Kentucky is one of the best teams in the country. They have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, they’re highly-ranked in every preseason poll, and they’re one of the favorites to win the National Championship in betting odds. They’ve got a good chance at getting their ninth title, thanks to guys like Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo. However, one guy that many people don’t think of when looking at Kentucky’s biggest factors is Rob Harris, the strength and conditioning coach.
If you’ve seen the before and after photos of Kentucky’s freshmen after going through the weight program, you know that Harris has done a great job with this team. Take Sacha Killeya-Jones for instance, whose ESPN page listed him at 215 lbs, but he weighed in at 235 on Sept. 19.
for everyone who still thinks I weigh like 205lbs pic.twitter.com/g0CBfo2O08— SKJ‼️ (@The_SKJ) September 19, 2016
Harris has gotten as much work in with this team as he can. He took advantage of NCAA rules that allow players to participate in basketball activities for eight non-consecutive weeks. He got six hours with them each week, and took full advantage of it.
He had the players up at 5:30 a.m., starting conditioning at 6, according to the Courier-Journal, and he always had a way to get the Cats to wake up.
According to Dominique Hawkins, the sand pit runs were quite difficult. He went in thinking it’d be easy, but said the entire team was “dying” by the end.
Harris detailed what training days are like.
"Normally every day is kind of a surprise," Harris said. "I kind of like to keep it that way so they're always on their toes, always expecting the worst because that's kind of how basketball is. You don't know how good a team is until you get to the game, until you tip the ball off."
Harris uses a number of different conditioning exercises, including yoga which he says is harder than it looks, but he said the Cats did pretty well with it.
"I don't think any were very graceful like ballerina type, but they were all pretty good," he said.
Harris has the players already preparing for NBA drills, as he has them doing the 3/4-court sprint, the 185-pound bench press and the shuttle run in the weight room.
As mentioned earlier, Killeya-Jones has made great progress, but he’s not the only one. Harris said that Fox has become “pound for pound” one of the strongest players on the team, despite his slight 187-lb frame. In general, every player has made great progress in the program thanks to what Harris calls a competitive edge. The players have been feeding off of each other to constantly get better. Both Hawkins and Monk have been in a battle for the highest vertical on the team, according to Harris.
"By coming here you're going to want to get the most bang for your buck," Harris said. "I think our guys that we have really have worked hard and bought into the program from a strength and conditioning standpoint, from Coach Cal's standpoint, and from being a better version of yourself."
Harris’ contributions to Kentucky have been invaluable, and if the Cats can pick up their ninth title, Harris will certainly be a major reason.