LOS ANGELES - It may be the off-season for the National Basketball Association, but for Jon Lee, this is his peak season.
The Philippine-born Canadian is the head strength and conditioning coach of the Toronto Raptors.
“A lot of people think once the season ends, we're not meeting until September before we start anything; actually when the season ends, that's when I get really busy, that's when I have to do my player-visits to different cities where the guys are staying,” said Lee.
The Raptors are in Los Angeles for their summer training program.
For athletes, the hard work they put in the off-season will prepare them for the long 82-game season which begins in October.
After working on some shooting drills, Lee spent the rest of practice on the sidelines while helping other players build core strength, which is just a small portion of their day-long program.
“We have great guys on our team. I have never had an issue of trying to get a guy into the weight room or making them stay afterwards to do extra conditioning. Knock on wood, I haven't had that in 5 years. My problem that I might have is telling guys they can't come into the gym. That they need a day of rest,” said Lee.
Lee, who moved from to Canada at age 5, started his basketball life as a ball boy for the Vancouver Grizzlies. After the team moved to Memphis, he went back to being a teacher before joining the Raptors as the strength and conditioning coach five years ago.
Lee is also part of the Canadian national basketball team's staff.
“It's funny how life takes you on a different path. When I started out as a ball boy, I was high school teacher and when the Grizzlies left, I was a high school teacher for 11 years in my hometown of Richmond BC, and when an opportunity came with the Raptors, I took it and never looked back,” he said.
Despite roots in Manila and Cebu, Coach Lee says he hasn't been back to the Philippines since he left for Canada.
Lee is not the only Raptor with Philippine ties.
Assistant coach Bill Bayno coached in the Philippine Basketball Association for a year, while their star player DeMar DeRozan's fiancé is half-Filipino. They spent the past week in the Philippines while Lee was in Los Angeles.
Under coach John Lee's watch, the young Raptors have been among the league's least injury-prone teams, and that extra strength and conditioning has turned into wins. Last season, they reached playoffs for the first time since 2008.