Articles & Resources
by Art Horne
Working with Basketball at Northeastern University since 2003 I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some very talented “mid-major” players who have gone on to earn money in the NBA, NBA-D league and overseas. But being a mid-major player automatically stacks the deck against you when it comes to visibility and recognition, and when “interview” time comes, every little advantage counts when it comes to making an NBA roster.
I asked three presenters from this year’s Basketball Symposium and former NBA strength coaches what a mid-major player needs to do to crack a roster spot.
Here are their responses:
Charlie Weingroff, formally of the Philadelphia 76ers
1. Don't be a dick.
--In the NBA, the only thing that matters is if you can fill up the stat sheet. If you can put the ball in the goal, dish out or board double digits, or lock somebody up, you can act however you want. The better you are, the more leeway you have in how you conduct yourself. Hopefully this isn't too much of a surprise. But the lower down the totem pole you live, the less tolerance for foolishness there is. Every team needs to have 15 guys. It is not an insult to be number 15, but the truth of the matter is that there are more guys that be number 15 than can be 1 or 2. Don't dress crazy. Don't talk ghetto. Don't ask the equipment guy for the 4th t-shirt. Be early and don't give staff any trouble. Just show up and play hard. Don't be noticed for anything except the court, and be a good person (even if you're not in real life).
2. Know the plays
--Summer League has plays just like the regular season. And a lot of the plays are designed for the young guys that are guaranteed, not the guys trying to get a look. Summer League is more for them than anybody else. So if you screw up the plays or break the plays trying to get yours, that will piss coaches off. Even if you knock down shots, if you don't let the play run through, or screw up the motion, that is a very easy way to stand out in a negative way.
3. Respect the staff's time
--Don't think for one second that the front office and coaches don't ask the trainers, strength coaches, and equipment guys, even the ballboys about players. When there are tie breakers to be had, how players treat co-workers is on the report card. If you are trying to do whirlpools after practice and get in extra workouts, you are probably pissing off the staff that works 100 hour weeks all year and wants to get home to their families and time off. It may suck that you want to do everything you can to make the best of your opportunity, but remember that Summer League isn't as much about the long shots as it is about showcasing and exposing the guys already in the mix. If rehab and training sessions are not part of the schedule, ask in a very non-entitled way the trainer or strength coach if we do anything like that in summer league. If the Strength Coach says, oh yeah, sure, then you're fine. If the Strength Coach says, you know, we don't really do much of that in the summer, or we just do that with the guys on the team for now, then don't get pissy and just show up and play hard the next day. Maybe the hotel has a whirlpool or gym you can get your work in. It might suck or not make sense, but welcome to NBA Summer League. It ain't about you.
4. Eat right
--2-a-days and the heat of Vegas or Orlando along with playing with the best competition of your life may be some of the biggest physical challenges your body has endured. McDonald's is not the premiere choice to refuel your body. Spend some money, maybe more than you would prefer to eat better. Put down as much water as possible, and if you have a history of cramping, take more Gatorade or if there are any Gatorlytes added to the water or drinks. Salt your food unless you have a condition that says this isn't a good idea. There will typically be "nutrition" bars available, and they are probably better calories than most college athletes are used to getting when left to their own devices.
--Defending takes heart and commitment. This is what can separate you from other guys with even better talent and skills. There is always room for guys that can defend. As a strength coach and athletic trainer, it is hard for me to comment or really know how to teach defense. I guess you just know it when you see it. It is being in great condition when you show up to Summer League and being very active with your hands and staying with your man's hips. Miyagi said, "Always look eye," but I think in basketball you always look hips. The hips don't make fakes. Eyes, head, feet can all make fakes, but not the hips and midsection. Defense always gets noticed.
Keith D’Amelio, Stanford University, Formerly of the Toronto Raptors
1)Do the little things on the court
There are only so many shots to go around over the course of a game and more often than not someone who makes a lot more money than you is paid to take them. Where you can have an impact and be an asset to your team by doing the little things - Making the extra pass, putting a body on someone, fighting for loose balls, setting good screens. Most players don’t like to hear this as they think they are Kobe or LeBron and can all score 30 points any night. The reality is you are not, but that doesn’t mean you cannot help an NBA team win.
2) Do the little things off the court too
How you act, how you treat people within each organization can have a dramatic effect on your potential longevity in the NBA. NBA GM’s can be somewhat handcuffed by some players and their attitudes due to their overwhelming talent. They however do not have to put up with a bench player causing problems. If a superstar makes 20 million a year and is an ass, it is very tough for most GM’s to do something about it. If the 13th man is a jackass and causes problems, it doesn’t take much for an NBA team to pay a few $100,000 to quickly get rid of a problem. I have personally had to deal with players we brought in for the draft who were complete assholes, when the GM asked me my opinion I was nothing but honest and probably effected his potential draft status – he went undrafted. When you walk into a room, say good morning, thank the staff for things they do for you. They may be getting paid to perform a job but they are often way overworked and way underappreciated – don’t be one of the people who under appreciates them.
3) Equipment Man Rules ALL
This is someone who you have to befriend. They often run a lot more than simple laundry, and are almost always close with the GM. Treat them poorly or cause them problems and it will really bite you in the ass. Don’t ask for a new pair of socks every day, make sure your gear is always pinned or put in the bag, asking for 10 t-shirts for your friends is not going to go over well either. These guys will be more than happy to help you any way they can as long as you’re not an ass and help to make their jobs easier.
4) Take care of your body – you’re not going to play forever.
Most young players and rookies think they will play forever and have this incredible athletic talent until they are 60. Sorry to tell you but you won’t. What you do today can affect how you play in 10 years. Don’t think for a second that eating nothing but fast food is good for you or is helping you perform at your best. It probably wouldn’t make sense if I told you that Dale Ernhart Jr puts 87octane is his race car, so why would you think it’s ok for you to put a 99 cent value meal into your body – which is essentially your race car.
5) You’re not a 10yr Vet – don’t try and act like one
Hopefully you’re lucky to make it onto a roster, but please do not get caught up in trying to keep up with the vets – they have earned certain rights and have a lot more money in the bank than you do. I have seen it time after time with rookies who try and keep up with the team vets; trying to go shopping with them, buy clothes, buy cars, jewelry, etc. While yes you now make a tremendous amount of money – it is often nothing compared to what some of these vets make and have made for several years. Also vets are often quite able to go out at night and then be ready for practice the next day. Rookies often can’t handle it and will quickly put themselves in bad situations, both financially and on the court trying to keep late hours. Always keep in the back of your head too, that these Vets who are taking you all night and going shopping know one thing – they can’t play forever and some of you rookies are their potential replacements. So what appears to be a Vet taking care of some rookies may have underlying tones. Have fun and enjoy but remember you have a job to do.
Mike Curtis, University of Virginia, formally of the Memphis Grizzilies
1) Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
The most important quality any athlete or human being for that matter can posses is “humility”. Most undrafted athletes approach making an NBA roster the wrong way. They assume that scoring points is the single most important statistic that will get them an opportunity to sign a contract. There are three sayings that should be posted at the entrance of the locker room door during pre-draft workouts and summer league camps.
“Know who you are!”
“Know what got you here!”
“Do what you do!”
General managers and coaches typically select players for workouts and summer league based on scouting efforts throughout the year. If you were known in college for being a rebounder you should probably focus on rebounding. If you were known as a defender you should probably stop your opponent for scoring. I can’t tell you how many meetings I sat in on where a GM said to a scout after a workout or summer league game, “I thought you said this guy was this or that. I haven’t seen him stay in front of a guy yet or grab more than 2 rebounds in a game. “.
Every team has a niche to fill and most times the scoring need is filled by the guy they drafted in the first round. So stop listening to friends, parents, and in some cases uniformed agents and stick to your strengths. Your weaknesses can be addressed in practice or the off-season once you sign a contract. Your chances of making a team will increase if you do what the front office expects you to do first and foremost. An ability to score on top of that is a bonus.
2) Know What Your Goals Are and How to Actually Achieve Them
Making an NBA roster as an undrafted free agent is an extremely difficult task. In point number one I spoke about knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Then playing to those strengths. More importantly, it’s imperative that you put yourself in situations where you realistically have a chance to make a team and show your talents.
Some players simply want to increase their marketability and earning potential for opportunities overseas and training camp invites are beneficial. However, if your true and realistic goal is to make an NBA roster make sure that your agent is on the same page. What sense does it make to go into a training camp if you’re a wing position and the team already has 4 wings under contract for the next 2 to 3 years?
In rare cases the chance to showcase your talents in pre-season games or summer league may spark interest from another team. In most training camp situations you are just a practice dummy, there to take repetitions while the guaranteed guys take their time getting into shape.
Look for situations where you can enter the gym each day feeling as if you have real opportunity to achieve your dream. It will do wonders for your level of effort and mental approach.
3) Make Sure You are Physically Prepared the Grind
The pre-draft workout circuit is grueling. It usually consists of arriving in a city the night before. Working out the next morning. Heading to the airport after the workout and then boarding a plane for the next city and doing it all over again in the next place. If you aren’t a guy projected to go in the first round pencil yourself in for 10-14 consecutive days of this.
Summer league for most teams is 10-14 days in the worst possible destination for physically and/or mentally unprepared athletes. The temperature is usually well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the off court distractions are spectacular and plentiful.
In both of these situations you are not afforded an “off” day. That “off day’ could cost you money. So make sure you find a way to fuel your body for performance. That means hydration (water, Gatorade, etc) and complex carbohydrate dense meals. McDoanald’s, Wendy’s, and/or Taco Bell are hard places to find food for optimal performance. Additionally, get to bed and allow your body to recuperate.
Nutrition and rest are tried and true methods for recovery and given the amount of mental and physical stress associated with trying to make a team you will need as much of both as you can get.
4) Show Some Character!
Everyday is an interview for you. Your interactions with coaches, trainers, managers, and even friends will be investigated or analyzed on some level. Calls will be made to the support staffs of your college. A general manager will ask his athletic trainer, strength coach, and equipment manager about their interactions with you. From the time you put on a uniform in high school until signing day will be up for review if a team is interested in your services.
Men of character who can fill a need within a team have much higher chances of making a roster. Owners and front office personnel are getting tired of embarrassing off-court incidents. Society and front offices will give “first-rounders” a pass on character issues because they can fill up stat sheets. Everyone else is on a short leash.
5) Play Hard! and Smart!!!
Front office personnel love guys who play hard. But they really hate guys who don’t play smart. Learn the offensive plays, learn the defensive rotations, learn/understand/except your role, and play with a purpose. Dive for loose balls. Run the floor even if you don’t get the ball. Get back on defense. Guard your man. Play team defense. Finish plays you’re supposed to finish offensively.
How and why did you get into the field of strength and conditioning?
Early in my collegiate academic career I thought that I wanted to work in the physical therapy field and I studied sports medicine at the University of Virginia. As an athlete I had always enjoyed the performance enhancement aspect of things as I saw that it gave me an opportunity to level the playing field with better athletes. In graduate school I came across a mentor in Tony Decker who taught me how to integrate both disciplines and I was sold on trying to keep athletes out of the training and on the field of play while also enhancing their ability to perform.
Who in the field has influenced or helped you the most? Influence your training philosophy? What have you learned from them that you can you share?
Early in my career it was coach Tony Decker who fostered my development and helped me form a training philosophy. Since then my philosophy has grown from my encounters and experiences with Vern Gambetta, Al Vermiel, Erik Helland, Mark Verstegen, and Darryl Eto. I guess the biggest thing I took from all of them was to never end your quest to be better at your craft.
Name 3-5 books every basketball strength and conditioning coach should have in their library and why?
1) Supertraining because of its scientific foundation in regards to sporting strength.
2) The Science and Practice Strength Training because it covers the basics.
3) Muscles Testing and Function with Posture and Pain by Kendall because Alex McKecknie of the Los Angeles Lakers once advised me to continuing educating myself in regards to anatomy and this book is the gold standard.
What is the last book you read and why?
The last book I read was Assessment and Treatment of Muscle Imbalance "A Janda Approach". I read it because I was fascinated by a group of Canadian Therapist who came in to work with some of our student-athletes here at Virginia and I wanted to read more about their training approach.
Generally speaking, what is your philosophy for training a basketball player? How does it differ from other sport athletes?
I primarily and initially focus on an athletes' ability to be an efficient and effective mover. I believe mobility, stability, and technical proficiency in fundamental movements should take place before any heavy loading is imposed. In regards to specificity I think that there must be some level of simulation that needs to take place in order truly get athletes to execute movements they need in the competitive environment.
What has been the biggest mistake you made as a coach when training a player?
In my early years as a strength coach I focused too much on numbers in the weight room and not on the numbers that really counted which were/are numbers on the court or field of play. I used to think that if they were strong I was doing my job. Now I believe that if they are healthy, have a level athleticism that relates to enhanced sport skill, and then strong I am doing my job.
How has your training philosophy changed in the last 3-5 years?
I have evolved from focusing solely on general strength and power development (clean, squat, bench) to devoting much more training time to functional and specific strength and power development through what some traditionalist would consider unconventional means.
For interns, volunteer coaches, graduate assistants, etc. aspiring to be basketball strength coaches, what advice would you give?
Find a mentor or group of mentors who consistently challenge you to be great and then grow.
What are the three (3) biggest mistakes a basketball player makes when it comes to strength and conditioning?
1) Utilizing lifts that do not make since for their lever system
2) Training the wrong energy systems for basketball through LSD work.
3) Not respecting/understanding the value a sound training program can have on performance and injury reduction.
What are the top three (3) training tips you would give to a basketball athlete beginning a strength and conditioning program?
1) Focus on controlling you own bodyweight before adding an external load
2) Make sure you train 3 dimensionally
3) Try to incorporate soft tissue work into your program on regular basis
What is your training philosophy regarding in-season training? Off-season training? Pre-season training?
In-season: Continue to build strength through the early non-conference and then maintain strength in the later portion to insure maintenance of force production.
Off-Season: Restore Mobility and Stability, Increase strength to enhance force production
Pre-Season: Enhance function specific to neuromuscular demands of the sport
What areas do you address for those players that don't play significant minutes during the in-season?
The athletes who aren't in the rotation typically train and condition before our home games. In addition to that we have instituted a 15min rule. Athletes who do not play a minimum of 15 minutes in a competition must complete and conditioning session before the next practice.
What is your philosophy on basketball conditioning? Some sport coaches believe in long distance training to improve basketball specific endurance? What is your opinion?
I don't believe in LSD for basketball athletes. I think it is counterproductive to developing the type of physical qualities desirable in basketball. I think that interval based protocols are best.
What are some of the biggest myths that still surround strength training and the basketball athlete?
Weight training affects your shooting skill.
Should female basketball players train differently than male players?
I think there are certain gender considerations that must be taken into account structurally and hormonally but at the end of the day training should be about being efficient in movement, getting strong, and developing the ability to producing force.
What assessments or evaluations do you use with your players during pre-season? Summer months?
We assess our athlete throughout the year. Our assessments are broken into 2 categories. The first is an orthopedic/movement screen, which involves an assessment of posture, functional movement and tissue length. The second is a performance evaluation that assesses vertical power (jumping), speed, and agility.
Are the training requirements for a post player different than a perimeter player? How so?
Yes, Post players are required to cover less total distance within a game but typically have to jump more in comparison to guards and wings. Additionally you must account for the differences in limb length in strength training through adjustments in rep schemes as athletes with longer lever are doing more work when compared to guards when utilizing identical rep schemes. This in addition to the fact that larger athletes take longer to recover must all be taken into account when developing programs for different positions.
There has been a lot of debate about the squat and single leg training. In your opinion, should basketball players squat? Year round? Only summer? Never?
I feel that is a decision that should be made on an athlete-by-athlete basis. Some athletes structurally are not made to squat in my opinion. A good strength coach will find another way to load the lower extremity and develop strength without exposing an athlete to potentially dangerous exercises. For those athletes that have been identified as low risk for squatting related injuries I have trained that movement year round.
Name some strength training gimmicks that basketball players and coaches should avoid?
What is the best way to develop lateral speed in basketball? Agility? First step quickness?
I don't know that there is a best way. What has been successful for me is teaching the proper mechanics of movement in a general sense in conjunction with strength training programs that focus on developing the physical qualities necessary to yield and overcome. As the competitive season approaches the general nature of the training becomes more specific in regards to specificity of joint angles and simulation of movements. I typically have gone through 4 phases in training movement to athletes. 1) Deceleration/ Yeilding 2) Starting Speed/strength 3) Agility (acceleration, deceleration, reacceleration) and 4) mimic function,
Players love to compete whether it's on the court or in the weight room. How do you create a competitive environment in the weight room?
Friday is our high volume days in the weight room during most off-season phases so we challenge our guys to compete and see who can lift the heaviest loads based on what RM range is prescribed for that day (ie. 10RM, 6RM). This is the only day we truly focus on competition in the weight room as our other days have a training objective that may be compromised by elevated volume and/or intensity due to competition. On the other hand all of our movement training in the special preparatory block is structured to challenge the athlete to do it faster or more times than his opponent.
What methods do you use to develop explosive power? What are your thoughts for using the Olympic lifts in your training?
Once again I think exercise selection is individual to the athlete based on body structure, training history, and their attention to details. My preference is to utilize Olympic lifting derivatives for power development. However, if an athlete lacks the necessary discipline and attentiveness to execute the lifts properly often times I choose different training modalities.
How do you address nutrition with your players?
We are lucky enough to have a sports nutritionist here at the University of Virginia and our strategy is to educate our athletes on healthy food choices for performance. As we make the transition here with a new sports nutritionist I have mandated that our student-athletes meet with the nutritionist once a month to discuss habits and continue education for nutrition after athletics.
What injury prevention strategies do you implement with your athletes?
Sound strength training and progressive movement training and an corrective exercise strategy that is derived from NASM, Grey Cook, and Gary Gray screening and assessment models.
What training advice would you give to a high school basketball player seeking to improve their strength and power?
Start with the basics. Master your own bodyweight first. Establish mobility, stability, and efficiency in fundamental movement patterns. You will become stronger and more powerful as you build relative strength and efficiency in movement. Once you have established that you can progress to more advanced training protocols.