Utah Jazz: High-tech gym helps the team

Pioneering facility is plugged in to fitness
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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Forget the palm trees, the beaches, the sunshine waiting just outside the door to the Peak Performance Project. As director Marcus Elliott made clear during last season's NBA playoffs, the Jazz are the home team here in paradise.

"Believe me, we had a little showdown on it," said Elliott, with several staffers born and raised on the purple and gold. "You're a Lakers fan because of proximity, but with the Jazz, you've had a direct impact on giving them better skills."

Almost since the day this training center opened 2 1/2 years ago, the Jazz have been building a relationship with Elliott, a 43-year-old physiologist with Harvard Medical School credentials and a cutting-edge approach to developing athletes.

What started with Rafael Araujo came to include Ronnie Brewer and Paul Millsap and grew

again this summer, when 10 of the Jazz's 15 players made at least one and in some cases as many as three visits to P3, as the center is known.

When Jazz coach Jerry Sloan declared that he'd never had a team report to training camp in better shape than his current one, much of the credit comes back to this studio located in a converted music venue between the 101 highway and train tracks.

"That's the highest compliment we can get," Elliott said.

Mark McKown, the Jazz's player development coach, said every player made gains from working with Elliott and his staff. The Jazz have been so impressed, in fact, that they are talking about entering into a formal partnership with P3.

"You find this in pro sports, in the NBA," McKown said, "where a guy thinks, 'OK, I'm in my mid-20s, I'm maxed out athletically. I can't enhance my athleticism. I can't improve on my vertical leap, my lateral movement, my sprint speed or whatever,' when you really can."

What's most striking is just how spare P3 is inside. Whatever Kyle Korver imagined before visiting the first time turned out to be a studio with a track on one side, a couple of Olympic weightlifting platforms and a wall to throw medicine balls against.

"You would think you're going to a workout facility, you would see all these squat racks and all these bench presses, and they don't even have a bench press in there," Korver said.

"You don't lift more than 45 pounds," Brewer added, "but at the end of the day, you're still going to be sore because you worked so hard."

Elliott stresses a different approach, one that distills sport to its fundamental movements, and uses science to improve power, athleticism and mobility. Talking about Elliott, McKown asks, "How often do you meet a true pioneer?"

"The body-building program for training athletes is over, it's dead," Elliott said. "Most people don't realize it yet, but it's really done."

As unassuming as P3 appears, its technology is anything but. Every workout is recorded on video and can be saved. There's a hard drive in the back that never stops collecting data and flat-screen televisions in use around the gym.

"We can tell if an athlete gets off the ground a thousandth of a second faster this week compared to last week," Elliott said.

He works with only 30 athletes at a time, by invitation only, and at a cost of up to $2,500 a week. What Elliott sees with the Jazz, though, is a culture of hard work instilled by Sloan and the pieces in place to win a championship.

"There's so much potential for a competitive advantage in basketball through a really hard, precise, science-based training," he said, "I think that hopefully we can get that for the Jazz."

Breaking down Brewer

Brewer never could have known when he and Millsap arrived at P3 after his rookie season, but Elliott someday would give a presentation about his development at a sports science convention in Tokyo.

As impressive a leaper as Brewer was, Elliott's testing found that it wasn't translating it into lateral quickness. From his research, Elliott concluded that the NBA's All-Star players rarely are the highest jumpers, but the best overall athletes in all directions.

"I didn't know it could be that complex, because you just go out there and play basketball," Brewer said. "He kind of broke it down and told me that if I worked on these certain things, 'It's going to make you that much better of a defender.' "

Based on force-plate testing, Brewer now has the lateral quickness and power of an outside linebacker or defensive end. "When I see him being able to competitively defend Kobe [Bryant], it warms my heart," Elliott said.

Korver made three trips to P3 this summer, including once on his own, and already is planning to return next summer. He always prided himself on working hard, but Korver realized that he wasn't always working smart until he visited the center.

Through Elliott, Korver learned that he has unusually high hips and long legs, the lower body of a 7-footer. To better control his legs and increase lateral quickness, Korver has been doing strengthening exercises.

"It's all stuff that makes total sense to me," he said. "I have a harder time just getting lower and staying lower because I do have long legs and long hips, apparently. It's stuff that I felt like I knew, but I think no one else really understood when they're trying to work me out."

McKown said Elliott "has an eye and an ability to pick up things and identify problems that I've never seen anybody do."

Rookie center Kosta Koufos also spent part of his summer in Santa Barbara. Elliott was especially encouraged about Koufos after testing his reaction time.

"Usually, the tall guys are a little more sluggish," Elliott said. "They're a little bit more slow-twitch animals, but Kosta is one big fast-twitch muscle. He's got a nervous system that can fire and relax really fast, which, for a 7-footer, is super unique."

Elliott isn't afraid about predicting greatness for Koufos, saying he could become an "absolute beast."

"If he's committed to working and we do our jobs right, I think he should be the most athletic 7-footer that they've seen in the NBA in a long time," Elliott said. "He's got a ton of upside and he's got all the right raw ingredients to build a phenomenal athlete."

Araujo's legacy

Even though he spent only one season with the Jazz, Araujo's legacy is the relationship with P3.

Elliott started working with him and met McKown at a summer-league game. As skeptical as he can be of personal trainers, McKown was surprised to see on Elliott's business card that he was a doctor.

By the time he returned for training camp, Araujo was a changed player. "Athletically, everything was different," Elliott said, "and so I guess that caught the eye of the coaches and we established a contact from there."

The more they talked, the more McKown and Elliott came to appreciate their common philosophies. Elliott played football, baseball and ran track before suffering a knee injury his senior year in high school. He has since competed in triathlons as an amateur and professional.

Elliott started working with the New England Patriots in 1999. The team had suffered a rash of hamstring injuries, 21 in all, and was looking for answers. They had a combined five the next two seasons and won the Super Bowl.

But Elliott also wanted a break from the Boston winters. He picked Santa Barbara off a map - "That looks pretty nice right there," he remembers thinking - set up a pilot program and then launched P3, which will be featured in an upcoming issue of ESPN magazine.

The center, located 95 miles up the coast from Los Angeles, in a city with postcard perfect days and a population of 86,000, has attracted athletes from professional baseball, basketball and volleyball players to surfers and skiers.

"It's a great destination for athletes," Elliott said. "There's no pro athletes here in town, but I thought that what we were doing was novel enough that we could draw athletes from across the country or world and bring them to our little place."

Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said the team wanted to "push the envelope" with training methods. "You're not dealing with equipment, you're dealing with expertise," O'Connor said.

The last two summers likely are just the beginning for the Jazz and P3. The two are talking about an exclusivity agreement, with Elliott working with players in-season and evaluating draft prospects. He has been approached by three Major League Baseball teams in the past year about similar deals.

As much as his work is focused on the individual athlete, Elliott would like to share in a championship. That opportunity might come in Santa Barbara by way of Utah. "I can just see with the Jazz that everything's lined up right for them," he said.

rsiler@sltrib.comMARCUS ELLIOTT, P3 founder

Case study

The Peak Performance Project (P3) is an advanced, scientifically based performance conditioning center based in Santa Barbara, Calif. It is the brainchild of physician Marcus Elliott, the project's director.

KYLE KORVER: Through Elliott, Korver learned that he has unusually high hips and long legs. To better control his legs and increase lateral quickness, he has been doing strengthening exercises.

KOSTA KOUFOS: Elliott isn't afraid to predict greatness for Koufos, saying he could become an "absolute beast." "He's got a nervous system that can fire and relax really fast, which, for a 7-footer, is super unique."

Utah Jazz and P3

HISTORY: The Jazz became connected to the training center through Rafael Araujo, then sent Ronnie Brewer and Paul Millsap there in the summer of 2007. This summer, 10 of the 15 players on the Jazz roster made the trip to P3.

FUTURE: The Jazz and P3 are talking about an exclusivity agreement, with Elliott working with players in-season and evaluating draft prospects.