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Francis introduced Ravin to Juan Dixon and Elton Brand and began helping to train them. At first, Ravin didn’t charge for his work, but then his mom questioned him about it, saying: “In their eyes, you’re only worth what they are willing to pay you.”
Ravin brought a number of stratagems to the gym. There were, of course, his exercises, designed to improve conditioning and skills. He’ll make a player dribble up and down the court with two balls at one time. He’ll throw balls — one at a time — to both sides of a player and make him catch them on one bounce and shoot. The idea is to create a stressful enough workout such that the game itself comes more easily.
But for Ravin, training involves more than just physical exercises. To motivate his players, he provides Zen-like aphorisms that recall the mantras of Phil Jackson.
“Your greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up whenever you do.”
“Toughness is character, not punching power.”
But Ravin feels the greatest asset he brings to the table is emotional support. “I don’t know Phil Jackson. I can just be me,” he says. “I found that things worked better by adding spirituality and emotion and care along with the physical. These players aren’t robots; they’re people.”
He adjusts each workout to the player’s mood: “I don’t have a manual to give you. It’s day-to-day. It’s a conversation. It’s a message. It’s a text message. It’s a voice of encouragement, a pat on the back. It’s not like I’m giving them a pill.”
Consider Ravin’s willingness to overlook J.R. Smith’s persistent lateness. “I believe in him so much, what I felt for him was more frustration [than anger],” he comments. “I wanted [success] so much for him. He’s an amazing human. I will never abandon him. I’ll be there for him. He’s a work in progress, like we all are.”
Some coaches look askance at Ravin because of his relationship with players over whom they feel a sense of ownership.
“There’s always a level of distrust. [Coaches want to know] ‘who is that’ and ‘what’s he doing.’ That’s the nature of professional sports,” Ravin says. “I never concern myself with that. My only focus is to make these players better. I’m not trying to substitute for something; I’m just trying to complement whatever exists.”
Curt Schleier is a frequent contributor to the Forward.