Five Minutes with… James Scott

When Yao Ming bought the Shanghai Sharks last year, he didn’t have to look very far to find a new trainer. James Scott, who worked closely with Yao at the Houston Rockets as the team’s strength coach, jumped at the chance to leave the NBA behind and help the Sharks win a championship. As the China Basketball Association season gets under way, TALK caught up with Scott to chat about training regimes, protein-heavy diets and the differences between local ball and the NBA.

How would you compare the training regime of Chinese basketball teams to those of the NBA?

This is a tricky question. Before I got to Shanghai, I would say that the Sharks were definitely working hard, but without a purpose – just working to work. Now we have changed their mindset where they are working smarter and with a purpose. Currently, I would say that our program is just as good, if not better than most NBA programs. I am lucky to work for such a great owner and management team who values what I do and gives me every tool I need to succeed and get our players where they need to be. I travel with the team and carry enough equipment so that we can still get quality workouts on the road. We are the hardest working team in the CBA.

What specific training program do you use?

The program that I use has taken me many years and hundreds of books and certifications to master, and is too complex to even describe. I always tell other strength coaches and fitness enthusiasts that I have no secrets, nor do I have anything to hide. What I do works best for me, and it is something that I have seen work year after year. My program is different for each player. Some players need to be quicker, some stronger and some need more attention focused on injury prevention. Basically, my job is to help the Sharks win games. When Coach Bob Donewald, Jr. walks down the bench and is looking at who he should put in the game, he should have all of his players ready to go and in the best shape of their life. If they are injured or out of shape, then I am not doing my job right.

Is diet also important?

Diet is also extremely important. The biggest thing we have implemented on the nutritional side is getting these guys on a consistent protein shake at least once or twice a day. These shakes help our guys build muscle and recover faster from workouts or games. It is a strenuous season so any little advantage we can get on our opponents helps us win games (just don't tell our rivals our secrets!).

Have you made any big changes since taking over?

The biggest change I have made was changing our player's mindset. Before I came to Shanghai, lifting weights was something that was required, but not emphasised. It was viewed more as a chore and not something that would help make the athletes better. The workouts were quiet, cold and robotic. They were doing the same thing for years and years without any purpose and definitely without any passion. When I came in I had to change the way these guys felt about strength and conditioning. At first it was difficult, but once they started seeing results, they were hooked. Now our weight room is buzzing with energy – guys are yelling, slamming weights, flexing their muscles in the mirror and having a good time.

What surprised you most about how basketball differs in China compared to North America?

I can not speak for all of China, but with the Sharks any one of our players could be the key to winning our next game. When I was with the Rockets, we had seven or eight players that we knew would play. Here, any one of our 12 players could not only play, but start the game and play a tonne of minutes. It makes my job more challenging, but it has definitely made me a better strength coach and is a lot of fun to watch.