Published November 15, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO – One of Colorado's most skilled basketball players pushed through a moment of anxiety as he led worn-out teammates in a military drill from his stationary bike.
Josh Scott's job that September day was to keep everybody working as a unit to accomplish the task — just in a different forum than usual for a group of young men accustomed to countless hours on the practice court.
"Josh Scott, one of our best players, may have the best season out of all of us, but there was an exercise where he had to be on the bike trying to command the unit," Colorado junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie recalled. "And Josh's strong suit is not being very vocal. He acknowledged that later in the locker room, and he was like, 'It's something I have to work on.'"
Several states away, in Northern California, Stanford's players endured a similarly rigorous preseason conditioning program designed to prepare the Cardinal for their season by enduring as temporary Navy SEALs. The Cardinal participated in basic boot camp drills, with work in the pool and in the sand.
Grueling military-inspired training is going mainstream.
From college campuses to corporate offices. From Michigan women's lacrosse to powerhouse Oregon football. This fall, it has been basketball programs in several places doing Navy SEALs-type preparation to serve as team bonding and fitness combined into one preseason regimen.
"It was beneficial," Stanford senior Dwight Powell said. "First and foremost, it was a challenge that maybe not all of us thought we could get through, but we did. And we did so as a team. Also just teaching us that level of discipline and commitment that those guys have to get the job done that they have to get done, and with no excuses."
Colorado men's basketball coach Tad Boyle ran the Buffaloes through a two-day training course by "The Program" for the second straight year — at the end of September this season and mid-October last fall, including one particularly challenging night in sleet, rain and snow.
While the Navy or other armed forces aren't formally running these courses, many former military members have gotten involved in the training through various companies offering such services.
Last fall, former West Point cadet and current Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski brought the Blue Devils to Fort Bragg, N.C., for a day of physical training along with an open practice for the Army soldiers.
At the College of Charleston (S.C.), second-year coach Doug Wojcik and the team strength coach lead their own version of SEALs training on the beach at nearby Sullivan's Island. Wojcik already had his Navy training, graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1987 and playing college basketball alongside retired Spurs star David Robinson.
Wojcik's team brings out medicine balls, crawls through the sand, practices flutter kicks in the surf.
"I think it's a great idea," Wojcik said. "The Navy SEALs, you can't have a better unit, you can't create better teamwork, those guys are pros at it, they're experts. It's definitely a positive. I think any team-building things that deal with reality make it some concept that kids can identify with. I'm sure the guys really enjoyed it at 6:15 in the morning. A lot of kids had never seen the sun rise. There's a lot of beauty in seeing the sun rise. We were on Sullivan's Island and you had a container ship coming in. It's a part of life some of these kids had never seen."
Indeed, many of the student-athletes won't get training like this again barring a future in the military.
Eric Kapitulik, an ex-Marine Corps special operations officer, founded The Program in 2008 to help build better, more cohesive groups of all kinds.
"It's our belief in personal development and team-building," Kapitulik said. "Everybody's a hero when it's 70 degrees and sunny."
His courses can range anywhere from $8,500 to upward of $50,000 for a year depending on location, group size and follow-up sessions.
For example, Kapitulik will reunite with the Colorado basketball team at different stages throughout the season. He visited with members of the Oregon football team on the field before the Ducks' loss at Stanford on Nov. 7. Michigan lacrosse will bring The Program back throughout the season.
Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins hopes a little bit of extra discipline down the stretch learned from the SEALs training will help the Cardinal win some of the close games they lost last season.
While Dawkins' life doesn't depend on it, his future sure does. There is pressure on the Cardinal to reach the NCAA tournament this season to preserve the coach's job.
"We definitely have a new way of playing and a new way of thinking," Dawkins said. "That's been our approach from the preseason up until now. Even though our record was 9-9 in conference, we felt we were very close. And in some cases it didn't work out our way, but we're not going to dwell on that. We're going to put in our system, which we already have done. And we're excited about now our new way of thinking, about the Navy SEALs training and our approach there."
AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary contributed to this story.