I turned 30 years old last year.
Ancient, I know.
But when I was a junior I played at a pretty high level of ball. I played CBL against a young Shane McDonald (New Zealand Breakers). I lined up against Troy Chaplain (Richmond Tigers) playing for Country Victoria, tried (and failed) to defend Brad Robbins in Melbourne (ex-Perth Wildcats) and went into battle against high schoolers from the west coast of the US and Canada with Alipate Carlisle (Port Adelaide Power).
I may not have been the best out there, but I went through the process and learned what it’s like to be just one number in a hoard of people trying to make the same twelve-man roster as I was. Looking back (hindsight is always good) I found some pointers for anyone trying to make it to the best this game has to offer. Some might seem obvious but they are all paramount to your success.
I know this sounds unbelievably simple but it is crazy that players who want to make it to the highest levels of basketball don’t get fit. They just coast on their talents and that’s just a waste. Being at the highest fitness levels makes the world of difference, it gives you more jump on your jumpshot, it gives you a greater stride on your defensive stance and makes you tower over other rebounders. If you want to be the best on the court, you need to be out there for as long as physically possible and you just can’t do that if you’re sucking air.
To get there I cannot stress enough how much a jump program is beneficial. A jump program is an exercise program that purely targets your vertical leap and they are a godsend. There are heaps online but get one that has reviews and credentials and doesn’t skimp out on anything. And don’t be a cheapskate, pay money for a good one and stick with it. Every time I coach a team, I give them a copy of the program I’ve had for ages. It works if you stick to it.
Learn how to shoot
Another obvious point but it’s obviously important. Because the aim of the game is, you know, to put the ball in the basket. It’s not called basketball for nothing. Being a great shooter comes down to one thing: practice. Shoot all the time. In your spare time, go to a public court and shoot 100, 200 shots until it feels second nature. Really concentrate on your release and follow through and don’t get complacent. Go early to training and have a quick shoot around and really focus on feeling the ball leave your hand and into the net. One thing I’ve noticed from coaching and playing is that in a game most people just shoot the ball and hope it goes in but to get the best results you need to concentrate on every shot to make sure it goes in.
You get the ball on the wing with seven seconds on the shot clock after a failed play. Everyone else is covered, so what do you do? In this situation, you need a go to move to get a bucket. It doesn’t have to be pretty or highlight reel worthy but having something to fall back on when the clock is running down is a huge plus. It can be something as simple as a cross over dribble, a step back jump shot or a spin in the post but having a “get out of jail” move in your arsenal will definitely help in those tricky situations.
Learn the plays
One of the biggest pet peeves that a coach can have is a player who doesn’t know the team’s plays. Good coaches will spend a long time working out the best and most diverse set of plays for the team to succeed and then drill the plays into their player’s heads until they forget the national anthem. And when a player ends up on the wrong side of the court and the offence stops it’s infuriating. The plays are there for a reason, to get you points. Don’t be that guy, who pisses off not only his coaches but puts yourself in the dog house of your team-mates. It’s not a good look for you and most likely than not, you’ll be getting nice and comfortable with the bench until you learn them.
Look after yourself
Playing basketball at a high level takes its toll on the body. In some tournaments you’ll be playing every day for at least five days in a row. You’ll get banged up and the body will not be happy. One of the main niggles is blisters and boy do they hurt when they pop. Make friends with strapping tape if you feel sore somewhere and don’t be a hero and try to play through soreness or an injury without any precautions. Saying “she’ll be right” will absolutely come back to bite you so the quicker you take measures to protect yourself the better you’ll play.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you want to get to the kind of level of competition where there is a chance you could be paid to play; you can’t slack off. To get there, it starts now. If you have a choice between pizza and something healthy, go healthy. If you have a choice between playing video games or go for a run, you know which one is the best option. If you slack off, then there are thousands of other people who are very willing to take your place. Go hard or go home, as they say.