Home is home. Daniel Shapiro repeats that line a few times. It’s one of the reasons why the strength and conditioning coach left the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and returned to Seattle to fill the same role with the Washington men’s basketball team.
“I got to the Kings at 28,” said Shapiro, a Renton native who broke into the business with the Sonics in 1997. “I think I was the youngest in the NBA doing my job. Top of the world. We had a great team. We were a playoff team. We were a veteran team. Then we ended up being the youngest team my last three, four years. When that happened, obviously the losing and everything else came.
“Just the timing was right for a change with what was going on in Sacramento at the time. I love Sacramento. Always will. I thought I was coming back to Seattle with the Kings and that didn’t work out. My contract ended. Sacramento offered me a chance to stay, but a chance to go home was big. At that time I was 36.”
Last year Washington coach Lorenzo Romar was looking for someone to oversee the strength and conditioning program. The position had been vacant since Matt Ludwig departed in 2012.
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Romar, a former NBA guard, was immediately impressed with Shapiro’s credentials and kinetic personality.
“You know the resume, and that’s one thing, but the thing that strikes you when you meet Daniel is his energy,” Romar said laughing. “It’s like, whoa, who is this guy? It’s infectious. And that’s genuine. It’s every day.
“Then you realize he’s really on it in terms of he understands basketball players and the training side of things. … It’s been a great fit. Daniel has been so instrumental to what’s going on because this all started this summer in the offseason program. And he was in charge of that.”
The 21st-ranked Huskies begin Pac-12 games Friday at California with an 11-1 record, which ties for most wins before the conference opener during Romar’s 13-year tenure at UW.
Despite Sunday’s stunning 62-57 loss to Stony Brook in the nonconference finale, Washington’s resurgence has been one of the early surprises in Pac-12 basketball.
The turning point from mediocrity to marquee, the Huskies say, began last summer with Shapiro, who hired on in 2013.
“We started two weeks after the last game,” he said. “From April 1 to Sept. 15. You factor in the spring quarter and they committed to me for summer school for nine weeks. That’s a tremendous training window. I get to fully implement and dive into a true offseason. So you really get to develop and train athletes.”
That’s another reason why Shapiro, a graduate of Bellevue’s Newport High School who received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Seattle Pacific University, returned home.
He worked with the best athletes in the world in the NBA, but he’s never had more influence on a team than he does at Washington.
“In the college we get six-eight hours (a week) in the summer and we can create habits of work ethic,” Shapiro said. “We can create a chemistry, which I hope can carry over on the court. It’s more difficult to do that in the NBA. And that was something that was really exciting with how it all contributes to the big picture, which is the product on the floor.”
Upon his arrival, Shapiro put an emphasis on monitoring players’ nutrition. He demanded they carry water jugs around campus and drink a gallon each day. He had players wear heart monitors in practice to track their physical activity.
Shapiro’s two biggest protégés have been Nigel Williams-Goss and Jernard Jarreau, whom he calls Batman and Robin in the weight room.
“When I got here I was 180 and now I’m 192 pounds,” Williams-Goss said. “My body fat went down. I came in at 5.5 and I got down to a little under 5. I gained 12 pounds of muscle and lost body fat. I don’t think you can do a much better job than that.”
Still, no UW player has transformed more than Jarreau.
The 6-foot-10 forward arrived in 2011 from New Orleans weighing 190 pounds and able to bench-press 125 pounds. After suffering a season-ending knee injury last year, he added 25 pounds during rehabilitation and increased his strength. Now he is able to bench-press 225.
Jarreau likes what Shapiro brings to the Huskies.
“He brings a lot of motor to the team,” Jarreau said. “He’s been on that NBA level, so he knows what we need to do in order to get there. He knows how important our body is. It’s a long season.
“He knows everything that we need. It’s more than lifting weights. It’s teaching us how to become a pro in terms of taking care of our bodies on the court and of the court. That’s eating right, sleeping well and hydrating.”
Working at Washington is also a little surreal for Shapiro. His best friend was Andrew Moritz, a former UW basketball walk-on who earned a scholarship and became a fan favorite.
Moritz died in 2011 after a three-year bout with cancer.
“When I talk about all roads led here, he’s a big part of that,” said Shapiro, a throat cancer survivor who underwent reconstructive surgery on his right vocal cord. “I’m reminded of him every day that I’m here. I came to UW games to watch Andrew sit on the bench. To be here, he’s definitely looking down and I hope he’s proud of me.
“People may say, I can’t believe you left the NBA to go back to college. But I know I’m in the right place.”