DISTRICT HEIGHTS, Md - "H! Tell Mike how good Dray was looking before he left."
The voice belonged to trainer Joe Connelly, and he was motioning to Hamady Ndiaye, who was sitting to our left. I was in the process of talking to Connelly about a number of things (writing a piece for SBNation.com tomorrow on more general lockout stuff), but at various points during our conversation, his thoughts drifted back to Andray Blatche. Earlier this year, Blatche committed to working with Connelly more closely after what Connelly described as an "off an on" relationship for the past five years. Now, Blatche was the headliner for Connelly's workout session, and he was very willing to talk about the work his player had done.
"He went for five weeks straight," Connelly said. "For five weeks, he was here like, 23-25 days. Thanksgiving came, and with little urgency in the lockout, he sort of fell back. I think he has enough time to drop five pounds or so, but he will."
"I have no doubt about it," Ndiaye added.
Of course, this also illustrates the constant frustration we all have with Blatche, who is able to post stretches of brilliance, followed by equal stretches of maddening play. This was something Connelly acknowledged in our conversation in an especially strong way.
"To be honest, man, up until October, I've been working with him on and off for five years," Connelly told me. "He's easily the most frustrating person to work with ever."
"He'll do this," Connelly said as he stood up and took two giant leaps forward. "He'll take two big steps up, and then ..." Connelly's voice trails off as he takes one leap backwards.
That's quite the strong quote. But Connelly thinks this year is different. He acknowledged that "we've all been teased before" with Blatche, but the commitment he showed in October and even in the last few days has demonstrated enough to Connelly to make him think he'll come out of the gate strong in 2011/12.
"After he was coming back from injury, he put up some sick numbers, and he's in way better shape now than he was then," Connelly said. "Coming into this year, I don't want to overstate it, but I think this is going to be the year he makes that breakthrough."
The entire conversation with Connelly was a phenomenally insightful look into the kind of work a trainer does to motivate a pupil with so much talent. I'm presenting the whole conversation to the best of my ability below the jump, and I highly encourage everyone to read it and not just the money quotes I pulled. For his part, Blatche called Connelly a "great trainer" and said he's done great work with him.
Here's the full transcript.
Me: So who out here has looked especially good to you, and who do you think maybe needs to pick it up a bit?
JC: "If you asked me on Sunday, I'd have said Dray needs to pick it up. Yesterday and today, the competitive juices started flowing. He was done after five games [initially]. He wanted to stop. But then the juices kept flowing and he was like, 'Let's go.' I think he's been looking good.
The goal for him -- and I don't think it's unrealistic, but even if it is -- the goal for him is to be an all-star next year. The strange thing about that is, the season starts December 25, and probably by January 25, they'll have the All-Star votes tabulated. So if he comes out of the gate strong, then John is the outside presence [and] Dray is the inside presence. So it could be a really nice inside-out combination for the others to build off of.
Me: I noticed he got into it with [Cliff Dixon from Western Kentucky] a bit earlier and you tried to break it up.
JC: (Talks about how he likes the competitiveness in general at these practices for a while, then says this). "Dray consistently, he's not into the one-on-one training [as much]. But if you give him a couple guys, and you say, 'We're going to shoot for a minute. Whoever hits the most shots wins,' the competitive nature is moreso with him."
Me: I also saw you come over and tell him not to let [Cliff] get inside your head.
JC: "You know better than me. That's his problem, man. Call goes a bad way, [that happens]. On Sunday, me and him got into it. Monday, me and him got into it. It's more the mental side with him. Referees are going to miss a call. Don't take yourself out of the next three plays worrying about that.
I was proud of him today, because he took the hit, got the ball, scored, played defense. He played through it. For Dray, it's much more the mental side than the physical side. Talent-wise? You can't teach the talent that he has. But it's the mental side of him disciplining himself, to cultivate it and then really put it on display.
To be honest, man, up until October, I've been working with him on and off for five year. He's easily the most frustrating person to work with ever. He'll do this. He'll take two big steps up, and then" (takes one step back). A lot of times he was criticized for his maturity and that type of thing.
But now? To be honest with you? From October on, talk stopped, and actions took over. To me, he's still 24 years old, six-year veteran. We've all be teased before. But I think now, in terms of him competing, they played for an hour and 15 minutes straight, and for the most part, he was competing the whole time. He was passing, trying to make the open play and not just standing around trying to jack threes or something. I'm very optimistic that this is the year for him, especially with the power forwards in the East. That's not really a strong crop.
Him and John have to prosper together. John's success is going to be dependent on Dray, and Dray's success is going to be dependent on John. Their chemistry is key to have a real good year and a real good relationship."