The UFC Performance Institute hosted the UNLV men’s basketball program for a week of cross-training as the Runnin’ Rebels prepare for their 2019-20 campaign, their first under new head coach T.J. Otzelberger.
Just a few months ago, Otzelberger training at the PI as part of the Runnin’ Rebel Caravan shortly after being hired. The time at the facility left enough of an impression for the coach to bring his whole team to go through the same experience led by UFC Vice President of Athlete Development Forrest Griffin.
“I was really impressed with the professional nature of the UFC and the organization and the attention to detail,” Otzelberger said. “Just felt like this could be an unbelievable team-building experience for our guys to connect and learn, and obviously, the UFC is an unbelievable brand and been tremendous to have that resource in our backyard, so I know our guys are really enjoying it. Forrest is a phenomenal teacher, and so far, it looks like it’s been a great experience.”
The Rebels went through different strength-and-conditioning circuits as well as grappling and striking practice, which took them away from the monotony of preseason preparation.
“I think this is a great experience for us,” junior guard Amauri Hardy said. “(It) allows us not only to get away from our facility, but allows us to be a family together, amongst each other (and) do something that we’re not really usually used to doing, and I think this is something great for us. Learning different skills, using different parts of our bodies and being able to do something like this, day in, day out, it’s just a nice facility. It’s something great for us.”
Switching things up not only helps the team psychologically, but it also helps the body acclimate to moving in ways it usually doesn’t, according to Griffin. While his main focus is making sure the athletes don’t get hurt, the team benefits from stretching themselves in ways are not normal for a basketball player.
“You get those overuse injuries because these guys do the same things repetitively year-round, which is just – it happens with UFC athletes too – it’s the nature of the beast,” Griffin said. “This is a way to get them in shape and make different muscles sore, use different movement patterns, chain your hands and feet together in a different way, which is actually quite hard and physiologically challenging.”
Hardy and Otzelberger commented on the benefits of the week not only physically, but also from a team-bonding perspective. This is especially important for the team as it approaches its first season under Otzelberger and after an offseason that saw some roster turnover.
“This is something great for this team,” Hardy said. “We got a lot of new guys. We got a new coaching staff. It’s just something that allows us to get together (and) just build that family-togetherness, and not only that, you get to see different personalities come out, how people react to certain situations.”
Although it’s highly unlikely the players will need to use any of the striking or grappling Griffin taught them throughout the week, Otzelberger is grateful to have a facility like the PI in their backyard in Vegas, and that makes him even more excited to see how the season plays out once the it gets going in November.
“I think the season is long, and you want to continue to improve as the year moves forward,” Otzelberger said. I think the more ways we can integrate different ways to train and condition and build our chemistry, that will pay off dividends in the long run.”