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How LMU became the summer home of NBA stars

How LMU became the summer home of NBA stars

For decades, many NBA players have flocked to sunny Los Angeles during the off-season to enjoy the So Cal summer. While LMU may be in the shadow of USC and UCLA when it comes to college basketball, LMU’s size and location have allowed Gersten Pavilion to become a go-to location for many NBA players during the summer. 

Assistant Athletic Director Mathew Lerman was able to break down why LMU has become such a popular place for NBA players to work out during the off-season. 

“I think the biggest appeal of LMU is we have a lot of people who live in Los Angeles in their off-season anyways,” said LMU Assistant Athletic Director Mathew Lerman. “We’re very close to LAX. They can get an opportunity to work at a place that’s a little bit more private, a little bit more hidden, a little bit more secluded, and not have to travel that far.”

Thanks to those qualities, LMU has served as a workout spot for NBA legends including Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, James Harden, and Kevin Durant in the past 15 years. 

“We’re at a point where we think our athletic department is growing at a rate that is exciting,” Lerman said. “To have big-name players take a photo and you see the LMU logo in the backdrop or you see the name of the school or the court or the colors in one of their posts and it blows up, that’s really exciting.”

Over the years LMU has actually seen a variety of world class athletes climb the bluff. During the 1984 Summer Olympics, Gersten Pavilion served as the host site for the weightlifting competition. Before getting their own practice facilities, LMU served as the official practice home of the LA Lakers, LA Clippers, and the LA Sparks. LMU has also hosted the world-famous soccer club Juventus for the past two summers during their international summer tours.  

“Since the ’80s, there has always been an opportunity where renting out one of our facilities was an option,” Lerman said. “And I think the pro teams and the pro athletes kind of understood it’s a good place to get a workout in and not be too bothered while you’re living in LA over the summer.”

NBA development coach Zachary Gonzales used LMU as his home base for off-season workouts this past summer. 

Gonzales with Russell Westbrook and LeBron James Photo via @zlgonzales Instagram

He has been a player development coach for seven years, beginning his career while still a student at the University of Oregon. (Before transferring there, he played at NAIA Warner Pacific University.) During his time at Oregon, Gonzales worked with future NBA players like Dillon Brooks, Payton Pritchard, and Bol Bol. 

Gonzales made his way to Los Angeles two years ago, briefly serving as a video and player development coach for the Lakers. Now he does his own consulting with about 18 athletes in the NBA including Klay Thompson, Austin Reaves, Bennedict Mathurian, Mac McClung, and Payton Pritchard.  

Gonzales’s introduction to LMU came as a result of being represented by WME, the same talent agency that represents Lion’s Head Coach Stan Johnson. 

“We organically built a great relationship with Coach Ricky [Muench] and Coach Stan [Johnson]. We go get coffee a couple times per week,” Gonzales said. 

In his first summer hosting workouts at LMU, Gonzales and the NBA players he works with have already left a lasting impression on campus. 

“I wanted to create an atmosphere where the NBA guys can come in and get better and compete and that’s what we built,” Gonzales said. “I really loved it. LMU players were working hard all summer. The point guard, Will Johnston, he would work out three times a day. He would work out with the team twice a day and then I would have him go up against Payton Pritchard from the Boston Celtics.”

“I have a picture of Payton and Will talking and picking each other’s brains and making each other better. It was so great to have that environment where the NBA guys can give back to these guys,” Gonzales said.  

Johnston driving by Pritchard Photo via @sfa.lil.willy Instagram 

For someone of Klay Thompson’s stature, it can be hard going to a workout without being bombarded by fans. At LMU, players like Thompson are able to focus strictly on their workouts without outside distractions. 

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“LMU is such a great location. The facilities are second to none. They have an amazing weight room, an amazing practice gym upstairs that is very lowkey where my guys don’t have to worry about a lot of cameras or a lot of media,” Gonzales said. “It’s very lowkey. So like Klay Thompson, all my guys feel very safe and LMU was kind enough to open up the weight room to them so they can get work in on the court and get some work in in the weight room. It was a great setup for them.”

Thompson guarding Mathurin during a scrimmage Photo via @shotsbychubbs Instagram 

Gonzales mentioned during workouts with Thompson, there are often no cameras or media in the gym. 

When asked about players taking photos and signing autographs for fans on campus, Gonzales shared an interaction he had with Thompson a few years ago. 

“I asked Klay a long time ago I was like ‘Man it’s really kind of you. You know a lot of NBA guys don’t like to take pictures’ and he was like ‘One day this is going to end and what I mean is the fame.’ It just shows he’s always willing to take the picture. He is always so kind to take the picture,” Gonzales said. 

As the opening night of the NBA season grows closer, many of the NBA players who worked out at LMU over the summer are coming into the season with something to prove. 

Klay Thompson comes into the season looking to build off of last season which was his first full season after two years of being sidelined due to injury. Reaves and Pritchard both signed large extensions over the summer and are looking to prove they are worth the money they were given. Mathurian is entering his sophomore season after a very impressive rookie campaign where he was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team and finished second among all rookies in points per game. 

Keep an eye out for Gonzales and different NBA players on campus as LMU continues to grow as a hub for NBA players to come and work on their game. 

“Me and Austin [Reaves] will probably be at LMU during nights if the Lakers facility is being used during the season,” Gonzales said. “As long as I am doing my consulting, I want to continue my relationship with Coach Stan Johnson and Ricky [Muench] over there at LMU and next summer will be even better than this summer. The runs that we will do. It will be so much better. I am excited.”

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