Jeremy Case and his 2003 Kansas basketball roommate, J.R. Giddens, were so worried about possibly being tardy for first-year Jayhawk coach Bill Self’s 6 a.m. Boot Camp conditioning workouts, they crashed in Allen Fieldhouse.
“There were a couple nights we just slept in the locker room. You don’t want to be late,” said the 31-year-old Case, in his first season as KU hoops video coordinator. “If somebody is late, everybody’s got to run. If somebody messes up, everybody’s got to run,” Case added.
His words might remind members of the 2016-17 KU team that they best be punctual for Boot Camp drills, which will run from about 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Friday, then after two days off, resume Sept. 26 through Sept. 29 or 30.
“I remember at times we had to go run and wake up Jeff Graves, bang on his door, try to get him out of bed,” Case said with a laugh. “We tried to stick together and wake each other up.”
Graves was a senior, Case and Giddens freshmen on Self’s first KU team. Self held Boot Camp that 2003-04 preseason. He’s held it ever since.
“Out of all the Boot Camps I had,” said combo guard Case, who went through five, including a red-shirt year, “I felt that first one was the hardest one. There were guys that struggled with it. For me and just about everybody on that team, nobody had experienced anything like that as far as getting up at 5:30 to be there at 6 and be ready to go at 6. Nobody had ever done that.”
Previous coach Roy Williams held a 12-minute run for his players the first day of the school year, then just regular weight and conditioning work leading up to the first day of practice.
“On top of that, we’re in the gym not doing anything with the ball. (Boot Camp is) defensive slides, backboard touches, rim touches, weight drills, basically conditioning type drills and we’re doing them at 6 in the morning,” Case said.
“Jump rope was part of the warmup,” he added. “It was hard. You jump rope three minutes and coach Self would blow his whistle. Every time he’d blow his whistle we’d change one leg to the other leg, and if you’d mess up we had to start over. Everybody is still wiping the sleep out of their eyes and we’ve got to jump rope and line jump. I’m telling you it was tough.”
That 2003-04 team had several players who were coming off two straight Final Fours and trying to adjust to Self, who also had Boot Camp at his prior stops at Illinois, Tulsa and Oral Roberts.
“It was tough on all of us,” Case said. “I think Keith (Langford) struggled some, not because he couldn’t handle it and wasn’t in shape or anything like that. He was just stubborn,” Case added of Langford, who was beginning his junior year with the likes of Aaron Miles and Wayne Simien.
“The funniest thing about it,” Langford said, reflecting on his first Boot Camp, “was we were thinking, ‘Oh this might not be so bad.’ When you initially hear it’s only two weeks and not on the weekend, we may have all gotten a false sense of security. With coach Williams, conditioning and preparation was just going on through the preseason. It sometimes felt like it wouldn’t end. Little did we know,” Langford added.
“It was tougher for me because I was dealing with knee issues and still fighting the mental jump of, ‘Why do we have to do it like this?’ When in actuality it would have been better had I not known anything else prior to Boot Camp or just shut up and did the work.”
Everybody made it through the 2003 Boot Camp just as Case believes everybody will tackle the conditioning drills successfully this year.
“You want it hard enough guys will struggle and they have to push through, because especially freshmen, when you go through this Boot Camp you don’t realize how hard you can go,” Case stated. “You feel you are hitting a wall. You will realize you can go even harder because you have to. You have to push through and get through that wall. Some will struggle. They’ll be better after they get through it. On that last day when you make it through, you seem like you are a stronger team and the guys are more together after that.”
Self, who does not rank one year’s Boot Camp as harder than another — they all have been designed to test athletes the same — is obviously a true believer in the activity.
“I thought it was not smart to have a six-week training session outside of the gym,” Self said. “I thought, ‘We’ll do what we do through strength and conditioning.’ We need to get our legs in shape, our bodies in shape. We came up with the Boot Camp deal. What it does hopefully is create an element of more team toughness. They are pulling together. It’s hard but not that hard as long as the brain doesn’t tell you it’s too hard. A lot of times the brain gets in the way a bit. We get to the point we say, ‘Guys we didn’t do this all for nothing.’ Even though other teams may do it, it gives us a source of pride,” Self added.
Especially if one makes it to the gym each and every day on time.
“Just make sure you are not late as a coach,” said 2007 KU graduate Case, who spent the last four seasons as an assistant coach at Houston Baptist before returning to KU. “That,” he added, “wouldn’t look very good.”