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Zach Weatherford: Science, recovery drive performance

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Brooklyn Nets

The Athletic’s Diamond Leung caught up with Zach Weatheford the Nets head of performance last month at a conference on the use of electronic stimulation in helping athletes recover from injury ... and scored an exclusive interview with the former Navy SEAL trainer.

Weatherford talked both at the conference and in the interview about how the growing field of sports science is dictating the way the Nets look at developing the physical side of performance but also confided that the real prize in his view is getting players back on the court.

“The biggest piece for us is recovery,” Weatherford said at the NYC Neuromodulation Conference last month. “It’s not necessarily about how high you jump and how fast you run. We do definitely want to sustain throughout all four quarters. But how quickly can you recover? How quickly can you come back — the next day, a back-to-back, two days, three days — and produce that performance, increase motivation, maintain that motivation and physical preparedness?”

The Nets of course have had their share of injury the two years since Sean Marks set up the performance team and hired Weatherford away from the SEALS where he was human performance manager and in the words of his boss, a “BAMF.” With the exception of Jeremy Lin last year and Greivis Vasquez two years ago, the Nets got everyone back on the court before season’s end. Both Lin and Vasquez underwent season-ending (and in the case of Vasquez, career-ending) surgery.

As for helping players in the off-season, Weatherford talked about how sports science factors into players individual training regimens.

“Bringing in and consulting with sports scientists around the world to what can we bring in to the team to help measure and monitor the players throughout the off-season — more the training season into the regular season with our monitoring system that we have. … How well are they jumping? How are they responding to the training?”

And as Joe Harris told Zach Lowe a year ago, “They even track the color of your piss.”

Weatherford also noted that the nets use a “periodization type of approach,” meaning the break the season down into segments and adjust training to the grind from preseason to playoffs. That includes taking into account how to counter the stress of back-to-back games.

“We know that performance will decrease on a second game of a back-to-back, so that certainly helps us from a statistical standpoint and what have you in the basketball,”.

The Nets have continually upgraded and expanded the team. As NetsDaily wrote last week, there are more than 10 staffers, many with PhD’s in various aspects of the training culture. And it also includes a number of international experts who’ve worked in World Cup soccer, the NFL, Olympic alpine skiing, Major League Baseball and Australian rules football. And yes, there are a number of staff from the Spurs “tree.”

“Bringing in outside people that have worked outside of basketball, that have worked out of mainstream sport if you will, to bring in a better understanding of sports science and how we can integrate it and collaborate together as a group,” Weatherford told Leung. “Because, people from different aspects from around the world, it just helps us grow and look at things a little bit differently [than] we feel as a staff.”

Indeed, the directors of sports science, Dan Meehan, and sports medicine, Les Gelis, are Australians and Stefania Rizzo, Director of Performance Rehabilitation, is Canadian.

Players seem generally pleased with the team’s effort. Demarre Carroll has specifically cited the performance team as being critical to his resurgence last season. Carroll, 32, put up the best numbers of his career — in points, rebounds and assists — while leading the Nets in minutes.

“This performance team, they get all the credit because they really kept me here and made me do the work and made me do the work after games when I didn’t want to,” said Carroll, saying the team keeps all the players “accountable.” (An intriguing architectural element of the HSS Training Center is that players have to pass through Weatherford’s domain to get to the players’ lounge!)

The Nets hope the performance team, working with the player development team, the medical team and the analytics team, will give them an advantage on the court and in recruiting. It doesn’t hurt to have players tell friends in the league —and their agents— how they’ve improved and developed.