Behind the coaches and players.
In discussing UNC basketball we spend a majority of the time assigning blame and credit to the players and coaches for everything that goes on during the games. One vital piece of UNC's program that has really only come to light his season is the work of stength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratain. Besides all of the duties his title implies, Sahratain has also been responsible for helping players like Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough get past their respective injuries. During the Tuesday press conference, Roy was asked about Sahratain and how he came to UNC.
While Roy was still at Kansas he wanted to set up a strength conditioning program that was basketball focused. At that time the program overlapped with what the football team did and Roy wanted to change it because he felt the could focus it more specifically on basketball. After talking to NBA teams he retained the consulting services of Al Vermeil(brother of NFL coach Dick Vermeil) who was working for the Chicago Bulls. Vermiel came in to work with the staff at Kansas on a basketball specific program. Some time later Roy was looking to hire a new strength and conditioning coordinator and settled on Sahratain who was an intern for Vermeil at the time. When Roy came to UNC, he was not comfortable getting rid of much of the support staff(unlike his predecessor) so Sahratain remained at Kansas another year until the position actually opened up. Roy called Saharatain because he considers him the best there is at the job and also views him on the same level with his assistants in terms of trust and contribution to the team.
The impact Sahratain has had is two-fold. The first is he is basically the guy who really puts in the time to develop the players' bodies to handle the game. Many players come out of high school lacking some of the strength and fitness they need to handle major college basketball. It is Sahratain's job to help them get ready. Roy said at Kansas, Sahratain could do wonders with players who put in the time and those that did not he made them put in the time. As much as basketball is about bringing in the talent, this kind of work cannot be overlooked in terms of developing players and building a strong program. If you have a program like UNC has, it affords you the ability to really get the most out the players that commit to play in Chapel Hill. Tyler Hansbrough for all the skill and talent he brought to the table, also leaned heavily on Sahratain to help make him the player we have seen for four years. For that, Sahratain should be recognized.
Secondly, Sahratain is the staff member who ultimately manages the players when they are in the recovery phase coming back from an injury. It is his job to make sure they maintain fitness but also do the things necessary to get better. When Hansbrough had his shin problems, he worked with Sahratain on the recovery side to maintain conditioning. Marcus Ginyard has spent a great deal of time working with Sahratain on his road to recovery. Probably the most talked about situation Sahratain may have dealt with in his career was Ty Lawson's toe. Aside from all of the other treatments, Sahratain ultimately found the magic remedy when he started putting Lawson in the pool to help him get his toe healed. Based on what we saw this past weekend, we should all be sending Sahratain thank you cards for his work to get Lawson back.
In the end, the contributions of Jonas Sahratain should not be overlooked. Yes players have to do the work and make the plays. Coaches have to game plan and make the right decisions. Before any of that happens, the players need to be physically ready to handle the game and having a great strength coach like Sahratain generally means that type of player development goes on. I also think it speaks to the excellence of Roy Williams in running the program in general. Paying attention to this position and staffing it with a person who interned for a man who is considered by most NBA teams to be the best strength and conditioning coach in their sport speaks volumes of the kind of ship Roy is running in Chapel Hill.
From top to bottom the UNC program at this stage has it all. The talent is here and keeps coming, the coaching is Hall of Fame caliber and even areas such as strength and conditioning is top of the line. The product of on the court reflects all of this and I sincerely hope that come Monday night we can see it fully manifested in a national title.