New York Knicks rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. went from being under the radar on the national high school scene a few years ago to an NCAA tournament runner-up in April to the 24th pick in June's NBA draft.
One factor in that progression has been his work with two trainers: his father, former All-NBA point guard Tim Hardaway, who has managed his son's skill work; and Ed Downs, a strength, speed and balance coach.
Downs, founder of PROTERF training in Miami, has worked with Hardaway Sr., Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and other NBA All-Stars. Downs specializes in taking athletes' movements at their position and incorporating them into workout exercises to make them even more effective in actual competition.
Since his junior year at Palmetto (Fla.) High School, Hardaway Jr. has worked with Downs. The initial focus was adding strength, but at the same time, making sure he wasn't slowed down with too much size right away.
"It wasn't about getting stronger with lifting weights," Hardaway Sr. said. "It was getting stronger with agility and lateral work -- with the [resistance] bands, with your legs, with your arms, everything."
Downs added: "We wanted to make him more athletic all-around, and we needed to put size on him. ... We made sure we put on the right amount of muscle per year and increase his speed per year. He went from 172 pounds as a sophomore to 178, 184, 192, 196, and now he's 202 -- about six pounds every year."
After the 6-foot-6 Hardaway Jr. was drafted -- and before he went to Las Vegas to play for the Knicks' summer league team -- he began his fifth summer of working with his father and Downs. The workout schedule was four days a week: twice at Downs' gym and twice at the University of Miami basketball facility.
"His dad incorporated a lot of movement drills -- catch-and-shoots, coming off curls," Downs said. "My thing was getting his body strong enough where he could come off these curls, stop and plant with good control and good balance, and jump straight up and hit the shot."
To build that strength, Downs incorporates resistance bands or balance discs while Hardaway Jr. is working on a basketball move. The discs put pressure on Hardaway to remain balanced, therefore firing his core muscles. Downs will strap resistance bands to Hardaway Jr.'s wrists and ankles to force him to push harder through an exercise. For some shooting drills -- like when Hardaway Jr. stands on one leg to simulate a fallaway shot with resistance -- Downs will combine bands and balance discs.
"Ed simulates game-like situations, like if it's a first-step move using bands around your ankles," Hardaway Jr. said. "We do a lot of core strengthening for jumping, running and putting your body in situations where it might help you in a game."
Hardaway Sr. said his son lacked confidence in his ball-handling in previous years, but it has improved through repetition, working on in-and-out and spin moves and the Euro Step. Now it's about making him efficient more quickly on the move, as he'll experience a speed upgrade in the NBA.
"A lot of ballhandling deals more with changing directions," Downs said. "Those guys are going full speed with the ball in their hand and changing on a dime, so you need that control."
To accomplish that, Downs has picked up the intensity this summer with Hardaway Jr.'s workouts, adding more quick-reaction exercises and running drills with less recovery time. The whole idea is to train him like a point guard.
"We actually do more point guard-type speed drills," Downs said. "For example, most teams have you running '10s,' which is up and back down the court five times. I'm trying to get him to do that within a certain amount of time for a point guard, which is 54 seconds."
While Downs and Hardaway Sr. have been instrumental in Tim Jr.'s ascension, the newest Knick had the drive to take on the professional-level training as a teenager and never quit.
"He's a hard worker, he's a perfectionist, he wants to do well, he wants to win for his team," Hardaway Sr. said of his 21-year-old son. "He's got the competitiveness of a winner."
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