The man behind the muscles
In the office of North Carolina men’s basketball trainer Jonas Sahratian, a Tyler Hansbrough jersey hangs prominently on the wall, with a signature and short letter inked on it by the 2008 Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year.
“Jonas, A lot of blood, sweat, and tears for the years. Thanks for helping me achieve my dreams and goals!” Hansbrough wrote on the only game-worn jersey he’s ever given out.
Sahratian trained Hansbrough all four of his years at UNC. Now, even after UNC’s all-time leading scorer has graduated, he keeps coming back to his alma mater to work out with the man he claims is “the business.”
“A lot of people in the league or through college, when I was here, they don’t have a relationship with a guy like that — a strength guy,” Hansbrough said. “He knows how to push me to the limit, and he knows what my weaknesses are.”
Sahratian, the team’s strength and conditioning coordinator, works with the Tar Heel basketball players year-round to physically prepare them for the season. These days, in the offseason, Sahratian meets with current players for about six hours each week in the weight room.
And when he’s not meeting with players, he’s tucked in his office, deep within the Smith Center — a haven stuffed full of books and binders with information about the body, fitness and nutrition.
“I’m always researching and trying to stay on the cutting edge of things,” Sahratian said, adding that he travels to conferences to meet with the best in his field.
“I do have a good network of people I can rely on.”
Even with his wealth of knowledge about training and fitness, Sahratian is still trying to build off the education he received while working for the Chicago Bulls with strength coach Al Vermeil, where he started as an intern in 1996.
Under the tutelage of Vermeil, the only strength coach to have a world championship ring in the NFL and the NBA, Sahratian picked up a number of training methods he’s expanded on while working with coach Roy Williams at both Kansas and UNC.
“A lot of that was imparted on me by Al Vermeil,” Sahratian said. “He helped me lay down a huge foundation on philosophy, but over time I’ve networked and met other people (who have) added to (it).”
Lessons on Life 101
After a combined 13 years with the Jayhawks and Tar Heels, Sahratian said he’s as much a teacher as he is a coach — especially when it comes to dieting.
Just like the professor of a UNC class, Sahratian gets about two hours each day to interact with his pupils, but it’s up to them to do their part for the other 22 hours.
In the same way a student needs to study to get a good grade, Sahratian said UNC’s athletes have to make sure they’re taking care of their bodies throughout the day to maximize their athletic potential.
“I’m not going to say I’m a Jedi master and these guys are all my padawans,” Sahratian said.
“But you’re teaching them these things. You’re teaching them about recovery and nutrition and what training is throughout the season so they can stay strong.”
And he said the lessons he teaches UNC basketball players are ones that will help them not only on the court but in everyday life as well.
“They’ll want to spend $150 on a pair of shoes,” he said. “As opposed to going to the grocery store and spending $150.”
Coming back for more
By persistently preaching the consumption of whole foods and proving his knowledge of the body and health, Sahratian keeps players coming back to him for advice and training.
Though former forward Marvin Williams only spent one year playing for the Tar Heels, the second-overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft knew who to go to after having a tough playoff run in 2008 with the Atlanta Hawks.
“I just remember being tossed around in the playoffs,” Williams said. “(Jonas) asked me how I felt, and I told him, ‘That can never happen again.’ I never wanted to be pushed around like that.
“He promised me that I wouldn’t. Ever since then, I’ve been able to hold my own.”
But former Tar Heels come to Sahratian to ask about more than just strength and conditioning.
When Marvin Williams’ 2005 championship teammate David Noel and his wife were preparing to have a baby, Noel decided to consult the one person he knew was the most knowledgeable about nutrition — his former trainer.
Sahratian provided Noel with information about supplements his wife needed to help her have a healthy child.
And when the child was born, Noel and his wife weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the birth of a healthy baby.
“It feels good because you care for these people,” Sahratian said. “Sometimes they don’t think I care about them, but I really do.”
And that paternal relationship keeps guys like Hansbrough and Williams around for years after their college careers end.
“When I’m frustrated about things, he knows how to work with me and talk to me about things,” Hansbrough said.
“(It’s) not always about the weight room. Sometimes it’s about life.”
More than a trainer
For Marvin Williams, the trust he said he puts in Sahratian makes their relationship reminiscent of one between a father and son.
“Not to get emotional or anything, but he’s been like a father to me (and) a lot of us,” he said. “I have a great dad obviously, but if I could have two dads, (Jonas) would be my other father for sure.”
While Marvin Williams knows that the coaches are looking out for him, he said something about Sahratian’s knowledge makes him feel more at ease when he goes to get his trainer’s opinion.
The former forward has dealt with a number of injuries in the past, but he’s always sought Sahratian’s advice — even after going to a doctor.
“I feel like no one in the world has my best interest like he has my best interest,” Williams said. “If he says I should do something, that makes me feel better.”
Sahratian said he likes to believe his support is one piece of a larger puzzle.
“It’s always nice to flip on the TV and watch (and say), ‘Hey, there’s my guy,’” Sahratian said.
“It’s kind of like you’ve done a small part in helping them.
“Sometimes they think it’s a bigger part, but it’s a small part.”
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