Washington Wizards Open Training Camp With a Hypnosis Session

Gilbert Arenas jammed a finger on his non-shooting hand last week, but the team says it isn't serious.
Gilbert Arenas jammed a finger on his non-shooting hand last week, but the team says it isn't serious. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

RICHMOND, Sept. 29 -- The last thing Nick Young remembers is holding his hand over an open flame and not feeling the heat. He would later fall so deep into a trance that his body took him places that he has no recollection of going. He held a balloon and galloped around the room as if he were a horse. He danced like James Brown. He acted as if he was dodging a bus.

After Young snapped out of it, his Washington Wizards teammates recounted his thoroughly entertaining performance while under the influence of a hypnotist. "It was a fun experience. I never thought that was true or nothing," Young, a third-year guard, said of hypnosis. "Stuff they said I did, I didn't know I was doing. Some stuff I knew I was doing. I just closed my eyes for about 20 seconds and after about 20 seconds, I went into a zone. It was crazy."

In his first team-building exercise as coach of the Wizards, Flip Saunders hired hypnotist John-Ivan Palmer to play a series of mind games with his new players after they convened at the team hotel for training camp on Monday night.

Saunders, who does magic tricks of his own, has worked with Palmer before, during his time as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. His plan was show his players that with the correct mental approach, they can accomplish anything -- such as going from 19 wins to being an immediate playoff contender.

The first few days, you want to set the tone, you're setting a foundation," Saunders said after the first of two practices on Tuesday. The message he shared with his players was "being very focused, respecting the game, respecting your teammates, respecting the organization, respecting the fans and not being in a situation where there are any excuses for what we're trying to accomplish. We have expectations as individuals and a team we have to meet those expectations."

Before hitting the court on Tuesday, his players were already well-versed in some aspects of his 250-page playbook, because he gave each player an iPod Touch with an application for videos and diagrams of his sets. He also handed out T-shirts and hats with two words that will serve as the team's motto for this season: "Our Time."

"That's what we believe -- it's our time, participating in winning a championship," Caron Butler said. "It would be great to bring that to the city and we think we have the pieces in place and we're ready to take a shot at it."

Saunders was out of coaching last season, but he spent a week in Richmond at the invitation of then-Coach Eddie Jordan. On Tuesday, Saunders spent his first practice going over a few offensive and defensive sets. Mike Miller and Randy Foye both ran the same system last season in Minnesota under then- Timberwolves coach and current Wizards assistant Randy Wittman, but the rest of the players were learning a system different from the one taught by Jordan.

After practice, several players marveled at Saunders's preparation and organization. Antawn Jamison said he tried to watch the Carolina-Dallas game on "Monday Night Football," but couldn't take his eyes off Saunders's playbook on his trusty new device, which dangled from his neck after practice, just below the words "Our Time" on his T-shirt. "To me, those are the kinds of things that make a difference. There's no excuse why you don't know the plays," said Jamison, adding that each iPod has an individual code to protect its contents in case it is lost or stolen. "That playbook is like one of those NFL playbooks, it goes on for days. [Saunders] incorporated things so quickly and you go right into it. His enthusiasm, attention to detail, he don't play around. I like the overall concept of how we're going to do things here."

And Saunders believes that success begins with proper focus. Although the players spent a good amount of time on Monday night laughing at Young while he skipped around, at reserve guard Mike James as he barked like a dog and others as they moved their hips around as if they were shaking a hula hoop, the underlying message wasn't lost on them. "Coach just wanted to bring us to together," Foye said. "The guy [Palmer] basically told us last night that everything starts in your head. And today in camp, everything starts in your head. When it gets going in your head, you can make your body do it."

Jamison said last season is already beginning to feel like a distant memory, with training camp bringing back the fun that's been missing "for a while." He added that Saunders had already put the players on the same page when he gathered them on Monday night and told them that he believed this team could have a special season.

"I see a confident group of guys. I see a group of guys who actually believe it's not about winning 40-something games and getting to the playoffs. It's about taking it to another level," Jamison said. "If you believe it's our time to take it to that next level or get the job done, it's going to happen. I definitely believe everybody on this team believes it. If you don't believe it, we'll get you out of here."

Was Jamison hypnotized on Monday night?

"Nah," Jamison said. "I wish I was hypnotized last year, buddy."

Wizards Note: Wizards point guard Gilbert Arenas jammed a finger on his left, non-shooting hand last week but a team spokesman said the injury wasn't serious.

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