Let it be known that I have always been a “Nike guy.” Ever since I was little, I was captivated by everything Nike stood for and represented. Nike revolutionized international culture, sports marketing, and most certainly… basketball. Prior to launching his own brand, MJ not only wore the Swoosh, but made it one of the most recognizable brands on the planet. He has since passed the torch to Kobe and LeBron - the two reigning megastars of the greatest game on earth. 

Let me also say that I am overwhelmingly thankful to be a part of the Nike Basketball family and working their events and camps is always an honor and a tremendous experience. Their summer Skills Academies are a highlight of my busy summer. I have been involved with Nike Basketball, in a variety of capacities, for nearly 7 years and commend them for their high level of professionalism and applaud the way they do everything first class. Nike sets the standard.

Prior to recapping the Vince Carter Nike Skills Academy, let me back track a tad and lay the foundation for how this all began.

Six years ago, Nike accurately recognized the need to focus more attention on improving the fundamentals and skills of grassroots basketball players. Every summer camp, despite their claims, was focused on playing games and giving kids exposure to college coaches. Nike wanted to create something that took a step back and put more emphasis on actually teaching the game from the ground up - working on and coaching the fundamentals of passing, ball handling, defending, and shooting. Thus, they created the Nike Skills Academy. What started off as one academy at the Nike headquarters in Beaverton, with a handful of elite coaches, and 20 of the top high school players, has grown into four position specific academies (point guards, off guards, wings, and big men), sponsored by four NBA All Stars (this year Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Vince Carter, and Amare Stoudemire), an elite staff of NBA coaches and player development personnel, and the top 20 high school and top 10 college players at each of the respective positions. As if that is not impressive enough, there is a follow-up camp where the top 80 high school players and an elite group of college players are invited to the prestigious LeBron James Nike US Skills Academy; the mecca of grassroots basketball development and competition. 

Despite only being around for 6 years, the Skills Academy Wall of Fame is unbelievable. Who has passed through the Nike Skills Academies? Well for starters, 8 of the first 9 players selected in this year’s NBA Draft, are Skills Academy alumni (Ricky Rubio being the lone exception). Who else? Jerryd Bayless (Blazers), Kevin Durant (Thunder), Kevin Love (Timberwolves), and Derrick Rose (Bulls) to name a few.  Not a bad roster, huh?

This will be my 3rd year involved; I began when the Academy format expanded to each position. I have had the privilege of working Nike Skills Academies for Kobe Bryant, Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash, Paul Pierce, Vince Carter, and LeBron James. I can fully attest that Nike goes to great lengths to fulfill their mission statement:

Positively impact the lives of elite players by providing superior instruction, personal mentorship, and a once in a lifetime experience.

This year’s Vince Carter Nike Skills Academy was held in Orlando, Florida and included the nation’s top wing players (3’s and 4’s). DeShaun Thomas (Fort Wayne, IN), Tristan Thompson (Brampton, ONT), Jereme Richmond (Waukegan, IL), and Perry Ellis (Wichita, KS) highlighted the group of high schoolers (NOTE: top rated players Michael Gilchrist and LaQuinton Ross were set to come, but cancelled at the last minute). Al-Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest), Devin Ebanks (West Virginia), DeShawn Sims (Michigan), and Delvon Roe (Michigan State) headlined the college players.

As always, Nike assembled an incredible coaching staff led by Kevin Eastman (Boston Celtics) and the legendary Tates Locke (who has been involved in basketball for 54 years; he actually hired Bobby Knight for his first coaching job!). Kenny Atkinson (Knicks), Paul Cormier (Nets), Rod Baker (Rochester Razorbacks), Paul Biancardi (ESPN), Craig Ehlo (former NBA player), Miles Simons (former NBA player), and yours truly rounded out the staff. My job was to ensure the players were warmed up and adequately stretched, serve as a strength & conditioning resource, and mentally prepare them for their workouts. I was also the “energy” guy and made sure every workout began with a high level of enthusiasm.

At the initial staff meeting, Coach Locke, amidst an array of hilarious one liners, kept his rules very succinct: be on time, work hard, and don’t lie. Coach Eastman took it a step further and asked the staff to teach the players three things - how to work out properly, how to play their position, and how to be a professional.

Coach Eastman also added in several other coaching points worth mentioning:

  •     Be early; on time is late.
  •     Coach in sound bytes, not paragraphs.
  •     Sweat with the players.
  •     Have a positive impact on at least one player’s life each day.
  •     Be demanding, not demeaning.
  •     Respect their coach at home.

The first day of camp got off to a great start with both groups; it was obvious from the start there was a tremendous amount of raw talent present. It was also obvious both groups had great attitudes and were very coachable. Coach Locke said the college guys were the best group of listeners he has ever worked with. The initial focus of both workouts was weak hand development (series of lay-ups, passing, and ball handling drills) and perfect footwork (proper pivots and shot preparation).

Vince Carter was there for the entire two and half hour high school workout and was very hands on. He spoke (and demonstrated) about the importance of being efficient with their movements and to eliminate all wasted motions (“stay tight”). He showed how change of speed is the key to getting open on the wing and getting the ball where you want it (not where the defense wants you to get it). He mentioned several times that “just because the game is played at a fast pace, doesn’t mean you have to run around frantic. You can play slow and be very successful.” He also talked about the significance of finishing strong around the basket: “don’t make a $1,000,000 move and a $1 finish.”

Each of the successive workouts built upon prior workouts and foot work, and off hand development continued to be emphasized. Defensive “expression”, intimidating ball pressure, quality post moves, “Euro lay-ups”, and being “ball ready”, were also taught and stressed. VC was there every day, sweating with the players, and jumping in nearly every drill to show them firsthand how it’s done in the league. Jared Jeffries of the NY Knicks stopped by to grab a shooting workout with Coach Atkinson and talked to the players about the value of being versatile and honestly evaluating your strengths and weaknesses.

The high school players played five on five games (with referees) for the last 30 minutes of each nightly workout. Despite having all wing players (no point guards), the games were highly competitive and fun to watch. The kids played above the rim.

I can honestly say the kids made improvement in the three days they were there. Obviously, that will be short lived if they don’t go home and continue to practice what they were taught. “Repetition is not a form of punishment.” 

The Academy as a whole could not have gone any better; it was a success by all standards. Vince was a class act the entire time. I could not have been more impressed with his involvement and attitude towards helping the players. He even got the phone call letting him know he was traded to the Orlando Magic while he was at the gym! He was super excited and we were the first to know! On Thursday, VC came to the hotel and watched the draft with the kids. VC walks the walk.

Make sure you check my other recent posts - my interview with Mr. Vince Carter himself and a book review of Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles.

I was in Boston at the Paul Pierce Nike Skills Academy last week (blog coming soon!) and am working the LeBron James Nike Skills Academy this week! I will post a blog recapping each of those events, as well as continue to add additional NBA player interviews and pertinent book reviews.

Make sure you subscribe to www.YouTube.com/StrongerTeamDotCom for the latest exercise of the week clip, as well as motivational talks and drills from camp. For exclusive insight to my camps, as well as daily coaching points and quotes, follow me on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/AlanStein.

Train hard.  Train smart.

Alan Stein