They might have heard of it, but Oshawa Power players will experience what a Pat Riley training camp resembles when they assemble for workouts next month prior to the start of the National Basketball League of Canada’s (NBLC) inaugural season.
The three-time National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Coach of the Year and five-time champion set the tone for the season with exhausting and gruelling drills which Oshawa Power coach Mark Strickland plans to insert when he puts his players through their paces for the four-month season that starts on October 29.
Strickland, 41, spent four of his eight NBA seasons with the Riley-coached Miami Heat from 1997-2001.
“My camp is going to be intense with a lot of hard work,” promised Strickland who also played for the Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, New Jersey Nets, Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks. “It’s going to be a lot of conditioning and defensive drills and I am going to put in one play with a lot of options. It’s going to be a straight Pat Riley camp.”
Strickland has learned from some of the best in the coaching business, stretching back to his high school days at McNair in Atlanta with Travis “The Machine” Grant who played with Riley on the 1972-3 and 1973-4 Los Angeles Lakers teams and is college basketball’s leading scorer with 4,045 points.
He also played for the NBA’s winningest coach Don Nelson and Larry Brown and spent three seasons with John Chaney at Temple University. Riley, Brown and Chaney are in the Basketball Hall of Fame while Grant was inducted into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Hall of Fame last March.
“I have been blessed to play for some really fine coaches,” said Strickland who averaged 16.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in his final high school year. “I will take a little bit of what I picked up from all of them and add my own little spin.”
An assistant at Morehouse College and with the NBA Development League’s Bakersfield Jam for one season, Strickland made his head coaching debut five years ago with Tennessee’s Cleveland Majic of the World Basketball Association.
“That experience reassured me that coaching was where I wanted to go,” he said.
He said he learned of the new Canadian league and coaching possibilities last June when he met friend and former NBA player Jared Jackson at the NBA D-League National Tryout in Louisville. Jackson coached the Saint John Mill Rats that played in the Premier Basketball League last season.
“Jared knew I was interested in coaching and a new league was on the horizon here and he told me to send my resume to Ian McCarthy (the Mill Rats president and general manager) who then forwarded it to Oshawa,” said Strickland who spent last season with John Lucas camp in Houston working with some of that city’s top high school players.
“I am excited to be in Canada because the people are friendly and I like the weather even though I spent 15 years in Miami. When I came here as a player, I got the opportunity to see only downtown Toronto. Now, I will have the chance to see other parts of the country and I am looking forward to that and the challenge of coaching the team.”
Undrafted and waived six times, Strickland said he will share his story with his players about the commitment and hard work it takes to make it to the NBA and stay in the league.
“I took a one-day tryout and turned it into eight seasons,” said Strickland who averaged 4.6 points and 2.7 rebounds in 281 games. “I had to earn every minute I got on the floor and prove that I belonged. It wasn’t easy and I am going to impress that on our players…My first year in the United States Basketball League, I played for free. That however enabled me to get an invite to NBA camps and a better job in the Continental Basketball Association. These are some of the things players need to know if they aspire to play at the sport’s highest level.”
Oshawa Power’s first two draft choices – Morgan Lewis and Canadian Kevin Francis who have signed contracts – have impressed the coach and he’s counting on them to be the team leaders.
“Morgan was the best player at the draft combine,” said the coach and father of a 10-year-old son who lives in Miami. “What impressed me most about him is that the first team he played on was horrible but he did not complain. He just played. He’s very hungry and humble and I like his attitude and athleticism. He’s going to be my go-to guy because he can play the point and shooting guard positions and some small forward and he’s an excellent communicator.
“As for Kevin, he played on one leg at the draft combine because of an ankle injury. He was however at his best in last week’s combine and he’s definitely going to be an asset to the team.”
Strickland said the franchise’s third draft pick Blaine Labranche is going to be hard-pressed to crack the 23-member training camp roster that will comprise mainly American players.