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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