The Texas Legends are one of the most forward-thinking operations in not just the NBA D-League, but of any sports team, minor league or major league. This past summer they brought in Pittsburgh native Anthony Citriniti to head up their evolving training department.
“I grew up playing hockey and really involved in sports,” says the 26-year old. “When I went to college I wanted to stay active in sports. I went to the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford for athletic training and got my Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training. Then, I did my Master’s at Clarion University with an emphasis on exercise science with specialization in athletic performance enhancement and injury prevention.”
Citriniti uses a system called ‘Fusionetics’ to train and manage the Legends players. Defined on their official website as a “Performance Health System designed to reduce injuries, decrease pain, optimize performance, and speed recovery,” Citriniti was very familiar with the method and the Legends were looking to hire someone to install the popular practice.
The Legends trainer himself defines Fusionetics as a “systematic approach to injury prevention.” Most of his protocols begin and end with the system.
“It takes body movement assessments and range of motion assessments in order to develop and individualize injury prevention programs that are specific to that person and their deficiencies. Through Clarion and the connections with that background, it ended up making me valuable and getting me some individual jobs privately with a few guys in the NBA during the off-season.”
Despite all the innovation and new techniques used to treat players and keep them in peak shape, it still comes down to the player behind the body. “I think the most important thing is getting players to buy in to the approach and really take care of their bodies. Especially nowadays, there’s a lot of science out there with injury prevention. So getting them to come in and get their treatment, to do injury prevention work and their weightlifting.”
“Getting them to try to make healthy choices when they go out to eat to fuel their bodies so that they’re ready to meet the rigorous demands of a 50-game schedule. A lot of it is just informing players to get them to take care of themselves as much as you take care of them.”
Like any minor league team in any minor league, the resources at the Legends’ disposal do not compare to a major league team. Their parent club and affiliated Dallas Mavericks, for example, have a staff as big as some entire D-League coaching staffs dedicated to just training players. On top of that, Citriniti has other responsibilities in Frisco.
“In the D-League there’s not a full staff like you’re going to have at the NBA or other levels. Typically at the NBA level you have two, maybe three athletic trainers, a strength and conditioning coach and an equipment manager. At the D-League level, at least here because some teams are different, I do all the athletic training by myself, the strength and conditioning, and on the road I do all the equipment. When I’m at home we get assistance from the interns (the do-it-all duo of Chris Blakeley/Dustin Berthold). Obviously they’re a huge help whether it’s getting some of the basic things down or grabbing supplies from time to time. Sometimes you’re one person filling multiple roles versus having a full-fledged staff at other levels.”
Also unique to the D-League is the schedule. Often times the team will play a back-to-back to be followed by two games the next week or even a week spacing out games. This presents an added hurdle that Citriniti is more than aware of. “It just makes the whole recovery process a larger emphasis. Sometimes you don’t have a lot of time to get these guys recovered and rested between games. You really have to stay on guys, get them on some of our recovery mechanical stuff.”
Another piece of tech the team uses are NormaTec boots. “They help create blood flow and remove some lactic acid buildup which causes muscle soreness.”
And then there’s daily things even non-professional athletes can take heed of. “Getting them to eat healthy and get enough sleep between back-to-backs. Make sure they’re getting hydrated and getting proteins in them. It’s a big emphasis on recovery nowadays and that’s a large thing that’s very important, especially when there’s back-to-backs or three games in four days.”
The most significant theme in all of the many, many things Anthony Citriniti does as Head Athletic Trainer is injury prevention. If he can keep a player from getting hurt after all, his job is much easier.