Many players spend evenings together in pickup games, staying in touch - and shape.
|[Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
Clockwise from top left, Derrick Brooks, Frank Murphy, Jacquez Green, Joe Hamilton and Reidel Anthony have spent their off-season playing basketball to stay in shape.
By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 13, 2001
TAMPA -- There is talk of a deadly jumper and rumors of a crossover dribble that can rip a ligament. And don't forget the myth about the guy who can break you down in the paint and dunk on your head.
And these are football players?
Pickup basketball always has been a part of the off-season for NFL players, and the Bucs have been no exception. But over the past few months, the game with the round ball has taken on significance for some of the Bucs.
About three times a week, as many as 20 members of the team have converged on a few local gymnasiums for a semi-organized pickup game that runs until the last man says he's had enough.
And it's the big names, too. Want to know how defensive tackle Warren Sapp lost 27 pounds? How Warrick Dunn and Jacquez Green looked in training-camp shape in late April? Why Derrick Brooks will be ready for the first workout of training camp?
You try running up and down a basketball court for three hours.
"It keeps you active," Dunn said. "Although a lot of guys take breaks and don't train (in the early part of the off-season), this gives you the type of conditioning and cardio work that helps you keep your lungs working at that rate. It keeps your muscles moving so that when you get to training camp on Day One, it's not as rigorous as if you haven't been doing anything."
Green, one of the organizers of the scrimmages, said the conditioning was what attracted the first group of players.
"That's the first thing that most people were out there for," he said. "Before you actually get (to training camp) and start conditioning with our coaches and the programs, we use basketball to get in shape. If you're not in shape playing basketball as often as we do, you're not in shape at all. Basketball is non-stop running, no timeouts, no huddles. It's up and down the court."
It began shortly after the end of the season when a couple of players were looking for a run and got together at a gym in the Carrollwood area. Word spread, and the crowd grew. The players then moved to a private club close to downtown Tampa, and more players began showing up.
"After a while, it was almost like the whole team was there playing," Green said.
Games are played with standard pickup rules, with one exception: There are no three-pointers. Initially, the first team to score 16 points won, but the increasing number of participants forced a rule change. They started playing with a 15-minute running clock. Whichever team is ahead at the end wins.
"When you lose, you might as well go home," said receiver Reidel Anthony, who says dribbling and shooting are excellent for his hand-eye coordination. "With the number of people there, you might be waiting awhile."
The players met between 5 and 9 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. But recent repairs to the gym floor and a three-day mandatory minicamp shelved the scrimmages. Since the minicamp, play has been temporarily suspended but likely will resume in the next two weeks.
Coach Tony Dungy said he welcomed the players getting together for basketball and that he is not too concerned about injuries.
"I don't really worry about it," Dungy said. "When I played (in the NFL), we played basketball all the time. Things are going to happen, and that's part of it. More important, I like the fact that they are working together, and it's part of being a 25-year-old and being energetic and wanting to do what you like to do."
The players' competitive nature suggests this is no place for the timid. But most of the players say they sometimes have to leave their fiery desires in the locker room.
"You have to be conservative about it," said Cosey Coleman, expected to start at right guard. "Being competitive, as all of us are, you tend to want to overdo it. But you don't want to get hurt. That's not the environment where you want to get an injury."
At 5 feet 8, Dunn is usually one of the smaller players on the court, and he said he applies many of the self-preservation techniques he has used through the first four years of his NFL career.
"I'm not trying to out-jump anybody," Dunn said. "I'm not trying to bust anyone on a crossover dribble. You want to play under control. I play under control."
There is one other benefit: team chemistry.
"The camaraderie between the team is good," Green said. "You know, a lot of teams don't really fool with each other outside the locker room and during the summer. But we've got a really close team, a really young team, and there are guys who like to hang out together."
Said Coleman: "It brings us closer together. In college, you have that naturally. You lift together, you travel together, you live together, you eat together. Here, it's a job, and you kind of go home, and everybody goes their own way. So any time you can get guys together to hang out, it brings unity."
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