Nelson takes Duren, Garland under his wing

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Magic's Jameer Nelson (left) trains with La Salle's Tyrone Garland (center) and Tyreek Duren.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Magic's Jameer Nelson (left) trains with La Salle's Tyrone Garland (center) and Tyreek Duren.
Posted: July 31, 2013

FIVE MORNINGS a week, the 9-year NBA veteran arrives at Summit Sports Training Center in Villanova riding his high-end vehicle from home, a long iron from Merion Golf Club. The two soon-to-be college seniors drive across town from their campus in a less-than-high-end vehicle.

The goal is the same. Get better.

Jameer Nelson will start his 10th year with the Orlando Magic this fall. Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland will begin their final years at La Salle when the fall semester begins.

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, they make the rounds of the Summit equipment, follow programs designed for them and sweat. Wednesday is recovery day at Summit, but, even that, looks like serious work.

After his 90-minute workout, Nelson heads up Lancaster Avenue, 2.5 miles to the gym at Mother of Good Counsel. Matt Brady is the James Madison coach and was an assistant at Saint Joseph's when Nelson was setting all the records and winning so many games. Brady puts Nelson through footwork and shooting drills he's been doing forever, the fundamentals that separate the players who say they want to excel and the players who do excel. Steve Smith (La Salle) and Garrett Williamson (SJU), still playing professionally overseas, join Nelson in sessions with Brady.

Duren and Garland hang at Summit for 3 hours before following Nelson to the little gym and working on those shooting drills with a player who remembers getting help from a pro when he was in college and is more than willing to do it for the next generation.

Nelson works individually with Summit's director of Sports Performance, Jeff Morgan. Duren and Garland are in an Elite Group of 25 that includes pro hockey player Brett Hextall, son of Ron.

Duren spent the previous two summers at Summit with Nelson. This is Garland's first run.

Nelson was in the Elite Group with Duren last year, but, after a season cut short by knee issues, Morgan has tailored a Nelson-specific program for the point guard who has put a lot of miles on legs that have been going at a furious pace since Biddy Ball in Chester.

Morgan has designed exercises to get Nelson's hips, shoulders and everything else in balance. On a Wednesday morning, he is helping Nelson recover from difficult workouts the previous two mornings and gear up for difficult workouts that will follow the next two mornings, working on mobility, soft tissue, finishing with a stretch.

Nelson is serious, but smiling, words from Bob Dylan lurking above him: "People seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient. Then repent."

"We're working on agility, strength and speed," Morgan says. "He's still working hard, but smarter."

And, without the recovery day, the body, Morgan says, "starts to break down and you get negative results."

Duren and Garland have played a lot of basketball, but not nearly as much as Nelson. So they get a different program.

The Elite Program, Morgan says, is a "little more involved because they're younger."

"The key for [Nelson] is not to have him peak too early and burn out by January," Morgan says.

The college season has fewer than half the games of the NBA. And the younger bodies recover faster anyway.

Shooting is technique and repetition. Brady greets Nelson while Garland and Duren finish off their longer workouts.

Shots off the dribble, step backs, shots after a variety of dribble moves, shots coming off chairs, aka screens, shots from midrange, shots from deep, shots from the corners, shots from the wings, shots, shots and more shots.

It is 95 degrees outside the open gym door. Sweat comes quickly.

How many shots can Nelson make in a minute? He makes seven, eight, nine in a row. And the numbers begin to blur.

"Shoot early," Brady says. "Hold your hands in the air."

"He wants to count my misses," Nelson says of a watching friend.

"Just don't miss any," Brady suggests.

"We're just tinkering with his game a little bit," says Brady after his work with Nelson is done. "It's nothing significant. When he's healthy, he's obviously a dynamic top-of-the league kind of guard."

Nelson works on many of the same drills with Duren and Garland. Duren already has a fluid shot. After a few sessions, Garland's shot looks much smoother.

"They keep me energized," Nelson says. "I try to give them as much as I can if I see something."

This all brings back memories for Nelson. It was a decade ago when he spent so much time working with NBA veteran Doug Overton, the great La Salle point guard from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"That's probably one of the reasons I'm always with the young guys because he was always with me," Nelson says. "He showed me the ropes and you have to pass it down. A lot of guys come 1 day, 1 week and never come back.

"You always hear how come he's working with this guy and not that guy. Well, that guy used to be here and this guy wants it more. One thing about me, I don't have time for feelings. Guys want to work, they come and work. Tyreek missed a day the other day. I chewed him out a little bit."

Duren, he said, has been good over the 3 years. Nelson knew him because Duren was on his little brother's AAU team.

"I told his dad whenever he was ready, he was welcome to work out," Nelson says. "He was probably about 12 at the time."

Now, Duren is all grown up and the leader of a team coming off a Sweet 16. He is not resting on what he has done.

"I played in a Sonny Hill game the other day and I felt a lot quicker than everybody," Duren says. "You can tell the difference when you play against other people."

The work does not stop after he leaves the gym.

"After we leave here, we go right over to study hall for 2 hours," Duren says. "And then class from 6-9."

This is no summer vacation. After class, it is sleep and "we wake up and it's time to come right back here."

Duren suggested to Garland that he join him each morning.

"I told him it would probably get him in the best shape of his life," Duren says. "I told him you have to be real disciplined. You can't be late."

Nelson did not know Garland until this summer.

"I don't know how he is outside the gym, but when I'm in the gym with him, he's not as talkative," Nelson says. "He's getting his work done. He's trying to learn."

It will be hard to outdo the "Southwest Philly Floater" but it won't be for lack of effort.

"I haven't had the chance to play against anybody yet, but I can tell by the way I've been moving and feeling that I'm getting more explosive," Garland says.

Thursday morning at Summit is all go. Morgan has Nelson working over minihurdles, using a 30-pound kettlebell, leaping off one foot 40 inches atop a stool, pushing the trainer down a track, pulling 200 pounds down the same track a few minutes later.

"I've learned how to pace it," Nelson says. "This is the best my body has felt in years in July."

Garland and Duren are doing one-arm push-ups, changing arms regularly. They are going from station to station with their friends, getting resistance from 0 to 50 pounds there, lifting weights here, and finishing off brutal-looking chin-ups that look impossible over there. They get balls thrown their way, making sure their eyes are up, that they stay athletic.

In late June, Nelson spent a week with workout guru Drew Hanlen from "Pure Sweat Basketball." Playing on a team with far fewer offensive options than he had been used to, Nelson, the focal point of many defenses, did not shoot as well as he had in previous seasons. Still, he averaged 14.7 points and a career-best 7.4 assists. His knees and the fact that winning was not a focal point in Orlando limited him to 56 games. The team was hanging around .500 through 30 percent of the season before injuries completely changed the priorities.

Hanlen went over every Nelson possession for the last 5 years on tape and made suggestions for next season. That is all being incorporated into Nelson's summer before he heads back to Orlando in mid-August to get his kids ready for school.

"Back to basics," Nelson says. "Get my stroke back together. Break it back down and rebuild as much as we can."

Duren and Garland don't have those kinds of responsibilities, but they want to be responsible to the game. Which is why they only hit that snooze button a time or two in the mornings and make that trek to Summit and then on to the gym.

"[Watching Nelson work] motivates me to work harder," Garland says.

So they all get to work early.

Players are made when nobody is watching. In a few months, the fans in Orlando and at La Salle will know who was working and who wasn't.

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