''Lucas Program about Getting Results, Not Pandering to Pros''
By Jonathan Feigen
Far from the basketball court in a virtual amusement park in the shadow of the Las Vegas strip, the voice of former NBA coach and former Rockets guard John Lucas echoes inside a dark gym with no frills and the debatable existence of air conditioning.
While roughly 70 NBA players have played in a high-profile ''Lockout league'' at Las Vegas' Impact training facility, Lucas and his staff push roughly 30 players, including a handful of young NBA talents, through grueling drills and training sessions in Houston.
In this throwback, Rocky III-like setting in which luxuries are limited to metal folding chairs and a few oversized fans, egos are left inside the SUVs in the Lutheran North High School parking lot, and no one dares to protest the demands.
There are no highlight dunks on YouTube because there are no cameras. There are no tales of 56-point scoring bursts because no games are played.
''A lot of guys have no clue what they're in for when they come here,'' said Matt Howard, a coach at the John Lucas Basketball Resources program for five years. ''Pros sometimes think they know everything or think they can't get better. They come here with us, (and) they find out they can do things better, build on their strengths and work on their weaknesses. We break them down and build them up.
''It's not for everybody. We don't kiss butt. You come to work, and we'll make you a better ballplayer.''
Since Lucas, 57, left his most recent NBA coaching position (he was an assistant with the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2009-10 season with the stipulation he would leave after the season to return to his program), his training camps have run throughout the year.
He has expanded them to include sessions for players from fifth grade to the professional ranks. The gym is most crowded leading up to the NBA draft (he coached the second and fourth players taken in June, Derrick Williams and Tristan Thompson) and through the summer when college players work on their games alongside the pros.
No pandering allowed
Lucas expects more NBA players to join the program next month if the lockout continues as expected, but his coaching style and the demands of the program will not appeal to players who prefer to be off in the offseason. Lucas will not pander any more than he will turn on the air conditioning.
''I'm hard,'' Lucas said. ''I cuss. I fuss. I'm not afraid of them. But at the end of the day, they know I'm on the team. I'm used to dealing with pros. College coaches tell me, 'Man, I want to coach in the pros.' I tell them, 'Man, until you have to deal with an $84 million player, it ain't easy.'
''When you have credentials, nobody argues with you. I have 35 years of experience. I've been the No. 1 pick. I've been the first guy on the team. I've been the middle guy. I've been the last guy on the team. I've been the head coach of a great team. I've been the head coach of some sorry teams. I've been the guy who has been kicked out.
''I think coaching is four things - mentoring, counseling, teaching and, the most important thing, positive confrontation. I know how to confront each of them to get them to get better.''
Worth the price
NBA players pay $8,500 a month for the privilege. Fees vary for players at different levels and for the predraft camp.
''I'm expensive,'' Lucas said, ''but I'm worth it.''
The setting and much of each day's drills are decidedly old school, but these are not scenes from Red Auerbach's old Red on Roundball series.
Twice a week, the day begins with Monique Dotson leading yoga training. Kenny Winston serves as a strength and conditioning coach with three sessions a week in the weight room. Louis Ray, from Texas Orthopedic Hospital, is the rehabilitation specialist and said Rockets guard Jonny Flynn has gone from limping badly to being at 100 percent as a result of being in the program.
Players report at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday and begin with stretching or yoga before moving on to 90 minutes of drill work and conditioning.
''I know guys in the league, they'd be like, 'Man, this is crazy. I'm not coming back,' '' Philadelphia 76ers forward Thaddeus Young said. ''But if you're a hard worker and you want to get better, this is the place to come. It's fun to play five-and-five and pickup. This is work.
''It's good to sharpen your skills. You definitely have to have a different mindset to come here to work.''
Drills, no games
To Lucas, the program is about more than improving fundamentals. It begins there, but the greater goal is to advance coaching and the quality of all levels of Houston basketball.
''The skills pay the bills,'' he said. ''You have to do the work. As the guys get older, they don't want to do the skill work and the conditioning because they feel they already have that. I'm saying you are never too good to work on your skills.
''The reason high school basketball has gotten better (in Houston) is I trained most of the people who are training players now. They come in and work with me and are now coaching. We've gotten like football in high school basketball.''
After the skills work, players compete but even then they do not play games. They work five-on-five-on-five (with one team waiting at half court to take the court after each made basket).
But because Lucas wants to train players to quickly create shots for themselves and teammates as if racing an NBA shot clock, he allows only 10 seconds per possession and no fast breaks.
The morning session ends at about 11:30 when Mike James leads a Bible-study group for about 20 minutes. After a lunch break, weightlifting begins at 1 p.m. three days a week. By 2:30 p.m. every day, players are back on the court.
On Saturdays, participants - from NBA players to a select few high school stars - report by 6 a.m. High school players return Sunday evenings.
Asked if NBA players actually show up at 6 a.m. Saturday, Howard said, ''They better.''
''Guys come in here, 'Coach, where's the air conditioning,' '' Lucas said. '' 'You're at Lutheran North. It's hot. It's a privilege to play in those arenas. They didn't draft you because you can play. They draft you on potential.' That doesn't sit well with a lot of guys. They've been told they're really good, but they can't play yet.
''Last year, $60 million left the gym in new contracts and coaching jobs. Not that this was the sole reason, but we felt they improved. That's why they call this the lab. We get things done.''