"He squats 285 pounds, 20 times": Jrue Holiday earns trainer Mike Guevara's rave reviews after powering Celtics to Banner 18 (Exclusive)

What Jrue Holiday has done better than anyone else - explained
What Jrue Holiday has done better than anyone else - explained

To prepare for any defensive assignment, Boston Celtics guard Jrue Holiday does much more than just study the game footage and the scouting report of all the opposing team’s players. Holiday also completes various training exercises that will further enable him to guard any position. One of the key exercises is lifting kettlebells to maximize his strength and control while also completing lunges or walking exercises.

In related news, Holiday won his second NBA title and his first with the Celtics by remaining one of the league’s best two-way players.

Mike Guevara, Holiday’s long-time performance coach, considers him one of the best at mastering off-the-court workouts, too. Guevara, who is launching a new training app with his wife in September, spoke to Sportskeeda about how Holiday fit in with the Celtics, his strength-training work and more.

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“He’s approached the off-court stuff probably more intensely than the on-court stuff better than anybody I’ve worked with across the board in the NFL and the NBA,” Guevara told Sportskeeda.

Editor’s note: The following one-on-one conversations have been edited and condensed.

Mike Guevara on training Celtics' Jrue Holiday (Exclusive)

What do you draw from Jrue’s recent championship run in Boston? How do you think it compares to what he did three years ago with Milwaukee?

Guevara: “It’s insane. The last time he won, he then won a gold medal [in Tokyo] and this year he’s going to Paris. I bet on the fact that he’s going to do it again. It’s pretty cool. It’s a little vinegar-to-wine transformation.

"The start of this season wasn’t ideal for Jrue as he was traded abruptly. It was about a week and a half before camp. Everybody was surprised. Apparently, Giannis Antetokounmpo was surprised. Then Portland traded [Jrue] over to Boston for what many would presume to be pennies. Here we are eight months later, and he’s raising another trophy over his head.

"I think the perspective is definitely more about Jrue’s ability to be Jrue. What I mean by that is he’s the consummate professional. He’s a pro’s pro. He comes to work early. He does his job. He makes everyone around him better. He maintained the personality and leadership that everyone knows him for despite the unfortunate events that happened preseason. I saw a stat that in the last four years, he’s the winningest player out of anyone in the league. The dude is just a straight winner. I don’t think that’s by chance. If you want to win a title in the East, then you go get Jrue.”

We’ve known for a while how great Jrue is as a two-way player. But what were the critical things Jrue did to adjust from getting traded as well as fitting in on a really good team while still exerting his value?

Guevara: “I’ve always had conversations like this with him when I used to travel with him full time. If he had a bad shooting night, he’s always had the same mindset that he can impact the game in multiple ways. He’s always thought, ‘If I’m shooting the ball poorly, I know I can still impact the game defensively or make the right pass or get a key rebound.’

"Those are qualities that are super rare these days. Scoring the ball is what we’re attracted to, right? But looking at Jrue through the course of this season and having him in the corner most of the time and him not touching the ball on the offensive end was awkward for me. This is not something that I’m used to, and it’s making me look uncomfortable. But that speaks to his ability to fill a role that matters most and in reference to being the best winner that we can.

"If I know that I have two 1A and 1B scorers in the league [Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum], [Kristaps] Porzingis is the third option and Derrick White might also be the fourth option on some nights. I’m okay with being the fifth option, but I’m going to impact the game on the defensive end and I’m going to rebound and make the right pass. I’m going to play the dunker spot.

"When he had that huge game in Game 2 (26 points, 11 rebounds), three-quarters of his points were in the paint. That means he was playing the dunker [spot]. He was sliding. He was cutting. He was making these plays that you never would think a Jrue Holiday-caliber player would make. But that’s simply because he knows the game, he knows where his value is and he executes. He understands how to play the game and contribute to winning basketball.”

You’ve mentioned in other interviews the importance of doing ‘EDDs’ – the ‘everyday drills.’ Specifically for this season, what were the drills that helped him have the role that he had his first season in Boston?

Guevara: “With being ready to take a shot, shooting is all about rhythm. I’m not a basketball trainer specific to skill, but I know it’s a rhythm game. Rhythm takes reps. But sometimes the role that he played, he didn’t have a whole lot of reps. But he was still ready to take a big shot and to make it. I think that speaks mainly to his mental capacity of not being too high or low.

"If you speak to anyone around Jrue or who has been with Jrue for a while, he’s even keel. He’s always focused. He never gets too excited. But at the same time, he’s never too low. You get the same thing every day. So I’m not too sure what the drill would be.

"Speaking specifically to the mental aspect of things, he has been around and he’s a champion. They brought him in outside of his physical attributes. But his intangibles of being a champion and knowing how to win are things that Boston got.

"Then he got extended for another four years. So it’s a beautiful thing to see. As far as the EDD he practices, it’s about keeping that work-life balance. I know that he’s big into family. That’s important for his mindset going into a game and being ready.”

How about defensively though? I saw your videos of Jrue doing lateral lunges and working with kettlebells to stay in control. How does that tie into what he does defensively?

Guevara: “Defense, most would say is about the mindset and the approach and effort to it. But you have to have physical attributes to it to continuously be successful. If you’re bad at something, you’re not going to have the mindset to want to do it all the time. You impact that skillset with the training.

"I’ve been doing this for 16 years. In my career, he’s approached the off-court stuff probably more intensely than the on-court stuff better than anybody I’ve worked with in the NFL and the NBA. I always ask him, ‘Are you going to be training like this after you play? You take it so seriously and you work so hard!’ He said, ‘Mike G, probably not. (laughs). But the style of play and what I bring to the table requires me to work this hard.’

"If you watch those videos, he’s squatting 285 pounds, 20 times. There’s not a single person on this planet that can do that besides him. His legs are tree trunks, and he needs that to guard one through five. You’ve seen him guard the post successfully against bigs that are 50-60 pounds bigger than him. But he’s still able to do that so successfully because he’s so strong. A lot of the leg strength that we do in practice is not just up and down. It’s laterally, rotationally and side to side.

"He’s elite with any movement in general. I think he understands for him to continuously do that, he has to put the work in. That’s what you see in those videos.”

Which of Jrue’s defensive performances impressed you the most?

Guevara: “Being on Kyrie [Irving]. Chasing Ky down, you don’t stop Kyrie. You don’t stop Luka (laughs). These are unstoppable people. But you just hope to slow them down and get them frustrated and get them to play the mental game a little bit and make them feel drudgery. Make them feel, ‘This dude is in front of me again. Jrue, will you please get out of the way?’

"Luka has gone on record and said that Jrue is one of the most difficult players that he has to play against night in and night out. If you ask some Kyrie fans, they’ll say that he ran out of gas. We’ll never know the true definition based on who you ask. But when I talk to Jrue, I ask him these kinds of questions. ‘Chasing Steph down, chasing Ky down, how?’ He says, ‘Honestly, I just have to guess right. When I don’t guess right, that’s when I look crazy.’ They’re so good. They’re so skilled. They’re so elite at what they do. You don’t stop them. You only hope to slow them down.

"Maybe it’s about moments. You talk about ‘winning moments.’ If a guy goes 11-for-20, but I stop him in the right moment, I did my job. You saw Jrue do that time in and time out throughout the playoffs with ‘winning moments.’ You can never make Kyrie struggle from the field. You can never make Luka go 5-for-17. It’s just not going to happen. But what type of plays does Jrue make intangibly? It might be a hockey assist. It might be the deflection that got the steal. It might be the offensive rebound. Those are the plays that you can’t coach.

"That’s why Jrue is so special. The training supports those qualities. If you don’t have the strength and endurance, you’re not going to want to attempt those moments in the first place. He understands in order for him to do that he needs to take the training seriously.”

I’m looking at Jrue’s tracking data. Kyrie shot 50%, but was inefficient from 3. Luka was efficient. But Jrue also guarded Lively and PJ Washington, and they didn’t get a lot of attempts on him. What did you take from all of that?

Guevara: “Jrue is 6’3 ½” and 6’4” with shoes. If those guys catch the ball low with Lively and PJ, it’s over. They are just bigger than him. Lively is a big, tall rangy kid and he can jump. The moment we have to win is before they catch the ball. How do I get under him and how do I leverage my strength underneath someone much taller than me to push them out of their spot? Now they can face up because he knows they’re not going to go through him. He’s way too strong for that.

'What Jrue does is he understands spacing on the floor defensively. He knows where he’s at and where the basket is, and then knows how to get in the best position possible to be successful. It’s a lot of effort.

"Jrue knows that people fear him and understands that he’s so damn strong. He already has that mental edge as well, and he uses that. People don’t want to touch him because he’s so damn strong. It does something to a man when you can’t physically move somebody mentally. Jrue is physically unmovable, so now they don’t even want to fight with him because it’s wasted energy. He's known for that. Anybody that you ask in the league about Jrue Holiday, they’re going to say the same thing. They will say he is so damn strong and immovable. Lively knows that. He’s still a young kid and a baby. He’s trying to figure that out.”

You’ve mentioned in other interviews how Jrue learned how to incorporate better sleeping and nutritious habits. When and what were his turning points?

Guevara:

“We started to turn a corner when he was getting these chronic injuries in New Orleans (2013-20). He missed a bunch of games his first two years in New Orleans with getting hurt. As you know, New Orleans isn’t the best food town for health. It’s probably the best food town for the soul. But for health, not so much.

"Oftentimes with younger players, it takes a negative moment for people to start questioning those types of things. From 12 to 22, you can have a bowl of nachos and a soda and then drop 40 [points] in a game. No problem. That’s just the power of youth. As we start to get older and our body metabolizes those things differently, potentially bad things start to happen from an injury standpoint. That’s when you start to ask questions.

"I was evolving with Jrue throughout that time as well. It was trying to throw things on the wall and see what stuck. As we asked ourselves questions on what we could do better with the training, how we could warm up and cool down and his eating and sleeping, those impacted decision making moving forward. That’s when you started to see the change.

"He hired a full-time chef to cook for him with more fruits and vegetables, less fried and junk food. Just reducing sugar and things that had high shelf life and more real food. That’s when he started to feel better. That’s when he started to sleep better.

"I didn’t have a close connection with him throughout this season because when he got to Milwaukee, he and I started to go our separate ways from a full-time perspective. But he already had those skill sets. He already knew to hire a chef in Milwaukee and a chef in Boston. He knew the importance of nutrition and what made sense. That’s what you could ever wish for as a trainer and coach.

"You give people skills, and they carry those throughout their lives. He knows what works well with his body. Lauren, his wife, is really big into health and nutrition. He has two young kids and is applying those principles to those habits as well. I’m sure he had a full-time chef in Boston. He understands post-game nutrition, pre-game nutrition and the things that are best to be eaten during the game if you need some energy. Those are the skills that you learn early. You keep them and carry on throughout the lifespan of your career.”

What will his training look like from now until Team USA practices start?

Guevara: “I have some sad news to report to you. Not a lot of people know this, but I’m not working with him for the first time in over 10 years. That’s because I took a full-time role with Fred VanVleet. I will not have the pleasure of working with Jrue this summer. But I have offered all my mental resources to him and if he needs help finding someone of quality.

"I haven’t spoken to him on the phone about it just yet. I’m letting the hurrah of the championship die down and we’ll visit that. But I know he won’t be training for the next week, for sure. So we have a little bit of time to decompress. That’s different. Remember the last time when we did this Finals and Olympics, he won the Finals and then was on a plane to Japan. So now at least he will be able to take six weeks to get some quality input of physical movement and training to prepare for the Olympics and be a key component to the gold medal.

"You remember how important he was to that team [in 2021]? He’s going to be just as great for them this year.”

What are the mental resources you can still offer him?

Guevara: “Collaborating with whoever is working with him. He knows and understands what is in store for him every summer. He has to mentally prepare for that because of the amount of time we spent together. So it’s just about making sure the next person, whoever it is, is on the same page and knows what to expect and is offering different designs for a training program so it can at least be close to what he’s used to and we don’t miss a beat.”

When he worked with you, what were the important things that involved mental preparation?

Guevara: “Mentally speaking, we need to understand where he’s at in space right now. Where are your motivations and where do you want to focus? We’re humans so we all want to evolve day-to-day, let alone summer to summer. The environment dictates a lot of that evolution.

"Because there is so much new input, I’d like to get a better understanding of where he’s at there to get a better understanding of the training. How that impacts training? Perhaps we might not dive right into the heavy strength training. It takes a degree of mental fortitude to get up every day to do that. We train really hard. If we don’t get the type of intention that we’re looking for, it’s almost for nothing.

"Is he ready for that? Is he prepared to get into that mindset just yet? If not, what are the different types of movements, philosophies and theories that we can input, but not put him into a mental space that he’s not ready for? Maybe we’re doing martial arts, boxing, pool work or Pilates. Those are other modes of training that are really beneficial. But it doesn’t push the needle to the red like a heavy, heavy strength training regimen would.”

"People need to understand that this is over 12 years. The ability to play at this level takes annual preparation year in and year out in terms of focusing on things that aren’t just on the court and in the weight room, such as nutrition and sleep.

"He’s making sure that he’s getting daily movement and daily vitamins. He’s getting quality family time and with the community. This doesn’t happen in one or two years. It happens over 10 years. That’s why he’s had over $100 million contracts. He produces in ways that don’t necessarily mean just putting the ball in the basket. The training is a part of that.

"It’s a bittersweet moment because it’s the end of a chapter that is part of my career as well. But it’s a proud moment for me to see the amount of success he’s had because of the work that he has put in. There is a direct correlation. For him to play the way he does and style he does, he puts the work in and it pays off.”

Mark Medina is an NBA insider with Sportskeeda. Follow him on X, Instagram, Facebook and Threads.

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Edited by Amulya Shekhar
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