Home LIFESTYLE How SDSU’s Jordan Schakel reshaped his mind and body: dusty fitness videos,...

How SDSU’s Jordan Schakel reshaped his mind and body: dusty fitness videos, cinder blocks and a garage

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SAN DIEGO, CA – DECEMBER 06: San Diego StateOs Jordan Schakel passes against Pepperdine on Dec. 6, 2020. (K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Mark Zeigler
The San Diego Union-Tribune

It seemed like an odd question coming from a college basketball player in elite shape: Mom, do we have any P90X videos?

It was late March, in the midst of the first pandemic shutdowns that sent students home and moved classes online. Jordan Schakel had climbed fences to shoot at outdoor courts in his Torrance neighborhood, but now rec departments were removing rims and gyms were all closed. Like everyone else, the San Diego State guard was facing weeks, maybe months, of home confinement.

Schakel asked a conditioning coach he had met who works with NBA players what he could do at home, in small spaces, with no equipment. The answer was a question: Have you heard of P90X?

Schakel was 6 when late-night infomercials began peddling a new fitness regimen developed by Tony Horton and a Santa Monica-based company called Beachbody. The program lasted 13 weeks, or 90 days, with hour-long, high-intensity workouts that aimed to create “muscle confusion” by varying exercises so the body doesn’t plateau through repetition.

It sold more than 4 million copies and grossed $500 million before going the way of fad diets and parachute pants. Schakel’s uncle, a former college football player, had the 12-DVD set lying around. They also had other Beachbody workout videos on VHS.

The next problem: Now they had to find DVD and VHS players.

The next morning at 7, as other members of the family shuffled bleary-eyed to the kitchen for coffee, there was Schakel gyrating in the living room, dripping with sweat, as Horton screamed encouragement through the TV.

Get ready … because it’s coming.

Let’s X it up.

Give me a hey, give me a ho-ho.

I hate it … but I luuuuuuv it.

The rest of the family shrugged.

“They’ve seen me for years,” Schakel says, “so they know I’m crazy when it comes to working out. They aren’t really surprised at anything I do at this point.”

“Were we surprised?” Stefanie, his mother, asks. “Come on.”

Schakel would continue religiously with all 12 DVDs and 13 weeks of P90X, plus the additional ab blaster series. If he missed a day, he doubled up the next, all part of an organic, old school approach to reshaping body and soul during the pandemic. The world was shutting down; his mind was opening up. Lemons; lemonade.

Bring it, bring it, bring it.

There were running workouts at whatever local high school track was open. He borrowed his father’s mountain bike and rode up hills. He dribbled for an hour every day in the garage. He typed “cinder blocks and broomsticks and weightlifting” into a YouTube search.

“At one point,” Stefanie says, “he almost got a bucket from Home Depot to try to figure out how to make weights from cement mix.”

One day, he did 500 squats and 200 pushups, just because.

He grew out his hair and beard.

Whatever he did, however unorthodox or unkempt, seems to have worked. Schakel leads the No. 18 Aztecs with 15.2 points per game following a career-high 25 in last week’s 80-68 win at then-No. 23 Arizona State that garnered him national player of the week honors from NCAA.com.

He is no longer exclusively a spot-up shooter camped behind the arc, nearly quadrupling his 2-point basket output as a senior (from .63 per game in his first three seasons to 2.2), driving for pull-up jumpers or getting all the way to the rim. Against ASU, he made what is believed to be the first fallaway jumper of his college career.

Certainly, his 6-foot-6 frame is sculpted differently, with a more stable core and more solid base, more agile, more nimble, more configured to being a guard than a 4-man that, at least on defense, size and system demanded in high school and even at SDSU.

But feeling the burn from Tony Horton’s videos, from carrying around cinder blocks, from pedaling up hills in summer heat, from dribbling around laundry baskets in the garage, was as much in his mind as his muscles.

“Playing basketball, it’s never a perfect environment,” Schakel says. “Sometimes in the past, I tried to create a perfect environment when I worked out. This summer, I tried to create the worst environment so that I would be ready in a game when it’s not perfect.

“I just really pushed myself. I just tried to do crazy things so when the season comes, I would look at playing 40 minutes as being easy. Just in my head, mentally, I wanted to conquer things in the offseason that would make playing basketball really easy.”

That all sounds logical, until you understand who Schakel is and what that entailed.

A shooter by nature, he is obsessed with perfecting his craft and spent years inside empty gyms doing it. In high school, he woke up at 5:30 a.m. — his parents roshamboed in bed to see who drove him — so he’d have the court to himself at a local LA Fitness before the 7 a.m. pickup game. On AAU road trips, he’d pack a ball and they’d drive him around looking for an available outdoor court, whether or not the sun had gone down, whether or not it had lights.

At SDSU, where players could gain access to the JAM Center pre-pandemic with a key card, you were just as likely to find him there at 7 a.m. as midnight.

Suddenly, he was going days — no, weeks — without squaring his shoulders, bending his knees, hoisting a 3-pointer, flicking his wrist, holding the follow-through.

“Sometimes we go on the road and we’re at these hotels for three days and I can’t get in a gym,” Schakel says, “and by the third day I’m like, yo, I need to get back in the gym. But in reality, I don’t because I’ve put in enough work. I think it’s just knowing that throughout this whole summer I just trusted the work that I put in.

“There are going to be times when you can’t do your normal routine this season. I’m just preparing for that. You’re going to have to fight through that.”

Also on his to-do list was improving his ballhandling. He looked inside their cluttered garage. Perfect.

The best part: He didn’t need to clean it.

“It’s not like we have a four-car garage with 800 square feet,” Stefanie says. “Half of it is full of what everybody else’s garage is full of. I don’t think people realize the space he’s working out in is not huge. It’s like half a garage. But he had all these workouts. We’d walk out there and we were like, ‘Where did you come up with this?'”

The treadmill pushed up against a wall, the box of Christmas ornaments, the toolbox, the laundry machines all became imaginary defenders as he weaved through the lane. He had a weighted ball and a smaller one for control. He looked up “In the lab” videos of dribbling wizard Devin Williams to get ideas for drills.

“It’s kind of an art form at that point, you know, just free flowing it,” Schakel says. “There’s no one telling you what to do. It’s just you and the basketball.”

He started in late March, went through April, through May, through June, into July until a local gym reopened and he could resume more normal workouts. The Aztecs players finally returned to campus in late August.

“Whether he’s with us in the weight room strength training or whether he’s on his own, there’s a certain amount of dedication required,” SDSU coach Brian Dutcher says. “He’s proven he can do it with and without us.”

But those spring and summer months afforded him something he never had — a pause, a reset, a respite. There were no games, no practices, no summer league, no pickup runs at Pauley Pavilion with pros, no shots to make or miss, no one to impress. No expectations. No pressure.

No gyms?

No problem.

“This kid, man, he’s just wired differently,” Stefanie says. “Since moment one, he has always driven everything. We have never once had to push him, ever. When he was getting up at 5:30 in the morning to work out at LA Fitness, we were always like, maybe one day he’ll sleep in. It never happened.

“For sure, he saw this an opportunity to find a way to persist regardless of whether or not he had access to anything, and he didn’t. … He just saw this as a gift of time.”

If there was a salvation for her and the rest of the family, waking up to Tony Horton barking “Be sexy with it” didn’t last long.

“I muted him like a week in,” Schakel says. “I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t handle it. That guy is something else.”

The audio was silenced. The inner warrior was not.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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