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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

December 5, 2014  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Local man finds calling as personal coach to hoops pros

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press


David Thorpe of Clearwater is flanked by two of his clients – Israelis Gal Mekel, left, and Omri Casspi. Both started the season in the NBA. David Thorpe of Clearwater is flanked by two of his clients – Israelis Gal Mekel, left, and Omri Casspi. Both started the season in the NBA. Among the friends and relatives at the b’nai mitzvah of twins Max and Rachel Thorpe this year at Temple Avavat Shalom in Palm Harbor, two guests stood out – literally.

They were 10-year NBA veteran Kevin Martin, a 6-foot 7-inch shooting guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Israeli Gal Mekel, a 6-foot 3-inch point guard who at the time was with the Dallas Mavericks. Mekel received an aliyah during the Torah reading.

Yet another NBA player, Omri Casspi, an Israeli with the Sacramento Kings, was also to receive an aliyah at the event, but bowed out when his grandfather got sick.

Martin and Mekel were there because of their strong bonds with the twins’ dad, David Thorpe of Clearwater. Thorpe, 49, has never played a minute of professional or college basketball, but when NBA players need one-on-one help with their game or when ESPN needs an expert analysis of NBA players and teams, he is their man.


Kevin Martin, a shooting guard with the Minnesota Timberwolves, calls David Thorpe a “second father.” Martin credits Thorpe with breaking his habit of settling for jump shots. Martin was off to a great start this season, averaging 20.4 points a game - 2.5 points higher than his career average - before breaking his wrist in a game Nov. 19. Kevin Martin, a shooting guard with the Minnesota Timberwolves, calls David Thorpe a “second father.” Martin credits Thorpe with breaking his habit of settling for jump shots. Martin was off to a great start this season, averaging 20.4 points a game - 2.5 points higher than his career average - before breaking his wrist in a game Nov. 19. Since childhood, Thorpe developed a love for basketball and through happenstance and his passion for the game, he wound up as a pioneer in a field that few have tried. He is one of only a handful of freelance coaches that NBA players turn to for help.

Since starting his business, Pro Training Center, in 1996, Thorpe says he has coached more than 50 NBA players.

They come to Clearwater mostly in the off-season for individual coaching. Thorpe uses various gyms in the area for the training sessions, consisting of drills without competition. There are no “pick up games” to lessen the chance of injury.

Then during the season his clients call him for advice nearly every day before and after games.

“Most of these players are thoroughbreds. They want to be great. They call to ask, ‘Why am I missing this shot,’ or ask about other elements of their game and I give them feedback. Then during summer we work on those things here,” he said.

Thorpe studies film every day, and thanks to his job as an ESPN analyst, he gets feeds from every camera of each NBA game, so he can study his player’s moves and suggest changes. “If I need to look at the last 50 shots a player took, or the last 50 he missed, and study what went right or wrong, I can do that,” he said.

Martin, who calls Thorpe “my second father,” said Thorpe broke his habit of settling for jump shots. “I think he knew my calling card was going to be putting the ball in the basket. He believed in me and saw the traits I have to be successful,” said Martin, whose career average is 17.9 points per game. “He is just a guy I could trust. With David I felt the trust and loyalty would always be there.”

Another client, Rodney Glasgow, who plays in the Euroleague, says Thorpe is “a great teacher and mentor. He has this presence about him that is really outgoing. I could see that this person has high character. He got to know me and he was really genuine.”

As of mid-November, Thorpe has been working extensively with Mekel, who began the NBA season with the Dallas Mavericks, but was cut. Mekel moved to Clearwater

Beach to train here and Thorpe says it is only a matter of time before Mekel is back in the NBA. Until he was cut, Mekel and Casspi – also a Thorpe client – were the only two Israelis in the NBA.

As much as he excels at his profession, Thorpe says there is a link between his work and his faith.

As a youngster, Thorpe attended Temple B’nai Israel in Clearwater where he was bar mitzvahed and he went to Camp Coleman, the Reform movement’s summer camp in north Georgia.

“I always felt there was an inherent aspect of Judaism that compelled me to try to be a decent man,” he said, especially striving to set a good example for the professional athletes about how to handle their new wealth and fame.

“I talk to them about my children and with my words and actions I show them the importance of family. They know my kids are a priority,” Thorpe said, noting that he makes time to coach his son’s grade 7-9 AAU basketball team and his baseball team.

“My Jewish values help me prioritize my life,” he said.

Thorpe grew up in Seminole and by age 9 was playing in the Small Fry league. He played on the Semionle High basketball team, which he said was pretty good, and even as a player there, he said he was always the guy to organize practices and mentor other players.

After graduating from the University of Florida – where he played for and coached more than 100 intermural and fraternity league basketball teams – his Seminole High coach, Ray Burkhart, recommended him to Mike McPheron, the head coach at Dixie Hollins High.

Thorpe began coaching at Dixie Hollins in 1987 and often coached kids at summer camps, developing a following and a reputation in the county as good at working one-onone and helping players develop their skills.

In 1990 he got married and he says his wife, Christine, “remains the light of my life, my closest friend.” After he quit coaching at Dixie Hollins, Thorpe said, “I had opportunities to pursue college coaching jobs, but I did not feel it would be best for my marriage.”

His next job was for a local cable company that covered area sports. He kept running into parents who asked him to coach their sons, so he started what he says may have been the first basketball training academy in the country. His first student paid him $25. Through contacts and word of mouth he started attracting higher level players, some driving several hours for sessions with him.

In 1996 Thorpe got a call from a guy he had met and mentored at a summer camp – Jason Levien.

“I was like a big brother to him,” Thorpe said. Levien, once the CEO of the Memphis Grizzlies, is now CEO of the DC United soccer team. At the time, Levien worked for a law firm that has set up a small sports agency practice. He asked Thorpe to do one week of training for a client before the NBA draft.

Thorpe did that, and “then I had an ah-ha moment and said to myself, ‘there is a business here.’ I knew I could help these guys. I could help them all season long and maybe during the off-season,” he said. “At the time, nobody was doing that. I was one of the pioneers. Today, less than 10 guys do that at the pro level and make a decent living at it and most of them just run camps, not individual training.”

Florida Gator player Udonis Haslem was Thorpe’s first Pro Training Center client. Haslem now plays for the Miami Heat.

For ESPN, Thorpe publishes at least one article a week and he does a few ‘Truehoop’ videos each week on what players are doing well or poorly and who to watch. “I also do a thing called ‘NBA Front Office’ for them,” he said. He and others on ‘Front Office’ rank management, owners and coaches for various teams and they opine on what they would do if in the teams’ front office.

When asked about Israeli-American David Blatt, first year coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers (and LeBron James), Thorpe ranked Blatt as one of the best coaches in the world and predicted the team would jell after a slow start, with a good chance of being NBA champs this year.

“The way I worked this out, my jobs all work hand-in-hand,” he said. “In the summer I train players, then during the season, I have to watch games for ESPN, so it also helps me help the players I work with.”

Information from a JTA story by Hillel Kuttler was used in this report.


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