Luka Doncic, few doubt them although he is only (still) 22 years old, he is a basketball genius. Among other things, because its very constitution defies the norm of today’s superstars. It is a point guard with the body of a forward (2.01 and 104 kilos), a total player who stands out neither for his speed nor for his explosiveness but, many times, precisely for the opposite. Corpulent and without the statuesque muscular definition that seems inevitable in the current NBA, debates about his weight are already recurrent and, even more, the amazement with which analysts and fans see how he folds the laws of physics at will, turns into virtues what should be deficiencies; he puts the games in his rhythm and accumulates strokes and minutes in a rhythm that would leave others broken.
Last season, his third in the NBA, he played 2,262 minutes. Only fourteen players added more … but only two did so with fewer games than him. That yields a very high average: 34.3 per night, shot in the playoffs to 40.1. And with a totally exaggerated usage (the burden of responsibility as the cornerstone of the attack): 35% in the regular season and 39.1% in the playoffs. More than any other star. The translation is straightforward. Luka Doncic (Rookie of the Year, twice all star, two in the Best Quintet at only 22 years old) plays in a marathon format, for time on the court and above all for responsibility. He barely sits down and to top it off, he never delegates responsibilities when he’s on the track.
Last season, once again triumphant as an individual, Doncic suffered, like the entire NBA, the rigors of compressed pandemic schedules, and ended the season with a grueling seven-game tie against the Clippers (his executioner in the two qualifying rounds). who has played in the NBA). His season with the Mavericks ended on June 6 … just as his stretch with Slovenia began. A strenuous sprint in which he won a Pre-Olympic and put his team in the Games for the first time and in which he brushed, already in Tokyo, the medal. And then, with almost no time to assimilate his first Olympic experience, he found himself preparing for his fourth season in the NBA.
A challenge. A few months of maximum demand in a trance for his body that Doncic managed and prepared with Anze Macek, a 30-year-old Slovenian who is co-founder of 2A Sports Lab, a center that has been working since 2014 on the preparation and tuning of athletes: training, rehabilitation … Macek talks to AS about a crazy summer, planning and grueling sessions for a few weeks in which he has been the shadow, the teacher, of one of the best basketball players in the world.
First, and by way of presentation. Who is Anze Macek and what is the 2A Sports Lab?
By academic training, I am a kinesiologist. And I am also the co-founder of the 2A Sports Lab in Slovenia. A place where we dedicate ourselves to the physical preparation of athletes, to rehabilitation treatments, to studying sports science …
Through his link with the Slovenian basketball team he began to work with the other great star of the country, Goran Dragic. And that’s how you ended up coming into contact with Luka Doncic, right?
Yes, it was more or less as you say, but we started working with Goran before we started working with the national team, in 2016. Then, in 2018, I became one of the team’s physical trainers. And this summer was the first in which I have also worked with Luka Doncic as a personal trainer.
A summer that was a great challenge for him. After two very tough seasons in the NBA, with many games and the calendar compressed by the pandemic, he faced as soon as he finished the playoffs at the Pre-Olympic, at the Tokyo Games … How did they deal with it?
It was crazy. You know how tough an NBA season is in itself for a player. And if we talk about Luka, it is even more complicated because he spends more time than the average on the court and the rivals are totally focused on him and his game. It came a week after the last game of the playoff series against the Clippers and we got to work immediately. First with very light workloads. We wanted him to recover, but also to arrive in an optimal state to the key pre-Olympic game, the last one against Lithuania, which was crucial for us. And it went very well, Luka went out in that match and put Slovenia into the Games for the first time in their history.
But actually that was only the first part of the way …
Of course, the next morning we realized that there was an Olympic Games to prepare. We all took a few days off and then started a new work cycle. We concentrated, already in Japan, in Osaka a few days before settling in the Olympic Village. There we had everything to work wonderfully, with, in addition, a great technical and medical team that knew how to put all the pieces of the puzzle and prepare the team for the Games.
And right at the end, in the games of the final fight for the medals, the team and Luka already seemed very tired, exhausted by that journey since the Pre-Olympic. A shame but also understandable.
We were exhausted, yes. No other team that reached the semifinals had played as many games as we have, we had started the preparation a month before. And we had many very tough, very physical matches: Argentina, Japan, Spain, Germany… But the exceptional chemistry that the group had sustained us. And the semi-final came, and we lost by one point to France. There was the final and the medal assured. After that stick, we didn’t get the strength to play a good game in the fight for bronze. We were emotionally drained.
And after all that ordeal, you got together with Luka Doncic to prepare for the new season with the Dallas Mavericks. From what I have read, with six days of hard work a week.
Luka went on vacation, between ten and fourteen days. And after that, we started with a three-week work plan with our mind set on the Dallas Mavericks training camp. Yes, we worked six days a week in the gym. And the last two weeks, in the afternoons I also trained on the basketball court.
And how were those weeks of intense work? How do you get a player like Doncic in shape?
Due to the deadlines we were managing, there was no time to do anything special, we had to go to the basics. He had to get in shape at the start of the training camp in Dallas. The first two weeks we put more emphasis on strength and endurance, with lots of agility exercises. In the last one we focus more on power, interval exercises and very high intensity. With Luka there is one basic thing, and it is no secret, that you have to know before you get going with him. And it is the competition. You have to turn training into a competition, all exercises. He always wants to win. If you can create that competitive atmosphere when you train, you have won. It will squeeze it to the maximum and you will achieve the objectives that you had set for your preparation.
Between one thing and another, he has hardly had a vacation. Is it something that can affect you as the season progresses and you accumulate games and minutes in your legs?
Luka is still very young. Your body recovers and regenerates faster. He is very excited about the start of the new season. He is a competitor, a fighter. I think if there are no other factors that increase the risk of injury, there is going to be nothing to worry about.
From a physical point of view, what is Luka Doncic like?
His strength is out of the box. You have very strong legs and his center of gravity is very low so when he gains his position it is very difficult to move him. He also has a lot of eccentric strength, allowing him and other players of his characteristics to slow down and break the pace of his defenders.
He is not the fastest or the most explosive, nor does he surely have a physical profile like that of other NBA superstars …
Yes, exactly. And for that very reason, he breaks all the stereotypes that Americans have about how the ideal physique of a professional basketball player should be.
He is bigger than other players, and in fact he is sometimes debated about his weight. Is it legitimate for it to be done?
It doesn’t seem relevant to me. As long as he can play at the level that he does, no one can hold anything against him. The important thing is that he knows that things will be more difficult each season, each year that passes, that each time he will have to put more effort and attention into taking care of his body. That will be the way to have many successful seasons ahead.
He has worked with Goran Dragic when he was on the Miami Heat roster. The franchise of the so-called ‘heat culture’, a tradition of maximum physical demand, taking care of all the details, maximizing the players … What was it like working with them? Are they as meticulous as they say?
Yes that’s how it is. For me it has been fortunate to have lived and been part of that heat culture, that culture of work that they have in the franchise. They are very nice, very open, you work very well with them, I always felt very well received and made good friends. And I learned a lot. They also came to Slovenia when Goran Dragic was here working with me to take a look. The three concepts that define the Miami Heat are discipline, culture and hard work. The players put in extraordinary effort, they spend a lot of time taking care of their physical condition, training in the gym. Every Monday they are all weighed, they measure the percentage of body fat. Each player has their own personalized objectives and from there there are many more rules and regulations. A lot (laughs). So yeah, that Miami Heat CULTURE is very real.
Is the way of working of NBA franchises still very different compared to European teams?
Now most European clubs follow systems similar to those of the NBA. You can easily compare the best teams here with those there in that sense. We do not have less knowledge than they, sometimes in fact we have more. But there are also some differences. The main one is that they have much more staff in charge of taking care of the players: more coaches, physios, doctors, nutritionists, cooks… They have the best possible means and are always waiting to improve in everything.
What is the reason that Slovenia, a country of 2.1 million people, produces such an amount of talent for the basketball courts?
It’s not just basketball anymore. We have a golden generation of athletes. In many disciplines: cycling, climbing, volleyball, skiing … Slovenia is a very small country but with a lot of diversity. I think the key is our culture. We are a hard-working people, who do not give up under any circumstances, for which there is no greater motivation than to show ourselves what we are capable of. We are competitive, we always want to win and we grow with the sport around us. Our schools have very good support programs for teams, sports disciplines, organizations, federations… they all go hand in hand here.