Keith Langford, who has a degree in journalism from Kansas University, crafted one creative sentence when asked to describe Bill Self’s basketball Boot Camp.
“It’s almost like being in a torture device from Jigsaw from one of the ‘Saw’ movies,” Langford said in an e-mail to the Journal-World from Kazan, Russia, where he plays for BC Unics.
“I haven’t had to give birth, so there’s that,” 6-foot-4 shooting guard Langford added jokingly, comparing Boot Camp with other physical tests he has endured in his life. “Seriously, it’s right up there.”
Langford, 30, who played at KU from 2002-05, participated in Self’s first two Boot Camps at KU after experiencing conditioning Roy Williams-style his first two seasons as a collegian.
Boot Camp, which for KU’s current players starts at 6 a.m. today in Allen Fieldhouse and runs for two weeks, consists of an hour’s worth of sprints, backboard touches, defensive drills and slides — all without use of a basketball.
“The thing I remember most is not knowing what you are about to go through,” Langford said of his first Boot Camp. “My first two years with Roy there was a timed schedule and you knew exactly what you were up against (in participating in a 12-minute run the first day of school and every ensuing day until passing a certain standard) and when you had to be ready for it.
“It would be tough physically, but mentally you could keep a cushion. With Boot Camp, anything goes,” Langford added.
Perhaps the toughest thing about Self’s Boot Camp is the time of day. College students, the saying goes, are sometimes more comfortable going to sleep around 5 a.m. than awakening at that time.
“After getting up at 5 a.m. for two weeks straight, I had and have a different appreciation for the early-risers of the world,” Langford said. “Those wake-ups were painful. There are a couple other memories that stick out, but those are for us guys when we hang out and meet back up in Lawrence during the summers.”
KU’s current players acknowledge that the 5 a.m. wake-up call is daunting.
“Maybe a little bit,” junior forward Hunter Mickelson said, asked if he is dreading the opening of Boot Camp.
“Just because of the mental aspect of it, getting ready for it in your own head. After you get done with the first day, waking up at 5:30, 5 o’clock to get here at 6, I think after we get that done, we’ll be fine. After the first day, it’ll be fine. We’ll just have to grind and get through it.”
Junior Perry Ellis said the most challenging part of Boot Camp is, “just being tired. You have to make sure you go to class right after, even though you are so tired. I would say it’s the hardest thing we do. It’s pretty intense.”
Former KU guard Tyrel Reed, who was cited as a Boot Camp star by Self during his four-year career, agreed.
“The most difficult part for me was the long days it caused,” Reed said. “Being up at 5:15, then working out for an hour or so, then doing player individuals, weights, pick-up, and then studies at night. Next thing you know, you’re going to bed to get up and do it again tomorrow. I always tried to tell myself that I could run forever, and it was just getting the right mind-set before going into the gym each morning.”
Now in his 12th year at Kansas, Self has held Boot Camp at all his stops, including Oral Roberts, Tulsa and Illinois.
Self’s goals for Boot Camp 2014?
“Same as always, get our guys in the best condition as possible,” Self said. “Get them to be a little more responsible, tougher and rely on each other, become a closer team.
“You accomplish some toughness things together, some things we draw from every year in February, March. It gives us an air of toughness we can get through things, and it’s a great method of teaching defensive slides and things like that.”
KU’s newcomers hear horror stories about Boot Camp from former players who visit Lawrence during the summer.
Ellis, for one, has decided to not scare the freshmen.
“I mean, you don’t want to go tell them like that. We just want to tell ’em it’s tough, but we all did it,” Ellis said. “We’ve all done it before. You can do it, too.”
Of the attitude of the freshmen, Self said: “If they look at it as punishment, it’ll be hard for them. If they look at it as an opportunity to get in great shape and a team-bonding experience, they’ll end up being very proud of themselves after they complete it.”
Players do have a chance to catch their collective breaths Saturday and Sunday before gathering again for the final week.
“When you initially hear that it’s only two weeks and not on the weekend, we may have all gotten a false sense of security,” Langford said. “With Roy, conditioning and preparation was just ongoing through out the preseason. It sometime felt like it wouldn’t end. Little did we know ... ”
Players will tell you the best thing about Boot Camp is when it does end — for good.
“It’s one of the best college days I’ve had, honestly, knowing I’d never have to do that again,” said New York Knicks center Cole Aldrich, whose last Boot Camp came his junior year in the 2009-10 preseason. “I walked out of that locker room, and I’m seeing these guys are passed out, dead tired, it’s 7 o’clock in the morning. They’re laying around, and I’m up, shirt off, running around the locker room saying, ‘I don’t have to do this (bleep) any more.’ I was so happy ... so happy.”
Those type of stories can be told and retold at team gatherings in the future.
“The funniest memory I have is coach (Danny) Manning throwing my shoes away one night and not having my orthotics or shoes I liked to run in there for me the next morning,” Reed said. “I am notorious for having the sweatiest feet and ruining a pair of basketball shoes every couple weeks. Coach had been telling us to put our shoes and clothes in our lockers at night to help keep the locker room clean, or they were going to start throwing our stuff in the trash.
“I always left my shoes out of the locker to let them air-dry overnight. Anyway, I came into Boot Camp the next morning and had no shoes or orthotics to run in. I had to improvise and wear a brand-new pair of shoes that morning, which killed my feet. After Boot Camp, I went out in the industrial-sized trash bin with one of the managers and found my shoes and orthotics. All was good again in my world, and coach Manning apologized for the miscommunication.”
Let the new memories commence starting today in the fieldhouse.