Why Do You Play The Game?

After returning from a two-week vacation, I am fully charged and ready for the summer to begin. Every once in a while every person deserves a break. This quick trip was a good way to clear my head, allowing me to evaluate the impact of all things in my life. Obviously basketball was a theme that arose multiple times.

I could write about the different reasons that I have continued to work within the game, whether at our current HSB camp in Houston, at Tufts, watching the NBA Finals, or any number of different basketball scenarios. My experience is unique and my love for the game has evolved over many hours of hard work leading to years of sometimes trying highs and lows.

The important question you should ask yourself during a break is why do you play the game. Look at those reasons and make sure they correctly align. Make sure the list leads to a better you, on and off the court. If your reasons conflict, work hard to adjust your outlook. This reevaluation could lead to a better experience in your playing, along with similar results in your life. Always be honest with the assessment and goal, and I promise you will learn more than you could have imagined.

Love The Off-Season

How do you spend your weekdays? Do you begin by talking with your friends about the tournament you just played in, and finish the week by talking about the games you will win in the upcoming weekend? Do you take a couple of jump shots after school with your friends? Do you play in a couple of pick-up games throughout the week? Do you attend one practice a week where you go through quick repetitions of various skills?

Do you think you are devoting the right sort of time? Do you think you’re getting better?

Everybody loves to play games, but not everybody loves to practice. The best players love the off-season just as much as the season. They know the better off-season they have, the better chances that their season will be better. These players know that the individual work they put in will not only benefit their own game, but most importantly, their team. There are certainly benefits to playing in games, but games don’t allow you take 500 elbow jumpers in an hour, perfect your jab series, or make 25 consecutive free throws. These skills are perfected by yourself, then later utilized to help your team win.

I agree that games are way more fun then drills. In order to perform at your best, you must learn to love those hours spent alone, working on your game. There are too many players that think that playing pick-up everyday is the best way to get better. I am going to promise you that this mentality is skewed. You need both of these aspects to become a complete player.

Love to love to practice. Love to make yourself better. Love the game.

“Character Is Who You Are When No One Is Watching”

I am sure everyone has heard the saying, “character is who you are when no one is watching.” John Wooden, arguably the most famous coach in any sport, delivered a line very similar to the one above. “For your pursuit of being the best basketball player possible, you should always assume someone is watching and act accordingly.” In my four years at college preparatory schools, I was fortunate to work with twenty-one graduates that went on to play a collegiate sport, twelve of which played basketball. I took many of these players to attend camps in the summer, usually of the showcase variety. Some of these guys had never been to a camp of this nature and were confused by the way things went. Every time they passed the ball, it seemed an impossibility that it would ever return.

Frustration was the normal reaction. Complaints and negativity came next, and these two emotional responses brought down their level of play. The best mentality that I gave them to use was to play like someone is always watching you. For the most part, coaches attending these camps understand the difficulty of playing with brand new teammates. As a player, you have no control over the guy who lives by the mantra, “the best shot is any one he/she can get off.” You can control how hard you run the floor, communicating on defense, making the extra pass, and cheering on your teammates; just to name a few. Believe it or not, all of these things are noted and used in the evaluation of you as a player and a teammate. The game of basketball is a team sport, so be a good teammate whether it’s on your high school team or on a team that you will only spend forty-eight hours with. In turn, you will become a better basketball player and coaches will notice you.

On a small side story that goes along with this point, I had a player on one of my high school teams that did not play a single minute during a hotly contested match-up against a rival of ours. We went down early in the game and this player did everything he could from the bench to get our guys going. He cheered on his teammates, encouraged players on the bench, picked guys up off the floor when they dove near our side, and lead every cheer before our guys went out on the floor. His energy and enthusiasm were a large contributor to our second half comeback and eventual win. The other team had a few high-major prospects, thus there were multiple head and assistant coaches watching the game. One of these assistant coaches from a Big East school approached me after the game. He introduced himself and said he had a message for the player on our bench. It was clear that my player could not play at that level, but the coach truly believed he was the reason we won and that he could make an impact on a college team. He told me that he would do whatever he could to help him join a high-major team as a manager. He told me that the player defined what it meant to be a teammate and belonged on the sidelines. While this situation was quite unique, it shows that coaches are always watching you when you step onto any team. Be a good teammate and people will notice!

Recruiting 101 With Coach Z – “How We (College Coaches) Operate”

Apologies for the delay in another post, but I have been on the road for the start of our recruiting class of 2012. It’s AAU season and gyms have been buzzing with players, coaches, dreams, and potential. This time of year is exciting for me, as I know exactly which players will be joining our team and will now be working on formulating a list of players that might join us in the Fall of 2012. Instead of talking about what you can do to be noticed and recruited by particular schools, I am going to give you some insight on how we (college coaches) operate.

Just like you guys, we start off by creating a large list of student athletes. Our list comprises not only players that we are interested in, but also ones that have expressed interest in us. We always make sure to check out people who have sent us a letter, email, video, etc. as we know that they have put in the time to look into our school and our basketball program. At the very least, we can make sure to watch their video and see them play live, before we make any decision about the possibility to attend and play at our school. We would never ignore a student athlete that has expressed an interest. It is our duty as coaches to make sure that our program fits the player, just as the player needs to evaluate whether they fit the schools on their list. Most schools operate in this fashion, as you never know which player may be the difference maker to push the team over the top.

While most AAU teams have some form of cohesiveness and structure, the camp circuit is an entirely different beast. Some players are overwhelmed in these settings and confused on how they should play. In the next blog, I hope to give you guys some advice on approaching these unique opportunities.

What To Do When You Get The Call?

Did you get an email or phone call back?  Just like the job process, this means that the basketball program has an interest in what you might have to offer.  If not, you may need to make a reassessment.  We’ll take a look a both scenarios.

Scenario One: You got a call, email, or letter

You have piqued their interest, but let’s not get carried away yet.  Just because a school has called to inquire about you does not mean that you are a shoe-in to play there.  Rarely does a school fall head over heels in love with a player and immediately offer a scholarship or spot on their team.  Any school that consistently works in this manner will consistently have losing seasons.  The best programs watch their recruited players in as many situations as possible.  They want to see them when things are going well and when things are going poorly.  They want to see their reactions and how they adapt to different circumstances.  All of these various situations combine to form their opinion.  If you are in a remote location, this process is a lot harder.  You need to send out multiple DVDs of different styles of games, and if possible, go out to a camp or tournament that may be at their school or in their area.  If you play on a traveling AAU team, can afford to travel to camps, or are in the area of the school, you should be able to find the opportunities to play in front of their coaches.  This live experience is the key to most recruitment, especially when a $200,000 scholarship is involved.

Scenario Two: You got a call and they don’t like the fit, or no call at all

If they deliver the unwanted news, all is not lost.  Ask questions about things you could improve or places they might see as a good fit.  Contrary to the popular movement in today’s society, constructive criticism should be openly accepted and put to use.  Take their suggestions, work on them, and do not give up.  After all of your work, put yourself in more positions to be seen by these schools or the ones suggested to you.  You may also want to expand your search to other schools, that may not be at the initial level you desired but still fulfill the academic needs you have.  Once again, I would like to repeat that you should choose your college for a myriad of reasons, not just basketball.

After either of these scenarios occurs, your work is not over.  By putting in consistent, maximum work into your academic, athletic, and extracurricular activities, you will open up further opportunities for yourself.  Keep your head up, keep your ego down, and keep working hard.  If you have any questions, you should always ask.

Do You Have What It Takes?

If you think the job market is tough, you should take a good hard look at the world of basketball recruiting.  You’ve got a better shot of getting into medical school than receiving a Division I scholarship.  Division II scholarship numbers are even smaller than Division I, and if you’re under the impression that anyone can play Division III ball, you are sorely mistaken.  It’s a tough world out there, so how do you figure out which school is right for you (student athlete at the college level)?

So far you should have two things to get yourself started.  You have the resume you created to send to schools, and a list of potential suitors.  The land of recruitment works a lot like the job market.  Unless you are one of the top candidates in the country or the world and are being recruited by everyone, you have to find a way to get yourself in front of these coaches and show them what you have to offer.  Where do you start?

Well, in order to be qualified for a job, you need the credentials.  There are far too many to list, so here are my top 3:

1) Skill – Have you done the work and training to develop the necessary tools  (Shooting, Dribbling, Passing, Defense, etc, etc, etc)?

2)  Passion – Do you love the game and play like it  (Motor, Hustle, Energy, Leadership, Communication, etc, etc, etc)?

3)  Respect – Do you respect your teammates and coaches, and more importantly, do your teammates and coaches respect you?  Basketball is a TEAM game, be a GREAT teammate first and foremost.

Do you have these credentials?  If so, show them off.  You should send out DVD’s of your high school games, describe the reasons you want to play at the next level, and have your coaches write letters of recommendation.  In order to get a high-paying and rewarding job, you need to work hard and do things right.  As you can see, going on to play college basketball is a very similar process.  Do you have what it takes?


Be Proactive: You Are Your Own Best Advocate

It’s that time of year, where some seniors in high school are scrambling to finish applications to college and are formulating dreams of what their next four years might entail.  As a student-athlete with dreams of competing at the college level, there are many more considerations that add to the mix.  How can you avoid this level of stress and set yourself up with multiple options that will fulfill everything you’re looking for?  If you’re a senior right now, you are up against the clock.  If you are in any other grade, there are things you can be doing right now to avoid the time crunch.

BE PROACTIVE.  First and foremost, you are your own best advocate.  A piece of advice I give to all student-athletes is to create a resume listing all of your credentials.  What sort of basketball player are you?  What sort of student are you?  What present endeavors interest you beyond your four years of college?

After you create this personal resume, do some research!  With thousands of colleges out there, you need to create a thorough list.  You must seek out these institutions and display why their school fits your aspirations and how you would augment their basketball program and community.

The best ways to show off these attributes will be addressed in next week’s addition.  If you have any thoughts, don’t be shy, be proactive and ask away!  Feel free to send over a resume and I will be happy to look it over.

Recruiting Fundamentals – Questions Every Player Should Ask Themselves

The world of recruiting is a wild, confusing place filled with thousands of colleges requiring combinations of varying characteristics. A fraction of the many qualities are ability, position, specialty, basketball IQ, fit to a program, academic excellence, motor, coachability, and the murky waters marked up to “intangibles”. The recruited athlete has a group of questions they need to answer, before embarking on the journey to find the best home at the college level.

At what level do I want to play? At what level can I play?
(These two questions need to be answered truthfully, with the latter question of more importance.)

What kind of school will fulfill both my athletic ability, academic interests, and future desires?
(Sadly, the world of playing basketball will eventually end one day, and in the words of financial consultants, you must plan for your future.)

How do I showcase my strengths in the proper settings and ways that will facilitate the path to these schools?