8 Things All Basketball Players Must Do in the Off-Season

offseasonBecoming a good basketball player requires dedication, hard work, and discipline during your team’s season of play. With that said, actions taken during the off-season can be just as, if not more important, to any athlete’s overall development. Here at Hoop Group, a full-service company devoted to helping young people improve basketball skills through instruction, competition, and exposure, we invite players, parents and coaches to read the following; Eight key steps competitors should engage in during the off-season to maximize their basketball skills training.

Pinpoint Skills That Need Improvement

This might be difficult for some of us to hear, but improving requires identifying areas of our game in which improvement is needed. We can accomplish this task by speaking with our coaches and others whose opinions we value and/or have some knowledge about basketball.

Relax And Unwind

As soon as the season ends, we should reward ourselves with some time off. This multi-week respite will not only give our bodies time to rest, but will allow any nagging injuries the opportunity to heal.  This provides us with a mental recess where we can reflect upon the past season and prepare ourselves for the challenges that lay ahead.

Commit To A Training Program

When we are away from the game for a time, we risk morphing out of shape. Any off-season training program should focus on retaining strength and keeping fit. Above all, exercise programs should focus on improving the cardiovascular endurance vital to becoming a successful basketball player.

Do Not Neglect Schoolwork Or Other Responsibilities

Unless we are performing at the professional level, we will always have other important responsibilities, most notably academics. Under certain circumstances, student athletes might be required to maintain a specific grade point average to play competitive sports. Regardless, becoming better students can help us transform into better athletes because we learn how to allocate our time and create balance.

Attend A Camp Or Off-Season League

As athletes, we need to maintain a competitive edge and continue to hone our skills during the off-season. This can be accomplished by attending such gatherings as sleepaway basketball camps, joining a summer youth basketball league or attending various basketball clinics.

Master The Art Of Shooting

The ability to score is the foundation for personal and team success. Good scorers are even better shooters. The off-season is the perfect time for us to improve our shot. Good shooters are those who can drain baskets from short or long ranges and release the ball quickly.

Remember Basketball Is A Game

As competitive as many of us are, and as much as we yearn to improve our skill set, it is important to remember that basketball is still a game that should always be fun. Therefore, we should engage in friendly games or just go out and shoot merely for the pure enjoyment of the game.

Take One More Quick Rest

About a week or so before the new season begins, take several days to rest, reflect, and prepare for the new season.

With these tips in mind, take advantage of your next off-season and prepare yourself for the season ahead of you!

NCAA Needs to Bite the Bullet and Change Transfer Rule

The word transfer is one of the most hot button topics in college basketball. Every Spring/Summer, many NCAA athletes announce they will transfer schools. It is a number that grows each and every year. An study showed that 689 student-athletes transferred to a different school in 2017. That number is enormous, and has been the butt of many jokes by those in the college basketball world. Despite this upward trend in transfers, the NCAA will (eventually) discuss removing their current rule in which a player must sit out a year before playing for their new team. It’s a decision that ultimately needs to be changed. It doesn’t need to be abolished entirely, but I do believe there needs to be exceptions to the rule implemented.

Not Everyone is Transferring to Another Division 1 Programs

A lot of transfer situations are made out to be players leaving a high profile school for another high profile school. And while there certainly are some instances of this (i.e. Malik Newman, Cam Johnson, Taurean Thompson), a majority of transfers are players moving to a more suitable playing level. That same NCAA study showed that 48% of the 689 transfers were to another Division 1 school. The rest left for a Division 2, NAIA or two year college. High school recruits strive to play basketball at the highest level possible. While many can be a part of a team on a certain level, it doesn’t mean they will have their best career at that level. Sometimes it takes getting to campus to realize that.

The current NCAA transfer rule punishes these particular players by forcing them to sit out a year. A player shouldn’t have to sit a year for realizing they are not playing at the right level.

If Coaches are Able to Leave for Higher Level Jobs, Why Can’t Players

If head coaches are allowed to jump ship for better opportunities, why do players have to sit out a year? Kevin Keatts doesn’t sit out a year for leaving UNC Wilmington for NC State. But if a UNCW player decided to transfer to NC State, he gets one year of no play. I know, these players are amateur athletes. They aren’t signing contracts like the coaches are when they move schools. But at the end of the day, players and coaches are alike in that basketball is, was, and will be a huge part of their life. They all want to achieve their dream at the highest level possible. I know it hurts small programs when their star player decides to transfer to a high major school. But if that coach can reap the benefits of a few successful seasons, then the player should be able to as well, penalty free.

What Happens When Coaching Staffs Get Fired

I’ve said this earlier this year in the case with Braxton Beverly, when you commit to a school, the coaching staff is a huge reason why. It may not always be the head coach. A lot of recruits form bonds with assistants during the recruiting process. If your coach leaves, or gets fired, and the entire staff is let go, we shouldn’t punish players for seeking other opportunities. They didn’t commit to the new coach that the University brought in. If a University decides to move on from a coach, they should let grant their players and recruits freedom to explore other possibilities.

Would Eliminate Teams from the “Shady” Recruiting Process

This is a little risky, because it could undoubtedly lead to poaching, potentially. But right now, there are some coaches who thrive more in bringing in transfer players than 5 star recruits. Making transfers eligible immediately could potentially eliminate some of the shadiness that exists on college recruiting. There would have to be rules in place as to when a school can begin contact with a transferring player, of course, but it could change the recruiting game.

The transfer number is not going to drastically fall anytime soon. Clearly sitting out a year is not deterring any players from transferring. 330 players transferred from one Division 1 program to another; A majority of those transfers were to a lower level program. Truth is, not a lot of players are jumping around from one high major program to another. That is why I believe this trend is not going to change. I am not encouraging players to jump ship and transfer year after year. I do think though, that there are many exceptions where players should be deemed eligible immediately. With the right revisions, I do believe this could help the game.

The Importance of Ball Handling in Basketball

After giving up an easy layup, the scoring team runs back lethargically to get their defense into position. The ball is quickly inbounded to the point guard and rolls down the court, before being snatched by the floor general at the tempo of a slow crawl. Should the point guard push to take advantage of a temporary lapse in the defense, or is this lapse a decoy designed for a quick snare? Regardless of the decision, the fate of the play lies in the tempo of the primary ball handler. And the tempo, of course, is dictated by the ball-handling itself.

The Subtleties of Ball-Handling

Often times, ball-handling drills are emphasized but the theory behind why is neglected. One reason for this is that ball-handling is quite abroad category; ball-handling can encompass dribbling, catching the ball, releasing it for a pass, or for flashy purposes to dupe the opponent.  Fundamentally, the main reasons that we work on our ball-handling are to build strength in our hands and to increase hand/eye coordination. These drills also keep the muscles in our hands loose, which helps prevent cramping up in late game situations.  In our quest to get better at basketball, improving in this area will also improve other areas of our game — since hand/eye coordination lends itself to so many facets.

Dribbling

Once we have enhanced the strength in our hands, we move on to one of (if not the most) important factors of ball-handling: dribbling. Obviously, having sound dribbling skills is crucial to a ball-handler’s success. Dribbling allows us to artfully move around our opponent — setting up separation and space to either create our own shot or to set up a play for a teammate.  Our dribbling skills also help us dictate the flow of the game. With dexterous ball-handling, we have the ability to change our pace multiple times when attacking the basket. Introductory handling drills are stressed to be of paramount importance in all basketball training programs.

Inspiration for Ball-Handling

When we look at teams such as the Golden State Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs, we witness a beautifully constructed system that is similar to a musical orchestra. The source of this soundness lies in a team that has multiple playmakers, and thus, multiple ball-handlers.  The fact is, the game of basketball has evolved quite a bit over the recent years. No longer do all of the ball-handling duties lie in a single point-guard or floor general on a team. Instead, we are witnessing the trend of a positionless game where even centers and forwards will push the ball up the floor to create plays with their ball-handling skills.

Quite simply, ball-handling is important because of versatility. And versatility is an excellent trait to have in our continually evolving game. These skills can be improved at a basketball academy such as Core Skills Training, where players will work on a variety of offensive skills alongside ball-handling.

NBA Rookie Power Rankings Week 12

Photo via CBS Sports

We are two weeks into 2018, and three months into the 2017-2018 NBA season as of the close of this week. The rookie class has spent close to 100 days (regular season) in the league and we are seeing mixed results from an extremely talented rookie group. Some are battling injuries, and some have just been inconsistent, but the depth and long term potential of the group continues to flash itself week in and week out. Let’s jump right into the rankings for Week 12 and see how it shakes out three months in.

1. Donovan Mitchell – Jazz

Mitchell continues to sit on top of the rankings for the third consecutive week, and for very good reason. Mitchell has shown to be the best scorer in the class, as he currently averages 18.8 points per night (22.8 over his last 10), including a 35 point effort against the Hornets on Saturday. While the Jazz have struggled mightily, Mitchell has played like a future superstar and is going to be the franchise player in Utah for as long as he wants to remain there. Mitchell has made the Jazz a must watch on a consistent basis, and for Jazz fans it is only going to get better from here.

2. Ben Simmons – Sixers

Simmons has been phenomenal this season, and will compete with Mitchell until the end of the season for the Rookie of the Year award. He is a tremendous, borderline generational talent and is going to only get better as the season and his career progresses. His biggest weakness is his jumper, and that will have to improve, but he still has plenty of time to work on that. While his performance against Boston in London was underwhelming for him, if Simmons can get back to his November/December form and get the Sixers into the playoffs he should walk away with the Rookie of the Year award.

3. Jayson Tatum – Celtics

Tatum got the better of fellow rookie Ben Simmons in their match-up in London, both individually and in the W/L column (114-103 Celtics win). Tatum continues to play at a consistently high level, and providing the Celtics with an elite shooter on the wings with a quickly expanding all-around game. Tatum is averaging 13.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game, and is playing at a pretty high level on the defensive end for a rookie. He also remains the best shooter in the rookie class and one of the best statistically in the league; 49.9% from the field, 45.9% from 3 and 82.2% from the line. Also belated to congrats go out to Tatum for becoming a father this week, and remaining in the top 3 of our Rookie Power Rankings.

4. Lauri Markkanen – Bulls

Outside of some time he missed due to injuries in December, Markkanen has been absolutely phenomenal for the Bulls this season. He averaged 22.7 points per game during the second week of 2018, including a 33 point outburst against the Knicks on Wednesday. The Arizona product via way of Finland has also been a surprisingly consistent rebounder pulling in 7.5 a night. The Bulls were on of the worst teams during the first six weeks of the NBA season, and now only stand 6.5 games back of a playoff spot. With Zach Lavine getting healthy and Markkanen continuing to play well Chicago may be able to make a run at the playoffs over the next few months.

5. Kyle Kuzma – Lakers

Kuzma’s struggles have continued into 2018, but he rebounded nicely in a win against the Mavericks on Saturday night and looks to have started to get back on track. In seven games in January Kuzma has averaged just 11.3 points per game, and shot 39.5% from the floor, but he contributed a double-double, 18 points and 10 rebounds, in that game against Dallas. Despite his struggles the Lakers have won 4 straight and if Kuzma has truly got his shot back, it only means good things for the potential of that streak continuing towards the end of January. The biggest steal of the draft is going to be just fine over the long haul, and it looks like the previous two weeks worth of struggles are something he is already starting to put behind him.

6. Dennis Smith Jr. – Mavericks

The fact that Dennis Smith Jr. is not in the top 5 of this rookie class speaks to just how deep the class is as a whole. He was excellent this past week in his two outings and flashed the promise that he holds as a potential superstar point guard. The former NC State lead guard averaged 19 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists a game while leading Dallas to a 2-1 record during the week. While his shooting has been inconsistent Smith is averaging 17 points and 5 assists per game over his last 5 games and starting to gain more confidence from veteran head coach Rick Carlisle. Smith plays on one of the leagues worst teams, but he alone is worth tuning in if you get a chance to watch Dallas over the next decade plus.

7. Lonzo Ball – Lakers

Ball will undergo an MRI on his left knee today for precautionary reasons, so hopefully it is nothing serious and we will see the UCLA product back on the court at full strength in short order. He held his own against Dennis Smith Jr. on Saturday night, and looked impressive at times against both San Antonio and Sacramento earlier in the week. Ball is averaging 11.2 points, 8.4 rebounds 7 assists and 2 steals per game over the course of the last 5 games, in which the Lakers are 4-1. While the rest of the Ball family makes headlines halfway around the world, Lonzo continues to improve each week, and will prove to be a very good lead guard over the course of his NBA career.

8. Bogdan Bogdanovic – Kings

The swing guard from Serbia continues to impress each week and has found himself at the 8th spot in our rankings during week 12. In 4 games this week (unfortunately for Sacramento all four finishing as losses) Bogdanovic averaged 17.5 points, 4 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. While his averages were impressive, it is more impressive when you look at his shooting percentages and efficiency; 58% from the field, 54% from 3 and 87% from the line. While the Kings currently sport the second worst record in the league (behind only the Hawks), Bogdanovic and backcourt mate De’Aaron Fox have both shown enough promise to give Kings fans a lot to look forward to in future seasons.

9. De’Aaron Fox – Kings

Fox has been starting to see the game slow down for him over the last few weeks and is starting to flash the potential that had some scouts dubbing him the left handed John Wall. He has seen his role expand in Sacramento’s offense over the past couple of weeks and he has ran with the extra responsibility. He averaged close to 13 points and over 7 assists per game in his 4 appearances during this weeks action. While the Kings are amongst the league’s worst, the climb back to respectability is going to run through Fox’s development over the rest of the season and the coming years.

10. Bam Adebayo – Heat

The Heat are surprisingly holding down the 4th spot in the East as of Sunday afternoon, and look to pose a threat to teams not names Cleveland or Boston in the Eastern Conference come the springtime. A big reason why? The emergence of Adebayo, the product of one season with John Calipari in Lexington, Kentucky. He is averaging 7.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in 19 minutes a game so far in the month of January. As his minutes have picked up, so as his production and he is showing the potential to turn into one hell of a compliment to Hassan Whiteside in the Miami starting lineup. Bam’s development will be something to keep an eye on over the coming weeks.

Honorable Mentions:

John Collins – Hawks
Jordan Bell – Warriors
OG Anunoby – Raptors
Josh Jackson – Suns
Dillon Brooks – Grizzlies

7 Teams That Have Surprised Us This College Basketball Season

By now it’s pretty widely agreed upon that this season has been crazy in college basketball. Upsets all over, blue chip programs struggling to put it together, and teams that were overlooked, turning heads. You often see teams start hot and fade away once conference play begins, but let’s look at seven teams who appear to be legitimate here in mid January.

Auburn

Take a second to realize just what Bruce Pearl has done this year at Auburn. His program was linked to the FBI report that was released in the Fall. He lost one of his assistant coaches just before the start of the season. And, his two best players are out for the entire season. Recipe for success? For sure not. However, the Tigers have a 16-1 record, and a perfect 4-0 record in SEC play this season. While they played a relatively soft non-conference schedule, Auburn has two strong SEC wins at Tennessee and against Arkansas. This team is playing with confidence and their head coach is coaching with a swagger. Auburn may be the most surprising team so far this season.

Ohio State

Speaking of non-ideal scenarios, take a look at what Chris Holtmann inherited at Ohio State. In June, he took over a team that won just six Big Ten games, and were losing their top four leading scorers. His only option would be to weather the storm and begin making serious changes after what was expected to be a rough first season, right? Wrong. Although they got off to a shaky start, failing to secure any signature non-conference wins, what Holtmann has done at Ohio State so far is fantastic. Behind the All-American play of Keita Bates-Diop, the Buckeyes already have six conference wins, and are tied with Purdue at the top of the standings. And while they may not have been able to secure any resume boosting non-conference wins, they announced themselves as contenders with an absolute drubbing of Michigan State a few weeks ago.

Clemson

The Clemson Tigers were supposed to make the NCAA tournament last season, at least that’s what their expectation was. Jaron Blossomgame was finally a senior and be was going to lead them to the Big Dance before he left. Unfortunately that story never panned out, but Clemson appears to be on their way this season. What losing Blossomgame did was turn them into one of the more balanced scoring teams in the country. They have five players who average 11 points a game or more. They hold wins over Ohio State, Florida, Louisville and Miami. Three of those four wins were at home, a place they defended pretty well this season.

Oklahoma

If you watch a lot of college basketball, you know the Oklahoma Sooners are a lot more than Trae Young. Sure, Young is a sensational player and well on his way to being named Player of the Year, but this team is blossoming after going through many growing pains last year. After being extremely young last season, Oklahoma is seeing a lot of players make big jumps in their game, year over year. Young might be a straw that stirs the drink, but his strong supporting cast is the reason the Sooners are a top 5 team in the country.

Arizona State

Arizona State has had a humbling start to Pac 12 play, but they are still light years ahead of where anyone thought they would be. They have a top 10 offense in the country, though that has slowed down some as well. Despite their conference struggles, the Sun Devils still have wins against Xavier and at Kansas to hang their hat on. They have a favorable stretch coming up that should (hopefully) be what this team needs to get back on track. Regardless, this team is 14-3 and a real threat to win the Pac 12. That is something not many people expected coming into the season.

Texas Tech

If you are unaware, the Big 12 Conference is really, really good. One reason why is the ridiculous play of Trae Young. Another reason is the emergence of Texas Tech and the tenacious defense Chris Beard has instilled in this team. While they don’t generate the turnovers that West Virginia does, the Red Raiders defense is Top 10 in the country in terms of points per game. A mix of strong senior leadership and tough defense can take a team far. This Texas Tech team is good enough to reach a Final Four, just ask Kansas, Baylor, Nevada and West Virginia.

Purdue

The Purdue Boilermakers are tied for first place in the Big Ten. They haven’t lost since the day after Thanksgiving. In that time they’ve beaten Arizona (albeit without Rawle Alkins), Louisville, Michigan and Butler. The Boilermakers made a statement in a 34 point slaughter of a Minnesota team that has some problems. With Purdue, you have another rare exception of a team losing an All-American (Caleb Swanigan) and seemingly being better without him. Despite the departure of Swanigan, Matt Painter still had the pieces to have a successful season. Right now he is getting the most out of all those pieces, with three upperclassmen averaging over 13 points a game, and a sophomore, Carson Edwards, leading them with 16 a game. The Big Ten was supposed to be a bad league dominated by Michigan State. Three weeks into conference play however, it is Purdue that looks dominant.

We’re still a long way from March. That is fortunate and unfortunate news for some teams. And as I mentioned before, there are plenty of teams who have played better than expected. Right now though, these seven teams and coaches deserve a lot of credit for the the job they’ve done in the first half of the season.