ON A STEAMY AUGUST afternoon at a private gym in Los Angeles, Derrick Rose hoists a three-pointer over a defender. It comes up short. Then Kevin Durant, who had been standing behind Rose, steps up and sends a three off the back rim. Kevin Love is next; his try rattles in and out, causing him to curse with such vigor that perspiration cascades off his beard.
This is an article from the Sept. 9, 2013 issue
The misses bring out the Rhode Island wise guy in the dude on D: "I'm a 6'2" white guy who played 2--3 zone [in college]," cracks 34-year-old trainer Rob McClanaghan. "If you can't score on me, you've got problems." After eight straight bricks, Rose, Durant and Love begin a market correction, the intensity increasing with each swish. "Let's go, D-Rose," Love chirps. "Nice shot, KD," Rose barks. "Here we go, K-Love," Durant shouts as the string of makes reaches nine. "You guys," McClanaghan says, "must have a good trainer."
Welcome to the NBA's hidden summer, where a former Syracuse walk-on drills and develops some of the world's best players. McClanaghan's clients include four likely starters on the 2016 USA Olympic team—Rose, Love, Durant and Russell Westbrook—plus A-listers such as John Wall, Stephen Curry, Al Horford, Brandon Jennings and Chandler Parsons, not to mention WNBA stars Skylar Diggins and Candace Parker.
McClanaghan's workouts, which are tailored to a player's game, last only 60 to 75 minutes, as tempo and efficiency are valued over endless hours in the gym. Each drill lasts less than three minutes, and every rep is at game speed. That's evident by the sweat not just on the players' shirts but on McClanaghan's also. "We have that relationship where he can tell me the truth about any part of my game," says Rose, "and I actually listen to him."
After graduating in 2001, McClanaghan spent a year as a graduate assistant at South Florida, but he found as much enjoyment in putting his players through workouts as he did in coaching games. He took a job as a P.E. teacher and assistant coach at his old high school, Bishop Hendricken, in Warwick, R.I., where he began holding 6 a.m. sessions. He gradually climbed the ladder, taking on Providence forward Ryan Gomes (now with the Thunder) and the occasional pro. By 2008 he was training Rose, Westbrook and Love in Los Angeles before the draft. His work with that trio cemented his rep. "People said D-Rose couldn't shoot—he came back with a three-pointer and a pull-up jump shot," says Durant. "Same thing with Russ. K-Love developed his three-point shot to where it's automatic."
Says McClanaghan, "It just kind of happened. It's not the kind of job you say, 'When I grow up, I want to be a workout guy.' "
McClanaghan's reputation attracts players; so does the prospect of working with—and against—fellow stars. "I like competing in a workout," says Durant, who is spending his first summer with McClanaghan. "And going up against the best guys in the world is only going to make me better." Durant also appreciates not being the center of attention. "There are so many stars and so many people out here," he says, "that I'm just another guy."
Parsons blossomed into a 15.5-points-per-game scorer last season, his second in the league. To continue his ascent, he began working with McClanaghan this summer while in L.A. for the ESPYs and was so satisfied that he moved from Orlando to California for the month of August. "Rob hit me with stuff I've never seen," says the rangy 6'9" Houston forward. He is most excited about a dribble step-back move that Durant uses: He puts the ball through his legs, then hops back to create separation. "It's a great quick-hitter at the end of the shot clock," Parsons says.
After the Wizards' point guard shot 3 for 42 from three-point range in 2011--12, he called McClanaghan. They brushed up on the basics in L.A.—better balance, holding his follow-through and not fading on his shot. Then Wall flew McClanaghan, who frequently makes house calls, to Washington a half-dozen times last season to work on midrange pull-ups and three-pointers, both at a dead sprint. Wall boosted his shooting from beyond the arc by nearly 20% and raised his field goal percentage from 42.3 to 44.1.
LONG ROAD BACK
Is the Bulls' point guard ready to return and play at an elite level? "Hell, yeah," says Rose, the 2011 MVP, who hasn't played since tearing his left ACL during the '12 playoffs. Says Love, "He really looks great again." While Rose was recovering, he and McClanaghan traveled to L.A. for two weeks last November. Rose would stand flat-footed and take 150 one-handed shots from two feet. Then he'd step back and shoot 100 more. Another step. Another 100. Then they'd repeat with two hands. McClanaghan was honing in on Rose's weaknesses: keeping his eyes on the back of the rim and coming up short on shots. "I'm confident," Rose says. "I just can't wait to go out there and actually play."
LOVE ON THE RUN
The 6'10" Timberwolves power forward, who carried 30 extra pounds as a rookie five years ago, changed his body and game, thanks largely to the company he keeps: McClanaghan runs him with Rose and Westbrook. Once seemingly destined to be a low-post grunt, Love is now a deadly three-point shooter—and he's working on a Paul Pierce spin move and a Dirk Nowitzki baseline fadeaway.
THE RIGHT STUFF
The three-time scoring champ goes to his left—or weak—side so often that he needs to rebalance his game. "I struggle a little bit going to my right and shooting a pull-up," says Durant. McClanaghan has also drilled down on post moves for the 6'9" Durant, who is also developing a potentially unblockable running hook.