Very quickfootwork is good. Chet's hungry. Chet's just a guy who is basically a worker. He's in here every day, and he's motivated. His conditioning is very good initially from what I've seen.
More Comments from Eric Lichter
: Even though he is not with you right now in Cleveland, I know that you went down to North Carolina for a month and trained Julius Hodge. Can you tell me a little about him?
Eric Lichter: Julius Hodge is the hardest worker I have ever had the pleasure of working with. This kidhis approach is that he'll outwork anyone. I spent a good 5 or 6 days writing a program for Julius at NC State. I set the bar for Julius very high. I was told by his agent and by Julius' group that he wanted to condition and prepare for individual workouts like he never has in his life. When I built Julius' exercise and conditioning program, I questioned if he would be able to maintain that type of regimen. From the on court work to the weight room to the conditioning, Julius finished it and he finished it well. Julius was incredible. The theme through Julius' workouts has been that the guy is in incredible shape and is just the hardest worker they've seen. The KnicksIsaiah loved him. Loved his effort, that's what I can comment on. I know that for a fact. Loved his effort, intensity. Loved his motor, its just nonstop. Julius' heartits as big as this gym we are standing in. His effort and his intensity through his workouts is that large too. He was just a pleasure to work with. Juliusvery good leaper, very quick. Long arms, good footwork, good elevation on his jumpshot. Physically, Julius is above average in everything. I would say that he has the total package. That kid as well, it will be interesting to see where he ends up.
: How would you compare the workouts you put your guys through to those in other camps? I mean, what sets you guys apart?
Eric Lichter: Well, I can comment on ours. The work that these guys go throughI think that guys in Cleveland work harder then anyone in the country. From the sand pit conditioning that we do on their legs, to the on court work, exploding to the whole against bandsthat's tremendous leg work. To the squats, to the lounges, and the band explosion and all of the Olympic lifts. The plyo's, the single leg training. Half of the time, these guys can't even walk up the stairs, yet they've got three hours to get in bed, get in the cold tub, get some ice, and be back on the court at night. I think that the total approach to what we doI just think that this brings outyou have to behow do I want to describe thiswe have a saying: Training so hard makes playing so easy. We feel that if a guy can come into Cleveland and make it through four or five weeks of our draft preparation training, there is nothing that any team can throw at him in an individual workout, in any drills, or any type of setting that would be easy to them compared to what they have to do on a daily basis here. We feel that we set the bar two or three levels above anything that they'd have to do, so it becomes easy to them. Their mentality is This is easy compared to anything that I had to do to get ready for this. I just feel that the total volume of work over the four or five weeks may be more than guys would do at other places, but as we get closer to the time they're leaving, we cut that volume of work in half because we're starting to peak them. The intensity at times, the absolute effort that they have to give in order to make it through the workouts can not be matched anywhere not only in the country, but in the whole world. That's why guys from all over the worldBrazil, Croatia, and stuff are now coming to Cleveland to work. I think that LeBron and everyone who's seen what we doThe year that we had Bremer and Nene, they were number one and number two ranked physically in all of the tests if they combine all of the tests. The vertical, the four lane agility, the three quarter court sprint, the conditioning drillthey were number one and number two. J.R is six feet tall and Nene is 6'11, so its not like we had two short players who could run around like scatter bugs. We had a 6'11 player who finished second in all of those tests. It is a tribute to their intensity, conditioning, the preparation, to how their legs and their hips and their core region gets. It's hard work. You being here, you see this. It's an old factory. We manufacture athletes like they used to manufacture cars. It's just the old Rocky mentality. Rocky IV, you had all the fluff and the nice stuffhere its just hard work. It's no fluff, it's like being in prison working. Guys like that. No frills.
: What is a normal work week for these guys?
Eric Lichter: Monday through Friday. Basically they get up at 7:00 am. They go and do some ball handling and shooting on their own. They work out in the weight room, whether they're lifting weights, on court working with explosive band training on court for vertical jump, whether they're conditioning in the sand pit running up and down sprints in the sand or jump training in the sand. They're here every day from 10:00 am till 1:00 pm, so three hours of physical training. Physical gut wrenching training. Then they go get lunch. They get their supplements and protein shakes in. They sleep for three hours and then they're back on court at night with their basketball coach from 4:00-6:30 working on ball handling, shooting, moving and shooting, one on ones, skillswhatever it is they're working on. They break around 7:00, they get dinner, they get their protein shakes before they go to bed, and they're usually in bed by 10:00pm. Then they wake up at 6:00 am, take a shower, and do their thing the next day. That's Monday through Friday. Saturdays, they usually play. If they're guys who need to play five on five, they play. Otherwise, they go through a basketball workout. Saturday they are done by about 1:00 pm. Saturday is a half day while Monday through Friday is all day from morning till night. Saturday is a half day. Saturday night they normally go out and let off some steam, whether they go to a movie or to the mall, whatever. They're off all day Sunday and then Monday we're back at it again really until guys start leaving for workouts, then we reduce the volume. Pretty much for four weeks leading up till about May 25th, that's the regimen.
: Now I know that you work with many different agents and you bring in a very wide range of players from different areas across the globe. What have you guys done to expand your clientele at Speed Strength?
Eric Lichter: Well, I think that besides being down at Chicago displaying our playerswe've put on workouts for guys down there for the last three years and networked with people. I think mostly after Nene and J.R. came on the scenenobody knew about Nene and all of a sudden he was the 7th pick in the draft and did exceptional in the physical testing. Nene is a freak. Then J.R. set the bench press record there and so forth. Then everyone kind of found out both of those guys trained in the same spot, where did they train? Well they found out that they trained in Cleveland with Speed Strength. That generated a lot of interest and people were like Hey, I want to know about that. Then we started getting some notoriety about working with LeBron and St. V in high school. It just sort of grew from there. I was down at the All Star game watching the Got Milk Rookie Challenge when he was selected as a rookie. I'd meet agents and they'd say Oh yeah, I remember. Then Chad Ford started coming in and he wrote three or four draft prep stories, then all of a sudden Leandro Barbosa came in and he was another first round pick, and then it just blew up from there. People started to know about Cleveland as a basketball destination for draft training. I think that another reason that we're such a great option for guys to train, I don't know anywhere where they can get the physical training that they can get from us. We're experts in increasing vertical jump, we're experts in preparing players for the specific tests that will be administered in Chicago and so forth. So these guys are getting that expert training and program designed just for them. Then at night, we've got a former NBA coach who works with the guys at night, Bob Donewald. He's been on the other side, he's put on individual workouts. He knows what exactly is looked for and he prepares these guys. Having him been on there other side and administering those workouts, who better to prepare those guys with the skill of basketball and the skills that they're going to needall the things that they're going to want to see in the private workouts. These guys with are with they physical training group in the morning covering everything that they need top to bottom.
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