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Cal Berkeley athlete Leon Powe, left, and Stanford's Dan Grunfeld run together while training at Baker Beach in San Francisco Friday.
Suddenly, the differences between Leon Powe and Dan Grunfeld seem less significant than their common ground.

As Bay Area college basketball rivals, the two were only casually acquainted. Powe was Cal's local headliner, the Oakland-born power forward who never knew his father and grew up fighting poverty. Grunfeld was Stanford's shooting guard, raised comfortably in the Midwest and the son of a former NBA star.

Now, as they trudge together up a steep hill of sand above a San Francisco beach — over and over — or hoist themselves up a 12-foot pole — without using their legs — Powe and Grunfeld don't seem so different.

Both have overcome serious knee injuries — Powe to his left knee, twice, and Grunfeld to his right — and both are intent on making it to the NBA.

With less than two months to go before the June 28 NBA draft, Powe and Grunfeld meet every other day in San Francisco for a grueling two-part workout that addresses body and mind.

In the course of a month, they havedeveloped a camaraderie and respect for each other.

"He's a good person," Powe said of Grunfeld.

"I root for him," Grunfeld said, "because I know how hard he works. We also understand the doubts people have, and the false doubts they have. But we're working hard, and we certainly haven't given up on ourselves."

Their day begins on the basketball court at the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, a cozy but functional facility that Powe's mentor, Bernard Ward, refers to as "The Lab.


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In the gym, former Memphis Grizzlies scout Don Sellers puts Powe and Grunfeld through a two-hour session that stresses ballhandling, shooting and technique work. The workout is organized, fast-paced and almost nonstop.

Talking is kept to a minimum. The dominant sounds are the squeaking of basketball shoes and the emphatic noise of Powe flushing a dunk through the rim.

Powe still has two years of basketball eligibility at Cal and the option to withdraw his name from the NBA draft by June 18. But the Pac-10 scoring and rebounding champ embarked on this personal spring training camp in order to assure that NBA people cannot ignore him.

Even so, Powe wasn't sure what to expect from the second portion of his workout session. Then he met Frank Matrisciano, who has trained athletes of every ilk but also has clients ranging from businessmen to special ops forces.

The word "crazy" seems to find its way into every conversation about Matrisciano, and the 43-year-old native of New Jersey does little to discourage it. Without a hint of self-consciousness, Matrisciano says a couple of the nicknames he's been given by others include, "Mental Patient" and "Genetic Freak."

Grunfeld has been working with Matrisciano — an old family friend — for parts of three years. Powe met him for the first time in mid-April, when Matrisciano introduced himself and his "chameleon" training regimen to the Cal star.

Chameleon training involves preparing the body for anything with a variety of seemingly simple but fiercely challenging routines.

"I take them from 'Terminator I' to 'Terminator III,'" Matrisciano said. "That's no joke, sir."

Matrisciano calls everyone sir, even while exhorting them to lift their legs and work their arms as they climb the sand incline. Matrisciano loves to work out in sand — he sometimes runs on the beach while wearing a 100-pound pack — because it strengthens the muscles around the knee without the pounding of the pavement.

After his first session in the sand, Powe said, "Everything was shaking, wobbly. People were thinking I'm crazy because I had that twitch."

The most torturous exercise, Powe said, involves him wearing a harness and pulling Matrisciano a half-mile across the beach. "That was after I did the stairs and after I was in the gym for two hours," Powe said. "My legs were burning."

But Powe isn't complaining, and neither is Ward, who is stunned by the progress.

"I can bet you, ain't nobody doing this," he said. "Man, it's only three weeks, and his lift is higher, he's quicker. Leon loves it. He can see the improvement.

"He's now doing when he's tired what he couldn't do when he was fresh."

Grunfeld is a longtime believer in chameleon training. He went to Matrisciano after ACL surgery in February 2005, and within seven months he ran a 5:10 mile.

"For someone like me, this is what has to be done in order to succeed," said Grunfeld, who was averaging 17.9 points per game before getting hurt as a junior, then began his senior season just nine months after surgery. "I feel like what I do with him, I push it to a level that I haven't done anywhere else.

"Something I learned early on from this training is the mind will give out before the body. Even when you think you can't, you probably can."

Identifying that limit is Matrisciano's gift.

Ernie Grunfeld, the former NBA player who now serves as president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards, concedes that Matrisciano's methods are different.

"But it's big results," he said, adding that basketball is "no doubt" in his son's future.

Erasing any doubts in the minds of the rest of the NBA is what Powe and Grunfeld hope they are achieving. Is Grunfeld quick enough to play shooting guard? Is Powe, at perhaps just 6-foot-7, big enough to play power forward in the league?

Part of Matrisciano's assignment is erasing any doubts in the minds of Powe and Grunfeld themselves. Getting the body fit is only half the job.

He tells the story of the 1920s stunt man who walked a tightrope between two New York City buildings while pushing a wheelbarrow full of bricks.

When finished, the stunt man greeted reporters and asked if they thought he could make it back to the other side. Sure, they said.

"Do you believe I can do it?" he asked.

When one of them said he believed it, the stunt man dumped the bricks from the wheelbarrow and said, "OK, get in."

Powe and Grunfeld are now ready to get into the wheelbarrow.

Cal fans probably shouldn't expect to see Powe back on the court at Haas Pavilion.

"I'm coming in seriously," he said. "I ain't playing. I ain't doing this for nothing. ... That's no joke."

No, sir.