Q: Before we get to Rio, tell us a little about you and how you got into basketball player development.
A: Okay. I grew up in Thousand Oaks, California and was a walk-on at nearby University of Southern California. I didn’t get many minutes, but I was exposed to NBA-caliber players on a regular basis and I LOVED basketball. I graduated, and in 2007, a friend suggested I check out what IMPACT was doing in Las Vegas to see if a career in what we now call “Player Development” would be of interest. Joe Abunassar, the founder of IMPACT Basketball, and I hit it off right away and I was able to jump right in and help players get ready for that year’s NBA Draft.
Q: What is your role now at IMPACT?
A: I am the Director of Player Development, and I split my time working with our current NBA player clients, preparing NBA hopefuls for the Draft, and working with the international club and national teams that come to IMPACT to train. During the NBA season, I am based in Los Angeles, but travel a lot, and in the summer, we do most of our work in Vegas.
Q: Would you have imagined a career like this back in 2007?
A: Not at all. As Joe reminds us all the time, Player Development is still in its infancy as a profession even today, so back in 2007, I would not have thought this professional experience was possible.
Q: Let’s switch to Rio. What were you doing there?
A: We have two clients, DeMarcus Cousins and Kyle Lowry, who are on the US Men’s Basketball team, and to their credit, they asked me to accompany them to make sure that their off-season training didn’t stop while they were at the Games. On off days, we put in at least two hours of weight lifting and cardio work at an amazing facility provided by the USOC to all the American athletes, and on game days, we did an hour or so of individual work.
Q: Did you stay on the now-famous “USA Boat” in Rio?
A: Sort of. There were actually two boats: one for the teams and one for family and guests like me. I know “the boat” was a big story here but I can assure you it was absolutely necessary for the players’ security and the program’s success. I read that someone described it as a “floating hotel,” and I would agree. I was glad it had a weight room on it because it made getting extra work in very convenient.
"It (Rio) was amazing and insane in a good way.
I am around NBA players all the time, so I know how intense fans can be,but in Rio, the excitement was on a whole new level."
Q: What was it like being in among Team USA in Rio?
A: It was amazing and insane in a good way. I am around NBA players all the time, so I know how intense fans can be, but in Rio, the excitement was on a whole new level. I really got to feel just how much exposure basketball gets around the world. The local fans went crazy just trying to get a glimpse of them!
Q: In what way did the Olympics differ from the NBA the most?
A: Three things come to mind immediately: The ball, the rules, and the spacing, which is caused by the rules. The first is the ball itself. It is so different from the NBA ball that even though our players put months into working with it, it still had a big impact on their shooting and ball handling. The rules would be second. You probably saw all the traveling calls that we don’t see in the NBA. In international games, the ball has to hit the floor before their pivot or push off foot leaves the ground, as opposed to just leaving your hand in the NBA. This is a huge restriction on the quickness and athleticism to some of the US players like Carmelo Anthony. The last was the spacing of the defense. Our players are not used to defenders being allowed to be where they were on the court in international play. They had to adjust and take shots from much different spots than they are used to.
Q: Tell me more about the ball.
A: I know it seems a little silly, but the differences are very distinct and our players are so highly tuned, it makes a huge difference. The synthetic leather FIBA ball is much more slick to begin with and gets more slippery with sweat as compared to the leather the NBA uses which gets more sticky. The seams are far shallower as well, which throws the players off. I bet there is a 10-15% reduction in shooting percentage for the US players.
Q: What was your overall impression of Team USA and how well they did?
A: With all due respect to the other nations, I believe that our players are light years ahead of the other countries with their combined size, athleticism and skill level. It is hard to put a team that is essentially an All Star team together and gel fast enough to compete against fellow pros who are used to playing together and execute well-coached systems. But you could see that by the end of the Games, Team USA’s team game had matured—and it dominated.
Q: How about the style of play, how different do the international teams play?
A: If I generalize a bit, I would say that because European and Australian teams have grown up playing together, they are more comfortable with their spacing and spreading the ball around, like you see a lot from the Spurs or the Warriors in the NBA. Our team just doesn’t have enough time together to have the level of cohesiveness that some of the countries have.
Q: What about the individual players? How are international players different than the Americans?
A: That’s an interesting question. I think they started a cycle that really benefitted American players that we are at the end of right now, and of which we have taken great advantage. A generation or so ago, an international big man stood out versus the US players because they usually could dribble, pass and shoot more like a forward. But as players like Vlade Divac came to the NBA, big men in America had to adjust and resemble this style. The entire basketball world, in the US and elsewhere, saw that it was okay for a center to play with their face to the basket. Now, if you are 7-foot player anywhere in the world, you train as a complete basketball player. I hear people sort of complain now that the big men that could dominate in the paint don’t even want to anymore—or know how.
Q: Since you spend so much time with club and national teams from other countries, as well as elite American players prior to their pro careers, do you see differences in the way they train as a team or individuals?
A: Absolutely. In the US, our elite players are putting as much—and in some cases far more—time into developing their game on their own rather than with their team. They are using that extra time in the weight room, on agility, balance and the skills required to have a complete individual game on their own or with trainers. By comparison, the players on the international teams seem to train together for the most part.
Q: What’s your projection for the growth of basketball player development as a profession and methodology in the US and around the world?
A: It’s huge! The NBA has now fully embraced it, but player development is still overlooked in a lot of homes by players and parents, in club and high school programs, and even some colleges. We see it in our Draft prep sessions, and with our Academy program at the tournaments we enter. The players, programs and countries that commit to individual improvements in conditioning, skills like ball handling and shooting, the habits of proper footwork and balance, plus nutrition and rest, stand out and win as a result. Their players are able to make more plays, adjust to circumstances better and regularly beat teams that have superior athletes, size and probably talent.
Q: So tying that in to why you were in Rio to begin with, it seems that when you take the world’s best players and they commit to training as hard and as religiously as they do as individuals and play together, Gold medals happen?
A: Absolutely. Our USA team members have each put in the time to be as great as they are. As for our two players this time around, everybody at IMPACT is very proud of the work that Kyle and DeMarcus put in to be the very best they can, just like so many IMPACT alumni have in past Olympic Games. But what makes them all so great is that they are never satisfied, they know they can improve, and they #LOVETHEGRIND that it takes to get better.
Q: Closing thoughts now: Could you have ever, in your wildest dreams, have imagined that you, the USC graduate that walked into IMPACT ten years ago to “check it out,” would be training NBA players 300+ days a year and be on a boat in Rio with the 2016 Olympic Gold Medalists?
A: Of course not. A career where I get to help so many amazing, hardworking players at every level reach for their dreams is a real blessing. Basketball player development is now a real career and business for many people like me who love basketball and helping others.
Q: Any words of advice for others out there like you were back then?
A: YES, and a little bit of a pet peeve based on what I see in basketball.
Just being a former basketball player is not enough to help players get the most of their potential. You need to learn the science of nutrition, the importance of sequencing workouts and rest, how basketball shape is different than, say, football or body building. Plus, many of us got away with things based on athleticism, and didn’t ever really know or have the best fundamentals in areas like dribbling, shooting, passing, defensive and offensive footwork.
If you are a coaching basketball players, you need the type of education that the IMPACT Certification Course can provide, and then you need to commit to making Player Development as important as your offense and defense schemes. The wins will come when the players limit their weaknesses and get the most of their combined potential.