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Home > inside the rockets facilities

Jeff Van Gundy took over as the Rockets' coach June 11, and shortly thereafter, he realized he was way behind. The season would open in 4 1/2 months, and the final touches still were being put on the team's new arena, the Toyota Center. It had been designed without Van Gundy's input, and now he wanted some changes.

"I think that if you give your players maximum comfort, they will give you maximum effort," Van Gundy says.

That approach is visible all around the Rockets, who, along with the Mavericks, now have the best facilities in the league, thanks to the demands of Van Gundy and the willingness of owner Les Alexander to meet them.

In the summer, when strength and conditioning coach Anthony Falsone wanted two $15,000 Woodway treadmills, he figured he wouldn't get the expense approved. He talked with Van Gundy, who asked, "Are they the best treadmills? Can you demonstrate they are the best?" Falsone said yes, and Van Gundy said he would handle it. The team now has four new Woodways.

Other Toyota Center highlights: a state-of-the-art video scouting room; a home locker room that is about four times bigger than the one at the Compaq Center, the Rockets' old arena, and a chef who is brought in to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for the players.

Van Gundy and the Rockets swung open the players-only, no-access doors for the SPORTING NEWS just hours before an early December game against the Trail Blazers.

When the Toyota Center was designed, this room was to be the weight room. But Van Gundy declared it too small; he wanted to make it a bike room. Backup center John Amaechi rides one of the 15 bikes, which were ordered from Italy and cost a total of $100,000.

Trainer Keith Jones (seated, center, working on Maurice Taylor) says, "Originally, they were going to give me a training room half this size. But I said, 'No, I need twice as much room.' I got it." The training room is seven times bigger than the one at Compaq Center and is equipped with a player's lounge, laundry room, steam room, sauna, X-ray room, chiropractor's room and doctor's office. "In the long run," Jones says, when guys get hurt or when we need to sign free agents, the investment will pay off."

These bikes are unique--and pricey--because each player is assigned a key that contains a computer program specifically designed for his weight needs. The key allows the bike to recognize the rider. Players who I are not meeting their body-fat goals have to ride for 30 minutes before practices. Falsone then can plug the key into a computer and get a printout showing how hard the player worked to Van Gundy.

Shooting guard Cuttino Mobley watches one of the dozens of flat-screen TVs installed in the training facility as he soaks his ankles in a hot tub in the pool room. There's a cold tub to Mobley's left, and on the opposite wall, the team has a HydroWorx underwater treadmill/swimming machine (price tag: $100,000) equipped with underwater cameras to monitor players during rehab. "You only have one body. You better take care of it," says Mobley, who has had surgery on both ankles. "In this place, they got everything to let you do that."

Just hours before a game, point guard Steve Francis eats a turkey sandwich while getting his ankle wrapped by assistant trainer Michelle Leget. When comparing these facilities with those at the Compaq Center, Francis says, "There is no comparison. This is like a second home." So much so that Francis even bought a courtside luxury suite for $250,000; power forward Maurice Taylor bought one, too.

Van Gundy wanted his players to know the names of the referees, instead of calling them by their number or saying, "Hey, ref." To ensure his players got the names right, Van Gundy hung posters of the refs in the one place he knows his players will have time to study--the toilet stalls.

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