After an hour Ravin told Young and McClinton they were done. Both were drenched in sweat. McClinton stayed on the court to work on a dribble move, while Young showed off his post pivot fake. Then they and Ravin fell into an easy conversation. There was no formal evaluation, just five or 10 minutes of small talk, with Ravin mostly listening. The players talked about teammates, mutual friends, eating habits.
To Ravin, postworkout time is essential. This, he has found, is when he learns the most about his players. "That's when you can understand the guys," he says. "What do they want? How did they get here? And they're pretty candid. You see where they struggle and excel." From that he knows which buttons to push. "You try to emphasize the struggle, because that creates the humility and the rawness, which allow people to see where they're not so good," he says. "From there, you learn by how [a player] responds. Does he talk, does he complain, does he curse? Does he show up the next day earlier?"
Ravin rarely asks questions of his NBA athletes. "It's about understanding where they're coming from and how they learn, and those answers don't come from direct questions," he says. "Even something so small as a guy telling me that he's going to make sure he takes his mom out for Mother's Day—now maybe I come at him in a more sensitive way."
To be successful, Ravin realized, he had to see the world through each player's eyes. "The biggest mistake you can make is thinking these guys are stupid and inarticulate," he says. "Whatever language they speak, they speak it well. And it's not incumbent on them to understand me; it's up to me to understand them."
His approach was evident in the different ways he communicated with McClinton and Young during their workouts. McClinton was eager and unafraid to fail; Young was more guarded. "It's just how each guy learns," says Ravin. "With McClinton, I can give him the whole platter right away, and he'll dig in. With Young, I just need to cut up the steak bite by bite. And it's up to me to figure that out." (Both players would end up being drafted in the second round, Young by the Grizzlies and McClinton by the Spurs.)
Failure to understand a player's psyche is a flaw Ravin sees in the disciplinarian style of some coaches. Rather than empowering a player, they strip him of his authority. "At the end of the workout, I'll give players the option to run," explains Ravin. "I'll say, 'I think you've got more in you, but it's your choice.' They'll always run if you present the option in a fair way. And then when they're done, I'll say, 'I'm impressed with you. I think you have half a tank of gas left. I think it'd be great if you did another one.' And they'll say, 'Really?' And they'll do it. Players want to be part of the process."
Ravin's rapport with his clients comes in part from spending time with their families and friends. Sometimes they too have to be won over. When Ravin first met Anthony's fiancée, deejay LaLa Vasquez, who'd played hoops in high school, she was skeptical. She looked him up and down and demanded, "What do you know about basketball?"
"Let me show you," Ravin said, and the two headed down to the gym in the basement of Anthony's house. (A home gym comes in handy in these situations.) For half an hour Ravin worked with Vasquez on her shot. When they emerged, she said to Anthony, "O.K., he's all right."
"In minutes he improved my shot," Vasquez recalls, "and I knew he was the one."
ON APRIL 22 the Nuggets faced the Hornets in Game 2 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Ravin watched the game—and two of his prized pupils—at a hotel bar in Bethesda, Md.