After taking a two year break because of a scheduling conflict, I was honored back on the staff of the prestigious NBA Players Associations Top 100 basketball camp.  I worked the camp, as a strength & conditioning (and player development) coach for the two years prior to my hiatus, when the camp was held at VCU in Richmond.  The camp has since moved to John Paul Jones arena at the University of Virginia.  This camp has always been a very special experience for me. 

This time, I played a slightly different role than I had in the previous camps, as I was asked to be one of the 10 high school coaches on staff who actually coached a team and ran the skill stations.  I was given an opportunity to coach along side of some of the nation’s best coaches – Mike Jones (DeMatha), Steve Turner (Gonzaga), Kevin Keatts (Hardgrave) and Mike Peck (Findlay Prep), to name a few.  Even though I have always considered myself a coach (not a trainer), being a basketball coach (at this elite level) was a new experience for me.  I had an absolute blast and thoroughly cherished the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and take on a new role.  This was also the first camp where every high school coach was assigned a current NBA player to serve as an assistant coach. 

I was fortunate to have 15 year NBA veteran Lindsey Hunter as my assistant. In reality, he was a co-head coach, as we totally worked in tandem.  He was the X’s and O’s guy and I was the motivational guy!  We made a formidable team, despite our 2-5 record!  Some of the other current NBA players included Bobby Jackson (Kings), Michael Ruffin (Bucks), Jarvis Hayes (Nets), Carl Landry (Rockets), Donyell Marshall (Sixers), and Ime Udoka (Spurs). 

Dave Telep, the remarkable grassroots scout responsible for inviting the players, did a tremendous job gathering the nation’s top talent.  He brought in 47 of the top 50 players and 91 of the top 100 players in the country.  Brandon Knight, Jared Sullinger, Michael Gilchrist, and Harrison Barnes were some of the top players who attended.  Ray McCallum (Detroit Country Day) and Tristan Thompson (Findlay Prep) were on my team.  Kendall Marshall was the camp MVP and Michael Gilchrist was the Best Prospect. 

From the opening staff meeting, the goal of the camp was made crystal clear – make this the best basketball camp in the world.  The goal of this camp was to teach these high level high school players everything that goes into being an NBA player; not just the basketball stuff.  While the basketball stuff was certainly covered during morning workouts, daily skill sessions and team practices, as well as two daily games, it was the educational component that made this such a special camp.  Every morning involved classroom sessions that addressed important issues players deal with throughout their playing career.  After all, “the goal is not to get in the NBA; the goal is stay in the NBA!”  Educational components covered topics like sex, drugs, alcohol, gangs, etiquette, and career development.  Each of these sessions were taught by a qualified guest speaker and then were followed with private, confidential classroom sessions that included the team members, the team coach (me), and a psychologist.  This was the time when the players where expected to open up and share their thoughts and feelings and help each other deal with the topics.  I have always found these sessions extremely valuable and something that truly differentiates the NBPA camp from all other basketball camps. 

This was the 17th year of the NBPA Top 100 camp, which means just over 1,600 elite level players have already come through the program.  Yet only 120 camp alumni have made it to the NBA, which is right around 8%.  This is a staggering statistic given these are the top 100 high school players in the nation each year.  That means, statistically speaking, only 8 kids in each camp will make the NBA.  Those are tough odds.  So what happens to the other 92%?  Why don’t they make it? 

There are a variety of reasons why guys don’t make it – not talented enough, injuries, complacency, legal issues, drugs, influx of foreign players, etc.  It is so important for these kids to understand their high school ranking doesn’t mean anything in the long term.  The NBA is not necessarily made up of the top 450 players in the world.  The NBA is all about having a specialty skill (spot up shooter, on the ball defender, shot blocker, offensive rebounder, etc.), knowing and accepting a role, fitting into a system, and possessing the intangibles to stay out of trouble.  Lindsey Hunter openly admitted he wasn’t even a top 300 player in high school… yet he is entering is 16th year in the NBA. 

And for those that have made it, the alarming statistics continued.  The average career in the NBA is 4.4 years and the average retirement age is 27.  One of the main themes of this camp was the importance of having a back-up career plan.  Regardless of how long your playing career is or how much money you have made, you will still be on this planet for another 50-60 years after you're done playing.  This is why 95% of all retired NBA players get a job after their playing career is over.  Some choose to get a job; others have to get a job. 

Some other stats that really opened my eyes were the percentage of players who make it to the NBA.  I mentioned above that only 8% of the top 100 players make it.  What about all of the other aspiring players?  There are roughly 546,000 high school boys basketball players in the United States.  Only 3% of them go on to play in college!  Then only 1.2% of that 3% go on to play professionally.  That means only .03% of high school players make it to the league! 

Another eye opener was the cost of 4-year tuition, room and board at some big time basketball schools – Villanova ($196,200), UNC ($118,516), and Michigan State ($130,792).  Sometimes I think players forget how valuable their education is! 

Another theme of the camp was for each player to find a way to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack.  One way to accomplish that was to work out with the “breakfast club.”  Coaches held optional workouts at 7am each morning before breakfast.  This was a great time to separate the real players from the wanna-be's.  The hungry players from the fat-cats.  On the first morning, 53 players showed up (an NBPA camp record).  On the second morning, 42 players came.  On the last day of camp, 31 showed up.  Even though the numbers gradually declined, those were pretty good numbers for optional workouts. 

While each of the educational components were extremely valuable and packed a potent message, my favorite was the anti-drug talk given by former NBA players Dirk Minniefield and Cliff Robinson, both of whom had their careers ruined by drugs and alcohol.  This is my 3rd time seeing them speak and it gets better every time.  Both guys had tremendous highs (pun intended) and lows in their life and in their careers and they shared their experiences by keeping it real and talking the truth.  They certainly didn’t sugar coat anything.  Among all the knowledge they kicked, they had two quotes that really stuck with me: “If you wanna be the boss, you gotta pay the cost” and “just cause you ball, doesn’t mean you’re entitled to it all.”  I sincerely hope each player internalized those messages. 

As far as my team was concerned, here was what I told them at our first practice: 

  • Your goal this week should be to work hard, get better, and have fun.  I promise to do those 3 things as well.
  • Don’t do anything that makes you look like an ass.  You are representing your parents, your school, and your high school coach.  If you look like an ass, you make them look like an ass!
  • Be early (on time is late), be enthusiastic, and out work everyone around you.
  • The more you put into this camp, the more you will get out of this camp.
  • If you want to truly differentiate yourself from the other 99 guys here, then play defense (take a charge!), effectively communicate with your teammates, and share the ball.  Those are 3 things rarely seen in all-star type camps.  

My hat is off to Tim McCormick, Purvis Short, and Dave Telep for a remarkable experience. 

Please check back as much as you can as I plan to update the blog as often as possible.  Make sure you check my recent posts as they parallel many of the themes in this post: NBA interview with Bobby Jackson and a book review of Money Players. 

This is going to be an amazing summer!  My next several blogs will give you an inside look at the Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, and LeBron James Skills Academies along with additional NBA player interviews and pertinent book reviews. 

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Train hard.  Train smart. 

Alan Stein