JaVale McGee thriving since discovering he has asthma
I was able to catch up with JaVale McGee after Team USA practice at the New York Knicks practice facility in Tarrytown, N.Y., on Friday afternoon and he confirmed that he discovered late last season that he has asthma. If weren't able to get past the first few paragraphs of my story on his chances of making the U.S. roster for the World Championships, you probably missed it.
McGee said he started developing problems breathing while in college at Nevada and regularly found himself winded after a few sprints. The problem persisted with the Wizards, but he usually chalked it up to poor conditioning. "Before I would get tired and it wouldn't be body tired, it would be I couldn't breathe," the 7-foot-1 McGee said. "I thought, even in college, I thought I was out of shape all the time."
Asthma is a lung disease in which airways become blocked and prevent the flow of oxygen in the body. Team USA center Tyson Chandler, a player with whom McGee is often compared, was also diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma as an adult. The 7-foot-1 Chandler didn't find out until his fourth season with the Chicago Bulls -- when Chandler was 22 -- after it became increasingly difficult for him to do routine practice drills.
In his first two seasons in Washington, McGee's coaches always seemed to notice a precipitous drop in production the more he stayed on the floor. He also would pick up cheap fouls, partly because he was in the wrong position, but also from a need to slow down. McGee said Coach Flip Saunders first suggested that something else was likely contributing to his inability to play more than short bursts on the court. Saunders recommended late last season that the 22-year-old McGee get checked out and he was diagnosed with the condition, which he has been able to control with medication.
"He said I would get tired too fast and he had never seen that," McGee said of Saunders.
McGee said that it was comforting to discover that asthma had been holding him back for so long. Since he began treating the condition, McGee said he has more energy and can be more effective for longer stretches. He mentioned a home game against Charlotte last March, when he had 14 points and 12 rebounds in a career-high 46 minutes "and I didn't go to my knees once and it amazed myself."
McGee has had a surprising rise this summer, with him growing another inch, adding nearly seven pounds of muscle, and another stellar performance in the Las Vegas summer league. He still has a long way to go before he can truly become an effective starting center, as evidenced by his uneven outings in Team USA scrimmages, but has made some strides. McGee has also discovered more patience, but it's likely because he can finally catch his breath.
"Great relief, because I thought I wasn't in shape. I feel like I would've been diagnosed in college, I would've been in great shape [before entering the NBA]," said McGee, who has even intensified his offseason workout regimen to include boxing. Boxing "is great for conditioning. And the weightlifting program that my boxing instructor has on me is crazy."
Still, for as long as McGee sticks around with Team USA, the coaching staff still plans to use him much the same way that Saunders did most of last season -- with McGee coming off the bench to provide a spark and a change of pace with rebounds, blocks and possibly some dunks. Coach Mike Krzyzewski seem content with veterans Chandler and Lamar Odom getting the bulk of the minutes at center. While praising McGee for his incredible athleticism, Odom also provided a rather astute assessment of McGee, noting that he still needs to develop a better feel for the game "because the game is called basketball, not run and jump."
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