McKechnie focusing on Raptors’ flaws

Dec 7, 2011 – 10:25 AM ET

Mike Cassese/Reuters 

TORONTO — Officially, Alex McKechnie’s title with the Toronto Raptors is director of sports science. In layman’s terms, he is the team’s new strength and conditioning coach.

Small forward James Johnsson finds neither of those descriptions acceptable.

“You really can’t call him a strength coach. I’d rather just call him a weakness coach because that’s what he finds: He finds what’s weak about you and what you need to do to get stronger,” Johnson said Tuesday. “All of the things I did over the summer – crossfit training, the martial-arts training – and I come here and find out I’ve still got a hundred things for me to get stronger and make me a better player and to make me a snap or a wink faster.”

The Raptors hired McKechnie over the summer. He spent the last eight years with the Los Angeles Lakers, who chose not to renew his contract among a series of money-saving moves during the lockout. Give the Raptors some credit: They spent money where they could during the labour dispute.

Strength and conditioning coaches, of course, do not do much to get fans worked up. But McKechnie could prove to be important this year, more than in others. The compressed schedule, released on Tuesday evening, will have teams play an average of 3.9 games per week, up from 3.5 in a normal season. That might not seem like a big deal, but it will necessitate back-to-backto-back games and spurts of five games in six nights.

“It’s a massive challenge,” McKechnie said Tuesday after working out Johnson, Jose Calderon and Ed Davis, as well as free-agent centre Jamaal Magloire, who was taking advantage of the NBA allowing any player to work out in any NBA facility before training camps open. “The biggest challenge you face is recovery. Certain players are going to be playing lots of minutes in back-to-back-to-backs in some cases. Back-to-backs are enough to start with in a regular season.”

McKechnie said that it will be nearly impossible for players to gain strength and put on muscle once the season has started. That bodes well for the slender Ed Davis, who put on 18 pounds in the off-season.

McKechnie is known for his Core-X program, which allows elastics and resistance to increase strength and flexibility. This year’s schedule will create different priorities. Flexibility will be a major focus for the Raptors. Once the games start, McKechnie knows complicated issues will arise.

“Under normal circumstances, it’s a major toll,” McKechnie said, when asked how hard it would be for stars to play 35-plus minutes a night for three games in a row. “The key is managing the time, managing the minutes that players play, particularly managing our practice time, and that’s really important at this point. Because players are going to play minutes, and we expect them to play minutes. However, will they run them hard in practice the next day? Probably not.”

McKechnie is trying to determine what kind of shape the players are in after a longer-than-normal off-season. He said he has developed baseline testing to figure out where to start with each player.

Given his methods, that will be important for the Raptors. McKechnie said each player will have a kit in his locker with a personalized plan for preventing injuries, especially recurring ones.

“He shows the weakness in you,” Johnson said. “But my weakness might not be Ed Davis’s weakness. Ed Davis’s weakness might not be [Andrea] Bargnani’s weakness. Everyone has their own plan. Everyone has their own body.”


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