Buck Harvey: The way Leonard can beat a lockout

The founder and president of Impact Basketball began his business with low overhead.

“It used to be me and the ball,” Joe Abunassar said.

Now his one-stop training school has dozens of employees operating in four states. So he’s busier. But Abunassar still works the gym, and he did this spring. Then, he oversaw the pre-draft training of Kawhi Leonard “every day” for two months.

Abunassar thinks Leonard showed both improvement and promise. Then again, Abunassar should say that; Leonard is a client, after all.

But Abunassar says something else, and this fits into what the Spurs’ intel told them before the draft.

It’s a quality that means more this season than any other.

Leonard has been in San Antonio this week getting acquainted and getting in some work. But when the lockout begins Friday, as most expect it will, Leonard will have to find someplace else to go.

He won’t be able to talk to Spurs coaches. He won’t have access to the Spurs’ practice facility. He won’t play in a mini-camp or a summer league. He also might miss his first NBA training camp and even the first three or four months of his rookie season.

Congratulations on being a first-round draft pick — and see you when we see you.

Most NBA players will create a workout regimen in the vacuum, and many will have the best intentions. But some will do more, because that’s who they are, and Abunassar has seen this firsthand.

He was once a student manager for Bob Knight at Indiana, and he worked his way to an assistant’s position at the University of Wyoming in the mid-1990s. Then, about the time he failed to sign a Denver schoolboy named Chauncey Billups, he realized he liked recruiting less than player development.

Among his first clients, coincidentally, was Billups. Through that relationship he built others; Kevin Garnett has worked with him before, as have Matt Bonner and James Anderson.

Prepping players for the draft is a major part of his business. Last year, 17 of his clients were drafted, and this year 12. One of them, paying the $1,000 weekly fee like everyone else, was Leonard.

“I’ve had a lot of top-10 picks in my day,” Abunassar told a newspaper before the draft, “and I’d be really surprised if he’s not one.”

So when Leonard fell to No. 15?

“I still think he is a top-10 talent,” Abunassar said over the telephone this week.

Two hours before the draft, reflective of their partnership, Abunassar told Leonard not too worry too much about how high he was drafted. “It’s about what comes next,” he told him.

Abunassar sees a lot coming, and he thinks Leonard’s jumpshot is a simple fix. He says the ball rotation and footwork is fine. In drills, he tried to shorten his stroke and get the basketball on his fingertips and out of his huge hands.

It’s likely something the Spurs tweaked this week, too. Abunassar thinks it’s easily correctable when Leonard returns to work with him in a few weeks.

“It’s just a repetition thing,” Abunassar said.

But repetition isn’t always fun. Leonard turned 20 on Wednesday. How many guys that age, finally free of school and with some money, really want to spend summer sweating in a gym?

Leonard appears to be one. “If his workout was scheduled for 9 a.m.,” Abunassar said, “then he was in at 7:45 a.m.”

Sometimes he stayed until 11:30 p.m. Sometimes they had to tell him he had to leave.

“Kawhi is one of the most focused and serious,” Abunassar said, “I’ve ever had.”

It’s a profile the Spurs always target. But maybe it’s never been more important now.

As the lockout begins.


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