The toughest part of enduring a week of Navy SEAL team training for VCU guard Darius Theus hasn't been the push-ups, the obstacle courses or even the frigid swims in the James River.
None of that compares to the daily 5 a.m. wake-up calls.
"When you're young, you have a hard time going to sleep early," Theus said. "We'll be sitting in the room at 1 a.m. thinking, 'We've only got four hours.' That might be the hardest part of all of it."
This is the second straight year Theus and his teammates have spent a week in September having ex-U.S. Navy SEAL John McGuire and his staff put them through a series of pre-dawn workouts and team-bonding activities. VCU coach Shaka Smart likes the idea because it fosters team unity and it helps players get in good enough shape to be prepared to run the Rams' trademark swarming full-court pressure defense known as "Havoc."
VCU strength and conditioning coach Daniel Roose came up with the idea after meeting McGuire at a function in Richmond and taking a SEAL team physical training class from him. Last September, the Rams did it Monday, Wednesday and Friday of their annual "Hell Week." This year, they're doing it all five days this week.
"It helps us a lot because it gets us mentally prepared for the season," Theus said. "We're all physically in shape, but this is testing us mentally. We've got 200 push-ups. Can I push past tired? We've got to run all the way to the end of the grass and back. We don't have any more legs left, but we've got to tell ourselves we can get through it."
The most unusual twist of VCU's SEAL team training is that it isn't just the players who participate. Everyone in the program does it together, from Smart and his assistants, to graduate assistants, to video coordinators, to even sports information director Scott Day.
Worse yet for those guys, Theus said this year's drills have been harder. They've had more sit-ups and push-ups, longer swims and shorter time to complete the obstacle courses.
Weightlifting, running and grueling full-court games of 1-on-1 have helped prepare VCU's players for the physical demands of "Hell Week," but sleep deprivation is starting to take a toll.
"When we're up and out there working, we're all into it," Theus said. "But as soon as it's over, we have breakfast and most of us don't have class until 11 a.m., so we'll try to get a nap in before class."