SAN FRANCISCO — The buzzword at Thursday’s Pac-12 media day was conditioning.
The buzzed words were “All-Beer League,” as Oregon State’s Craig Robinson was said to have described the Beavers’ delegate at the event, guard Roberto Nelson.
Though never exactly svelte, Nelson apparently raised a few too many glasses for Robinson’s liking during the offseason, prompting the tongue-in-cheek lashing.
“That was a jab at Roberto’s conditioning at that point in time,” Robinson said as Nelson dropped his head, smiling. “It really was to let all of our guys know that at some point, you’ll be at a point inevitably where basketball is secondary or tertiary in your development.
“When you are at Oregon State, now is not that time, and we want to take our conditioning level and our play and everything seriously.”
But Robinson’s jab does bring up a bigger point: In the up-and-down Pac-12, with talented backcourt after talented backcourt, conditioning does matter.
How else are you going to keep up with the Jahii Carsons and Johnathan Loyds of the world?
“For sure it matters,” said Loyd, Oregon’s speedy guard. “Coach (Dana) Altman always talks about our conditioning. He always tells us we’re not good, so we have to work on it. He’s not a big on-the-line guy, but he works it into our drills.”
That is one of the under-discussed aspects of coaching — how much is too much when it comes to the rigors placed on a team?
“There’s a real fine line there — basketball is a long season,” Altman said. “The collegiate basketball season is longer than any of the other seasons. You’ve got to be very careful you don’t wear them out. But you’ve got to have them in shape to play 40 minutes.
“Conditioning is a big part of coaching; getting them in shape but not wearing them out.”
But coaches know who puts in the time when the lights turn off and the bleachers are put up for the offseason. More importantly, they know who doesn’t.
Now players who have Jenny Craig on their speed dial are drawing praise from their coaches.
“I’m really pleased with Renan Lenz, who most people aren’t familiar with,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, when asked about his surprises for this year. “He’s lost 20 pounds, is in the best condition of his life. He’s poised to have a big season.”
The Utes are one of a few conference teams that can really make a difference with their conditioning, as they play at more than 4,000 feet above sea level. Colorado plays at more than 5,000 feet above sea level, and the Buffaloes have long used that to their advantage.
“We train at altitude and we play fast, so conditioning is just a given,” Colorado’s Tad Boyle said. “We want to be a well-conditioned team, a deep team, so we can play 40 minutes of basketball. When you live in Boulder, Colo., and you play at the pace we do, you’ve got to be conditioned. If you don’t have it, you have no chance.”
It’s not just about retiring the beer mugs and breaking out the Stairmasters, though.
“You’ve got to make sure you eat right, of course,” Loyd said. “It’s not hard to sacrifice; it’s for the love of the game. But you have an offseason to get ahead a little bit. You can’t just go into the season and think you’re going to run yourself into shape.”
No, it takes a little more effort than that — and maybe a little self-control.
Robinson does make it clear, though. He’s not asking his players to be teetotalers or anything crazy like that.
Don’t fear the beer.
“Don’t pooh-pooh the All-Beer League,” he said. “I’ve been on some All-Beer League teams, and we have beaten a lot of guys.”