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Wizards' new medical executive Dr. Daniel Medina brings approach that helped FC Barcelona for years

Wizards' new medical executive Dr. Daniel Medina brings approach that helped FC Barcelona for years

In conducting research to determine how he wanted to restructure his organization, Wizards managing partner Ted Leonsis looked all around the world of sports. He examined more successful NBA teams, but also premier franchises in other top leagues in the United States and beyond. It was in European soccer where he found a model he would like to follow when it comes to athlete training and performance.

Leonsis realized in comparing his own investments to European soccer clubs that the latter is on a completely different scale. Some soccer teams operate with payrolls that eclipse $400 million, even more than in baseball. And on some clubs, the average player salary is well over $10 million.

Top soccer teams have even more money allocated to their players than NBA teams do and that has required them to be at the forefront of player health and maintenance. Leonsis belives there is value in how soccer teams cultivate their players from young ages through academy programs and found through studying those teams that a lot more goes into the process than teaching technique and skill on the field.

So, Leonsis pulled from the European soccer ranks to hire Dr. Daniel Medina, the Wizards' new chief of athlete care and performance. Medina will work with the existing medical staff headed up by Dr. Wiemi Douoguih.

Medina has a unique mix of experience, having worked for more than a decade with FC Barcelona before spending two years with the NBA's 76ers. At Barcelona, he oversaw the health of roughly 2,000 athletes including Lionel Messi, Neymar and Ronaldinho. He then got acclimated to the NBA in Philadelphia, allowing him to hit the ground running in Washington.

What Leonsis wants Medina to do is create a more encompassing health program for the athletes of his basketball teams – the Wizards, Mystics, Go-Go and District Gaming. 

"If you are injured, how you curate the care of the rehabilitation after the injury, their mental health, their family and how connected you can make them to the community; it just seemed like we should make bigger, bigger investments to the organization by having the fittest most self-actualized and happiest players and their families," Leonsis said.

Medina says that will involve a "360-screening of the player" as a person and athlete. Younger players will be educated on good habits to have longer careers. Load management will be approached with a wider lens.

"It has to do with everything after you get up [in the morning], your well-being as a person, the people surrounding you, medically and how much you train and what you do in the weight room," Medina said. 

"All of that together is what we're going to have to manage and where we can find an advantage in how we build and how we design from training to recovery to overall health with our players."

In a nutshell, Medina's role will be to create more symmetry between the Wizards' various health-related services. He will help make sure the medical staff, trainers and nutritionists are working together in a cohesive plan. 

"The athletic care and performance area is pretty clouded," Medina said. "So, basically my role will be to put them all together and build a player-centric department that will supervise not only the processes when they are injured, but also all the little steps that they can take in order to improve their recovery and fine tune their fitness to cope with the whole season and also be ready for the playoffs."

Much of what the Wizards described about Medina's role and process at his introductory press conference was nebulous. His job is a lot about the finer details of player health, the stuff people go to school for years and years to understand.

But on a basic level, Medina will try to make the Wizards better at recovering from injuries and preventing them altogether. He said the biggest challenge for the latter is the league schedule which can often include back-to-back games and cross-country travel.

"The main difference is that in soccer you have a minimum of 72 hours to recover. In basketball, particularly in the NBA, you have back-to-backs, and out-of-town games within 48 hours. One of the main things we will focus on is how we can recover and get ready for the next game," Medina said.

There is, of course, one injury in particular for the Wizards that comes to mind. That is the ruptured Achilles John Wall suffered in February, which required surgery that could keep him out of all of next season. When asked about Wall, Medina preached patience, much like Leonsis and others have in recent months.

"The timeframe is not really relevant at this point. We just want to make sure he has a full recovery and comes back playing basketball at the highest level again," Medina said.

The Wizards aren't the first team to look to European soccer in hiring a medical professional. The Washington Nationals did the same in 2015 with Harvey Sharman of Leeds United.

Medina, it is also worth noting, comes from the Sixers – who have had a mixed recent history when it comes to athlete injuries. They have been praised for their work with Joel Embiid following the serious injuries that plagued the start of his career. But Philly has also been roundly criticized for their handling of Markelle Fultz.

The Wizards, though, felt there was something missing from their medical staff. Medina, they hope, will help their operation run smarter and more smoothly.

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Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

WASHINGTON -- This may be the most realistic and self-aware Wizards team we have seen in a while. It wasn't long ago they had a penchant for talking big about what they believed they could accomplish. Nowadays, knowing where they are in the standings, their expectations are much more measured.

They know they are 12th in the Eastern Conference, even after beating the Pistons on Monday. They know their 14-28 record, which is 14 games under .500 and has them on pace to win 27 total games, isn't good.

But the Wizards are allowed to dream and they say making the playoffs is still something they would like to do.

"That's the goal, that's every day for us. [It's] in the back of my mind," shooting guard Bradley Beal said.

"I watch the games, I watch the standings and everything. We're not talking about it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "If that comes into play [we'll see]. The seventh and eighth seeds, the records aren't great."

There is certainly a case for that. The two teams currently occupying the bottom two playoff spots in the East have sub-.500 records. The seventh-ranked Magic are 20-23 and the Brooklyn Nets are in eighth with an 18-24 mark.

Last season, the Charlotte Hornets held up the Eastern Conference playoff bracket with a losing record as the eighth seed. They went 39-43, not good but still a much better pace than the Wizards are currently on. To win 39 games, they would have to go 25-16 the rest of the way.

Though they have shown some positive signs, going 4-4 in their last eight games, that would require going to a completely different level in the second half of the season. Still, there is no harm in maintaining their goals.

Beal, for one, has envisioned a way it can happen.

"Especially once All-Star hits, that second half is just flying. We have to tighten up and try to get some wins here before the break because that's usually the time when teams like to ease off the pedal a little bit. We have to take advantage of [that], that advantage of our schedule, take care of our bodies, and rally together," he said.

If the Wizards really, really wanted to go for the playoffs, they could try to add some pieces before the Feb. 6 trade deadline. But that should not be expected. In fact, this year's deadline for the Wizards likely won't be affected much at all by the playoff picture.

It's hard to envision them being buyers and they may not be able to be true sellers, either, due to injuries and other factors. Also, there is a belief in the front office that keeping a close distance in the playoff race could be a nice incentive for their young players, that having something to work for later in the season could help their development.

If the Wizards did somehow make the playoffs or even get close, that would be quite the surprise and it would say a lot about the direction of the organization. But in the long-term, it would seem to be more beneficial if they continue on their current course and end up with a top draft pick.

The Wizards right now have the fifth-worst record in the league. That would net them a lot of ping-pong balls for the draft lottery.

It seems likely that's where this season will end. But it doesn't hurt to try.

"We just want to play. We just want to finish the second half of the season playing better," Brooks said.

The Wizards are only 4 1/2 games back in the playoff race. Stranger things have happened.

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Yu Darvish lauds Rui Hachimura for 'exceptional' accomplish playing in the NBA

Yu Darvish lauds Rui Hachimura for 'exceptional' accomplish playing in the NBA

Rui Hachimura has attracted the best athletes Japan has to offer in his rookie season in the NBA. 

From Shohei Ohtani to Naomi Osaka, Hachimura has impressed both on and off the floor, including Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish. He stopped by to see Hachimura's Wizards beat the Pistons Monday. 

"That's right," Darvish said to the Wizards' Japanese website. "We are going to dinner after the game so I stopped by."

Darvish and Hachimura are represented by the same agency and are two of the biggest Japanese stars in American sports. Darvish has had two down years with the Cubs in 2018 and 2019, but he's still considered one of the best pitchers to ever come out of Japan. 

Hachimura, while sidelined with a groin injury, flashed plenty of potential as a rookie for the Wizards. Before going down, he was averaging 13.9 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 48.2 percent. 

Darvish admitted he didn't know much about basketball, not even what stats are good to use. But he only cares that Hachimura is having fun. 

Selected with the ninth pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Hachimura became the first Japanese born player to be drafted in the top-10. Japan has produced a number of great baseball players but hasn't been able to produce as many hoopers. 

"You don't have to be tall or big to play baseball," Darvish said. "But when it comes to basketball, you have to be tall and athletic and contribute to the team on a nightly basis. I think what he's accomplishing is more exceptional."

Scott Brooks isn't sure if Hachimura will return before the beginning of February and the team has yet to provide a timetable beyond that. Hopefully, we'll see him back on the floor soon because an entire country outside of the US is watching and can't get enough. 

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