Knights basketball team strength trains with Ben O'Donnell in summer
Published: Sunday, July 24, 2011
Updated: Sunday, July 24, 2011 16:07
The workout is almost over.
Centers Josh Crittle and Dwight McCombs have just one drill left. They catch their breath as they're told what's next: jump squats holding a medicine ball, performed on a platform, with cables attached at the waist to add resistance. It's a high-intensity drill, which, placed at the end of a workout, may seem overwhelming.
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The real goal, however, is to push them and the others on the team to the next level as athletes. With that in mind, the man running this workout, and all the Knights workouts this summer, shouts out words of encouragement over the loud music playing in the background, pushing Crittle and McCombs to finish strong.
Ben O'Donnell, a graduate assistant who aims to improve the Knights' strength and conditioning, looks like he's been coaching for years, but in reality, is just a year removed from being the team's backup point guard.
"Ben is great," forward Tristan Spurlock said. "I love working out with him, and he's tailoring to each one of us individually what we need to do."
Just two years ago, O'Donnell was going through off-season training himself. He had transferred from Florida State, where he struggled to find playing time, to UCF in hopes of finding a better opportunity. His older brother, Mike O'Donnell, ranks sixth in assists in school history. Naturally, longtime fans of the program were excited to see Ben added to the program.
Still, O'Donnell never got the opportunity he desired with the Knights on the court, either, appearing briefly in only 11 contests during the 2009-2010 season. Instead of playing out his last year of eligibility, he decided to pursue an internship in strength and conditioning, his longtime passion and field of study. It was a path that would finally lead to his opportunity to contribute for the Knights, off the court.
"I absolutely love it, so I thought I'd take my senior year, instead of waiting until I graduated, to get right into [the strength and conditioning field]," O'Donnell said. "I knew I wasn't getting in the game a whole lot when I was playing."
Despite feeling good about his decision, O'Donnell admits not playing was tough.
"I missed it terribly, I wanted to play so bad," O'Donnell said. "At the same time, it was better for my future if I got into [the profession]."
Weight training has been something O'Donnell says he has been passionate about since high school. Currently, he's getting his graduate degree in physical education and exercise science online from the University of South Florida, and is considered a graduate assistant with the team because the athletics department cannot hire another full-time strength and conditioning staff member.
While interning elsewhere the year following his departure from the program as a player, O'Donnell says he made an effort to make every practice he could. Coach Donnie Jones, who hadn't coached O'Donnell as a player, took notice of his diligence, and the situation worked out well. O'Donnell needed a position, preferably around basketball, and Jones, whose teams run a high-energy, athletic brand of basketball, was welcome to adding help for the team.
O'Donnell, who credits much of what he has learned to UCF's strength and conditioning director and assistant, Ed Ellis and Scott Sinclair, says he is lucky to be able to pursue the furthering of his career at UCF.
"I always want to be a part of UCF's program if I can," O'Donnell said. "I was so fortunate enough to stay, continue working and be a part of UCF Athletics."
Over the summer, O'Donnell has been heavily involved with helping the Knights progress physically, drawing up programs with specific goals for each athlete.
"Right now, we have a six-week program," O'Donnell said. "I have four guys that need to gain mass, and I got three guys that need to lose weight. So those three guys are going to be doing something different than those four guys. We might do less reps, heavier weight with the guys who need to gain mass."
So far, the response from players has been positive.
"He's doing basketball-related [weight training], which is good for everybody," point guard A.J. Rompza said. "He's done a great job and I tell him that every time we work out…He really knows what he is doing right now."
As Rompza mentioned, O'Donnell's programs are all basketball-specific, with all components having a direct correlation to what goes on, on the court.
"I don't want to do anything that I think is not going to transition into the game," O'Donnell said. "I want all the movements and everything we're going to be doing [on the court]. I want to try to simulate that in the weight room as much as I can…I want to have them ready to go, right from weights, ready to go play pick-up or whatever they're doing."