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Behind the scenes of Ja Morant putting in work before NBA restart

The Grizzlies’ star rookie put together a camp at his Memphis home that included workout sessions, film study and ‘Martin’ trivia

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When Ja Morant was a little boy, his father, Tee, personally put him through what he called “TTG camp” in their backyard in South Carolina. It stood for Train To Go. Tee Morant wanted his son to work hard and be ready to show people he was built for every obstacle.

Pops recently brought the TTG camp back, using their suburban Memphis, Tennessee, home to get the Memphis Grizzlies’ rookie sensation prepared and stronger for the resumption of the NBA season, which begins on July 30.

“They locked in,” Tee Morant told The Undefeated. “Of course, he was ready to get back out there. It was killing him on the inside. But the whole process helped him out a whole lot. It felt like he got an offseason. He did take advantage of the time off. Got stronger. Studied the game more. It was really good and efficient. It wasn’t just like he was laid up eating snacks.”

While the Grizzlies scheduled voluntary and individual workouts from their downtown Memphis practice facility from June 23 to June 30 before departing to Orlando, Florida, on July 1, the Morants held their own basketball and weight training sessions for two weeks beginning June 14.

Ja Morant lifts weights at his home gym during quarantine.

Courtesy of Ja Morant

The Morants transformed their two-car garage into a weight training room, used a full outdoor basketball court on the property and also spent time in two private Memphis basketball gyms (one owned by Chicago Bulls forward Thaddeus Young). And they invited NBA draft prospect RJ Hampton, former Murray State guard Jonathan Stark and forward Darnell Cowart, NBA G League Memphis Hustle guard Shaq Buchanan, Friends University guard Davonte Pack, current Murray State guards DaQuan Smith and Chico Carter Jr., and Sunrise Christian Academy High (Kansas) star guard Kennedy Chandler to participate in the camp.

To help facilitate the workouts, the Morants flew in IMG basketball strength and conditioning coach Uranius “U.J.” Johnson and IMG assistant basketball coach Jonathan “Coach JT” Thomas. Both Johnson and Thomas had helped Morant prepare for the 2019 NBA draft out of Murray State and stayed at the Morants’ home during this visit.

Upon arrival, Johnson went to a store to buy kettlebells, weight balls, battle ropes and other equipment. Johnson’s goal was to not only make Morant stronger, but help him to be better prepared for the pounding his light frame gets in the NBA.

“We make jokes all the time like, ‘Look, this summer we got to get you stronger because you can’t pull up that arm sleeve every turnover, every play.’ We want to keep it up there,” Johnson said.

Thomas held film training sessions with Morant by watching NBA videos on YouTube. He also worked with Morant, who was averaging 17.6 points, 6.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds through 59 games before the season was suspended, on shooting, reading and reacting offensively, and dribbling off ball screens.

“When we are in the weight room or he walked past, I’d say, ‘gains,’ ” Thomas said. “It’s all about gains during that time. There were gains that were made during the mental side and the physical side. Wisdom. Mentally, in every area, there were gains.”

Tee Morant, meanwhile, would get up early in the morning with his wife, Jamie, to cook breakfast for the group. He would also grill hamburgers and other meats for lunch.

“I probably won’t tell him this again,” Thomas said, “but Tee is the truth as a cook.”

Said Tee Morant: “Me and my wife always feed a lot of people. So, it wasn’t that hard to adjust to that. The only thing was figuring out what I was going to put on the menu for the day. That was the hardest preparation. I made sure I had enough for all of the people. There were only a couple of days where there were leftovers.”

After training was completed for the day, TTG camp gave way to swimming in the backyard pool, competitive Uno card games and trivia sessions on the sitcom Martin. (Ja Morant said that he brought videos of Martin with him to Orlando.)

“They have Martin playing cards,” Johnson said. “They have episodes of the show. Who did Sheneneh go on the date with? What kind of car did Martin drive? … Whoever gets them wrong has to do five pushups.”

So, who was the best at Martin trivia?

“Jamie, his mom, was the best,” Johnson said. “She was on it.”

Ja Morant looked noticeably different when he returned to the Grizzlies. He said he added 12 pounds of muscle.

“I was just taking the time to get better and focus on what I needed to get better at,” Morant said on a media Zoom call. “Strength. I put on some weight during that time. Honestly, it wasn’t difficult. I just used that part to get better. I love the grind.”

Morant, who is the leading candidate for the 2020 NBA Rookie of the Year award, is motivated to lead the Grizzlies into the playoffs as they return to action holding the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference with four teams trying to unseat them.

If the Grizzlies make the playoffs, perhaps Morant’s TTG camp should get a lot of credit for helping him get ready.

“Being able to lock in for camp prior to minicamp, it was about, ‘Yeah, you are going to get some weight and strength on you. But I want your confidence to be high,’ ” Johnson said. “You’re in the mirror flexing. Cool. Well, take that right to the court. You took time off. Everybody did. But now you’re two weeks ahead of the game. Now you going back to camp right back at it. Then when reports come out saying you look different, that is right, because you’ve been working.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.