Girls basketball practice began two weeks ago, but Brittany Gray began turning her attention toward the physical demands of the season the first week of August.
A multi-sport athlete, the Greenwood Community High School senior is an All-State softball player, which occupies her time through the spring and summer. But once that ends, she begins training for a sport that is significantly more physically demanding.
“Basketball is a good way for me to stay in shape, and it’s a lot of fun,” said the 5-foot-11 Gray, the Woodmen’s starting center. “After basketball season, softball conditioning is a piece of cake. The training is kind of similar, but there are differences. Basketball is a lot of endurance. Softball is quicker, faster. More about your reaction time.
“Once I get into basketball mode, I’m in that mode. That first week of conditioning is not fun, but it’s sort of a sign that it’s time to get ready.”
Gray does not play a fall sport. Some girls and boys basketball players are three-sport athletes; others player two sports; and some focus solely on basketball.
Though their preseason conditioning regimens vary, the objective for basketball is the same: to be fitter, faster, stronger and maybe even an improved leaper.
“It’s year-round, like you’re always going,” said Franklin senior Tara Parmer, a guard on the basketball team who, as a volleyball and softball player, is on pace to graduate with 10 varsity letters. “I’ve been doing this since I was in elementary school, going from one sport to another.”
Grizzly Cubs sophomore point guard Maci Eads uses soccer as her conditioning springboard into basketball season. In an effort to maintain the level of cardiovascular fitness, Eads ran track as a freshman.
“I feel like soccer helps a lot with basketball because it builds up my endurance,” Eads said. “I also try to watch what I eat the day of games and haven’t had any carbonated drinks for about a year. I drink a lot of water and sometimes lemonade.
“I feel like it helps me.”
Like Parmer, Center Grove’s Ali Line is blocking would-be spikes one minute and driving to the basket the next. The 6-2 junior completes each school year as a pitcher for the Trojans’ varsity softball program. Both sports help keep her in shape for the enhanced demands of basketball.
“Volleyball is a lot harder than it looks. I was actually in better shape than I thought for (preseason) basketball practices,” Line said. “Summer is my craziest time because we’ll do conditioning for both volleyball and basketball.”
The exercise-nutrition cocktail is a science in and of itself, but one that is anything but exact, given the fitness levels now expected in order to simply make the team.
“When I was in school, we had an old Universal weight machine in a storage room in the balcony,” laughs 1973 Greenwood graduate Bruce Hensley, who is in 25th season as the school’s boys varsity coach — and intimately familiar with the changes that have occurred during the past 40 years with regard to conditioning.
Nutrition a challenge
Today, physical preparation is virtually a science unto itself, encompassing not only specialized workouts, but also incorporating better nutrition habits and, as has become a growing trend at the high school level, working with specialized coaches.
“Now we have a strength and conditioning coach, Brian Smiley, who does a good job with the kids with speed, quickness, agility, balance and all those things,” Hensley said. “I also know he talks to them about nutrition and what they should stay away from.”
Proper conditioning, be it in a weight room, gym or on the school’s 400-meter track, yields results that over time are visible to the naked eye. Larger biceps and triceps. The addition or subtraction of body weight depending on the athlete’s needs. More definition in the shoulder and calves.
Therein lies the immediate motivation to carry on with squats, wind sprints and whatever other strength and aerobic exercises are recommended. The benefits of proper diet aren’t as tangible.
“I think nutrition is probably the most challenging aspect of coaching,” second-year Whiteland boys coach Matt Wadsworth said. “As a coach, you have to get what you can out of them. Every kid is different because of the eating habits they’re exposed to at home. There are a number of factors there.”
Wadsworth shares an anecdote from the 2012-13 season. He can chuckle now, though he wasn’t laughing at the time.
The coach reveals how during one of the Warriors’ home games, a Whiteland player had to be excused in order to use the restroom — to throw up.
“He had eaten Taco Bell about 90 minutes before the game,” Wadsworth said.
‘We need to eat healthy’
The lure of the fast-food drive-thru remains undeniably powerful in the United States, a country in which 35.7 percent of adults are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s here other potential options are mapped out — turkey and chicken over ground beef, water instead of sugar-loaded soft drinks and sports drinks.
“It changes. We go through cycles of, ‘This is the best thing,’” said Walt Raines, who’s in his 26th-year as the Franklin girls basketball coach. “I try to tell the players what not to do instead of trying to change their diet. We need to eat healthy.
“Lots of fruits, and stay away from the caffeine.”
Coaches aren’t certified nutritionists, nor do they pretend to be. At the same time, conveying the importance of sensible eating to the athletes they lead has gradually become part of the job description.
“Teenagers are opportunistic eaters, usually. If there’s food there, they’re going to eat it,” Edinburgh boys basketball coach Drew Glentzer said. “But I think they know that to be bigger, stronger, faster, it matters what you put in your body.”
All athletes are made differently when it comes to metabolism and cravings. In Parmer’s case, for instance, the pregame tradition is to eat a Snickers bar and drink a blue Powerade during Franklin’s junior varsity game.
This might not be recommended for everyone, but it works for her.
“I try to eat as healthy as I can, but I don’t cut back in proportions,” Line said. “I do stay away from soda, but I do like sweet tea a lot, so sometimes it’s hard to say no to that.”
‘My cheat things’
Jaren Hornbeak, a 5-11 senior guard for the Greenwood boys squad, benefits from a high metabolism.
“As far as fast food, I try to minimize it as much as I can. For the most part I can eat just about whatever I want, and it won’t affect me,” said Hornbeak, who last season was the team’s leading scorer. “I take snacks with me to school, or I won’t make it through the day.
“Trail mix is my best friend.”
Tyler Bryant, a 6-2, 170-pound forward for the Center Grove boys team, also benefits from what he describes as a similarly high metabolism
“I’ve always been kind of skinny, so I eat as much as I can. Good stuff, though,” Bryant said. “I do have my cheat things, but as an athlete I try to spread them out as much as possible.
“I don’t eat as much fruits and vegetables as I should, but I honestly find most of it good.”
Bryant, who led the Trojans in scoring (14.5 ppg) and 3-point baskets (58) as a junior, doesn’t partake in a fall or spring sport. He is able to gear his conditioning solely toward basketball.
This occasionally includes working out with his father, James, a former Southport basketball player, at a local health club. More often than not, Bryant’s workouts are, like most Center Grove athletes, conducted in the presence of Marty Mills, the school’s strength and conditioning coach since the 2002-2003 school year.
Franklin boys player Tyler Thomas, through hard work in the school’s weight room, now carries 195 pounds on his 6-5 frame. Thomas was more in the 175-180 neighborhood during the 2012-13 season when he helped lead the Grizzly Cubs to a 15-7 record.
‘Drink a lot of water’
Thomas doesn’t play a fall or spring sport, so he, too, must remain dedicated when it comes to his off-season workout and eating habits.
“Mostly I play basketball year-round, and with AAU we’re usually running constantly,” Thomas said. “Starting in May I’ll go out and run a mile on Saturdays and time myself. When I first start out I’m running times of around 6:45, but I’m down to 6:15 by October.
“With so much running and so much sweating, I make sure to drink a lot of water and have plenty of protein in my diet.”
Smiley, the strength and conditioning coach at Greenwood, and also the school’s assistant athletic director, works with athletes in every one of the 18 IHSAA-sanctioned sports the school offers — each with its own unique preseason workout.
A former state champion wrestler at Plainfield High School before lettering all four years in the sport at Indiana University, Smiley delivers a message that is anything but subtle.
“I tell them if you put crap in your body, that’s what you’re going to get out of it,” Smiley said. “We try to push protein and stay away from sugary things. The problem is that everything our society does is out of convenience. It’s a lot easier to go get a burger and fries than to grill a piece of chicken and cook up some vegetables or cut up some fruit.
“When I was going through school, people were just starting to train year-round. It really took off probably in the mid-1990s and continues to evolve today. Now if you’re not training year-round, it’s hard to compete.”
Food for thought, with no sugar added.