Interview By Josh Staph
Jason Terry dominates the NBA with his constant hustle and new knowledge about what his body needs. In this exclusive interview, he talks about his past, hydrating right and a few favorite exercises that keep him on top.
Jason Terry first made headlines as a high-octane point guard for the Arizona Wildcats during the team’s unlikely national championship run in ’97. After charting three even more impressive years—including a senior season that left little doubt he was NBA-ready—the 6’2” Seattle native was selected 10th by the lowly Atlanta Hawks in the 1999 draft.
Although the team sputtered through his four seasons as a Hawk, Jason continued building a better game, both on the court and in the weight room, knowing that each night was an audition for a role on other, more promising NBA teams. Heading into the ’04-’05 season, Dallas signed Jason. The new Maverick was once again in an environment where the results of his hard work would make a difference.
Jason’s numbers improved in each of his first two seasons with Dallas, but his play in last year’s NBA finals officially signaled his status as one of the league’s top guards. He put his speed and trademark teardrop on display for the world with two 30 plus-point outbursts, but the Mavs fell to the Heat in six games.
Whether roughing it through a season in Atlanta or playing for a championship, Jason has always kept two things constant: his work ethic and desire to win. Motivated by both, he participated in a hydration study at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, where he found that maintaining proper hydration levels could have prevented the dehydration that had knocked him out of games in the past.
Armed with powerful new information to go with his amazing work ethic and the Mavs’ steady training regimen, Jason has all angles covered as he marches toward an NBA championship.
STACK: What lessons did you learn coming up in Seattle?
JT: Growing up as the second-oldest of 10 kids, I learned responsibility early. I was pretty much from a single-parent household; my mother raised all of us. It turned out that I was the one watching the younger kids a lot of the time—getting them off the bus, feeding them and tucking them in at night.
Was it difficult finding time to work on your game?
JT: I never had a problem doing that, because everywhere I went in the city there was a gym, and I would find my way to it. If there wasn’t one around, I went to a playground. I would hop on the metro bus and go wherever a game was going on.
Did anyone ever tell you that your hoop dreams wouldn’t get you anywhere?
JT: True story. In sixth grade, the teacher was going around the classroom asking everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up. People were saying doctor, lawyer or police officer. I stand up, and what do I say? I say I want to be an NBA player. The teacher took me back into her office after class and told me how I wasn’t going to be anything and that I had a foolish dream. She sent a long letter home to my mother, telling her that I needed to get focused and that my goal wasn’t a good one to have.
How did that affect you?
JT: It inspired me. In college, I got a tattoo that says “Underdog.” I’ve been living with that label ever since.
Did getting cut from your eighth grade AAU team motivate you?
JT: Definitely. I think being cut in eighth grade, then not even playing junior varsity in ninth grade, when I was one of the fastest and best players, definitely motivated me. The next year, I started varsity, so it didn’t make too much sense to me. I’m glad I went through it though, because it definitely made me the player I am today.
Is it true that you used to take 600 shots a day after these setbacks?
JT: Getting cut tells you that you’re not good enough, and when someone tells me that, I want to prove him wrong. I’ll get back in the gym and perfect whatever it is that I’m weak at. One night last season, I went two for 14. Right after the game, I went downstairs and made 500 jumpers to make sure that night was a fluke, because I knew I was a much better shooter than that.
Talk about your basketball experience at Arizona.
JT: I had two especially great experiences there. One is when I first stepped onto campus in the summer. Steve Kerr, Shaun Elliott, Damon Stoudamire and a couple other guys who played for the ’Cats were all there. We played some pick-up—and those were the greatest games I’ve ever been in over the summertime. That experience gave me hope. I was holding my own out on the court, and it gave me hope that I could one day make it. The other experience was winning the National Championship in 1997. That was the greatest basketball experience of my life to that point.
During that ’97 championship season, your team adopted the slogan, “Only the strong will survive.” What was the meaning behind that?
JT: We were fifth in the Pac-10 that season. The fifth team in the Pac-10 probably won’t even make the tournament most years, but, lo and behold, we snuck in—that’s unheard of. Once we got there, it was like, “Hey let’s do this thing. We’re here now, and all we have to do is win six games.” The first two games were very tough. We were down by double digits with five or six minutes in each game, but we got through them. Then we beat three number-one seeds the rest of the way to win the championship. That was a great feat in itself.
Was beating North Carolina or Kentucky extra special?
JT: Beating North Carolina in the Final Four game was huge. They had Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter and Jawad Williams; those guys were already NBA-caliber. It seemed like all the odds were against us, but we pulled it off. Actually, I didn’t get to see the end of the game; with two minutes left I was sent to the hospital because I was dehydrated. They stuck me with a lot of IVs that night, but I watched the highlights of those two minutes from a hospital bed and saw how we pulled it out.
Was it during your senior year that you realized you would be a professional player?
JT: I knew it in ’97 after we won the championship. There were NBA scouts in the stands when we came in for practice. They were obviously there to see Mike Bibby, Miles Simon and Michael Dickerson, but every time they came, I put on a show. I would see them up there with their notepads, and I knew it was my time to show them what I could do. Our practices were already intense, but the scouts being there made it even more intense. I think I started getting the confidence then; but in ’99, I let it all hang out. I’d work out on the playground at six in the morning to get shots up before class; and then after class, I’d come right back into the gym before practice and work out again. This is all true stuff, and it shows what hard work can do for you.
Where did you pick up that kind of work ethic?
JT: I think it came from my mom—watching what she had to do to put food on the table. But my actual routine came from watching Mike Bibby prepare. I used to go to the gym, get my shots up and play scrimmage games all summer; but I really wasn’t working on my game. When I watched Mike work out in the mornings, he was practicing every move, every crossover, every jump shot. That’s what I added in ’98 when I was preparing for my senior year. It really took me to the next level.
Where did the knee-high sock look come from?
JT: It came from a yearbook picture of my father. I was thumbing through the book and saw him in his high school varsity basketball picture with high socks on. From that point on, I wore them in tribute to him.
Talk about your time with Atlanta.
JT: There weren’t too many good experiences, but one I remember well has to do with why I’m in Dallas today. I got my career high against the Mavericks. I scored 46 points, which was just a great feeling. If you could ever say that a player was in a zone, it was me that night. Something else I will never forget about Atlanta is the feeling of going home early. When the second week of April came around, cars were shipped and I was on my way back to Seattle. I will never forget that feeling. Now that I’m in Dallas, I can appreciate being able to extend the season and get to the playoffs.
How did you remain positive during the losing seasons in Atlanta?
JT: My work ethic, drive, and determination to be the best and win a championship kept me going. I’ve won at every level—two state championships in high school, a national championship in college, a Goodwill Games Gold Medal—so the topper for me would be an NBA Championship. Knowing that one day I’d get out of Atlanta and be on a winning team kept me working hard.
How is the environment different in Dallas?
JT: It reminds me of college here. The fan support is tremendous, and we have an owner who cares about the team, players and state of the game. We have a coach who really believes in his players and in his system, and we have some great players on this team. I didn’t have a guy like Dirk Nowitzki in Atlanta. He’s an MVP, and he makes everyone around him better.
What was it like dropping 32 on your idol Gary Payton in the NBA Finals last year?
JT: Playing against Gary is a dream come true. I watched him when I was growing up in Seattle, even when he was at Oregon State. I always tried to be just like him. He’s a big brother to me; we always talk in the off-season. Coming up against him in the Finals was kind of bittersweet. I wanted that championship so badly, but it was almost like if I had to lose, at least Gary finally got himself one. As long as he’s been in the league and chasing that dream, I was happy for him to get it, so I really didn’t look at it like I scored 32 points against him. I just wanted to do whatever I could to help my team win. Winning that game felt good, and it got us off to a good start—up 2-0 in the series. It gave us tremendous confidence, even though eventually we came up a little short.
Talk about your participation in the Gatorade study.
JT: It was very interesting. I found out some things that I had always wondered about. I’ve experienced serious dehydration twice in my career—where I had to go to the hospital for IVs—so I definitely wanted to take part in the study. The first thing I learned is that during a game, you can lose up to ten pounds from sweating. For a guy like me, who weighs 180 pounds, dropping to 170 in the course of a game can weaken me. The second thing I learned is that if you start getting even a little dehydrated, you lose your mental edge. You’ll go through stretches in a game where you aren’t as alert as you should be. The study actually shows that dehydration can cause up to a six percent decrease in shooting percentage. You can lose ball games dropping six percent on your field goal percentage—especially at the end of a game.
What did the study teach you about your own hydration practices?
JT: I know I just need to stay hydrated. Gatorade has a few great products. Two years ago, I used regular Gatorade, but it really wasn’t working for me—so I added electrolytes to it. That worked a little better, but I found that I was most productive with Gatorade Endurance Formula. I drink three of those on game days—one before the game, one during and one after. I feel like I’m more hydrated to finish ball games—just as hydrated as when I started.
On days that I’m not playing, I still work out—even on practice days. I’ll drink one full Endurance Formula after practice and one before I go to bed. You use the bathroom a lot more than you’re used to, but you feel a lot better.
Have you always dedicated a lot of time to training?
JT: It’s always been important. I’m usually the smallest guy on the court, and I need to do my strength and conditioning so I can be in the best shape and physically measure up to some of the big, strong guys. A lot of guys are just born with size and strength; I have to work hard at it.
When did you first start working out?
JT: I had a pretty good regimen in high school. Our coach had us train similar to cross country runners. We ran four miles, and then one mile three times a week. All the runs were timed, so they were very strenuous. We did a little strength training, but not as much as when I got to college. When I got to Arizona, the conditioning was the same, but we turned up the strength part a notch. We had a weightlifting routine that had us in the weight room three times a week—religiously. Weightlifting has definitely helped my game and made me stronger and more confident. I was always told that I had NBA speed and quickness, but I got even quicker when I began strength training.
What are some of your favorite weight room exercises?
JT: Right now, my favorite lift is the Bench Press. I’m up to benching 225 for five reps, which is amazing for me; it’s the best I’ve done. We also do something we call the Bear Squat. It’s not your traditional squat. You do the same type of movement, but on a machine. Then we have the Jumper; it’s a machine that has five rubber cords that you use like a Leg Press, but you actually press your own body weight. My fourth favorite is the Lat Pulldown.
What benefits do these exercises provide for a basketball player?
JT: With the Bench, it is all about the looks for me. I’ll tell you that right off the top. You definitely don’t want to go out there looking frail—like you haven’t eaten in a couple of weeks. Benching gives you the upper-body strength and power you need when you go to finish. You can take the contact, score and get an and-one. The Bear Squat is more for strength and endurance in the legs. In the fourth quarter, your legs tend to be a little heavy, especially for a jump shooter and defensive player like me. It allows me to be stronger throughout the course of a game. The Jumper is great for recovery. It’s less strenuous on the knee joints and tendons than a Squat or Leg Press Machine, and it relieves some of the tension in your quadriceps and pressure on your knees. Lat Pulldowns help with rebounding, boxing out, positioning on the post-ups and fighting post defense.
What has been one area you’ve really worked to improve?
JT: My core. I think it’s the most challenging for me, because a lot of core exercises put you in funny, unnatural positions, but they’re all beneficial and something I do every day.
Any training goals you’ve set for yourself?
JT: My training goal this season is to get stronger as the season goes on. The season is so long, with 82 games plus playoffs. You don’t have as much energy to keep up a consistent weight-training program in season as you do in the off-season. My strength coach with Dallas, Robert Hackett, has done a great job designing programs specific to each player’s height, body weight and stature.
What advice can you give a high school athlete?
JT: Number one: hit your books and study—first and foremost. Without studying, there are no workouts, no college, no NBA. Number two: work hard every day and believe in yourself.