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Former Celtics strength coach Bryan Doo continues to connect with players, young and old

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Doo, now a strength consultant at Harvard University, knows what drives players like Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown.

Photo courtesy of the Boston Celtics

BOSTON - On July 14th, 2017, long-time Boston Celtics strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo announced his departure from the team. After fourteen seasons with the organization, he would be moving on to “various gigs” around Boston, in addition to spending more time with his family. For fans, players, and team employees alike, this was a major offseason loss for the Celtics organization. Doo had become a pillar on the sidelines, in the pre-game handshake line, and on the floor before each and every game.

From Al Jefferson to Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo to Marcus Smart, Doo experienced the Celtics’ ebbs and flows for over a decade. Through all the wins, losses, and transactions, he was a consistent source of energy and enthusiasm that many NBA organizations spend years searching for. So after 15 years (14 seasons) of experience at the game’s highest level, where is Bryan Doo now?

While the move from NBA title contender to an Ivy League school might seem like a big leap, the transition to Harvard has been smooth for Doo, partly because of his personable approach to the job and a commitment to each player as an individual. While Doo’s official capacity at the university is as a “strength coach consultant,” he’s always been a mentor, guide, and confidant first.

“It’s pretty seamless if you ask me,” Doo told CelticsBlog. “I think mentoring is, at every level, I think it’s been pretty much the same. I think even the older guys, you mentor them every day on different things.”

This is Doo’s second stint at Harvard. He worked as a Wellness Director and coach at the school from 1998 to 2001 before joining the Celtics. He says that’s helped him in terms of familiarity, but his ultimate goal is to help the staff and student-athletes continue to build. “I’m just trying to follow (the other strength coaches’) leads and help build their program and just give the head guys someone to bounce ideas off of, and then obviously motivate the guys and give my experience that way.”

Mentoring is a large part of why Doo is so successful at his craft. From the start, he’s been able to connect with athletes on a personal level, which he says helped him get the most out of players during his time with the Celtics. B-Doo, as the players called him, was with the 2008 championship team that included Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. The Big Three was a veteran squad, but when Doo left in 2017, the Celtics were one of the youngest rosters in the league. But despite the varying ages, Doo always knew how to approach his role and the players he worked with.

“Well, if you think about it, when I first started it was actually exactly like when I left (in 2017),” Doo said. “So first, it was Kendrick Perkins, Al Jefferson, Tony Allen, Gerald Green, Delonte West. We were super young. It was almost like, ‘OK, let’s teach these guys how to be professionals, teach these guys how to work hard, educate them on what a real program is.’ When KG and Paul and Ray got there, it was like, ‘how do we now change the program to accommodate these players’ needs,’ because they have different routines. And also convincing them that some of things that they’re doing probably aren’t the best, or for some things that they’re lacking, what they should do. That’s always a big conversation.”

Even though he hasn’t been with the Celtics organization for two years, Doo still maintains a relationship with a few current Celtics, many of whom were just getting their professional feet wet. Now, that young group of players now represents a large part of the Celtics’ core.

“With Jaylen (Brown), Marcus (Smart), (Jayson) Tatum, and Terry (Rozier), I talk to those guys all the time,” said Doo. “To me, it’s again going back to ‘hey, look; you have to learn how to take care of your body. You have to learn how to manage these minutes. Take those off days when they’re there. Work harder during these times. This is when you can get more out of your cardio here’. Just teaching the little tricks of the trade.”

Doo was able to directly work with Marcus Smart during the first three seasons of his NBA career. Now in his fifth year and a new contract, the 24-year-old is the longest tenured player on the roster and respected as a leader in the locker room. The fire and drive of Oklahoma State product represents a prime example of Coach Doo being able to connect with a young player to help bring out the best in them.

“Marcus is a very passionate kid and I think people see that when he plays,” said Doo. “For me, I felt like one of my strengths was connecting with each guy differently. So Marcus always knew that I was on his side and I was always trying to get him to be the best Marcus. Just drawing that passion out of him by always changing the exercises. Like, he would rather try to do gymnastic flips all workout, you know?” We’ve seen some of those gymnastic flips during the games a few times over the last two years.

So, it should be no surprise that Doo worked the “kip up” into Smart’s workout plan. “So one of our goals was to do X, Y, and Z. We get that done and then we’ll teach him how to do that kip up. Remember the kip up he did? We had that as part of his workout plan,” Doo said. “I knew (Smart) could do that stuff, but we’d never put that in like, Al Horford’s workout, for example. You know what I’m saying? Connecting on a different level.” That ability to read and reach each player on a personal and physical level is something that is often undervalued in his profession, but Doo excelled in that regard.

Smart happily confirmed that the kip-up was included in the workout, but said that he’s been doing things like that since he was a little kid.

“Oh, we had some of that. (laughs) We were trying it out,” Smart said when talking about doing flips during Doo’s workouts. “He was seeing if I could do it, because I told him I could. I’ve always known how to do that since I was a little kid. I’ve been flipping and things like that since I was a little kid. I used to run around doing front flips and all that.”

It was evident that Smart enjoyed his time working with Doo, as the Celtics guard had nothing but great things to say about the team’s former strength coach.

“B-Doo is a great guy,” said Smart. “When he came to work, he came to work. He was cool with everybody, but he was still professional about his job. He made his workouts fun.”

Photo by: Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

It’s not always a one-on-one scenario, says Doo. NBA teams have ample resources, many of which turn out to be other players in the locker room. As Doo previously noted when discussing his own, experience is valuable. During his time with the Celtics, that meant leaning on some of the team’s veterans. Doo is still involved with the NBA Players Association, and said that this came up in a recent talk he gave to current members.

“Having other players around (the younger players) is always good, so I always lean on the vets,” added Doo. “For instance, I do stuff now with the Players Association, so I was over there at the Celtics (facility) the other day and I did a talk for them and my big thing was, ‘let’s depend on our vets. Let’s talk to them. Let’s get their experience. But also, let’s learn from their mistakes’. There’s a lot of stuff like that.”

Some players already have plenty of their own wisdom, like Jaylen Brown. From the jump, it was evident to Doo that the lottery pick was more inquisitive than the average rookie. So much so that an anonymous NBA executive once said that Brown was “too smart for the league.”

Between learning Arabic and playing the piano in addition to his other interests, the 22-year-old is far from “feeble-minded,” a basketball stereotype that Brown says he constantly tries to combat. Despite his unique mindset, Doo was able to connect with Brown as well.

“You have to connect really well with (Brown) because he’s such a smart kid,” said Doo. “He wants to be taught, but in a way that seems like he’s learning. Not just basically. He almost has a high expectation of how he learns. It has to be at a super high level.”

At times, Doo would put the ball in Brown’s court, making him discuss the origins of his own injuries and the purpose for each of their exercises. That way, Brown would fully understand the process.

“With (Brown), we’d do different things like different words or techniques and say, ‘Tell me why you’re doing this? What’s the benefit of this? OK, good. Now we talked two weeks ago about if your hips aren’t strong than this and that. Why is your knee bothering you? You tell me why.’ And then we’d walk through the process and he’s totally invested in that.”

Doo says he still connects with some of the younger Celtics after games to check in on them and share his thoughts.

“These young guys are hungry and want to go faster and harder to succeed faster,” said Doo. “Managing that was always fun. Great example I would tell the guys is ‘you are like superheroes and your power can be used for good or evil. You can take your strengths and help your team or use them to hurt your team.’ That is why I connect with a bunch of them after games to just check in as human beings and give my thoughts.”

As the game continues to evolve, Doo, just like the players he works with, has needed to evolve with it. It means prioritizing certain things he may not have in the past, while using his strengths to his advantage. As B-Doo put it, “pure size and mass isn’t the big thing anymore.”

“It’s a quick game,” said Doo. “It’s a game of speed and movement patterns, and luckily, that was my strength. I feel like my strength was body mechanics and movement patterns. We would pay attention to that all year, every year with the Celtics.”

The importance of body movement, mechanics, and control has always been prevalent in the game of basketball, but as the sport continues to change, its impact in player evaluation and health is gaining steam. In his current role at Harvard, Doo does his best to continue focusing on these factors, but says it’s not as easy as it was in the pros.

“I think coming down to this level, it’s like, ‘OK look, here are your good athletes, here are you great athletes, and here are your guys that are just going to get by.’ You really have to break down the workouts. So we’ve been able to split up the workouts that way and say, for example, ‘you guys are great lateral movers, you guys are average lateral movers, and you guys are not good lateral movers, so how do we change the drill for each of you.’ And stuff like that. So we take a lot of time to work through it.”

With limited periods and a smaller number of resources comes the importance of time management. Doo has to determine what is crucial for a player’s development compared to something that may not be as necessary. When he was with the Celtics, every workout was individualized to each player’s strengths and weaknesses. With “fifteen programs on the board” at Harvard, it makes things a little tougher, but Doo still works to personalize each workout.

“A point guard doesn’t necessarily do the same thing as center,” Doo noted. “Perk (Perkins) and Rondo probably shouldn’t do the same workout. Some of them are probably similar, but they’re different.” Despite some limitations, Doo’s been able to prioritize this at Harvard.

“The bigs are running a lot more, so we change the workouts and the agility drills when they’re doing that and change their conditioning drills. Whereas a two-guard, they’re doing a lot of floppy actions and stuff like that. So they’re guarding floppy actions, they’re running floppy actions.”

Luke Osberg oversees all aspects of strength and conditioning for Harvard’s men’s basketball program, as well as six other teams at the University. Osberg and Doo work together to determine what is worth fitting in and what isn’t. As Doo noted, it can be difficult at the collegiate level, because there is a finite amount of time with the athletes.

“I think one of the biggest differences for me is the adjusting to the school work – practice time kind of thing,” Doo said. “It’s always like, ‘well why don’t we just do this and why don’t we do some extra stuff here?’, and they say, “well, I have classes here and then I have a meeting here with my teacher,” and it’s like, ‘oh yeah, you guys do have another responsibility.’” Doo also noted that the amount of resources was a tough adjustment. At the professional level, the world is your oyster. In the NCAA, there’s rules and potential violations waiting around every corner.

Limitations or not, Bryan Doo has been connecting on a personal and physical level for over two decades now. According to Marcus Smart, that was one of Doo’s most helpful strategies when he was a rookie in 2014.

“He actually took time to make sure you got your stuff together and if whatever he was doing didn’t work for you, he would find a way that made it work for you,” said Smart. “Everybody is different in the way that they work and train. He made sure that whatever you guys were doing, it was beneficial to you.” From back flips with Smart to lateral drills with the Harvard men’s basketball team, Doo remains an expert at his craft and a mentor to his players.