Last winter, before his team's Cinderella run to the Final Four, VCU coach Shaka Smart met former Navy SEAL John McGuire, who told the second-year coach about his success with putting Richmond's football team and local high school squads through SEAL-inspired team-building regimens. Smart was intrigued.
And so the Rams found themselves facedown in the chilly James River this September. Over three days McGuire put VCU—Smart and his staff included—through a 90-minute barrage of exercises, including hundred-yard bear crawls, hundreds of push-ups, a tug of war and a drill in which players helped one another climb through a small window in a brick wall as quickly as possible. McGuire, who was impressed by the Rams' teamwork, says the goal of such physical work is mental. "I'm not a strength coach," he says. "I just put the squeeze on people and show them emotionally, physically, mentally we can all do 80 percent more than we think."
Many other teams also underwent nontraditional bonding exercises this off-season. See below for other examples.
For the third straight October, Marquette coach Buzz Williams packed his team onto yellow school buses for three days of old-school training camp. This year's destination was Camp MiniKani, a 30-minute drive from Milwaukee. Players practiced in elementary school gyms and slept in TV-less cabins with sparse cellphone reception, entertaining themselves with games of Catch Phrase.
On the last night of a weeklong European tour Villanova cruised through the canals of Amsterdam in a glass-roofed boat—with no passengers outside the team's 30-person travel group—while enjoying a formal, white-tablecloth dinner. "It was almost romantic," says coach Jay Wright. "I was very impressed with the guys' maturity, the relationships that were built."
Georgetown's tour of China turned ugly when the Hoyas and the Bayi Military Rockets tangled in a bench-clearing melee. But for a team searching for an identity after three starters' departures, the silver lining in this incident was a newfound camaraderie. As senior guard Jason Clark told the AP, "Now we know that when we do go through things, that everybody has each other's back."
Fran Dunphy had Temple players hit the Schuylkill River before sunrise with the crew team. The Owls squeezed their oversized frames into shells to learn about communication and the cooperative effort needed to row as a group. They also gained an appreciation for a different sport. As sophomore guard Aaron Brown tweeted, "I respect them dudes because it wouldn't be me out there every morning!"
EDDIE JOHNSON/VCU ATHLETICS
BUILT RAM TOUGH Smart (far left) hopes the three days of Navy SEAL--inspired workouts his team endured will steel VCU for another Final Four run.