Get Your Head in the Game
By: David Mendoza
The Blazers have had four first-round draft picks in last three years and the franchise is no better off than they were in 2009. Víctor Claver, Elliott Williams, Luke Babbitt, and Nolan Smith are the little-known, respectable, decent, and competent—in that order—players that the Blazers have drafted. Yet as far as Rip City is concerned, these picks have turned out to be nothing more than a medley of mediocre prospects.
To most fans, though, it doesn’t matter as much why Portland has selected so poorly in the past than what they are doing to prevent another awful draft performance.
Well, it appears that the Blazers’ answer to their lousy draft history is Dana Sinclair, performance psychologist. According to Chris Haynes of CSNNW, Portland brought Sinclair, who’s previously worked with MLB, NFL, NHL and Olympic teams, with them to the pre-Draft combine in Chicago. As the only team to bring a psychologist with them, the Blazers are going the extra mile to insure a successful draft day.
While this may seem like a novel move by the Blazers, this is really a return to form for the franchise. Sinclair’s presence in Chicago evokes memories of the “father of North American applied sport psychology,” Bruce Ogilvie. Before psychologist became a respected part of professional sports, the Blazers hired Ogilvie as the team’s psychologist during its inaugural season and his worked proved vital in building Portland’s 1977 championship team.
A sort of Nostradamus of the hardwood, Ogilvie correctly predicted the tumultuous tenure of Sidney Wicks in Portland. He helped Kermit Washington deal with his shyness. And he even foretold Clyde Drexler’s Hall of Fame career.
Ogilvie did all this with his Athletic Motivational Inventory (AMI), a psychological test that evaluates personality attributes in players. Jack Ramsey, who knew Ogilvie from his time coaching in Buffalo, wholeheartedly praised Ogilvie’s AMI. Ramsey even endorsed it in his book Coaching For Performance Improvement.“Rarely did the inventory turn out findings that did not hold up in actual experience,” Ramsey wrote. “Players with strong readings across the board were certain to be valuable team players.”
As good as Ogilvie was, he left Portland in 1986, the same year as Ramsey. Like Dr. Jack, Ogilvie’s genius was only useful to the Blazers if it continued to produce wins.
For her part, Sinclair’s test is less time intensive and not as comprehensive than the AMI. Haynes pieced together what Sinclair’s test consisted of from his interviews with players who underwent it: “It was a 15-minute self assessment computerized test/survey that ask questions like ‘What do you think of yourself?’ and ‘What do other people think of you?’” Haynes additionally reported that Sinclair then discussed the results with each player individually. The lucky few to undergo this computerized couch session included Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Despite Sinclair’s inclusion in the Blazers’ evaluation scheme, her presence does not necessarily reveal Paul Allen’s belief in the efficacy of sports psychology. It could just be that his basketball executives are desperate to avoid drafting another 7-foot tall headcase with bad knees and are willing to use any means available to them to guarantee that.
So once again, the Blazers feels that psychology can help them produce wins by choosing better drafts picks. Will Sinclair’s magic work this July? (The term magic here is not meant as a shot at the profession of psychology. Though Ogilvie himself admitted that sports psychology is full of quacks.) That remains to be seen.