Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Jensen: Shackleton keeps Villanova strong

HOUSTON - Jay Wright remembers this guy helping out temporarily with Villanova's basketball players while Wright looked for a new strength and conditioning coach in 2012 and telling this guy, "Look, I'm not hiring you for this job."

Villanova men's basketball strength coach John Shackleton.
Villanova men's basketball strength coach John Shackleton.Read more(Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

HOUSTON - Jay Wright remembers this guy helping out temporarily with Villanova's basketball players while Wright looked for a new strength and conditioning coach in 2012 and telling this guy, "Look, I'm not hiring you for this job."

At the time, John Shackleton was in charge of strength and conditioning for some of Villanova's Olympic sports.

"I'm not hiring an Olympic sports guy," Wright told him, and that's no great offense to Olympic sports, which often set trends in strength and conditioning. "I want a basketball guy," Wright said.

Villanova's coach was relating this at a podium Thursday at the Final Four, two days ahead of an NCAA semifinal date with Oklahoma, which both tells you that Wright changed his mind, and that if you start ticking off the things that impacted this NCAA run, the strength and conditioning makes the internal list.

"My man Coach Shack, I'm with him every day all day," Wildcats forward Kris Jenkins said earlier this week. "He changed my life. Not just a temporary thing."

If Temple fans need a reason to root for 'Nova, maybe Shackleton is that reason. He's a Temple grad, now 37 years old. A former Central Bucks West football player under Mike Pettine - a linebacker and fullback - Shackleton showed up at Temple thinking he wanted to be a physical therapist, then decided once he got into a clinical setting that he wanted to deal with performance more than injuries.

Before Villanova, Shackleton worked at Princeton and Pittsburgh.

"He's a great story," Wright said, relating how Shackleton's predecessor, Lon Record, was state of the art but got hired away by Illinois. So Wright kept bringing in top candidates while Shackleton kept working with the team. Wright concluded of the guy under his nose: "He's a superstar."

Wright doesn't just mean as the guy in charge of the weight room.

"He's our nutritionist," Wright said. "He picks every meal we eat. He monitors heart rates, body fat, weight, our rehab, our flush days."

Let's assume that was the first time "flush days" were mentioned at a Final Four, a dietary milestone.

When Wright gave Shackleton the job, he told him, "I need you to learn what we do. I need you to learn basketball. I know you know what you're doing."

"He wants to know everything is carrying over, which it does," Shackleton said. "When guys come see me in the weight room, they bring the same attitude they bring to the court. I hold them accountable. That's my job."

Asking guys to do things they've never had to do in their lives, is it hard not to be a jerk?

"It's something I had to learn over the last four years," Shackleton said. "To be a successful coach, whether it's a basketball coach or a strength coach, you have to have multiple personalities, to switch it on and off, to let guys know there are boundaries. If you can't do that, you're not going to succeed."

Shackleton has run a marathon. He tries to practice what he preaches. He tries to pass it all on. Like with food: "Try to stick to all natural foods. Also, I look at the source of where it comes from. Some grass-fed beef rather than grain-fed. Looking at how the animal or fish are raised. Because the nutrients are a lot higher in those types of foods, higher-quality foods. . . . At our hotel, you would see, there are labels out there. Grass-fed beef. Wild fish. Free-range chicken. And I get busted on for it, but they know it's good for it. Everybody busts me, but they eat it."

Asked about the strongest guy on the team, Shackleton had a couple of thoughts.

"You know what, Kris Jenkins, Mikal Bridges," Shackleton said. "You look at Mikal Bridges, he's a thin, long guy. He's actually very strong for his body weight. Pound for pound, strongest kid on the team. And then Kris Jenkins, he just knows how his body moves. So everything we do, his technique is like flawless. I barely have to coach him up. If anything, I have to coach up his effort, to keep pushing through."

Standing in Villanova's locker room inside NRG Stadium, Shackleton first mentioned another guy, Ryan Arcidiacono, relating how he had told Arch this week that he will always be a favorite.

"He's just a blue-collar type of dude. He put in the work," Shackleton said of Arcidiacono. "There was never any drop-off. I knew what I was getting. Every year, he just got better. Sometimes guys might have a successful year, and they think they've got it, that it's going to be easy."

No, Arch isn't known for his explosiveness. But he's an example of what you see with Villanova guy. They all get stronger.

"He takes forwards underneath the basket [now]. He can handle it," Shackleton said.

That's a bottom line for Shackleton's job. What can guys handle on the court? Everyone has different tasks based on what they need to do. With Daniel Ochefu, for instance, Shackleton said the work is more on mobility.

And of this guy he didn't want to hire, now in charge of all that, Wright now says, "I think he has developed into the best in college basketball. I truly believe it."

He's a basketball guy now.