HONOLULU — The players lined up on one side of the court, waiting for Lakers coach Byron Scott to blow his whistle to signal the beginning of yet another arduous exercise. Then it happened, the shriek of Scott’s whistle prompting all of his players to run up and down the court.
Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson finished the drills first, prompting Scott to say “the kid seems like he can run all day.” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant sat on a trainer’s table, but Scott reported Bryant “remained ahead of the pack” in conditioning drills he participated before the Lakers permitted reporters to view practice. And then there was Lakers rookie guard D’Angelo Russell, who completed the drills adequately before admitting afterwards he hardly enjoyed them.
“Running is punishment to me,” Russell said after the Lakers’ first day of training camp on Tuesday at Stan Sheriff Center. “I don’t think anyone wants to run for fun unless you’re a track star. I don’t think they enjoy it either.”
But Russell knew well ahead of time what would greet him in his first NBA practice. Scott has developed a league-wide reputation for holding training camps that place a heavy emphasis on running. Russell spent part of his offseason completing conditioning drills to prepare. Yet, Russell still described the process as “tough.”
“It’s all mental,” Russell said. “It’s something you have to do and prepare your body for.”
Yet, Scott sounded far more forgiving on Russell’s first practice than the intensity of his running drills.
“His conditioning was really good and he shot the ball extremely well,” Scott said of Russell. “On the defensive end, he’s working on some of those things we want him to work on that end of the floor with communication and understanding where he needs to be.”
Even if he felt tired, the 19-year-old Russell showed enough stamina and quickness to make most of his attempts in shooting drills open to the media. But tougher tests await.
The Lakers will hold two-a-day sessions on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Of course, the grind of an 82-game NBA season exposes every player’s durability and conditioning with each passing moment.
“I want to see which guys are willing to bust their butts. I’m going to find out,” Scott said. “One of my pet peeves, if we’re going to lose some games this year, it’s not going to be because we’re not in shape. If we’re going to lose games, it’s because some teams are better than we are that night. The one thing I want our team in that fourth quarter is be strong mentally as well as physically.”
Scott said the Lakers passed the first test, singling out Russell, Bryant, Clarkson, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass, Tarik Black and Ryan Kelly as players that impressed him with their conditioning level.
“Half the guys were in great shape and terrific shape. The other half were in good shape,” Scott said. “There was not one person that wasn’t ready for camp. Usually I have a couple guys throwing up.”
But it appears the experience left a sour taste in Russell’s mouth, the Lakers’ rookie admitting a return trip to Hawaii on vacation may spark unpleasant memories about his first day in training camp.
“I probably wouldn’t want to come back knowing there’s a lot of running,” Russell said. “I’ll have to be with my family with no basketball shoes.”
Moments later, Russell expressed something that enabled him to push through amid the endless whistles.
“It comes with the success you have,” Russell said. “You have to run and put yourself in tip top shape.”