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BASKETBALL REPORTER

This can't possibly be the place.

An abandoned box store in the south part of Dallas, peeling paint, an empty parking lot. No one around. There's a lawn sign extolling the virtues of Christ Kingdom Church - "The greatest Church in Dallas" - pegged into some dying grass out front, but the cursive, neon, Bailey's Furniture sign above the glass doors hasn't been lit in years.

A second check of the address? Yup, it's the one.

Check the watch - a little early, but still, here? This is the site of the Chris Bosh experiment?

Then, just before 10 a.m., things start to happen. A tricked out Chevrolet Monte Carlo rolls up and out steps Sean Williams of the New Jersey Nets, with teammate Maurice Ager. A second later, another car pulls in containing Acie Law of the Atlanta Hawks.

Who's that giant skinny guy ducking his head to get in the door? That's Alexis Ajinca of the Charlotte Bobcats, all 7 foot 2 of him. Quentin Ross of the Memphis Grizzlies is next. And, finally, up rolls a cream Cadillac Escalade SUV and out steps Toronto Raptors star and Dallas native Chris Bosh.

This must be it.

"Get your butt down big fella! Come on now! Explode."

The voice belongs to Ken Roberson, who has been running no-frills, high-intensity workouts for Dallas-area NBA players for two decades.

Bosh came to him as a stick-figure freshman at Georgia Tech University trying to make the leap to the NBA at 6 foot 10 and 215 pounds in 2003. Now, six years into his professional career and a four-time NBA all-star, Bosh is at Bailey's Furniture with an eye toward making perhaps the most difficult leap of all: from good to great.

He thinks building himself up to 250 pounds - about 20 more than he played at in 2008-09 - will help the cause.

"I know I can just show up and be good," Bosh says in between swigs of a watermelon-flavoured recovery drink after his workout one day last week. "I'd be an okay player and stay where I am now and be content with that, or I can work on getting better every day, try to better my craft and see where I can get."

Where can Bosh get? That's the $130-million (U.S.) question for the Raptors - and the estimated value of the contract Bosh will be looking for after next season as an unrestricted free agent, having declared that he's not going to sign an extension and won't take a deal for less than the league-mandated maximum. ("You can rephrase the question any way you want," he says. "What else am I going to say?")

More pressing is whether Bosh is worth the investment.

With NBA revenues shrinking and teams scrutinizing spending as never before, can the Raptors afford to tie so much money up in a player who, so far, has led them to just one winning season?

Can they afford not to? After all, community-minded big men who average 20 points and 10 rebounds like clockwork don't come around everyday. Can Bosh prove he's the type of player either the Raptors or someone else can build a winning team around?

In a plain, cinderblock room with scattered bar bells, weight plates and medicine balls the only furniture, Bosh is making his case.

The 25-year-old power forward has been one of the most consistent players in the NBA the last three seasons, averaging 22.5 points and 9.7 rebounds, but Bosh wants more and has focused on reinventing himself physically to get it. Stronger, higher, faster: He's taken an Olympian approach to his off-season training.

Fittingly, Roberson has brought on Kyle Meadows to help. A former world-class sprinter, member of the United States bobsled team and NFL wide receiver, Meadows has a simple goal.

"It's all about speed, we have to train speed, that's the neuromuscular element," he says. "That's why we do power lifting - it's explosive and ballistic and sports specific."

The Christ Kingdom Church is set up on the other side of the building and lies quiet on a weekday morning. But if pain is the path to salvation, Bosh and his workout partners are halfway there.

The routines are short, barely an hour, but everything is geared toward developing strength for basketball players.

For one set, the players in the makeshift gym squat with a dumbbell across their shoulders, jump hard and fast finishing with the barbell above their heads - mimicking a post player gathering and forcing their way to the rim. Immediately after, they grab a medicine ball for a quick series of jumps while lifting the ball from the floor toward the ceiling - an extreme version of rebounding.

In all, there are five sets of exercises, all with an emphasis on speed, power and explosiveness. By the end, elite-level, professional athletes are spending recovery time writhing on their backs as if wounded by an unseen sniper.

Still, Roberson manages to keep it light.

"He's a different dude," Bosh says. "A lot of guys have come through this door, but a lot of them don't stay. He doesn't advertise. Everyone is here because they want to be here. It's kind of like a family environment, really.

"We all work hard. It's not a state-of-the-art place; we don't pay big money [Roberson charges between $50 and $150 a day, depending on the client]to be here. We just have the equipment we need, the energy is great and we push each other to get better."

Recognizing the significance of putting the power in the power forward position came naturally to Roberson: his roommate at Louisiana Tech was former Utah Jazz great Karl Malone, possibly the strongest player the NBA has ever seen.

"To be a superstar on [Bosh's]level as weak as he is," Roberson says of Bosh, "shows his heart and ability. I mean, he's strong now compared to most people, but I'm talking about him being incredibly strong, superhero strong, where you can take over a game and have plenty left over for the next night. We're building a locomotive."

If it's an Olympic approach, it's fitting, because Bosh became aware of the need to up his off-court work while training alongside the likes of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant while playing with Team USA at the Beijing Games last summer.

"People think LeBron just rolls out of bed because he's so talented, but he harnesses it. He's got his routines," Bosh says. "You can see how you have to be obsessive with your craft a little bit so you can be healthy and be the best you can be."

It's not that Bosh has shied away from hard work before. But to listen to him, he's crossed a threshold some athletes never do.

What do you do when your talent alone isn't quite enough? Bosh's game was as polished as ever last season, but the Raptors limped home with a 33-49 record, leaving him searching for answers.

He's hoping to find them at an abandoned furniture store, the greatest church in Dallas on one side and a down-home gym on the other. The most important season of his life beyond that.

"If you want to be the best, you have to do what the best do: they work really hard," Bosh says after this day's workout is over. "That's why I'm doing this now. This is what I do. I want to be crazy about this to get better.

"I'm going to be in great shape, I'm going to be stronger. I'm thinking on down the road."

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