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Prioritize The Individual Over the Team This Off Season

From my playing days to my coaching and training days, I have been around the game of basketball a long time and I continue to be fascinated by how many people within the game operate. Seriously, the idea that prioritizing team play in the off season over individual skill development is warped. As the NBA playoffs roll on in a seemingly endless capacity, it has become very apparent that the most skilled players are the biggest assets to their team and often those teams are the most successful. Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the list goes on. What was more glaring to me was how much a lack of one particular skill (a jump shot) cost, arguably, the most talented starting five in basketball a shot at advancing. Yes, I’m talking about Ben Simmons and Sixers. Here is a guy who has some how managed to become an NBA All Star and won’t (and I do mean won’t) take a jump shot in a game. It’s embarrassing and like playing 4 on 5 on the offensive side of the ball every time down the floor. Beyond that, it is a horrible look and a terrible example for all young players out there with aspirations of playing at a higher level. Based on this, they are probably thinking that they don’t have to develop a jumper to be good. They could not be further from wrong. The teams with the most skilled players win games. Especially those with players who can shoot.

Basketball Skill Development for Leonard and Antetokounmpo Have Made Them Two of the Greatest in the Game

Damian Lillard nailed a three pointer from 37 feet out to win the last game of the first round series for Portland. Kawhi hit a fade away jumper to eliminate those very Sixers in the second round. Steph Curry, has been making it rain from three point land since Durant went down. This is not by accident. Off season skill development to these players is an absolute priority. Take Kawhi Leonard for example. Kawhi did not have much more than a mid-range jump shot when he first came into the league. Credit his commitment to excellence and the Spurs organization for breaking it down and forcing him to build up the correct form in close before improving his range. Now he shoots threes with proficiency and is considered by many to be the best two way player in the NBA.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is another great example. Granted, heĀ still doesn’t have much of a three point shooting game but teams are beginning to realize that he can hit them if he is left open. Now defenses can no longer just back off him and protect against a dunk. They have to at least respect his jumper by playing him close, ultimately making his drives more effective.

These two players committed to basketball skill development in the off season and have ultimately improved an aspect of their game that was a weakness. The result is a head to head meeting in the conference finals and serious consideration for both as the best player in the game. Sorry Ben Simmons, maybe if you dedicated just a tiny bit of time to that faulty jumper of yours, you and your highly talented team would still be playing. It would appear that your priorities were a little bit off but don’t worry, you’re young and there is still time to make some changes.

No X’s and O’s This Off Season. Only Me.

Coaches and players not focusing on basketball skill development in the off season, it is time to change. Stop prioritizing game play and x’s and o’s during the summer months. Reflect on your players, understand their strengths and attack their weaknesses with abandon. Stop playing in every tournament you can find and start focusing on individual skill development. The great players of the game always, always, always add a wrinkle to their game in the off season and that is why their teams are consistently the best in basketball. Don’t you think it is time for you to do the same as well? Develop your players when the lights are off and I guarantee you they’ll perform better when the lights are the brightest.

Contact Rich Stoner today to start your New Jersey based basketball skill development program and I’ll have you on the road to basketball success.

Training For Life, While Not Training For Basketball

There we were, my wife and I, early this past Saturday morning getting in a workout at home. Unable to attend our regular CrossFit Endurance class and not ones to sit around a skip a workout I headed outside for a kettlebell workout while she stayed inside to nail some accessory work. All the while, there sat our daughters watching TV, playing with squishies and making bracelets while I sweated and grunted away through set after grueling set of lungestersĀ  (a combination lunge thruster) and ring rows. At the age of 41 and my wife, 42 and with nothing to train for other than life and some serious Friday night games of cornhole, I couldn’t help but wonder how our hard work wasn’t rubbing off on our children in that moment. Seeing this as a teachable moment, I asked my oldest daughter about how often she has practiced basketball since the season’s end. With her travel team tryouts just two short week’s away, this seemed like a reasonable question despite already knowing the answer. Needless to say, she didn’t like the question and responded with a, “Dad, stop. You’re so annoying.” Like I always say, if you don’t like the questions, then maybe it’s time to change your reality. Fact was that it was quite nice out and she could have been outside working on her ball handling or conditioning but in that moment despite having two parents right in front of her crushing a workout, that thought never crossed her mind.

Training for Basketball Only When it’s Relevant

If I am being honest, I am not surprised. As a basketball trainer in New Jersey, I have worked with players of all levels on basketball skill development and basketball performance training for the better part of 15 years. While there are some exceptions, many basketball players only work on their game when it is relevant. That is to say, they practice around tryouts, while in season, when they go to camp, etc. This is all well and good, and maybe their goals in basketball dictate this, in which case, they have to adjust their expectations as a player to accommodate for what could result in disappointment. Fact is, being a great basketball player, starting for your high school basketball team and potentially earning a college basketball scholarship takes work. A lot of work. It takes training with a basketball trainer like myself to hone your basketball skills. Then, it takes putting in countless hours of skill development on your own time. That might mean you have to make a few less bracelets or not binge watch your favorite show on Netflix, but those are the sacrifices that need to be made in order to earn success on the basketball court.

Will You Choose to Improve?

That afternoon, on our ride home from spending time with my mom for Mother’s Day, I turned to my oldest daughter and asked if she wanted to ride down to the park and practice basketball with me when we got home. Nearing 6 pm on a Saturday, I did not anticipate a positive response. However, to my surprise and to her credit, she jumped at the opportunity. Did she learn her lesson? Only time will tell but with the summer months rapidly approaching she and every other basketball player in NJ will have ample opportunities to improve their game. Will you sit around idly and watch time fly by or will you put in work and develop your game? The choice is yours.

What Ever Happened to the Mikan Drill?

I could remember going to camp as a kid and the camp director talking about layups and how so many are missed. And, how there is the one drill that will help you learn how to make your layups with both of your hands. That one drill…The Mikan Drill. So what did I do growing up? I did The Mikan Drill every time I went out and practiced. I learned the fundamental footwork for a layup. I learned how to watch the ball through the rim on each and every repetition. I learned how to keep the ball high and finish higher. I learned how to finish with my strong and weak hand. Yes, all of that in one simple drill that was created by the original big man, George Mikan.

Georgetown Did the Mikan Drill Daily

Fast forward about a decade to when I was in the midst of my high school coaching career, and I was at a coaches clinic watching John Thompson III the speak. At the time he was a highly successful coach at Georgetown University where they were running variations of the Princeton Offense. If you know anything about the Princeton Offense, you know that they scored primarily off of layups, backdooring and screening the heck out of their opponent until they got an open layup first or an open jumper second. If you are getting layups, you need to make them. So what drill did this highly paid, highly successful college basketball coach show us? You guessed it, The Mikan Drill. Actually, he showed us three different variations of The Mikan Drill and talked about how they started every practice off with this series of mikans. Imagine that, a college team doing the drill that I learned way back when in order to help them be successful at making layups. 

Today’s Youth Basketball Player Misses Too Many Layups but Cannot Do the Mikan Drill

The good old days, when coaches used simple drills that actually worked. What happened to those days? I only ask because for some reason time and time again, I watch youth basketball players miss layup upon layup in their games. Then, I have young basketball players come to my basketball clinics and they cannot perform in any way, shape or form this very drill that will help them make the shot that so many of them miss. It drives me insane! Their footwork is incorrect, often times going off the wrong leg on the wrong side. They put the ball up and take their eyes off the rim immediately. And most importantly, they struggle to make layups with their strong hand and struggle even more with their weak hand. Why? There is a lack of fundamentals being taught at a young age because the culture is too focused on playing games. They are too focused on doing drills that may be creative but don’t do anything as far as skill development goes. Is the Mikan Drill the magic pill for curing your missed layup disease? No. However, if it worked really well for us growing years ago and it worked really well for a highly successful college coach and program it may just be something our youth should be using as well. 

The Significance of Fundamentals

I have stressed time and time again on this site how important fundamentals are when it comes to basketball. There is just no replacing the ability to dribble, pass and shoot the basketball well and players that can do all three are really hard to stop. Take for example Russel Westbrook’s historic season this year, averaging a triple double thanks to double digit averages in scoring, assists and rebounds. All season long, the talk of whether or not he was going to achieve this milestone hinged on whether or not he would be able to pull off the double digit rebounds. Not only was this the stat in question, but rebounding has become an overlooked aspect of basketball that has never been more evident than in recent basketball history specifically as it pertains to the NCAA tournament and the NBA playoffs. 

Rebounding is a fundamental skill of basketball that comes with an ability to know how the ball will come off the rim, a burning desire to go get the ball and the most forgotten part of it, boxing out. Boxing out has become one of the most forgotten fundamental skills in basketball and it has reared its ugly head on more than a few occasions recently. Looking back to the national semifinal game between North Carolina and Oregon, Jordan Bell missed not one, but two box outs that gave the Tarheels the opportunity to secure the ball in the last minute in the game to preserve their victory. Let’s not even get into the fact that the Heels missed their free throws, another fundamental skill that has fallen by the wayside. If Bell boxes out, and Ducks grab the rebound, giving them an offensive possession or two, there is no telling what would have happened. They may have won, they may have lost anyway, but at least the would have had the opportunity to find out. North Carolina on the other hand, mainly won this national title on the heels (pun intended) of their ability to rebound. As the leading rebounding team in the country this year, they gave themselves many more scoring opportunities this season. This was a direct result of crashing the glass on the offensive end and eventually finishing and securing defensive rebounds that denied their opponents the same opportunity. The North Carolina Tarheels averaged a ton of points but not necessarily because they were an explosive jump shooting team. It was because the dominated the glass on both ends of the floor. 

As I watch the Celtics in the first round of the NBA playoffs, I can’t help but notice how bad of a rebounding team they are. Yes, I know that they are the number one seed but they are in danger of becoming one of the few number one seeds to lose to an eight seed and it has a lot to do with their inability to rebound. Lacking in this skill during the regular NBA season can be a bit overlooked and less glaring during the regular season when guys are sitting out or not playing as hard due to back to back games, etc. However, it the playoffs when teams have the extra rest and time to game plan, the Celtics inability to rebound the basketball, particularly on the defensive end is glaringly obvious. Much of this inability comes as a result of missed box out assignments. They seem to be a bit out of position on defense and guys like Lopez sneak in between them and the basket to secure offensive rebound upon offensive rebound. It’s flat out demoralizing to a team who has worked so hard to get a stop defensively and then cannot finish out that play by simply securing the ball. It remains to be seen, but missed box out assignments could ultimately be the reason they lose this series.

I am not sure how it happened or why it happened but it has happened. Boxing out, a fundamental skill, has become a thing of the past. Players just don’t do it anymore with any sort of consistency, relying on their athleticism to grab rebounds. That may work at times, however, you can see when push comes to shove and something significant is on the line, not executing a simple fundamental skill like boxing out is going to cost you and your team.

Looking to learn and excel in the fundamentals of basketball? Elite Basketball Training has got you covered with our Nothing but Net and Elite Ball Handling and Finishing programs this summer. Find out more and register today to hone your skills with us this summer. 

Top 5 Ways to Improve Your Basketball Speed and Agility

The basketball off season is virtually upon us here in New Jersey. With most middle school basketball teams finished up and the majority of the high school basketball teams finishing within the next week or two, many basketball players are looking for ways to improve. Satisfied or not with your season, there is always room to grow as a basketball player and that is what we are all about at Elite Basketball Training. One such way is to make yourself into a quicker and more agile basketball player. The old adage, speed kills, is not a lie. Quicker players are very difficult to guard and can reke havoc on a defense, forcing them into help situations while creating open opportunities for other players. With some help this off season, you can become one of those players that other teams fear because of your quickness. That is why we put together our top five basketball training tips for improving your speed and agility.

  1. Strengthen your body: There is no substitute, when it comes to basketball speed and agility, for being in great shape. Get in the weight room and develop you overall body. Focus on big lifts like squats, deadlifts and presses while adding in complimentary movements such as lunges, pullups and dips. Increase your overall power by training with bands and incorporating implements that force you to hit triple extension such as medicine ball throws, kettlebell swings and plyometrics. All of this will increase your overall athleticism, allow you to exert more force on the ground and become more powerful, a deadly combination that will lead to more speed. However, strength and power can only get you to a point. That is where the rest comes in.
  2. Incorporate Speed, Agility and Quickness training into your basketball skill development: With limited time due to multiple commitments such as school activities, other sports and AAU basketball, during the off season it is a must that your training regimen be as efficient as possible. Combining your speed and agility training with your basketball skill development will not only solve your time issue but also ensure that you are training in a way that is game like. Being fast while running a straight line is one thing. However, having the ability to be quick with or without the ball in your hands while changing directions in ways that mimic those on a basketball court is another. To achieve these skills, you need to develop them through training which should be done on the court while merging skill development drills with speed and agility drills.  
  3. Improve your footwork: Building on the topic of basketball efficiency, improved footwork on the court will absolutely translate into becoming a quicker player. Proper footwork is the difference between being a good player or a great player. There are basketball players that are naturally gifted, athletic and physically quick but their poor footwork makes them look average. There are also basketball players out there that are not as naturally athletically gifted who make up for this with great footwork. Having efficient footwork puts your body in the correct positions no matter what the situation, shooting the ball, driving, defending. As a result of this, they can appear quicker than they actually are because these players are always in the right positions at the right time.
  4. Improve your basketball IQ: Another simple way to make yourself quicker on the basketball court is to have a higher understanding of the game. The more you understand the game, the better you will be at reading situations as they emerge. Reading the defense and being able to make the right cuts, the right moves, the right finishes based on what the defense presents is the sign of a great player. It can also make up for a lack of physical speed by once again increasing your efficiency on the court. Study the game by watching it, reading about it and playing it and you will be sure to increase your basketball IQ and your basketball speed as well. 
  5. Improve your jump shot:  A Better jump shot will most certainly translate into improved overall quickness. If you can shoot the lights out, you’ll appear even quicker because it will force defenders to have to guard you tighter and once they do, it is easier to go by them. Take Klay Thompson for example. He’s a good athlete that is made to look like a great athlete because of his phenomenal jump shot. Being able to shoot like he does, forces defenders to have to guard him closer, and the closer the defender gets to him, the harder he becomes to guard. Using this crowding defense to his advantage, Thompson appears quicker going by players than he actually is all thanks to his superior jump shot.