Jan. 7, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
Coaching staffs shape their team around a style of play and the abilities of the student-athlete, but it’s up to certain members of the support staff to make sure they’re in-shape throughout the year. Fitness, diet and rehabilitation are just a few of the important functions South Carolina men’s basketball strength and conditioning coach Scott Greenawalt and athletic trainer Mark Rodger perform to help build the program.
“You’ve got to get the kids physically ready to go, but you also have the mental side of it,” Greenawalt said. “I’m preparing these kids for Coach (Frank) Martin. I’m not preparing them for Arkansas or Georgia or whatever team we’re playing. I’m preparing them for what Frank Martin wants so he can actually coach these kids on the floor, whether it’s getting them in better shape, getting them stronger or mentally tougher, more flexible, or whatever is needed.”
“The primary role of an athletic trainer is injury prevention, treatment and rehab,” Rodger said. “I feel it goes a lot further than that. Sometimes you have to be a psychologist, best friend, relationship counselor or something else. There are a lot of hats we have to wear at some point.”
Greenawalt is a former middle linebacker from Muskingum College in Ohio. Now in his fourth year at South Carolina, he also worked with Martin at Kansas State. Prior to accepting the job with the Gamecocks, Martin made it clear that he wanted Greenawalt to come with him.
“When (former Athletics Director) Eric Hyman and I spoke about the job, I told him if he (Greenawalt) doesn’t come, I’m not coming,” Martin said. “He is by-far, hands-down, the best strength coach in college basketball. There are a lot of good ones out there, but what he does with the guys is unbelievable.
“Scott is invaluable. There is not a level of importance on what he means to us. You can’t count to that number. I truly feel that strength coaches are the most important people in a program because they get to spend the most time with the athletes year-round.”
Martin shares the same strong feelings toward his athletics trainer.
“People only pay attention to the athletic trainer when there is a significant injury, but in reality, they probably put in more hours than any of us,” Martin said. “They have to spend a lot of time with the players after practice and before practice. Of course there is rehabilitation, but now you also have ‘pre-hab,’ which is all the stuff you do to try to prevent injuries.
“Mark is all about the players. He has a difficult job. He wants to get the guys out on the court, but at the same time, you never want to put an athlete out there when they can risk further injury. They walk a difficult walk, but Mark has been a true champ doing it.”
Every kid is motivated differently. You have to get to know the kid first before you find ways to motivate.
In his role as strength and conditioning coach, Greenawalt helps transform the student-athlete’s bodies into something more functional and appropriate for their sport. That process continues each year they are in the program.
“Look at the three seniors who are playing now,” Greenawalt said. “Especially Laimonas (Chatkevicius). I don’t think he could get up and down the floor more than twice during his freshman year. He was overweight. You look at his body now, and it’s not a body-building competition by any means, but physically he’s able to do the things we’re asking him to do.”
“He pushes us to our limits,” said junior guard Duane Notice. “He is a great guy to be around because he is so positive. I know, personally, I have noticed a difference in my body since coming in as a freshman to becoming a junior now. I know just by looking at the freshmen now, from where they started when they first came, the growth that they have shown through weights and conditioning has been tremendous.”
“We love him,” said senior forward Mindaugas Kacinas. “He’s a good coach. He pushes you every day. If you come with a bad attitude, he’s just going to kick you out of the practice. You have to bring the energy.”
Redshirt freshman TeMarcus Blanton suffered a severe hip injury during the 2014 fall preseason camp, and there was not a definite time frame for him to return. Blanton worked tirelessly in the training room with Rodger, who is now in his tenth year with the program, to get himself ready and fully cleared to play this season.
“When someone goes through an injury like TeMarcus did, he ends up spending so much time with Mark that he becomes a confidant and a psychologist to him,” Martin said. “‘T-Blanton’ is trying to re-discover his body and stay in a positive place mentally, and those things are in direct correlation to Mark. He has been the one that has been there for him the whole time, keeping his spirits in the right place and teaching a young kid how to be patient while his body tries to overcome a ridiculous injury. You have to have good people around kids like that, and Mark is one of them.”
“Discipline and accountability translates to all areas of the program,” Rodger said. “What you put in is what you get out. So if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to in the weight room, or you’re not taking care of yourself with the athletic trainer, then that is going to affect your performance. The greatest thing under Frank is that all of these areas are valued very highly in terms of discipline and accountability.”
Greenawalt notes that strength and conditioning is not a one-size-fits-all science as programs not only vary from sport to sport, but can also vary among the individuals on the team.
“Each kid is a little bit different,” Greenawalt said. “You spend a lot of time with these kids outside of the court. Fans don’t see that. Every kid is motivated differently. You have to get to know the kid first before you find ways to motivate. Basketball is different than football. You train differently. With football, you have 50 guys in the room so it’s like herding cattle. With basketball, you can do a little bit more personal training.”
While there are different ways to increase stamina and strength, Greenawalt noted that there is a simple way to get ready in the offseason.
“The best way to get into great basketball shape is to play basketball,” Greenawalt said. “So that’s why I need to get them ready for Frank’s practice. Then they have to practice hard to get into good game-shape. Football and basketball are different metabolically in terms of what the body needs to play the sport. We do a lot of different things conditioning-wise. You can run on a treadmill all day long and still not be in game-shape.”
While the strength coach and the athletic trainer may appear to be on different ends of the spectrum, the two not only have to work well with the coaches, but with each other as well.
Sometimes you have to be a psychologist, best friend, relationship counselor or something else. There are a lot of hats we have to wear at some point.
“We communicate on a daily basis,” Rodger said. “Both of our goals is to make sure those guys can succeed on the court.”
“We all have to be on the same page,” Greenawalt said. “If a kid is struggling in the classroom or with his girlfriend, then he’s probably going to struggle in practice and have a bad day. So you have to keep your eyes open.”
In addition to fitness and rehab, nutrition is another key ingredient for success. The student-athletes have access to a licensed nutritionist as well who can also help them with any special needs.
“The main thing for us is to make sure that the kids are eating enough and that they’re hydrated,” Greenawalt said. “We have to educate them. I can tell right away if a player hasn’t eaten right. He can’t make it through a workout, and he doesn’t look good when he’s running.”
“Diet can also affect rehab too,” Rodger said. “I like to look at nutrition, hydration and rest. If you’re lacking in any of those three areas, that is going to affect your performance on the court and also in the rehab process. There are a lot of studies that show if you are not getting the right nutritional values in your diet during the rehab process, it can delay recovery, and it may prolong the injury. Scott and I put a lot of emphasis on front-end education.”
Coaches demand hard work in practice and in the games, and the foundation for that work ethic can begin in off-the-court training.
“Establishing a work ethic is part of my job,” Greenawalt said. “Being part of the program is all about working hard, and you can establish that before practice even starts in the weight room. You can increase that work ethic too. We’ve seen that in our seniors this year. They work harder now than they did a few years ago. That’s a credit to them and everyone else in the program.”
“In life, the stronger you are physically, the stronger you get mentally,” Martin said. “That goes hand in hand because to get stronger physically, that means you have to challenge your body. That means your mind gets challenged because you have to deal with some difficult stuff.”
It’s in these areas where team leaders can be born, regardless of their status in the playing rotation.
“Everybody leads differently,” Rodger said. “For example, Mindaugas is not a very vocal person, but I think all the guys in the locker room respect him because he gives you everything he has on a daily basis, and he has an unbelievable work ethic. That’s all effort based.”
“You are always striving to make guys better,” Greenawalt said. “That’s why my title has the word ‘coach’ in it. You have to coach every kid in the things that they are not very good at.”
In seeing Greenawalt and Rodger work with Martin, it is clear there is a mutual respect.
“What I like about Frank is that he’s never changed from when he was an assistant coach to being the head coach,” Greenawalt said. “The number one thing in my profession is to have the coach’s support, and he is right there. He supports me 100 percent. Working with him is great.”
“The biggest thing for me is that he trusts what I do,” Rodger added. “With accountability and discipline, he truly believes that athletic training is no different than what they do in the weight room, on the court and in the classroom.”
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