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The Basketball Tournament: Roundtable Q&A

A Q&A with current and former NBA players participating in The $1,000,000 Basketball Tournament.

Alex Kennedy

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The NBA season is over, which means diehard basketball fans must go without the game they love for quite some time. For a long time, summer league was the only option for a basketball fan craving some action featuring professionals. Now, there’s another alternative.

The Basketball Tournament is back for the second straight year, and it features a ton of former NBA players, old college teams reuniting, a $1 million prize and nationally televised games on ESPN and ESPN U. The opening round of TBT starts on July 10, and games will be played in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. Games will be on ESPN, ESPN U and live-streamed online, and tickets are available as well.

For complete details about The Basketball Tournament, check out my in-depth article on the competition from April. The short explanation is that anyone can put a team together and the winning squad splits the $1 million prize however they decide. This is the first year that TBT will be televised and feature a seven-figure prize, which has attracted a ton of talented players. Contract restrictions prevent current NBA players from playing in TBT, but former NBA players and free agents are free to participate. The following players will be competing in TBT this year:

Nate Robinson, Mike Bibby, Jason Williams, Jamaal Tinsley, Brian Scalabrine, Dominique Jones, Josh Selby, Jamario Moon, Hakim Warrick, Donte Green, Michael Sweetney, Royce White, Smush Parker, Fab Melo, Jermaine Taylor, Von Wafer, Sam Young, Terrence Williams, Pooh Jeter, Damien Wilkins, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Ike Diogu, Josh Boone, Marcus Banks, Luke Harangody, DerMarr Johnson, Willie Reed, Xavier Silas, Ryan Gomes, Renaldo Balkman, Chris Wright, Tyshawn Taylor, Bobby Brown, Earl Barron, Sundiata Gaines, Dijon Thompson, Stephen Graham, Derrick Caracter, Alex Kirk, Rob Kurz, Mardy Collins, Scotty Hopson and Hamady N’Diaye among others. Other players may still be added too (rumor has it Rasheed Wallace and Jermaine O’Neal are being pursued).

While current NBA players cannot take the floor, they can serve as a team’s general manager, coach or booster and Ty Lawson, Jamal Crawford, C.J. McCollum, Nick Young, Frank Kaminsky and Matt Bonner have decided to do just that.

With The Basketball Tournament right around the corner, we caught up with some of the participants to get their thoughts on the tourney, their respective team and their strategy entering the competition. Each of the individuals we talked to has played in the NBA. Check out our roundtable Q&A:

 

How did you hear about The Basketball Tournament?

Jamario Moon, Player, “Team Trained To Go”: “I got an email asking if I wanted to play and then I was put in contact with [my general manager]. At first, I had never heard of the tournament. I thought it was just another small basketball tournament that organizers put together in a city and they try to get some guys to play so they can generate some money. I thought it was just another one of those. But then once I heard the details –the $1 million prize money, games being on ESPN – I thought, ‘This could be pretty big right here, and a nice opportunity to make some money.’ You can’t beat that. Go out there and play basketball for a month, have some fun and possibly make some money? You can’t beat that! I’m looking forward to it. It definitely won’t be my last time playing in TBT.”

Dominique Jones, Player, “Team BDB”: “The first time I heard about the tournament was when Josh Selby, who is on the team and also our general manager, hit me up about it. He told me about it and it seemed like a great opportunity to play some high-level basketball and potentially earn some money doing it. That’s what I love doing, so I was in.”

Smush Parker, Player, “Team Big Apple Basketball”: “I played last year and I actually first heard about TBT through my coach, Jason Curry, from Big Apple Basketball. I was working out in New York and had just gotten back from playing overseas. He reached out to me and asked if I wanted to run with them in the tournament and I did. It was an incredible experience last year. It was really organized, it was well run, the teams were competitive (for the most part) and the games were exciting. I enjoyed myself and I felt like I was 16 years old again playing AAU basketball.”

Michael Sweetney, Player, “Team City of Gods”: “I actually heard about it from a really good friend of mine, Joe Connelly, who used to be a player development coach for the Washington Wizards the year before last. He’s a good friend of mine and we’ve been working out together for a while and he said, ‘Why not put a team together with guys from this area and try to win this tournament?’ So that’s how I found out about it. This whole tournament is just such a great idea. And not even just the money part of it, just the way that it allows guys to come together and form a team to play together, it’s great.”

C.J. McCollum, Booster, “Team The Wrecking Crew”: “I think I initially saw something about it on social media. I clicked on some links and found out more information about it.”

DerMarr Johnson, Player, “Team City of Gods”: I heard about the tournament through some friends and even had some guys I didn’t know who were reaching out to me trying to get me on their team.”

Alex Kirk, Player, “Team Armored Athlete”: “When I was up at the D-League Showcase, I heard from a couple buddies that they were participating. I’m not doing much around that time of the summer, so why not play? It’s the closest thing to an AAU tournament I’ve been able to compete in since high school.”

Willie Reed, Player, “Team BDB”: “Well, I heard about it last year, but I wasn’t sure if it was something that was real or legit. Then, when I did confirm that it was for real, I found out a little bit too late so I wasn’t able to play. This year, I wanted to give it a go and Josh Selby asked me to play for Team BDB (also known as Brothers Dat Ball).”

Xavier Silas, Player, “Team City of Gods”: “I heard about it from Joe Connelly too, and I was really interested.”

 

Who is on your team and how did your roster come together?

Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “Actually, I live in Atlanta so I got with a group of guys here and we’ve been playing basketball together for a while. We have [former NBA players] Damien Wilkins, Kevin Murphy and Garret Siler. We have some guys who played overseas too.”

Dominique Jones, Player, Team BDB: “I’ve known Josh Selby for a long time. We met through my trainer, who used to work with Josh back when he was younger. Once Josh and I met, we just immediately became close and cool. We always kept in touch, even though our careers have taken us in different directions. I joined his team and he just kept adding guys like [Jermaine Taylor, Willie Reed, Aquille Carr, Durand Scott and Ibrahima Thomas].”

Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “I’m playing with the same team as last year, but there are some new guys added on this year. Last year, we had 10 guys on our roster, but only five players showed up so we have the same nucleus, but we wanted to make sure we filled out the team with other guys who could show up. [Former NBA players] Sam Young and Derrick Caracter are on the team with me.”

Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “Joe Connelly pretty much put the whole team together. We have DerMarr Johnson, who is a former NBA player. We have David Hawkins, who plays overseas. We have Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who played in the NBA. We have Xavier Silas, who played in the NBA. We have Hamady N’Diaye, who played in the NBA. We have James Gist, Phil Goss, Omar Strong, Devin Sweetney, Lafonte Johnson. We have a number of guys who played in the NBA or played at a high level overseas. We have a pretty stacked squad. … There are some other really talented teams with former NBA players too though. Dominique Jones is playing, and I know he can go. He should be on someone’s [NBA] roster, but he’s probably just looking for the right chance. For sure, he’s one of the most talented players that I know of in the tournament. Josh Selby too, he can go and he’s very talented. [Team BDB] has some really good guys who can play.”

C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “Holden [Greiner], Jordan [Hamilton], Mackey [McKnight] and some other Lehigh alumni are locked in on our roster, to my knowledge. Lehigh had some solid teams over the years and guys have stayed in contact post-graduation. Holden is one of the guys who’s really involved in orchestrating the team and reaching out to different players.”

Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “Most of the players on our team played in the Midwest and a number of the guys played at Indiana such as Christian Watford, Will Sheehey and Jordan Hulls. We also have Mark Lyons from Arizona. They found a sponsor in Armored Athletes and then found a good group of guys.”

Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “I knew I wanted to join this year and then when Josh Selby asked me to play, I figured what better way than to team up with the guy who I became friends with during my pre-draft training? Josh and I built that relationship during the pre-draft process, working out together in Las Vegas, and we had chemistry on the court. We always had fun together and played well together. I’m looking forward to reuniting with him. We have a lot of other talented guys as well. I feel like I’m a guy who can fit in on anybody’s team just because of the way I play, and we have a lot of good players who I’ve worked out with or watched over time.”

Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “Our team has Pops Mensah-Bonsu, DerMarr Johnson, James Gist, Phil Goss, Hamady N’Diaye and Michael Sweetney, just to name a few. Joe and his team put it all together.”

 

How is your team preparing? Will you all practice beforehand?

Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “We work out every day together in Atlanta, so we’re going to practice for the tournament and put some plays in place. Actually, we already have some simple sets that we can call. We just played in a $5,000 tournament a few weeks ago and we won, and we ran some basic stuff. We’ll use that, but we’ll also practice more before the tournament. We’re going to turn some of our daily workouts into practices, but it’s great that we already know each other and have chemistry.”

Dominique Jones, Player, Team BDB: “We don’t have any set plans [to train together] yet, but I’m down here in Tampa just working out individually at USF, doing what I do.”

Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “We are all in the gym, doing individual workouts. I don’t think we’ll be able to get the whole team together to practice plays and defensive schemes and things like that, but we’re all in the gym individually and getting ready and working on our individual skills. I’m working out in New York.”

Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “I think we’re going to set up something so we can start getting together and practicing soon, but we still have a few guys who are finishing up their season overseas. Once those guys are free, we can all get together. But right now, the guys are pretty much working out with Joe and he already has a game plan for what we’re going to do and how we’re to play. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re all excited about it.”

C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “I think the guys will begin practicing as it gets closer. Obviously, I’m in the gym doing my offseason training so I won’t physically be involved as much as I would like, but I can still keep up and stay in contact with guys, due to the advancements in technology (laughs).”

DerMarr Johnson, Player, Team City of Gods: “I’m not positive if we are getting together for practice, but I think we will try to do something like that. It’s tough because I know some guys are still playing right now.”

Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “This part will be interesting because I know a few of them are trying to meet up during the summer before the games start so that they can practice together. I think that would be great to work out together (and play some golf). But my summer is going to be pretty busy playing summer league with the Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks, training at IMG Academy and hosting a couple of my own camps in New Mexico.”

Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “Josh [Selby] had talked about meeting up in Baltimore for practices or getting together before the tournament, but I’m not sure what we’re going to do yet. I’m sure we’ll go over some things, put some plays in, discuss pick-and-roll situations and figure out our defensive strategy and then go from there.”

Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “I think we will get together beforehand and get some chemistry going, for sure. We’re still figuring it out though.”

 

What are your team’s strengths and what’s your strategy going in?

Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “I think our biggest strengths our ability to play [unselfishly] together and our experience together. Some guys can really score the basketball, some guys can really shoot it, but then they just want to take all of the shots. If we see an open guy, we’re going to hit the open guy. With the seven-footer Garett, we can just dump the ball to him down low and we get him cooking first. Then, if they start doubling Big G, he kicks it out to our shooters. If they don’t double him, well, guess what? He’s going to eat.”

Dominique Jones, Player, Team BDB: “I look at our roster and I just think we’re an all-around good team. We have a lot of talent at every position, all of our bigs and guards can hold their own. We have guys who can score and then play great defense against their opponent on the other end too. We’re going to be a two-way team, that’s going to be what we’re known for and that’s obviously a great strength to have.”

Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “Based on what I know from last year and what I know about the players we’ve added, we have guys who can make plays. We have playmakers who can create for others as well as themselves. We can get into the paint and finish, and we have a lot of outside shooting as well.”

Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “Honestly, it sounds crazy, but I think our biggest strength is that just about our entire team grew up in the D.C. area and we’ve all known each other 10 to 15 years. From a chemistry standpoint, we all know each other as players and as people and I think that’s huge for us. Also, we have so many guys with experience at different professional levels, whether it’s in the NBA or overseas, so we have guys who know how to play smart basketball.”

C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “I think our strengths are obviously the fact that these guys have played together in years past and understand each others’ games. They will need to play unselfishly, hustle and shoot well to compete at a high level.”

DerMarr Johnson, Player, Team City of Gods: “We just have a well-rounded team of guys who really know how to play and we will just try to play together and play smart.”

Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “I’m not 100 percent sure yet, to be quite honest, but I think we will have a nice mix of shooters and athletes. I think it will just be a game-by-game decision on what’s working because you can’t really scout your opponents for this. We’ll see what works each game.”

Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “The thing about Team BDB is that we have so many talented players that even if one guy doesn’t play well, we have a ton of really talented guys who can pick him up. We have so many guys who can play at a high level and contribute to the team. We have a lot of athleticism, so we can switch a lot. We have a lot of size, so we should out-rebound most teams. And we have excellent guards in Josh Selby, Dominique Jones, Jermaine Taylor and others who can break down their defender and finish. We also have strong leaders. I think that’s a great combination of players.”

Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “Defense and rebounding are our strengths, I think. I look at this team and I see rim protectors and rebounders first. Then, I see people who are dogs and who don’t mind getting gritty on defense. Then, of course, we have offensive weapons. Putting all of that together could make us real scary. Also, we all have been playing at a high level overseas, so we will be able to connect in that way on the court as well.”

 

Does your team have what it takes to win it all and why?

Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “Of course we have what it takes. We have some guys who can really go. They play overseas, but it’s not like they aren’t good enough to play [in the NBA]. Our guys can play and, most importantly, they know how to play the right way. There’s a difference. They know the game and they know how their teammates play so they get the ball to them in their spots. It’s basically like we’ve put together our own little pro team here in the city.”

Dominique Jones, Player, Team BDB: “Oh yeah, I think we have it takes to win the whole tournament. Psh, if I didn’t think we had what it takes to win, I wouldn’t be playing in it.”

Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “I felt like we could’ve won the entire tournament last year with just five guys, but a lot of us were 30+ years old so playing three or four games in three days was hard on our bodies. Last year, we just ran out of steam. This year, I definitely feel like we can make it to the finals and win the whole tournament.”

Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “I mean, of course. Going in, we’re definitely confident. But we also know that there are a lot of other teams that are also thinking like us, so we just need to take things one game at a time. I’m sure every team is going in thinking, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this thing.’ But I do think we have a good squad here talent wise and it’s great we all know each other personally. We just need to take it one game at a time though. All it takes is one bad game and you’re going home – that’s the hard thing about a single-elimination tournament like this.”

C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “In order to win it all, I think it’s more about playing together and executing. Every team in the tourney has talent, but not all have cohesion and chemistry.”

DerMarr Johnson, Player, Team City of Gods: “We just have an experienced, talented team. I’m sure a lot of other teams feel that they do as well, but [we’re confident]. That’s why we feel we can win.”

Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “I think we have a good mix of players, which will make it difficult to beat us.”

Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “The only goal is to win it all. With our competitive nature and the team that we’ve built, the only goal we have is to win it all and take home that prize. There’s no feeling good about making it to the final game or ‘getting close.’ We joined this tournament because we want to win it all. That’s the only goal we have in mind.”

Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “I think there are a lot of fighters and hungry guys on this team with really high talent levels. I think management has done a good job of putting us together and if we can get things right on the court, we can take [the $1 million].”

 

Which opponents are scarier: The reuniting college teams with chemistry or the teams with veteran NBA players that are very talented on paper?

Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “If there’s a team in the tournament that has jelled and has played together every day and understands how to play together as a team, I think they have the best shot at winning it all as opposed to the teams that were just thrown together for this tournament. I haven’t looked at all of the rosters, but I think our team has the best shot because I don’t think there are a lot of teams [with our talent] that are playing together like we have been. I mean, we play every day, so that’s really going to help us.”

Dominique Jones, Players, Team BDB: “I think the NBA talent is scarier. Chemistry is obviously really important, but I think that it’s easy to develop chemistry when everyone has the same goal. A team’s chemistry can be bad when people have ulterior motives and stuff like that, but everybody on our team has the same goal and knows what we need to do to win and get this money, so our chemistry will be great.”

Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “I’m going to go with the college teams on this one. I believe in team basketball. It’s a team sport and, in college, they harness that concept that everyone works together as a team – defensively and offensively. I’m more afraid of the college teams reuniting than certain teams that may have a few NBA players on their roster.”

Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “The alumni teams from Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Virginia and other schools are probably our biggest challenge. Those guys played in college together and spent so much time together so you know they’re going to be ready to play and have a system they can run. Chemistry is so important. Not to make a direct comparison, but look at a team like the San Antonio Spurs. Those guys have amazing chemistry and have the system down to the point that they know each other so well and always know where they’re going to be on the floor. It is almost automatic, and it’s amazing to watch as a basketball fan. Those teams that have chemistry and can run plays, they definitely have an advantage – even over a team like us since we have never played together like that. We are getting ready, but some of those teams played together for four-plus years. That experience will really help them, but we’re going to play hard and do our best. Honestly, the other scary rosters are the ones where you don’t know anybody. You know nothing about their team entering the game, so you can’t really prepare. There’s no real game-planning, you’re just going out there and playing. I think that’s one of the hardest things about this. The college teams are scary, but the teams you can’t scout or prepare for are tough too.”

C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “I don’t think any of them are scary. There are solid players on all teams, but it’s more about competing and just going out there and hoopin’. At the end of the day, it’s still basketball, regardless of who’s out there.”

DerMarr Johnson, Player, Team City of Gods: “I’m really not sure who are on the other teams, to be honest. I haven’t looked at any of that.”

Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “The college teams are scarier by far. This will be very similar to the old high school AAU tournaments where the most talented teams rarely win. The teams that play together and play defense, AKA play San Antonio Spurs basketball, will always win. I think that the NBA players will dominate [individually], but I don’t think they will ultimately win the tournament.”

Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “The college teams are always going to have the chemistry advantage. My old college team [from Saint Louis] is actually playing too. We know those teams will have chemistry from playing together for so long. But when you have a lot of NBA-caliber players, we know what it takes to be successful in the league, to play at the highest level and to work together. I think the San Antonio Spurs are a great example. If we can play somewhat close to what they do – playing on both ends with everyone knowing their role and jelling together – then we’ll have a shot to win. We’re just worried about our team and how we will play every night. If we do that, we don’t have to worry about any other teams in the tournament because we’ll go out there and handle our business.”

Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “They are both scary, but I think the reunited college teams with actual veteran NBA players [such as Syracuse with Hakim Warrick and Donte Greene] pose the biggest problem. We’re focused on our own team though, making sure we don’t beat ourselves.”

If you do win, what will you do with your portion of the $1 million prize?

Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “I don’t really spend a lot of money. Oh, I have been collecting remote controlled cars. It’s a little hobby of mine. I like collecting them and getting them all souped up to go fast and then going to race them against other cars. That’s probably what I would do with my money, man. I’d get myself some new motors and gears and RC sets. I’ll go crazy with it.”

Dominique Jones, Player, Team BDB: “I’m not sure yet. I have a baby coming soon, so maybe I’ll start a college fund or something. I think that’s a good idea.”

Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “I haven’t decided yet, but it will definitely go toward something related to my future and what I’ll do after I’m done playing basketball.”

Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “Honestly, I don’t even know. That’s a good question. When we first all came together and talked about the tournament, we decided how we were going to split the potential prize money up and all of that, but that’s the last time we talked about the money. I haven’t thought about it at all. I have three kids so I would probably put it toward paying for college or something related to them.”

C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “I haven’t even thought that far ahead yet. I’ll probably do some charity work – make donations – and invest some depending on how much is left after the split.”

DerMarr Johnson, Player, Team City of Gods: “If we win, the money will just go in the bank.”

Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “I would put most of the money in my foundation to help sponsor my camps back in New Mexico. With the rest, I’d just invest it and maybe live off it until the next contract kicks in next season.”

Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “If we win and get that money, I’m just going to continue to take care of my family. I’m getting married this summer, so I’m sure my wife will have a lot [of say] in how the money is spent (laughs).”

Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “I’m looking to buy a home next year so it will be going toward that, and paying off my law school debt.”

For more information on The Basketball Tournament, check out this article. Only July 1, the tournament’s bracket and official game schedule will be released.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA

High-Performance Mindfulness: Pre-Game Work – The Holistic Approach

Pre-game routines are key in priming players for optimal in-game performance. Jake Rauchbach breaks down integrated player development methods for accomplishing this.

Jake Rauchbach

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Creating the momentum required to produce consistently high-level performance is a delicate process. It’s something that must be cultivated and nurtured daily through disciplined adherence to one’s craft. Doing so ensures the proper velocity needed for a player to instinctually perform at the highest possible level during a game.

Employing holistic pre-game routines may present one of the more efficient ways of doing this. Systematic to the point, integrated player development routines that prime the three levels of the player may increase the probability of cultivating improved in-game results.

Performance momentum is the rate at which a player accesses higher-level flow/production output. In-game production is the byproduct of a player’s consistent focus on his/her craft.

That being said, approaching pre-game prep from this holistic vantage point is about efficiency, and aims to find the fastest way possible to help the player produce come game time.

One of the most effective ways to do this is through a multi-level pre-game player development approach that primes emotional frequency, position-specific skill-development and mental focus. Pairing these approaches has been shown to influence in-game production upwards. Here is how.

Pre-Game Holistic Player Development

Priming Energy

The player’s meridian system is like an energetic highway of interconnected pathways where prevailing thoughts, emotions and feelings flow or travel through.

If and when those roadways get blocked – for instance, with the lingering concerns from an off-court issue or the leftover emotion from a previous on-court failure – this can act as baggage weighing down the player’s future performance. When these energy pathways become blocked, it can also impede a player’s ability to access those higher flow states that produce big-time performance.

Helping a player clear the slate of any mental and emotional residue still lingering pre-game by priming the player’s energy system is the best-kept secret of many high-performers. Many Olympians who compete in individualized sports such as track and field and swimming employ this methodology for fast starts.

Employing a pre-game 5-minute energy optimization technique that sleuths out mental and emotional discord can reap dividends come game time. Whether driven by the player or implemented by the hybrid player development coach, leveraging Energy Psychology techniques to reset internal dynamics fast is best practice.

The five-minute period directly before the on-court skill work begins is a great time to do this. Integrating the technique within on-court work helps the player begin to learn how to pair their game and their emotional management together. Making this a component of the pre-game routine gives the player extra repetition for how to do it in a game.

Priming Skill Development

Once the deeper level of the athlete is primed, getting right into player specific skill development is next. The goal here should be to help the player find a rhythm, performance flow, and good feeling; Basically, a skill-development routine that grooves the player.

Each player generally has a routine that they like to employ pre-game. For wings, it may be a combination of spot-shooting, off-ball cuts, and short clock pick and roll action is best. For Bigs it maybe a finishing around the rim package, mid-range catch and shoot and pick and roll action. For point guards, PNRs, spot-shooting and their favorite move, and counter-series could help facilitate the desired rhythm.

The intensity to which players go through their pre-game work is another intriguing piece.

Each player is different, and not all players need to go 100% pre-game to be at their best in-game. Priming performance for the goal of producing maximum level production during the game is an inexact science and is player specific.

However, when there is an absolute focus in pre-game, many times you will see the player touch-into peak-performance states; The player’s pace could look to be game-speed, and the execution rate could mirror that of a late-game situation. This sort of pre-game intensity is generally ideal and is a reflection of the player’s emotional clarity and mental focus. Both of which help to build performance momentum into the game.

Priming Mental Focus

The next layer of this process is mental, and priming mental focus is all about consistency. During pre-game, it is good to have a pre-established mental focus routine in place. Once honed, the player can internally perform the mental cue in under five seconds.

Deliberately working mental focus repetitions into pre-game further prepares players. Employing one or two repetitions is effective. On free throws, or in between drills, players who can knock out mental focus cues before the game are priming mental acuity for in-game action.

Players with pre-existing internal processes like this can proactively read and attack in-game situations as they arise. This helps to increase their probability of success. Greater confidence and cleaner execution are all byproducts of mental primers in action.

Priming the energetic, physical and mental systems in this fashion, is already being seamlessly integrated into player and team concepts. Synthesizing these three levels of player development before the game helps facilitate greater execution during the game.

A proactive hybrid approach such as this can create openings for players. As players continue to report the benefits of integrated approaches such as these, expect pre-game quick-hitting visualizations, meditations, and energy optimizations to become a valued and common component of pre-game player development.

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NBA

High-Performance Mindfulness: Mental Performance Consultant Dr. Rainer Meisterjahn

Jake Rauchbach and Dr. Rainer Meisterjahn dive into the NBA’s Mental Performance Space.

Jake Rauchbach

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Dr. Rainer J. Meisterjahn is a Mental Performance Consultant and the Founder & Owner of Courtex Performance. Rainer and Courtex Performance provide basketball mental performance training, personality evaluation and professional development services for players, coaches and organizations from the youth to the international pro and NBA levels with the goal of empowering clients to maximize performance.

Rainer has worked as a consultant for multiple NBA organizations, particularly in the area of mental player evaluation, as well as in a mental training capacity. As a draft consultant, in collaboration with Courtex Director of Analytics, Dr. Dave Laughlin, Rainer has developed NBA Pre-Draft interview guides, tracked player behavior, conducted interviews, administered and interpreted mental assessments and broken down observations for the front office

Dr. Meisterjahn has made great traction at the NBA level within the Mental Performance space. He has consulted for teams such as the Miami Heat, Utah Jazz and the Milwaukee Bucks. Other clients include FIBA and NCAA Division-I, II and III teams and coaches. He has also spent time with the German Youth National Team players and German BBL teams, such as s.Oliver Würzburg Basketball Club. Working with players such as Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris, Rainer is quickly establishing himself as a leader within the Mental Performance space.

Basketball Insiders caught up with Dr. Rainer to pick his brain about the Courtex Performance LLC philosophy and to get his take on burgeoning mental performance space.

Jake Rauchbach: What’s up Dr. Rainer? Thanks for taking the time. Can you talk about your Courtex Performance’s philosophy on mental performance training?

Rainer Meisterjahn: Our philosophy is about three things. Firstly, mental training needs to be personalized to the individual – which means there is no cookie-cutter approach. You must understand the personality of the individual: What are their values? What are their motives? What are their goals?

The second part is that it has to be systematic. There has to be an ongoing systematic approach to it. There has to be regularity to it. We do a lot of stuff around developing the core values that are important to the individual and looking at what those core values look like in action, behaviorally on the court. We have players rate themselves. We have coaches provide ratings. In that context, we teach pre-game visualization, in-game focus cues and other techniques to help players regulate their focus in productive ways.

Thirdly, mental training really needs to take into account environmental factors. What is the culture of an organization? What’s the player’s role and what is their relationship with others that he or she deals with on a regular basis? This is really how we look at it.

JR: What’s your way of building rapport with players?

RM: Starting out it’s always about finding common ground, especially with players I may have nothing in common with on the surface. We may look different, we come from different places, and we are different ages. I am just always looking for the one thing that might connect you. Sometimes that’s a personality trait. Maybe the player is a little bit more of an introvert like I am, as well, and actually might appreciate when I take the time to chat one-on-one and get them away from the crowd.

In other cases, maybe you just kick it with a player over a mutual love for sneakers or music or whatever the case may be. Also, oftentimes approaching players from the perspective of wanting to utilize them as an expert, I think that really helps. Instead of coming at a player like you’re trying to fix him, you utilize him as an expert. All players have some expertise that can help a younger teammate, for instance. So you try to be as much of a learner as you are a teacher in the context of building rapport.

JR: How do you see this field progressing over the next 10 years?

RM: The big analytics wave started maybe about 10-12 years ago, and then maybe, about 5-6 years ago you had a pretty significant sports science movement to where organizations have started to build out more extensive sports science departments that are a couple steps up from that old school model of just having one or two athletic trainers on staff. I think mental health and mental training are both up and coming right now. I think that the NBA organizations, probably in some cases, are a little bit confused as to what’s what, and how those two things (mental health and mental performance) coexist.

It’s exciting that I think the NBA is starting to recognize the role of mental health a lot more and they’re acknowledging it and putting in place professionals to take charge of those efforts. The mental performance piece – I think it is still somewhat exploratory for a lot of organizations. I know, my guy Dan Kalkstein has been with the Mavericks going on 20 years or so. I do think it is getting to that point that most organizations are going to start to bring in at least one consultant.

I think within the next 5-10 years, we are going to start looking at mental training departments. I think that is where the future is at. There are just too many opportunities, and there is just too much need within organizations to just simply have one person there.

Mental training can be done at the team level and it can be done at the individual athlete level, and it should be. You need mental training and leadership development within the coaching staff. Beyond that, you look at the front office. You look at the organization as a whole, the staff and the employees. You know most people are being overworked and they’re stressed and they have no tools and skills to deal with everything that is coming at them. You have the G League, which really should be about development not just from the neck down, but also from the neck-up as well. Now you have E-Sports teams within organizations, which is another really intriguing angle.

JR: What part do you think analytics departments are going play into validating Mental Performance?

RM: I think there is a lot that can be done in terms of tracking and analyzing player body language and working with an analytics department inside an organization to pump out information to educate coaches, and, for players, to set more tangible goals in key areas.

The more that we can show that mental training does make a tangible difference – in terms of not only in-game stats, but also in terms of longevity for a player in the league, things of that nature. Obviously, that stuff is powerful. It does take time to accumulate that type of information….As far as moving our field forward, I would agree that the more we can show tangible differences that we are able to make, I think that is really crucial.

JR:  What are the differences in how a league like the German BBL and the NBA incorporate the mental performance coach?

RM: With the team in Würzburg, I have had the luxury of working with a head coach in Denis Wucherer, who gives me the opportunity to work with players as a group, developing our cores values, our identity. Being on the court, working one-on-one with players – rebounding, passing – and building trust – being around the guys, showing that I am a basketball guy first and foremost and not a shrink. It’s been exciting to able to work like that.

NBA organizations are much more complex. You have a lot more people involved from front office people, coaches to performance staff. It is a little bit more complex, so sometimes it’s not as easy to get as much access as a club like Würzburg has given me. At times that is probably necessary, but overall it limits what we are able to do a little bit. The more an organization develops trust in you to do it your way, that’s really where it’s at. You got to get in there and you got to be able to do the work. You can’t be a bystander.

In Summary

Rainer made several big-time points. Firstly, mental performance is best employed through a customized, systematic process that factors in environmental elements. There is a big difference between mental health and mental performance.

Currently, there is a substantial need at the player, team, coaching staff and decision-maker level for mental performance resources that can provide effective High-Performance training. Analytics departments provide an opportunity to help validate tangible outcomes in mental performance and player behavior. German BBL teams seem to understand how to effectively employ the mental performance resource as a part of the greater coaching staff.

Lastly, just like the analytics and sports science waves, mental performance could be poised as the next major departmental build-out at the NBA level.

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Minnesota Timberwolves 2019-20 NBA Season Preview

The Minnesota Timberwolves have new leadership but are bringing back functionally the same roster that missed the playoffs last year by 12 games. Can the Wolves improve enough internally to make the postseason or will the Wolves become sellers at the trade deadline? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Minnesota Timberwolves in this 2019-20 NBA Season Preview.

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After another up and down season, the Timberwolves find themselves looking at a defining season in 2019-20. There is new leadership in place that is not tied to anyone on the roster, and all of the contracts and commitments made came from the previous regime, which means everyone starts with a clean slate.

That said, the clock is ticking on All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns, who is entering the first season of his 5-year, $190 million extension signed in 2018. Modern NBA history says All-Stars won’t stay committed long if they don’t have a chance to win and win big, which put the pressure squarely on the new front office to turn the ship.

To say this is an important season for the future of the Wolves is an understatement.

The Wolves missed the playoffs last year by 12 games and are returning functionally the same roster, which means if things are going to change its going to have to come from internal growth or a mid-season trade. The outcome of the first half of the season could answer that question either way. The Wolves have solid players, the question is can they put it together?

Let’s take a look at the Minnesota Timberwolves in this 2019-20 NBA Season Preview.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

The Timberwolves are in serious need of a second star. Karl Anthony-Towns should continue to be productive, but even he needs to continue to develop – mostly on the defensive end of the floor. They were pleasantly surprised last season with the play and motor of Josh Okogie, who will be relied on even more so this season. Rookie Jarrett Culver projects to be a strong two-way player with a versatile offensive game – he should be another positive for the Wolves. And there is good depth in Noah Vonleh, Jeff Teague, Robert Covington and Keita Bates-Diop. But the lack of efficiency and effort from Andrew Wiggins has hurt the T-Wolves developmental trajectory. As has been the case for a number of years now, if he improves his three-point shooting, shot selection, and defense, the Wolves have the potential to be a very different team. As currently constructed, they’re going to struggle to keep up with the best in the West.

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Drew Maresca

We’re entering another year with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins as the focal points of the Wolves. Are there more expectations or less? Jimmy Butler is not around anymore, nor is Tom Thibodeau. Ryan Saunders is taking over and following in his late, great father’s footsteps. Can the 33-year-old continue to galvanize this underperforming franchise and turn it into a contender? Stocked with a plethora of forwards, the roster could make it difficult to do so this season. But with a mixture of veteran talent and interesting prospects, there might be a culture shift in Minnesota – and it will prove to be the mark of a new era. As a part of one of the toughest divisions in the NBA, it’s hard to see this team playing in the postseason, though.

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Spencer Davies

The Timberwolves have one incredibly good thing going for them, and that’s Karl-Anthony Towns. He is a superstar and, luckily for the Wolves, they have him locked in for the next several years. After him though, the rest of the team is kind of a question mark. Robert Covington emerged as arguably the second-best player on the team, but his season was cut short due to injury. They lost some of their bench depth in Tyus Jones and Taj Gibson, and they’re looking to Jordan Bell and Shabazz Napier to fill those roles. What they really need though is Andrew Wiggins to play like the max contract guy the Wolves believed they had. He was once thought to be a budding star, but he’s been wildly inconsistent to say the least. If he plays as he should, maybe the Wolves challenge for the eighth seed. If not, look for another lottery finish.

4th Place – Northwest Division

– David Yapkowitz

Things have to turn for the Timberwolves right? There is simply too much talent in Minnesota for them to be a team that’s outside the playoff picture. New team president Gersson Rosas resisted the temptation to blow things up in Minnesota, and beyond some minor changes, the bulk of last year’s team is coming back, as is Ryan Saunders at head coach. That could either make this the beginning of the end, or the turning point for the youth on the roster. There is little doubt Karl-Anthony Towns is the franchise cornerstone, but if Andrew Wiggins doesn’t step up on a night to night basis, he could be gone by the trade deadline and that could start a tidal wave of changes. The Wolves have the talent to be a playoff team, the question is can they be consistent and healthy enough to cement themselves in the 7-8 seed discussion?

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Steve Kyler

It’s a bit difficult to assess the Minnesota Timberwolves’ offseason. I like a lot of the smaller moves Minnesota made but I think the team may have missed the mark on what could end up being the biggest move of its offseason. I liked that Minnesota traded Dario Saric and the rights to Cameron Johnson (11th) to the Phoenix Suns for the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft. However, rather than addressing the team’s point guard situation by drafting Coby White, Minnesota drafted Jarrett Culver. Culver is a talented player, but White is the better prospect in my opinion and could have been the long-term solution for a major area of need for this team. Having said that, I like that the team locked in Ryan Saunders at head coach, signed Noah Vonleh to a $2 million contract, signed Jordan Bell to a minimum contract (notably Bell will again be a restricted free agent after this upcoming season), acquired Shabazz Napier ($1,845,301 guaranteed for 2019-20), and claimed Tyrone Wallace off of waivers. Minnesota has an expensive roster, so adding talent on the margins at little cost is a nice outcome for this offseason. The team still has some foundational issues in terms of its overall roster balance but Minnesota showed some savviness this offseason.

5th Place – Northwest Division

– Jesse Blancarte

FROM THE CAP GUY

The Wolves have new management with president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas, which could lead to roster turnover, though the $122.2 million still owed to Anthony Wiggins isn’t exactly a liquid contract. The team has 15 guaranteed players, which means one would have to go for Ty Wallace and his non-guaranteed deal to stick.

The Wolves still have their $3.6 million Bi-Annual Exception and almost $5 million of the Mid-Level Exception. By acquiring Jake Layman via sign and trade from the Portland Trail Blazers, Minnesota is locked into a hard cap of $138.9 million, but they’re not close to that figure, at least $6.3 million under the $132.6 million luxury tax line.

Before November, the team needs to pick up its option on Josh Okogie.

– Eric Pincus

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Karl-Anthony Towns

The Timberwolves’ fortunes start and end with Towns, particularly on the offensive end. His blend of size, agility and shooting touch is unrivaled in the NBA, even in the age of the unicorn. As Minnesota’s best three-point shooter (40.0 percent last season on 4.6 attempts per game), most-efficient scorer (57.2 effective field goal percentage last season) and even best free-throw shooter (83.6 percent last season), not to mention its best post player, Towns represents the most effective option at every level of the offensive attack.

With Derrick Rose and his 14.8 shot attempts per game now in Detroit, Towns’ workload should only increase. When Jimmy Butler arrived in 2017, Towns’ attempts per game fell from 18.0 the year before to 14.3. Last year’s uptick to 17.1 represented him picking up a share of Butler’s work, but it did not entirely compensate for what had been a trend line toward prolific offensive numbers. Approaching 20 shots per game would put Towns in the category of ball-handlers like Devin Booker (19.6 last season), Steph Curry (19.4) and Damian Lillard (19.2), but that is appropriate for a seven-footer who has handles enough to comfortably drive on other post players.

For that matter, there is hardly a bad shot for a player with Towns’ skillset. He scored 1.19 points per roll, 1.10 per spot-up and 1.02 per post-up last season, according to NBA.com.

Top Defensive Player: Robert Covington

Covington is a bit of an unknown commodity to Timberwolves’ fans, playing in only 22 games after he was traded from the Philadelphia 76ers. He is a complete unknown in a Ryan Saunders system, not taking the court at all under Minnesota’s then-interim, now-permanent head coach due to a bone bruise that led to loose bodies in his knee.

Covington made his reputation in Philadelphia as a 3-and-D specialist, but even when his three-point percentage waned to 33.3 in 2016-17, his defensive aptitude justified the 6-foot-9 wing’s playing time. He can defend every position on the floor and should be the fulcrum to Saunders’ defensive schemes, if once again healthy.

Top Playmaker: Jeff Teague

Partly by default as the only true point guard in what figures to be the Timberwolves’ top-eight players, Teague is the only genuine ball distributor on Minnesota’s roster. Acquiring Shabazz Napier from the Golden State Warriors put a nominal backup on the roster, but he has yet to average more than 2.6 assists per game in his four seasons.

This is a precarious position for the Timberwolves, particularly coming off the first season in his 10-year career in which Teague did not play at least 66 games, battling a litany of lower-body ailments to appear in only 42. Teague’s patient dribble and aptitude in the pick-and-roll game are ideal to fit with Towns. He may not be more than a league-average point guard, but he is a steady one and averaged 8.2 assists per game last year. Now, the Wolves need Teague more than ever.

Top Clutch Player: Karl-Anthony Towns

This may be another by default designation simply due to Towns’ offensive repertoire. Teague would rather move the ball than shoot more often than not, and Andrew Wiggins’ inefficient tendencies are exacerbated in pivotal situations. Towns, meanwhile, can score from any point on the court.

That Wiggins-Towns contrast has never been more on display than it was at the end of a January overtime against the Memphis Grizzlies. After Wiggins missed a long two from the top of the key, Towns snagged the rebound over Marc Gasol and then let loose a buzzer-beating fadeaway baseline jumper over Gasol, hitting nothing but net for the win. Those rebounding abilities — Towns averaged 12.4 per game last year — make him a constant threat for putbacks in clutch moments, as well.

The Unheralded Player: Josh Okogie

The No. 20 pick in the 2018 draft, Okogie earned notice from last season’s outset for his persistent defense and all-around hustle. He repeatedly wowed crowds with steals only to lose the ball in a chaotic drive to the bucket. Minutes later, Okogie would again flash his athleticism with a highlight reel dunk.

That was the general limit to his contributions, more intangible than anything else. Yet those intangibles earned Okogie 52 starts on a team racked by injuries and drama. The under-the-radar draft pick could have been in over his head, but instead earned the trust of his teammates and both coaching staffs. Yes, even Tom Thibodeau was willing to play this rookie, beginning with the third game of the season.

Okogie has spent the last month leading the Nigerian national team in the FIBA World Cup, averaging 12.6 points per game. More notably, he hit 42.1 percent of his 3-point attempts, which would be a significant jump from his 27.9 percent from beyond the arc in his first NBA action.

Best New Addition: Jarrett Culver

The piece acquired for the No. 11 pick and Dario Šarić will forever be seen as the first move from new Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas. Even without that mantle, expectations would be large for Culver. Minnesota did not intend to have a high lottery pick for a long time after selecting Wiggins and Towns No. 1 overall in back-to-back drafts. Culver restores that belief moving forward.

The 6-foot-7 wing was known for his defense at Texas Tech, eventually developing a scorer’s mentality when it mattered most. That mentality did not inherently include efficiency, as Culver went 5-of-22 in the national championship game. The Timberwolves want his defense right now and will be content to let the rest of his game progress in time.

Not to put too much pressure on a rookie, as if the Rosas burden has not already done so, but Minnesota finished No. 24 in defensive rating last season, and Culver is pegged to be the best defender added to the roster. If that ranking improves, he may get much of the credit, but if it doesn’t, the offensive loss of Šarić could become a regret.

– Douglas Farmer

WHO WE LIKE

1. Stability

If any NBA franchise is grateful to have little attention paid to it this fall, it is the Timberwolves. A year ago, infamous practices featured Butler-led bench units embarrassing the supposed stars of the future, buttressing Butler’s berating of Minnesota front office personnel. The chaos undermined whatever credibility Thibodeau still had. The 4-9 start may have actually been better than it should have been, in retrospect.

Barring a complete shock, the Timberwolves will have a quiet preseason camp this time around. Towns has made an offseason point of embracing some of the free agent signees; Wiggins and Covington spent considerable time in Minneapolis over the offseason, compared to the roster going separate ways in 2018; and Saunders has a clear runway as head coach.

2. Outside Influence

Hiring Saunders as the permanent head coach was expected. It would have been hard to fire the son of the franchise’s most-beloved figure after only 42 games, especially as he had to pick up the debris from the Butler fiasco, the Thibdoeau disillusionment and then a rash of injuries.

Contrarily, Minnesota owner Glen Taylor hiring Rosas was unexpected. Taylor has long preferred to stay within the family, so to speak, and considered former Timberwolves players Calvin Booth and Chauncey Billups. Sticking to his norms would have meant bringing in one of them. Instead, Taylor shook things up.

Rosas brings an analytics-driven approach from Houston. His star hunting will be high in both risk and reward, but for a franchise that has rarely appealed to free agents, such innovation and aggression is necessary.

3. Ryan Saunders

Saunders is young, unproven and arguably unqualified, but he is also a crowd favorite, beloved by his roster and willing to adjust to improve. Implementing an up-tempo offense and a switch-heavy defense will be massive deviations from the previous regime, but those should also play into Towns’ strengths and a wing-heavy roster. With Covington, Wiggins, Okogie, Culver and 2018 second-round draft pick Keita Bates-Diop, Saunders will have both flexibility and numbers, concepts Thibodeau avoided wholesale.

He may have been a questionable hire on paper, but Saunders is also not another coaching retread. Minnesota just lived through that cycle. Doing so again would have been a step backward simply by staying put.

4. Noah Vonleh and Jordan Bell

Two of the Timberwolves’ few free agent signings, both Vonleh and Bell should be able to play alongside Towns in Saunders’ system in ways Gorgui Dieng cannot. Neither is a dominant player, but that is not needed when Towns is on the floor. Either Vonleh or Bell should be able to defend a power forward when opponents go big while still being able to run the floor to keep up the pace.

These were minimal signings by Rosas and intentionally so, each on only one-year deals, but they will not compromise Towns and could come to be a solid fit with the superstar.

– Douglas Farmer

STRENGTHS

Towns might not yet be a top-10 player in the NBA, but he is on the cusp and could offer a dominant season as Minnesota’s unquestioned leader, finally. Any team with such a cornerstone will construct everything around him, and the Timberwolves are no different. The bevy of wings, the malleable big-man free agent signings and even the chosen head coach all accommodate Towns.

In a season stilted by mayhem, Minnesota still finished No. 13 in the league in offensive rating. Steering into Towns in every way possible will only help that figure further. The wings and Vonleh, Bell and Jake Layman should slightly reduce Towns’ defensive workload while not depriving him of offensive opportunities. For a player with his skillset, allowing him every shot attempt he desires is both the prudent and the efficient decision.

– Douglas Farmer

WEAKNESSES

This remains a lengthier list than the previous categories, but it can all trace back to a singular shortcoming. It could be argued the best offensive post-up threat on the roster beyond Towns is Wiggins and his 0.74 points per post-up last season. The secondary ball-handler beyond Teague may also have to be Wiggins.

These concerns all landing on the same slight shoulders underscores the Timberwolves’ tipping point. Wiggins has a max contract, but until he becomes a semblance of a max-contract player, this roster will remain depleted in areas it cannot afford to be if it wants to avoid the cellar of the Western Conference.

A charitable view would claim the year-plus of Butler stagnated Wiggins’ growth even more than it did Towns’. Indeed, Wiggins’ career highs in 3-point percentage, effective field goal percentage and field goal attempts per game all came in 2016-17, the season prior to Butler’s arrival. A return to those levels may not be what Taylor had in mind when he committed years of max-contract space to Wiggins to be Towns’ second-fiddle, but it would be a distinct improvement from last season, nonetheless.

– Douglas Farmer

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can the Timberwolves show enough evidence of long-term potential to keep Towns from forcing his way out sooner than later?

Minnesota will claim playoff aspirations this season, but in the competitive whirlwind that will be the Western Conference, it is an unrealistic hope in 2019-20. If things stay that way, though, the Timberwolves’ situation will quickly become dire. Towns is signed through 2023-24, but in the current era of player empowerment, those contract lengths are mere hiccups to moving along. If Towns voices a desire to contend for the playoffs, a majority of the other 29 franchises will call Rosas to gauge trade possibilities.

Minnesota needs to at least be respectable this season to give Towns reason to believe playoff contention is not far off. Doing so will come as a result of leaning on Towns more than ever until Rosas’ front office can figure out what big deal it inevitably wants to swing.

Towns is capable of such a monster season so as to keep the Timberwolves in vague playoff conversations past the All-Star break, maybe even into May. For now, that kind of individual showcase should placate him. That will give Rosas the time needed to thoroughly understand the mismanaged roster on hand.

– Douglas Farmer

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