Since Jadwin Gymnasium opened in 1969, the men’s basketball team has won 17 of its 26 Ivy League Championships. The Tigers boast a 408-114 record on Carril Court, going 260-53 over league opponents.
Indeed, the Tigers have enjoyed an illustrious reign over Jadwin Gym since its creation. This fall, however, they were forced to chart new waters — literally — as they attempted to take on a new arena: DeNunzio Pool.
During every Tuesday of their preseason, the Cagers would trek down to the pool at 8 a.m. for their brand-new aquatic conditioning program. The workouts were designed to improve anaerobic and cardiovascular capacities without delivering the punishment of repetitive joint-pounding on the hardwood.
Perhaps too symbolically, the Tigers were not clad in their usual black-and-orange University-issued gear. Players brought their own swimming trunks from home, found some on campus or just dove in wearing their basketball shorts.
The players’ preparedness varied widely across the team in both gear and skill. To senior guard Chris Clement, who had never received any formal swim training, the landscape was especially foreign.
“[When you saw] people that came into the first workout with goggles already, you were like, ‘Dang ... you’re a little advanced,’” he said.
As the preseason went on, crafty players quickly observed how much unpleasantness could be avoided with a pair of goggles and began securing their own by networking with some of the water sport athletes.
Once dressed, the players were thrown into the water at the mercy of their strength and conditioning coach, James “J.D.” DeVincenzi. DeVincenzi instructed the Tigers to swim laps, tread water and kickboard around the pool, all while consistently offering one piece of helpful technical advice from deck: Go faster. The trainer emphasized on day one that his goal was to get the players in shape — not to give them swim lessons. This prospect was especially frightening for the team’s inexperienced swimmers like Clement.
“You’re looking down, and you see 18 feet of water beneath you. It’s a long way down,” he said. “In the big picture, the goal in going to the workout was just don’t touch the bottom of that pool. I felt like any breath could be my last.”
Clement was not the only one with an aversion to DeNunzio’s waters. Junior guard Ben Hazel began cramping up during the first workout and resorted to the frowned-upon practice of lane-clinging in order to stay afloat. His teammates jumped at the opportunity to jest about the newly discovered weakness in the starter, who knocked down three three-pointers and grabbed five rebounds this weekend in the team’s first contest on land.
“Ben Hazel is the worst swimmer I have ever seen in my life — and I have lifeguarded for two years,” junior guard Clay Wilson said.
Hazel’s teammates ribbed him for his suspiciously timed illnesses and junior paper adviser meetings that began to conflict conveniently with their workouts. Hazel denies allegations of feigning sickness to shirk his swim duties.
“Not true, but it did come at a good time to miss pool workouts,” he said.
While the players may have preferred their maritime performances to remain private, overlapping practice times in DeNunzio often gave them unwanted audiences. Swimmers, divers and water polo players alike had plenty of chances to watch their land-loving varsity counterparts struggle in their nautical environment.
Senior utility Molly McBee of the women’s water polo team was so entertained by the team that she began scheduling her workout times to coincide with theirs. She explained that watching oversized athletes with no speedos, no goggles and no swim caps don kickboards before cautiously approaching the pool was a rare sight that she and her teammates enjoyed.
“It was hilarious,” McBee said. “It was just such a struggle for most of them.”
McBee suggested to DeVincenzi that the basketball team scrimmage her team in water polo for their final workout, just as men’s hockey and men’s swimming had done in recent years. DeVincenzi turned down the proposal, citing a lack of preparedness and fear that his players would end up injuring themselves during the matchup.
One particularly intrigued women’s water polo player, junior utility Ashley Hatcher, decided to stick around after practice one day and approach Clement and Hazel. She had seen them finish last too many times and offered to meet them for personal tutoring in the pool. For Hazel, 45 minutes per week was already too much pool time — he declined the offer, while Clement accepted it.
When Hatcher first took Clement under her wing, she recalls, he was a work in progress.
“He could make it back and forth all right; he was just making it a lot harder on himself,” she said. “He just needed to learn the basics.”
Hatcher decided that increasing Clement’s endurance in one lesson would be a lost cause — her focus was to improve his technique enough that he could keep a respectable pace relative to his teammates.
“The hardest thing for him was keeping his head down and keeping his hips up,” she said.
Following their 90-minute session, Hatcher continued to keep a close eye on her protege during his next workout. Practicing in her own lane nearby, she would call out momentary cues to help Clement recall the techniques she had coached him on. Hatcher was pleased with Clement’s progress — and so was he.
“I definitely wasn’t coming in first place, but I was coming in last place with grace this time,” he said with a laugh. “It was a transformation.”
While Clement recognizes the cardiovascular benefits of his time spent in the pool, he was relieved when 2013’s final pool workout ended on Oct. 22.
“I get out of bed Tuesday mornings and can really just smile knowing that I’m most likely gonna see the end of the day,” he said. “It’s a good workout; it’s light on your joints, but just the possibility of death for some of the teammates, I think, outweighed that.”
Hatcher added that after witnessing the progress Clement made, Hazel conceded to her that maybe — just maybe — he regrets his decision.