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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Thon Maker's first exposure to basketball came on outdoor courts under the broiling sun in Perth, Australia. When he played indoors, it was in gyms without heat or air conditioning.
Could he have imagined back then that he would someday practice in a $31 million, state-of-the-art facility with two full-size courts, a massive strength-training room, a full-service kitchen and a barbershop?
"Heck, no. Definitely not," the Milwaukee Bucks' second-year big man said with a laugh. "To go from playing in the hot sun on outdoor courts to this? This is a different world. A totally different world."
The 77,500-square-foot Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Sports Science Center officially opened Thursday, though Bucks players have been using the facility for several weeks.
The team spared no expense and overlooked no detail in the conception, design and execution of the building, which is located on the corner of 6th St. and Juneau Ave., across the street from the new arena.
The Sports Science Center represents the future of NBA player training and engagement. The place is a cross between a Four Seasons hotel, a medical center and an upscale health club loaded with high-tech equipment.
"Obviously, the talent of your team and the quality of your roster is the first and foremost thing that wins basketball games, and the staff you have around them, developing them," said Bucks general manager Jon Horst. "But facilities matter, because you can be limited by facilities or you can be opened up by facilities.
"This facility, I think, opens up all our talents."
No offense to the Cousins Center, where the Bucks practiced for three decades, but the players couldn't wait to shower and get out of there. At the Sports Science Center, they'll enjoy creature comforts such as underground parking, a lounge with oversized leather sofas and meals prepared by the team chef.
"It definitely exceeded my expectations," Maker said. "At first I was thinking they were doing a few upgrades here and there. But now when I walk in there, there's all that they said and way, way, way more with the hydrotherapy, the weight room ... everything is an upgrade. The basketball court is an upgrade.
"I'd probably bring a mattress in the locker room and sleep over, if they trusted me with the security codes."
That's music to the ears of the Bucks' coaching staff and front office. Let's be honest, the longer the team can engage and monitor its players - when viewed as multimillion-dollar investments - the better.
The whole idea is to build a superior athlete while fostering team chemistry in a place the players want to be as opposed to a place they have to be.
Secondarily, the Sports Science Center will be a selling point in retaining players and recruiting free agents.
"A facility can create a vibe and energy or it can drain a vibe and energy," Horst said. "We have built a facility that will create a vibe and energy for our players. I wouldn't undersell the impact of a facility on a player's decision."
The most impressive part of the building is the strength and conditioning area, which includes an enormous weight room appointed with everything from free weights to a plate that measures the force a player generates when he jumps to a machine that can detect hip imbalances, which often lead to leg injuries.
The hydrotherapy room is equipped with an underwater treadmill, a cold tub big enough to hold the entire team and a cryotherapy chamber for muscle recovery (players are exposed to minus-273 degrees Fahrenheit for three minutes).
The Bucks also have installed Catapult's ClearSky system, which uses radio frequencies to track players' movements during practice with pinpoint accuracy. A transponder is sewn into the practice jerseys and the system measures and stores data on each player's rate of acceleration and deceleration and the G forces applied to his body when he jumps, pivots, stops and starts.
Clearly, the Bucks have made an enormous investment in injury prevention and rehabilitation.
"What this allows us to do better is to understand what each player needs so there's a lot more individualization in the management and care of a player," said Troy Flanagan, the Bucks' director of performance. "It helps us make good decisions on what each player needs to do in their training and on the court."
The Sports Science Center won't improve Rashad Vaughn's three-point shooting or help Giannis Antetokounmpo decide more quickly whether to take the open 18-footer or pass the ball.
But in the long run, it could make the Bucks a better team.
"Yeah, it still comes down to basic basketball," Flanagan said. "But if you can build a more bulletproof athlete that can sustain the 82-game season, the team is going to do better."
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