Morning Tip Q&A: Idan Ravin

NBA.com Global on Nov 21, 2017 07:59 AM
Morning Tip Q&A: Idan Ravin
Photo c/o @IdanWan on IG

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst

He continues to work, well, they’re not miracles, as that word is normally defined, but they are impressive turns. A generation of NBA players has sought out Idan Ravin for his -- it’s almost descended into cliché now -- unconventional training methods, and been challenged and changed by them. And he has remained one of the top personal trainers working with NBA players, along with the likes of Rob McClanaghan, Joe Abunassar, Drew Hanlen and others.

Ravin first worked with Steve Francis, who, like him, attended the University of Maryland. That led to gigs with a Who’s Who of NBA stars over the years -- LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul -- all of whom got better at basketball by spending their summer months with Ravin, the former lawyer who topped out as a player in high school and whose coaching experience was limited to youth basketball.

This past summer, Ravin got back together with Detroit center Andre Drummond, whom he trained before the Pistons took Drummond ninth overall in the 2012 Draft, and who had bottomed out as a player in 2016-17. While he was thought by many as the premier rebounder in the league, Drummond had little impact, and many believed it was because he didn’t want to get fouled late in games, when his deficiency as a free throw shooter would cost Detroit. He shot 38 percent from the line last season -- the fourth year in five as a pro that Drummond couldn’t crack 40 percent on foul shots.

But this season, Drummond isn’t only shooting a career-high 63 percent from the line (a drop from the 75-percent clip with which he began the season), he’s been given the chance to be a playmaker and passer. And Ravin also worked with Orlando’s Aaron Gordon, the high-flying forward who looked miscast as a small forward last season with the Magic, in large part because he couldn’t shoot three-pointers -- 28.8 percent last season. But after a summer with “The Hoops Whisperer,” as Ravin is known in some circles, Gordon has completely remade his game. He’s shooting 47 percent behind the arc, and has become a dynamic scorer for Orlando, including a career-best 41-point night in October against Brooklyn.

Ravin is trying to reach the next generation of NBA players where they live, on social media (@IdanWan, idanwan on Instagram, etc.), while bringing his unique training aesthetic to the party -- holistic, but demanding. Not a miracle, but effective.

David Aldridge: How different is the relationship today between teams and personal trainers/coaches than it was when you started? Is it more collaborative?

Idan Ravin: I would hope, but I don’t find it that way at all. In many, many ways it hasn’t changed at all. I don’t seek permission from someone when I work with an athlete. It’s something we discuss. And I’m supremely confident in my work and how I can help, and I do the work, and then I send them back to their team or I touch base with them at another point.  There is always going to be tension. I understand. That’s their asset and they have a lot of money invested and they feel they want to have their people do the work. But when I feel like the athlete’s my responsibility as well, then I act responsibly to them. And when I know I can fix and help and make change and refine and improve, it’s my responsibility to do that work.

DA: Would you ever cold call a player if you really thought you could help them?

IR: No, because I don’t like the solicitation element. To me, it has to be something that really grows organically. Are there certain guys around the league that really intrigue me? Yeah. Sure. But it would have to be a situation where we just meet in a really normal, relaxed way where we can have a really honest conversation. Because I don’t have a business card. I don’t work in conjunction with other people. It has to be an organic relationship that grows.

DA: Do you ever have differences of opinion with a player -- where a player may say ‘I want to work on this,’ and you say, ‘you don’t need to work on that’?

IR: I don’t believe in the concept of buy in, the way the sports institution does. I just think it’s a very antiquated way of dealing with people. I collaborate with my athletes. There’s things that they see and things that I see, and it becomes a bit of consensus. What they see might not always be accurate. I just try to create some clarity as well. There’s a lot of stuff where, while they may play the game, there’s a lot of stuff they don’t necessarily know the why behind a lot of it. I always spend time with them, but I can’t spend time explaining that. I do still hope that eventually they turn back and go ‘wow, Idan, now that all makes sense.’ It is unconventional and it is different. I don’t regurgitate philosophy. In every situation, I try to find a creative solution for it. With Andre’s situation with people making comments about his free throw shooting, this never started, never once was our focus on making him a better free throw shooter. Never. That wasn’t even the subject of the conversation. Our conversation was we have to become better: become a better player, become a better person, become better focused, all that. And the free throws were a byproduct of all the better.

DA: Was your approach any different with Drummond because his free throw issues were so public and obvious to people -- whereas other guys may be working on improvements that are more subtle?

IR: There were so many more things. That wasn’t something we even had a conversation about. It was, ‘you’re going to lose 30 pounds. We’re going to get better. We’re going to become more serious. We’re going to get more focused.’ And I’ve said this before: what I saw him do this summer, and what he did with me, he’s at 15 percent capacity what he’s doing with his team. He could be absolutely extraordinary. Extraordinary. But it’s hard to believe that when you see 6-11 and 285 pounds. You see that in a certain way. But what I saw this summer…magical.

DA: So what makes you think he hasn’t scratched the surface?

IR: Because he’s so much more skilled than people know. But he’s developed that. In the time with me, under my watch, I saw that. He’s really smart. But people don’t know that and don’t want to understand that. He’s uber creative, which are all signs to me of brilliant people. He can be very meticulous. All of those things are elements of people who can be really special. There’s lots of talented people in the NBA, of course. But not all of those people have all of those other skills, too. He has those.

DA: How do you keep it fresh, just for you, in your own head?

IR: Every player’s different to me. I love, I’ve worked with the elite veteran ground. But I’ve also made it a point to identify the younger generation, and this summer it was Aaron and Dre. I love, often times, taking that athlete that people have sort of counted them out: Aaron, he just can dunk. Or Andre Drummond, he’s just an underachiever. Part of my thing is to say, you know what? I’m going to make this happen. We’re going to make this happen.  

DA: Okay, Aaron Gordon. Where did you start with him? Was the mental side more important than the physical, because he’s such a great athlete?

IR: The point was we tried to minimize being an athlete. That was a lot of this. It’s like, I know you’re a pretty girl. I get it. But what else is there? You’re a great writer; you can have Shakespeare in your brain. But if you don’t know how to operate a computer, you don’t know how to turn it on, you don’t know word processing, or you don’t know how to type, Shakespeare never appears. So there has to be a physical element as well, and then the mental element kicks in as well. And they work symbiotically. This idea that I’m just going to have great thoughts, and then I’m going to become a great player? To me, that’s just empty promises. The physical is a big part of all of this.

DA: With Aaron, what did you see that needed fixing? Or, improving?

IR: I think it was just this complete overhaul. There was a technical side, there was a physical side, there was a mental side. And there was also him getting healthy, too, because for a lot of parts of his career he wasn’t playing at 100 percent. There was also convincing him, you’re more than the best dunker in the world. There’s a lot to you. And with him, I fundamentally believe he can be a top five player in the NBA, and be first team all-defense, and do things that no one has done on both sides of the ball. Because he’s only 22, and he’s incredibly bright, and incredibly thoughtful, incredibly diligent, incredibly resilient. And he cares. I can’t tell you how many Friday nights in the summer time we were in the gym at 10 o’clock at night. On a Friday night in the summertime. He doesn’t have to do that. But he wanted to do that. Hard work, to me, is overstated. Lots and lots of people work hard. It was just more how you work, which is more important to me.

DA: You’ve spoken about different inspirations that have aided you in your work. Has that changed as you’ve gotten older?

IR: For sure. I feel like when I started this a long time ago, I was a one-star chef. And I taught myself to cook, and I got a little better, and then I became a one and a half star chef. And I hope, God willing, that now I’m a five-star chef. There’s always a responsibility to evolve and become more sophisticated, and find inspiration from many sources. And so I take teachings that other people don’t see. And I think that’s been part of my own internal growth. I had to do this on my own. I don’t have a mentor. I don’t have a library I go to. I don’t have people teaching me what to do. This is all on my shoulders. I’ve had to constantly grow and refine and evolve. Often times, I test my work based on the production of the athlete. So whether it’s taking an athlete who’s not to get supposed to be drafted but finding him in the first round? Or taking a kid who’s got the worst 3-point shooting in the NBA, and now at one point he was at 70 percent? Those are reflections of my own growth and my own development.

DA: So, with a guy like Andre, how do you factor in regression to the mean? I mean, he started off shooting 75 percent from the line; there’s going to be natural regression, right?

IR: During the season, yes ... the thing that’s sometimes difficult as well -- without taking a jab at the team, but under my watch there’s a certain level of expectation and promise. On other people’s watches, I don’t know what happens. So that regression, I have to take a step back and go, well, why?

DA: So there could be an actual explanation for something like regression?

IR: Yeah, for sure. There’s certain things that I’m looking for and certain things that I emphasize that’s part of our tactic, that I can kind of address and fix. When they’re not under your watch, different things could happen, obviously. They could do better, they could do worse, they could stay the same. I have incredible high expectations for the athletes I work with. All of them. Those Hall of Famers, like Steph or Melo, I expect grandeur from them. With the younger guys, I know what I’ve seen from Drummond, I know what I’ve seen from Aaron. Like, when people say he’s doing well, I’m thinking, hmmm, he’s doing okay. But what I expect of him? When I saw (Gordon) score 41 points in that game, honestly, he could have had 60. He passed up seven or eight shots he should have taken.

DA: How does your approach change with a Josh Hart, who was a little older than some of the guys when you start working with them?

IR: Josh was a very unique situation. After his junior year they won the national championship, and he put his name in the Draft and they said you should go back to school. Not telling him, man, you could very possibly get drafted. Senior year was pretty much the same and he wasn’t super high on a lot of draft boards. But spending time with him and getting to know him, and knowing he really cares and he comes from a great family and there’s some really good people around him, I was like, I’m up for this challenge. And then when he went in the first round, it was like, we did it. Then what happened over Summer League, and him getting hurt during the season, those are all kinds of extraneous variables it’s hard to control, that you wish he didn’t have to suffer and deal with all that. But that’s also the life of a professional athlete, which is something that’s always foreseeable.

DA: But his game was sort of already fully formed. And I don’t mean that as a criticism; I mean he was already a pretty solid player.

IR: I guess it all depends on how we define fully formed. He played a certain way because it was beneficial for his team to play a certain way. To me, there were technical things that could be fixed, whether it was how he shot the ball, or how he ran or how he moved, or how he saw himself. There were certain things that may seem small to other people, but they were mountains to me.

DA: Conversely, how do you continue challenge guys that have been in the league a long time and have a certain way they like to do things, or have reached a level of familiarity and comfort?

IR: They have to meet me halfway. I will always find ways to challenge you. I will always find ways to make it hard but improve your performance. But at the same time, it still has to matter to you. I have a lot of admiration and respect for people who’ve made it and continue to find and are ambitious and are intrinsically motivated. For all the crap people say about Mark Cuban, there are values that make him get up early in the morning, and he’s still very, very devoted to what he does. I would say the same for Paul Allen, Bill Gates, Steve Wynn, all those guys. Even (the late Wizards owner) Abe Pollin. They made it, to the thousandth degree. And yet they were intrinsically motivated people that always found a way -- I want to challenge myself and become informed and become curious and better, whatever it is. So, those older players, it’s the same idea. I’ll meet you halfway if it matters to you that much.

DA: Ever want to go back to the law?

IR: No. No. Never. It was a great lesson in teaching myself how to think a different way and how to socialize a work ethic. Lots of people in the institution of sports will always dismiss the fact that, oh, what does a former lawyer know about this? I’m thinking, unless you have that law degree, unless you’ve practiced, unless you’ve been through it, you have no idea what its value could be to you. It was part of my past that I recognize, but it’s definitely, definitely not for me.

Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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