Lucas: Snider brings new leadership to roster of new beginnings

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BY MIKE LUCAS

UWBadgers.com Senior Writer

MADISON, Wis. — In a sign of changing times, Jonathan Davis, Tyler Wahl and Carter Gilmore voluntarily stayed on campus in May to get some personal training direction from Jim Snider who was hired as the full-time strength and coaching coach for Wisconsin basketball at the end of April.

“Jim dove in with two feet and was terrific with the players,” UW head coach Greg Gard said. “We haven’t had guys stay here or come back beyond their requirements very often. They’ve had to work out voluntarily with him, but they’ve requested to do that at times when they’re back in town.

“He had that effect on a lot of the hockey guys – the NHL guys would come back to Madison just because of the type of training that they knew that they were going to get from him and how innovative he is. I see that starting to grow with our guys. They really embrace and enjoy being around him.

“I asked every player in our postseason meetings, ‘What are your thoughts (on Snider)?’ And it was unanimous, very short and to the point, hire that man. As I was coming to a decision on where we were going to have to move forward with the position, the players unanimously supported him.”

Snider has his work cut out for him. The Badgers are in the midst of a sizeable personnel turnover with the graduation loss of five seniors from the rotation. Only Brad Davison has elected to come back for the extra year of eligibility offered by the NCAA in response to the COVID pandemic.

Along with the return of 2020 recruit Lorne Bowman and the addition of the 2021 freshmen class – Chucky Hepburn, Chris Hodges, Matthew Mors, Markus Ilver – the roster will be reshaped with three transfers: Isaac Lindsey (UNLV), Jahcobi Neath (Wake Forest) and Chris Vogt (Cincinnati).

“I obviously have a pretty good idea where we need to go with some of the returners, but we’ve got eight new guys coming in – that’s half the team,” observed Snider who began implementing his off-season conditioning plan with the June 14 start of the eight-week summer school session.

“We’re going to establish our culture of work, which will be nice because this will be the first time that I have a full offseason with the guys. Last year was tough because some of the freshmen came four weeks before school started, and the older guys didn’t get here until school actually started.

“We’re going to do some different stuff nutritionally. We’re really going to hammer on the nutrition side of things. That will be different than what they’ve done in the past. If we’re going to train at a high level, we’re going to have to recover and eat at a high level as well.

“Number one, in helping guys gain size, they’ve got to be able to eat the right nutrients to allow their body to repair from the damage that has been done from the lifting and the training. It’s one of the areas that I think is probably the most underutilized. When I look at things, it’s like low hanging fruit.”

More so than anyone else, Jonathan Davis had an urgency in getting up to speed with Snider’s program. And his own. Sunday, he began competing for a spot on the 12-man roster for USA’s U19 team that will play in the 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup in Riga and Daugavpils, Latvia (July 3-11).

Davis was one of 27 players invited to the tryouts on the TCU campus in Fort Worth, Texas. Joining him from the Big Ten were Purdue’s Jaden Ivey and Ohio State’s Meechie Johnson and Zed Key. Former Illinois guard Adam Miller, who has transferred to LSU, is also in the mix.   

As a true freshman, Davis appeared in all 31 games off the bench for the Badgers. He averaged 24 minutes, 7 points and 4 rebounds. The former Mr. Basketball in the state of Wisconsin scored in double-figures nine times (with a high of 17 against Penn State) and led the team in steals (34).

“We’ve watched how explosive he is and how he plays – he’s a raw athlete, but he’s got all the mechanics,” Snider said of 6-5, 196-pound Davis, who prepped at La Crosse Central. “He’s a fairly quiet kid. But he’s a warrior deep down inside. He’ll do whatever it takes to win. He’s not afraid to work.

“It’s funny but when we’re working on some basketball-specific cutting drills where I’m trying to teach, I’ll have Johnny go out there because he demonstrates all the physical capacities of movement just naturally. He’s such a gifted athlete as far as how he can move.”

It hasn’t taken long for Snider, a self-starter, to move into attack-mode with his off-season training instruction. As he has noted in the past, now is the time to lay the foundation of the pyramid so when the season nears the players can concentrate more on playing knowing their body is prepared.

On his primary goals for the next two months of this developmental phase, he said, “We’re balancing putting weight and size on guys and still maintaining function … But to put on a lot of size and strength takes a lot of work. This summer is going to be an interesting process.

”When we get through it, the guys are going to feel better and have more confidence. If you feel good, you’re going to play good. One of the things that we want to try and do is increase our physical abilities to help our mental abilities – to have a little more Badger swagger is what I like to say.”

• • • •

Jim Snider working with Cole Caufield
Jim Snider working with Hobey Baker Award winner Cole Caufield

As a widely respected college hockey strength and conditioning coach, Snider has carved out a national reputation for building a healthy weight room culture with his ability to impact and connect with current student-athletes and returning professionals.

Underling his effectiveness in producing results has been the trust that he has engendered from players and coaches through his steadfast preparation, nuanced approach to teaching and training, commitment to sound nutrition and his understanding of the in-season and out-of-season process.

There are many pieces to his makeup, his job, his interpersonal relationships. While coordinating and balancing men’s hockey and basketball last season, transitioning between programs, he wore several hats and dealt with a lot of moving pieces within the COVID-influenced environment.

“Honestly, I tell people this all the time, it was probably one of the most difficult things that I’ve probably went through in my life,” said the 43-year-old Snider. “But, in the end, it actually made me a better person just because it was such a mental grind trying to balance everything.

“I’m a 110 percent type of guy. If I’m going to go in, I’m going to go in all the way. I do this because I care and love the student-athletes. And, so, I always want to make sure whatever I’m doing with them is always in their best interests.

“Last year, I kind of felt sometimes, ‘Am I really doing the best I can?’ But then I was doing the best I can with the circumstances. That was an adjustment for me personally trying to shift my mindset without burning the candle at both ends … which I pretty much did.”

Snider broke out in laughter. He has never shied away from the workload or challenges. As he proved throughout his successful tenure with Wisconsin men’s and women’s hockey. But he says that he has never felt more comfortable than he does now as a strength coach with Badger hoops.

“I’m really excited about it,” he said. “I’ve had a great experience in ice hockey for a long time. Now this is a little bit of a different experience. But it’s also lighting the fire for me to go back to the books and the grindstone and study the game and how it works.

“Probably the best thing that helped me was us going to the NCAA Basketball Tournament this year (in the Indianapolis bubble). I can’t wait to get back and go farther. That was one of the best experiences I’ve had … it was an unbelievable experience unlike anything I’ve been a part of in hockey.”

Snider has been well-versed in skating-specific methodology. For instance, he has been able to explain to the athlete how a specific movement can relate to actions on the ice. Snider never played hockey. In fact, he has never skated. But he has a deep knowledge of how players are wired.

Comparing hockey and basketball, he explained, “There’s a lot of similarities when it comes to the way guys move and things like that from an energy system standpoint. We’re trying to find the fine balance of making sure guys are putting size on but are able to move, be athletic and explosive.

“Basketball guys will jog and then they’ll explode and make a play, which is almost the same with ice hockey where guys are on the glide, not jogging, but gliding on the ice, and then, all of a sudden, they’re exploding and making a play. There are a lot of commonalities from a conditioning standpoint.”

There are obvious differences in the strength training, he also pointed out. In high school, by the way, Snider played on a Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs basketball team that won the WISAA state championship. He later went to UW-La Crosse to play football. But he was injured as a freshman.

During the fall training camp, he tore his axillary nerve and dislocated his shoulder.

“My right arm was paralyzed for about eight months,” Snider said. “That was another life experience that really helped me a lot, ‘Hey, I’m going to get in this field to make sure people don’t have to go through the things that I had to go through.’ At the same point, it helped shape things mentally.”

At La Crosse, Snider worked with a variety of sports while completing his degree in Exercise and Sport Science with an emphasis in strength and conditioning. He got his master’s in Applied Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota where he worked two years between stints on the UW staff.

Snider is an avid notetaker. Reference points are invaluable to transition. So are contacts. Like Art Horne, the director of performance with the Boston Celtics. Like Mike Curtis and Jay DeMayo, the strength and conditioning coaches for basketball at Virginia and Richmond, respectively.

“I talk to people all over the place,” said Snider, whose wife, Jenna, is an exercise physiologist. “Albeit it wasn’t perfect this last year and one-half, I wasn’t able to go all in, I had to balance between hockey and basketball, and make sure everybody was getting a fair shake.

“But it did help to see how the process works, how travel works, how practice works. Things like that. Obviously, the culture has been solidified and set in basketball. We’re just trying to enhance it a little bit and maybe have guys play with a little more confidence.”

To this end, Snider has been keeping an eye on how Cole Caufield’s level of confidence has been growing and growing with the Montreal Canadians in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Snider is proud of Caufield, the Hobey Baker winner. Especially in terms of his personal growth the last few seasons.

“He put in a ton of work during the off-season this past year because he knew that he wanted to play in the NHL,” Snider said. “And he knew that his physical stature (5-7, 165) was going to be used against him. But if he could get his body in peak, prime strength, it was going to help along the way.

“Really, the coolest part with him was seeing how he matured as a person. That’s the most satisfying thing I can see as a strength coach. I’m around these guys pretty much 24/7. And it’s most gratifying seeing the characteristics and character of guys changing.

“No question, Cole had the skill. That was never a question. It was just a matter of can he develop the habits and the leadership skills to transfer over to the next level. It doesn’t matter if it’s the NHL, the NFL or the NBA. Everybody has got skill, or you wouldn’t be there.”

Caufield is proving that he belongs in fast company. And all the credit goes to him, Snider emphasized. “But the end result is I stay in college, I stay at this level,” he said of his own pro aspirations, “because I feel like I can have an influence on young people’s lives.”

People now like Davis, Wahl, et al. It doesn’t change from the ice to the hardwood. He’s still trying to spark that Badger swagger.

 



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