On Eve Of Practice Starting, Huskies Play…Football?
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Two days before the official start to the 2013-14 preseason, the Huskies basketball team practiced …
Seven-footer Jernard Jarreau – he’s grown two more inches this offseason – hauled down passes like a modern-day Harold Carmichael (look him up, kids). Power forward Perris Blackwell and walk-on guard Quinn Sterling made impressive plays all over the Husky Stadium field. Freshman guard Darin Johnson showed off the fact he played football growing up in Sacramento, Calif.
All 14 Huskies hoopsters got off the court Monday for a voluntary football workout designed by new UW strength and conditioning coach Daniel Shapiro. It was part reward, part release, part extension of offseason conditioning before the first practice of the preseason in their “other” sport Wednesday in Alaska Airlines Arena.
Shapiro arrived this spring after eight years as strength and conditioning coach for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. He started incorporating the “aerial football” workouts into the Kings’ offseason regimen, as a reward after grueling weeks in the weight room and on the running track. He’s also done ultimate Frisbee games with basketball guys.
“It’s really a great conditioning and team-building drills. And it kind of aligns the mind before the ‘storm’ of daily practices begin,” Shapiro said Tuesday of the Dawgs’ “aerial football” foray the day before. “It was a way to unwind before we get going for real.”
Before they got going Shapiro explained to the players the rules of “aerial football,” which he borrowed from good friend Mac Callaway, the strength and conditioning coach at DePaul. Then he let the players run their game. The field is 80 yards long instead of 100, and the sidelines are narrowed. Tackling is two-hand touch. The only line to gain a first down is the midfield line; so if a possession begins at, say, the 47-yard line it is first and 3.
The offense can make as many forward passes on a play that it can complete, so a defender must run and defend a receiver until the ball hits the ground or a player is “tackled.” Shapiro mandated just 15-20 seconds between plays, further enhancing the conditioning value of the game. A defense gets one blitz per series, and a quarterback can’t simply take off on a play without being rushed. Additionally, the game lasts 40 minutes – the same length as a basketball contest.
“These guys, they all want to play football. Some think they really can. So it’s fun for them to step out of their realm,” Shapiro said. “So they try their butts off. And you can’t really not be moving.
“For me, I’m getting in a lot of cardio conditioning. It keeps guys running and it keeps them playing defense. And they are having fun.”
The Kings liked Shapiro’s “aerial football” workouts so much that Isaiah Thomas and Spencer Hawes, the former Huskies Shapiro once trained in Sacramento, joined in another football game with this season’s UW basketball team this past summer.
Shapiro had planned for Monday’s six-on-six football game to be on the East Field, the smaller, back field behind Husky Stadium. But the basketball players had other ideas. They’ve been anxious to test out renovated Husky Stadium.
So they walked directly across East Field without stopping, onto the main field of the new, $281 million stadium that re-opened only five weeks ago.
When the Huskies get back on their usual workplace, the court, Wednesday afternoon they will have six newly eligible players. That’s counting Blackwell and 7-footer Gilles Dierickx, who sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules, plus 6-foot-5 guard Mike Anderson, Missouri junior-college transfer.
Shapiro said he’s been particularly impressed throughout the offseason with a freshman class headlined by new point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, a McDonald’s High School All-American out of the Las Vegas area last year. Williams-Goss is the fifth Husky signee to have played in the McDonald’s national all-star game, joining Hawes, Jon Brockman, Martell Webster and Abdul Gaddy.
“This freshman class is really, really special,” said Shapiro, who prior to his time with the Kings was the strength and conditioning coach at Dayton. “And we have good senior leadership.”
Shapiro has already noticed the biggest difference between the NBA and training college basketball players.
“I’m really noticing it right now (with UW classes going back in session last week): the scheduling around the kids’ classes,” he said. “In the NBA, it was, ‘OK, we are lifting at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and unless they had a commercial to film or a photo shoot it was no problem. Here, there’s a lot more demands on the players’ time outside of basketball, and rightly so.”
Shapiro, who designed the workouts at the NBA’s annual draft combine that he still oversees, notices an advantage in working with the Huskies as opposed to the pros.
“Obviously I had a lot of good, hungry guys in the NBA. But I’ve got a lot more guys here who are more impressionable,” he said. “And more impressionable means more eager. And with eagerness comes motivation. And with motivation comes more results.”
INSIDE THE DAWGS: The first exhibition game, against Central Washington, is Nov. 6. The season begins Sunday, Nov. 10 at home against Seattle University. … After the first workouts at Alaska Airlines Arena, the team will go this weekend to Olympia for a two-day team retreat as it has in previous preseasons.