The Bear Crawl’s a new-ish training exercise that stimulates your core and strengthens your legs. It’s exactly what it sounds like. You get down on your hands and crawl across the floor. And it absolutely sucks. It sucks even more at the end of an hour-long training session that was mostly about conditioning.

I was huffing and puffing, gulping water right before Nat “Coach Dee” Lancaster, one of Ultimate Hoop’s trainers, put two hand towels down on the hardwood and told me to crawl to halfcourt.

He can’t be serious.

With my butt in the air, and my head down, I powered through the length of the professional-sized court at Manhattan’s luxurious Sky Building, where a few of the Knicks work out. I tried to come up for air, but Coach Dee barked at me to come right back. With 30 feet left on my crawl, I slipped. I couldn’t help but laugh. I was out of breath, my stomach was on fire, my arms and legs just dead weight and I was crawling across the floor on the court that Carmelo Anthony designed.

A few days earlier, I had spoken to former NBA player and current Ultimate Hoops National Manager of Training, John Thomas. At 6-10, Thomas made a career out of using his body to pull down rebounds, but you’d never know he was a bruiser in the League. He’s a kind soul and a born leader, able to completely articulate himself with a rare sincerity. He calmly described (actually, he gave no warning to how legit my workout would be) a UH training session.

“An Ultimate Hoops training session is looking at basketball from your vantage point, from what your specific basketball goals are,” he said. “Depending on if you take one of our private sessions, or our small group sessions or our larger ones, we’ve got multiple products to help assess your basketball goals. Individually, we’re gonna take a look at your game, offensively, defensively, ensuring where your mindset is and then ultimately tapping those into what are those specific goals.”

john thomas

My goals as a ballplayer have always been lofty. I’m a short, slow white kid, but I’ve been playing in New York City parks my whole life, relying on my IQ and competitiveness to grind. I played four years of D-III level college ball and I take hoops real seriously. I love this game, I give it my all, even though I know I’m not making the League. I’m also the best player at SLAM.

I know my game and my body and I thought I had a good grasp on how damn strenuous an NBA player’s workout is.

They can do things physically that make no sense, but their mental capacity is what’s always stuck out to me. They all have the ability to say to themselves, ‘One more lap, one more lift, one more rep.’ They somehow find a way to push through even when their body tells them not to, day after day.

Coach Dee knows this. He has firsthand experience as an assistant coach with the Nets. He’s helped Joe Johnson, Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez. Right after I dapped him up, he said, “Pick up that 10-pound medicine ball and run for four minutes straight.”

As a fairly experienced player, I knew right away that this was gonna suck, but I told myself I was gonna feel great afterwards.

“Speaking from experience, as an elite player, after every workout I wanted to feel [tired] because it’s something that I’ve pushed myself towards,” Thomas said a few days earlier. Yessir.

For the whole hour, I took less than 100 shots. In front of John Thomas, Alan Arlt, UH founder, and Reggie Dance, UH executive, Coach Dee put me through the ringer, challenging my mind to make my body fight the urge to quit. Defensive slides, core work, medicine ball stuff, running.

Afterwards, Coach Dee told me he wanted to break me down so that he knew what he was working with.

It makes sense that UH is growing this quickly. They have more than 30 outposts on the East coast, a handful in LA and have camps with Maya Moore and Ricky Rubio. They’re going to have more 100 certified trainers in the next year and their leagues are competitive as hell.

“Basketball is really about relationships, based upon how you conduct yourself as a professional, how you treat others,” Thomas said. “Typically, word of mouth starts to spread and that’s when you get the opportunity to work with players. From there, when you put on that experience, it’s something that really helps to benefit the player, then word of mouth continues to spread.”

It’s definitely spreading. UH has the ability to make you feel like you’re in the League. Fair warning, though, when you sign up for your Ultimate Hoops training session, the Bear Crawl sucks.