The Oklahoma City Thunder haven’t won many games this season. And our visit with the upstart team took place the day after an especially crushing defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies, in a game during which the Thunder flexed a substantial lead throughout only to lose in the waning minutes of play.
We expected to be met with gloom and doom at the team’s temporary practice facility, a converted roller rink with corner walls and concession stand still intact. But no moping was evident. In fact, it seemed like the team’s psyche was upbeat and positive—enough so that we were tempted to ask the players if they knew they were sporting the NBA’s worst record.
Luckily, before asking such a question, everything became clear. This team is full of life and hope in the form of one huge, ever-intensifying bright spot: Kevin Durant.
“I truly see great things ahead for us,” Kevin says, explaining his team’s unexpected attitude. “We work so hard, and guys believe in each other. If we continue to do that, I think the future looks bright for us. We all have a feeling that good times are ahead of us. It’s tough that we aren’t winning as much as we want, but we’ll keep working. This has been my dream since I was six years old. I know there is a long road ahead.”
After spending time with the Thunder and watching the ’07-’08 NBA Rookie of the Year attack a workout, it was easy to believe in Kevin and his team.
“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” At least according to Kevin’s godfather, who sat him down to write this inspirational tagline 300 times on a sheet of paper when Kevin was 10. And the lesson survived. “This NBA life might be a little hectic,” Kevin says with a smile. “You might have a good game and think it’s going to be like that for the rest of the year, but it’s not. That taught me to always make sure that no matter how good I get, I continue to work hard and keep getting better.”
Until his godfather’s repetitive drill, Kevin got by on being the tallest kid on the court and beating everyone down the floor for lay-ups. “I played center,” he says, “And I was like a deer running up and down the floor. Since then, I’ve tried to become more of an athletic player and play above the rim. Once I started working hard and developing those skills, I became more of an athlete.”
Kevin’s hard work shaped him into a lanky, dominant force on the AAU circuit and for basketball powerhouse Oak Hill Academy. “That’s how I got known and began to get noticed by college coaches,” he recalls. “I got better and became known as a guy who was 6’10” and could dribble and shoot the basketball.” However, it wasn’t until Kevin met the first of three very important training influences that he really began to develop.
The First Step
Enter Alan Stein, strength and conditioning coach at Montrose Christian. “I met Alan when I was a junior at Oak Hill Academy,” Kevin says. “He worked with a lot of the elite basketball players in our area, and he told me that I needed to work out with him. I did it one day, and it was tough, but I continued to do it and get better.” Watch video about Kevin Durant’s high school training.
After their introduction, Stein began driving an hour each day to pick up Kevin, take him to a gym and provide legitimate, structured strength and conditioning sessions. The summer after his junior year, Kevin transferred to Montrose Christian, a program his family thought was better suited to his academic and athletic needs.
Scenery wasn’t the only difference for Kevin when he switched high schools. As Stein worked with the young baller throughout his senior year, Kevin’s body started transforming within weeks. “During our time together, KD put on approximately 25 pounds of muscular bodyweight,” Stein says, “He went from about 180 to 205 by the time he left for college. He drastically increased overall strength in his legs, hips, core and upper body.”
Stein’s goals for Kevin included reducing the occurrence of injury and improving his on-court performance by strengthening his major muscle groups, using different training modalities [e.g., dumbbells, bodyweight, manual resistance, tubing], teaching work ethic and building confidence. It worked. “[Alan] was a very influential person in my life for those two or three years,” Kevin says. “I got a lot bigger, and he helped me on and off the court. I still do the things he tells me to this day.”
A Year To Remember
Kevin’s year of hardcore training was one key to success when he took his game to Texas. Combined with the Longhorns’ perfect environment for improvement, it dramatically accelerated Kevin’s athletic ability, basketball skills and maturity in one short season. “I learned a lot just being around my strength coach and basketball coaches every day,” Kevin says. “They taught me a lot about being a man; I was a long way from home and grew up a lot there. They preached work ethic every day.”
Under the watchful eye of Texas basketball strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright, the second training influence in his life, Kevin got even quicker, stronger, more flexible and bigger. “Todd was a great person for me there,” Kevin says. “He’s one of the reasons I picked Texas. He knows a lot about the body and always made sure we were healthy.” Watch video about Kevin Durant’s college basketball training.
Wright conducted a functional movement screen on Kevin during his recruiting trip. Immediately, he determined that the best course of action for Kevin was to create a foundation of more mobility in his feet, hips and thoracic spine [from near the belly button to chest level]. “We felt this would be very important for him to stay healthy in the long run and improve his performance,” Wright says. “Kevin still needed to get bigger and stronger, but we first focused on giving him mobility and efficient transfer of energy through his body.”
Once Kevin’s mobility and flexibility were addressed, Wright moved him on to more traditional strength training to build his strength and size. “I became a lot more flexible, which in turn made me more athletic,” Kevin boasts. “When I got there, I was about 200 pounds; by the end of the season, I was about 215. We did a great job of working every day.”
The improvements paid huge dividends throughout one of the most prolific single seasons in college basketball history. As a freshman, Kevin scored double-digits in every game he played, including 20 points or more 30 times and 30 points or more 11 times. He hit 40 percent from behind the arc and averaged 11.1 boards per game—all more than enough to support his decision to jump to the NBA.