NBA bubble life: Wizards’ chief of athletic care and performance juggles endless tasks, morning runs and book club

This is the fourth entry of an ongoing series highlighting what life is like in the NBA bubble. We profile Daniel Medina, the Washington Wizards' Chief of Athletic Care and Performance. This diary entry is based on an interview with USA TODAY Sports, and has been edited for length and clarity. Medina has no relation to the author.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.  As part  of Monumental Basketball, I oversee the Wizards, the Mystics, our NBA2K team and our G-League team (Go-Go). Some days here are long and start with making sure we get everything ready for each team.

We have a team breakfast between 7:30-9:30 a.m. After breakfast, the players come to the training room. They are assigned to our athletic trainers, Jeff Bangs and Navin Hettiarachchi, and physical therapists, Jesse Phillips and Steve Smith, for their daily evaluation. 

After the evaluation, players might get a workout with our strength and conditioning coach, Blair O’Donovan, before practice. During that period, I make sure status information gets to the right place in a timely manner if it affects practice. If there is a player that we feel benefits from not practicing or doing a specific rehab, we discuss with our coach. So mornings are about communication and planning.

During practice we focus on monitoring external load. Practice for me is a bit of downtime. Our busy period goes from after practice to before practice. Practice space belongs to coaches and players. We have little say unless there is a medical issue. Luckily for now, we’ve been pretty good.

After we finish practice, players recover with different modalities: stretching, compression, cold water, proper nutrition. Immediately after, they have access to their rooms so they can rest. The bubble setup is the ultimate ideal scenario for having a team. Before we got here, we were all pretty concerned about potential injuries. But to be here in this environment, the aftermath of a practice is great.

Daniel Medina, chief of athletic care and performance for Monumental Basketball, in July 2019. (Photo: Ned Dishman, NBAE via Getty Images)

That is the time players use for themselves to get away and get some head space. It’s a pretty slow and healthy regimented process. So that’s when we analyze and look at the numbers we use from the monitoring devices. All that information is downloaded and goes to the cloud so our VP of player performance, Mark Simpson, can review it from Washington, D.C. We try to identify subjects with their workload, and the information we get from the training room and the observation from coaches. That’s the first step. We like to be data oriented with our decisions as we value the expertise we have in house. Once we have this analysis done, we share it with coaches, athletic trainers and physical therapists. Then everyone has a chance to provide context.

Finally, along with our head of performance and head coach the next day is designed to balance fitness and recovery. All of that is wrapped up around 7 or 8 p.m. and shared with the group. By the time we go to bed, we know how the next day is going to look.

However, it's not always that linear and sometimes things get finalized first thing in the morning. But basically, the plan is done the previous night. We’re using the same setup with the Washington Mystics with decision making and data analysis.

I try to go to bed around 10 or 10:30 p.m. Then I wake up at 6 a.m. for a morning run. I don’t really like the gym. I don’t like lifting. I’m more of a runner. Our staff is really active and there’s a few of us that meet at the weight room or go and get the run.

Wizards forward Rui Hachimura (Photo: Kim Klement, AP)

In that respect, I feel a bit trapped in the bubble as most of the trails are closed off for running. However, it’s still nice to run around the property. On top of the exercise, it’s a good opportunity to mentally plan out how the day is going to go. It’s nice to get that head space to get ready for the day. 

Here in the bubble, the days are so alike. They are so repetitive. But we’re also feeling more familiarity. You see the good that you’re in touch with everyone. Outside of the bubble, it felt like our interactions were limited to daily meetings. Here, they are more go-with-the-flow conversations. We have a time to explore conversations in a way and manner where we probably don’t have a chance during the season. Here, the communication piece flows more naturally.

I really enjoyed the book club since we got into the bubble that one of our coaches, Mike Williams, has run since April with at least 10 team members. Right now, we’re reading Malcolm X’s autobiography and we review all the different chapters.

Overall, the process with getting here was pretty intense and the opportunity to enjoy basketball again is great. The organization, Monumental Basketball, has done a tremendous job at all levels to get here with (the) Wizards and Mystics. The bubble has been a great experience. But like for everyone, not having my family around is really challenging. 

There are a lot of takeaways from this experience and how successful this bubble has been. How much is the future going to look like this for next season? There is a lot of time we try to identify what we can do better or differently, knowing that next season might look like this one to some degree.

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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