Get a unique look at the team’s growth and development during its six-day training camp in Colorado Springs. Plus, go behind the scenes on the team flight, bus and more.
Aiming to establish camaraderie and chemistry, the 2012-13 Sacramento Kings boarded their team charter on Oct. 2 destined for training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“I like the whole idea of it,” said center DeMarcus Cousins inside U.S. Olympic Training Center. “Coming in, I was like, ‘This is going to be a good thing,’ so we’ve all grown closer. We’ve still got a lot of work to do on the court, but off the court and just being there for one another, we’ve done a great job.”
For Sacramento’s first-year players, flying on the team plane presented a unique opportunity to spend time bonding with their new teammates and coaches, while being served top-notch cuisine – dinner and breakfast menus included teriyaki chicken, salmon, scrambled eggs, pancakes and turkey sausage, in addition to assorted sandwiches, snacks and fruit platters.
“We had a couple of (charter planes) in Alabama, but just being with a lot of NBA guys was pretty special,” said training camp invitee Tony Mitchell.
From the moment the team set foot in El Paso County, players sensed the effects of the Rocky Mountain thin air.
“People don’t think you can really feel it, but even once we got off that plane, (I felt) a loss of breath,” said Isaiah Thomas.
“At first, when you hear about it, you don’t think it’s real, but it’s definitely hard to practice out there, and practice how (Head Coach Keith Smart) wants us to play now – up-tempo and pick up on defense. It was definitely tough.”
The players appreciated the rare opportunity to train at OTC, enjoying top-of-the-line facilities while marveling at the fact many of the world’s best athletes have used the same equipment.
“It meant a lot to know that all of the USA guys came through there – the men’s, the women’s (teams), all of the gold medalists,” said No. 22.
“(Tyreke (Evans) and I were joking around, like, ‘Man, Michael Jordan has been on this bench press! LeBron (James) has been on this.’ … I’d never been there, and it’s something I can take back and tell people.”
After practicing twice a day in the high altitude – non-contact run-throughs in the morning and full-court scrimmages in the evening – many of the players believe they left The Centennial State in the best physical shapes of their respective careers.
“It will help a lot,” said Marcus Thornton on the second day of camp. “The altitude out here, we’re not even thinking about it – we’re just playing. Once we get back to Sacramento, we’ll still think we’re in (Colorado).”
Following the team’s first full practice of the season in Sacramento on Monday, Thomas, revealing he feels “like a new guy,” affirmed scrimmaging in Northern California is night-and-day compared to Colorado Springs.
“I feel like from having that week there, I won’t get as tired out here,” says the UW product.
Jason Thompson, meanwhile, believes while the mentally and physically taxing two-a-days were difficult, offseason workouts and preparation allowed the players to seamlessly embrace the challenge.
“I think for the most part everyone was really ready,” said Thompson. “We had conditioning tests that consisted of things that everyone got done and (those) prepared us to go out there with the altitude.”
The Kings ended each practice session in Colorado by shouting, “Family!” in the team huddles, a concept Thompson took to heart when he found out Assistant Coach Clifford Ray still talks to his former NBA teammates from over 30 years ago.
“You just don’t want to have lip-service when you say, ‘Family,’” says the Rider product. “Family is you ride or die for your (teammates) – on and off the court.”
Love the directions the team is headed bonding wit one another and not becoming just a team we r becoming a family in the process
— Marcus Thornton (@OfficialMT23) October 5, 2012
From the pre- and post-practice bus rides to frequent, light-hearted half-court shooting competitions, players and coaches shared laughs and jokes in addition to putting in countless hours on the OTC hardwood.
Tacoma, Wash. native Isaiah Thomas, often one of the last to leave the gym, passed time on the road by counting the number of Toyota Tacoma trucks on the streets, while typical conversation between teammates ranged from the frigid weather to football rivalries.
“When we’ve been around each other, we’ve bonded,” said Cousins. “At dinner, at lunch, we’ve bonded a lot, so it’s been good.”
While a continental breakfast – including eggs, cereals and bagels – and lunch – featuring a variety of salads, grilled chicken, pasta, rice, fish and beef – were catered at the team hotel, players ventured out to local eateries for dinner.
“We went out to a couple of restaurants that were close by the hotel – a couple of teammates and I,” said Mitchell. “We just hung out and ate and went back to the room.”
At times, however, the road-trippers were too exhausted to leave the comforts of their hotel rooms after being drained from the demanding two-a-days.
“Some guys went to dinner together, but I was in the room,” said Thomas. “I was so tired, I was watching TV and ordering some room service.”
Newly-acquired forward James Johnson quickly familiarized himself with his new squad, revealing that getting away from their hometown surroundings will also help him and his teammates during in-season travel.
“We know that we came to Colorado Springs so we can get to know each other, stay in hotels like we’re going to end up doing on road trips,” said No. 52. “We’re getting acclimated not only (as) teammates, but (to) the lifestyle of the NBA, which is staying in hotel rooms, taking the bus and eating (healthy).”
In fact, while some Kings went to a movie theater in addition to restaurants, most of their seldom free time was spent resting and recuperating.
“(There’s) not much to do out there, which is kind of good (because) you’re more focused on eating healthy, worrying about conditioning and getting to work offensively and defensively on the court,” said Thompson.
After several days of grueling practices, the Colorado Springs visit took a unique turn when the Kings journeyed to Action Learning Center at Broadmoor Resort for team-building exercises, where players had to work together to complete various strategic tasks.
Teamwork makes the dream work…lockerz.com/s/250561867
— Isaiah Thomas (@Isaiah_Thomas2) October 5, 2012
Had a great day bonding with the team …really had to depend on one another to overcome the obstacles we fa instagr.am/p/Qao-PNAHOa/
— demarcus cousins(@boogiecousins) October 5, 2012
“We just had to rely on each other,” said Francisco Garcia. “It was fun (doing it) as a team … We had to go high up, everybody helping, everybody talking – it was fun for all of us.”
Garcia, an eighth-year veteran, discloses the current Kings squad is one of the most tight-knit teams to which he’s been a part, especially after walking on tight-ropes and climbing walls while trekking in the mountains.
“I think (we’re) better than last year,” he says. “We (had) to rely on each other that day, and since that day, we’ve come more together as a team.”
Second year-guard Jimmer Fredette echoes a similar sentiment, adding he’s sensed a higher level of enthusiasm and excitement in the locker room.
“It’s a different atmosphere – I feel like we’re more together as a team this year and guys know each other a little bit better,” says No. 7.
After six days of bonding off the court, in addition to running through new offensive plays and defensive sets, Sacramento believes improved chemistry will translate to the court when the Kings first preseason game tips off on Wednesday.
“I think what makes or breaks a good or great team is when you can have a great relationship with each other off the court,” says Thompson. “Then, on the court, it can help out with knowing where guys are going to be and all of their tendencies.”
On the flight back to Sacramento Monday morning, Smart walked from front to tail-end of the plane, high-fiving each member of the organization and commending them on a job well done.
“We finished training camp on a very positive note,” says Smart. “(I need to) get them thinking we’ve got to stay in training camp mode all season long to try and reach the goal we want.”
“I think we accomplished a lot,” confirmed Kings President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie. “A lot of structure has been put in, and the next step is to see how much of it shows up on the court.”
– Catch the new-look Kings live in action as Sacramento tips-off its preseason against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday at 7 p.m. To get tix, Click Here.
How many contests do you think Sacramento will win in its seven-game preseason schedule?