NOTE: This is the latest in a series of blogs reporting on the Nike Skills Academies by internationally renowned basketball strength & conditioning coach Alan Stein of www.StrongerTeam.com. You can check out some great training videos that Alan has done for HighSchoolHoop.com HERE and HERE.
Right after the 4th of July, I flew into Akron, Ohio, and checked into a hotel right near The University of Akron where the LeBron James Nike Skills Academy was being held. Jay Bilas (ESPN), Herman Harried (Lake Clifton), Mike Jones (DeMatha High), and Kyle Manary (works with legendary John Lucas) were all on my flight so it was nice to catch up with those guys. We immediately had a staff meeting for the camp, led by Academy Director Sherman Dillard of Nike Basketball. In addition to continuing to stress the mission of the Academy (make this a once-in-a-lifetime overall experience for the nation’s best basketball players), introducing the staff (which is the best youth basketball camp staff in the world, hands down), the overall purpose of the academy was stressed several times – teach work ethic, the vital skills per position to compete in college and the NBA, and how to appreciate unselfishness and team play (learn to play effectively with 4 other guys). For the record, Nike and it’s mission and purpose at this Academy, represents what is right with youth/grassroots basketball – teaching kids how to work hard (many of them don’t know how), the fundamentals of the game (many of them aren’t being taught at their high schools), and how to play the game the way it supposed to be played (team concepts, no “And 1 Mixtape” crap!). I am very thankful to be a part of Nike Grassroots basketball.
Everyone agreed that keeping the intensity and energy high for every workout, for both the HS and college players, was a high priority. That is partially where I come in. As I have alluded to in my previous blog entries, my role at all of the nation’s top HS events (Jordan All American Classic, McDonalds All American game, Nike Skills Academies, etc.) is simple; get the players talking, get them moving, and get them ready to play. I force the kids to communicate while getting them warmed up through a fast paced 10-minute series of basketball specific movements (cuts, pivots, jumps, sprints, and slides) along with some dynamic flexibility exercises (lunges, straight leg march, etc.). I pack a mean punch in the 10 minutes and am usually dripping in sweat myself.
Coach Kevin Eastman (assistant with the World Champion Boston Celtics) shared a handful of great stories from this past season. Many of his stories had the same moral – the best players on his team (KG, Pierce, Ray Allen) demanded to be coached every day, every practice. They want their coaches to be critical of their game because they know that is the only way they will continue to improve. Once the meeting adjourned we got to pick up our apparel bags, where we were outfitted with the newest, freshest LeBron James gear. Word around the campfire was Lebron, Chris Paul and OJ Mayo will be here tomorrow …
Well LeBron was here today (I will get to that in a bit) and we were told CP3 and OJ will be here tomorrow. Today was a great first day, really setting the tone for an outstanding and productive academy. The college workout was fantastic, although several high profile guys were missing because of problems with their flights. Kyle Singler (Duke), Sam Young (Pitt), and Jack McClinton (Miami) all played well. The HS workout was equally impressive, great energy and great enthusiasm. With around 80 HS kids, it is definitely harder to keep things on point, but the staff did an incredible job and put them through a tremendous workout. The first half of the session was a team practice and the second half was individual skill work by position. In order to keep the numbers manageable, we used two gyms (the main arena at U of Akron as well as their rec center). This ensured smaller groups at each basket so kids got up plenty of reps.
After the HS workout was the Academy Banquet, hosted by none other than King James himself. He took individual pictures with every camper and every staff member. His interaction with everyone was impressive; he is very humble and down to earth and certainly hasn’t forgotten that just six years ago he was sitting where these kids sit now. To no surprise, Nike went above and beyond to make the banquet first class, holding it in a grand ballroom at the Radisson and included a huge ice sculpture of a backboard and rim filled with tons of jumbo shrimp and crab legs. In addition to playing highlights from the Skills Academies and last year’s LeBron Academy, the main highlight was a question and answer session with LeBron (moderated by ESPN’s Jay Bilas). LeBron was very candid and honestly answered questions about every topic imaginable, including questions on the media, his personal life, money, motivation, Olympics, and his HS friends. He mentioned several times how much he loves and respects the game and that his goal is to be the best player on the court at all times, whether during practice, a drill, or the NBA Finals. At the very end, to commemorate his five years with Nike, he was presented with a one of kind pair of Air Force One’s. They were sick!
Sunday, July 6th
I just got back to my room after a very long day (about 12 hours in the gym). I just got finished watching the college counselors scrimmage for about an hour. Recent NBA lottery pick OJ Mayo played with the college guys and at least a dozen NBA scouts were in attendance, so the intensity was off the charts. Guys competed and played hard. Stephen Curry (Davidson) and Hasheem Thabeet (Connecticut) joined in today. It was really interesting to see the notes the NBA scouts take, only about half of which have to do with player’s basketball skills. Many of the notes have to do with effort and hustle, body language, interaction with teammates, and overall attitude.
Today was also a very productive day for the HS campers. College coaches such as Bill Self and Coach K were two of many big-time college coaches in attendance getting a close look at the crop of 80 HS superstars. And they got to see a little of everything – position-specific drill work, competitive game situation scrimmages, and regular games.
LeBron joined the earlier college camper workout and jumped in all of the drills. He was super competitive and really helped keep the workout very intense. I helped work a station with Mike Procopio (ATTACK Athletics) and basically played “dummy” defense while the guys worked on a progressive series of moves out of the triple threat. Dummy defense or not, it is amazing how strong, quick and powerful these college players are. And yet, LeBron is on an entirely different level. He is so big, so explosive, it is unbelievable. And he is a 2 guard!
Monday July 7th
Today was a lot of fun. For the most part, it was very similar to the two previous days. The HS kids started the day off with team practice and position specific skill work. The college kids went through another brutal 2.5 hour workout. Then the HS came back from special situations and games. What made this day special was the college players playing at night, as LeBron and Chris Paul came to play. The King and CP3 teamed up with three of LeBron’s former HS teammates. There were three college teams and then LeBron’s team. The winners stayed on court #1, losers moved to court #2 (so all four teams were always playing). Word definitely spread quick that the King and CP3 were in the building because the bleachers were full and folks were peeking through giant windows to catch a glimpse. Standing room only and well over a dozen NBA scouts were there. Camera flashes went off every few seconds and the intensity was palpable. Surprising enough, LeBron’s team lost the first two games and actually lost a few more times as the night went on. Despite that, I will go ahead and silence the critics, as there was NO question that LeBron and CP3 were by far the two best players on the court. The three guys that played with them were very good players, but definitely not on the same level as the college counselors. And LeBron and Chris were very unselfish, not taking every shot themselves but sharing the rockwith those three guys. I am not making excuses, the college kids came to play. They played with March Madness intensity and did not back down. They took advantage of having a shot to play against the King. They were there to make a name for themselves and many of them did. Two guys in particular, Patrick Beverly (Arkansas) and Jonny Flynn (Syracuse), were phenomenal and played their asses off. They definitely raised several eyebrows. As the games got more intense, the fouls got harder and the trash talking got louder. LeBron had several powerful dunks and old-fashioned three-point plays and Chris Paul put on a ball handling and passing clinic. His ability to change speed and change direction was unreal.
As top notch as the play was, the real highlight was afterwards when LeBron and CP3 spoke to the college guys and a very small group of coaches afterwards. They commended the guys on their effort and applauded them for how hard they worked all week. They spoke from the heart and were very genuine. Their main theme was “you need to try to get better every single day, no exceptions.”
Tuesday July 8th
Today was the last day of camp and it started off with Coach Kevin Eastman speaking some truth to the HS players. Coach Eastman is a tremendous coach and a very powerful speaker. With an appropriate barrage of F-bombs, he really spit some honesty to the HS kids and told them some things they didn’t really want to hear, but desperately needed to. He told them they aren’t as good as they think they are, they are not even close to being ready for the NBA, and they need to rid themselves of the “hangers on” who leech their way into their lives. He explained why he believes many of the kids played selfishly the night before. He told them that to this point all people do is kiss their ass and they don’t take getting better serious. His reality check was well received as the kids played much better tonight. I want to reiterate what Coach Eastman did was a very positive thing and he did it because he truly cares about those kids and wants them to develop. After he spoke, Mike Pricopio from ATTACK Athletics gave an equally powerful talk on the reality of the NBA. He showed the kids specific examples of why they can’t take anything for granted. He showed a list of players in the last 10 years who were ranked in the top 100 in HS (many of which were All Americans) that either didn’t get drafted or have already fallen out of the NBA to play overseas. He showed a similar list of guys who were drafted in the 1st round of the NBA draft who met the same fate, are either out of basketball entirely or playing overseas. He then showed a list of guys were ranked much lower in HS (150 through 300) and how successful they have become (many of them are starters in the NBA and all of them are making some serious coin). He showed guys drafted in the 2nd round who are now big time players, like Gilbert Arenas and Michael Redd. His point was clear – just because you are one of the top HS players today doesn’t guarantee you anything. If you don’t continue to work and improve or you get in trouble off the court, you will fall through the cracks and see your dreams fade away. Just to clarify, there is nothing wrong with playing overseas, that is still big time basketball and you can still make a great living… but I think we can all agree, if you are a HS All-American people expect to see you in the NBA.
Later in the evening, prior to the championship games, LeBron signed autographs for everyone in camp. He is truly a class act and deserves all of the success he has attained. It was in honor and a pleasure to work his Academy and his license plate on his all-white Maybach Benz is right on the money – “KNG OF OH.”
If you would like to contact me about this blog, my MVP Vertical Jump Training DVD, my training and/or camps and clinics, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will respond as quickly as possible!
Train hard. Train smart.
Alan Stein, CCS, CSCS
Vertical Jump Expert
All photos by Kelly Kline for Nike