If you’re preparing for your first season of college basketball (or maybe your second, third, or fourth), here are 4 things that I would tell my younger self:
1. Be yourself, but understand what that means
You were recruited by a coaching staff that appreciated your qualities. At the same time, you’re entering a culture that is bigger than any one person. If you’re a goofy person, be a goofy person, but know when to get serious on the court. The worst thing you can do is try to be someone you’re not. Be yourself but listen and take notes from those around you. You’ll quickly learn when it’s appropriate to let that joke fly or bite your tongue.
2. Show up in shape
Man, this is the one thing that always shocks me. Players go home for the summer, work basketball camps, spend time with friends, etc. For whatever reason, most know that fall conditioning is going to be brutal, but they’d rather “play out” their summer than proactively get a head start on their conditioning. Conditioning will always be as hard as it has to be to make the most-conditioned guy hurt. Think about that.
3. Game shots, game spots, game speed
Your approach to every workout has to change. Why? Because the shots you take in college and the speed of the game is different. This is less about “working hard” and more about learning how your workouts should evolve so that you can succeed in the college game. A few things to think about:
Players are bigger, faster, and stronger
This means you have to practice making moves with less dribbles. Bigger bodies mean the floor shrinks. You have to be able to shoot the ball from further out, hit a floater, and be comfortable spacing the floor. Start studying what shots players take in your conference at your position. Can you make those shots consistently?
There will most likely be someone on your team whose best skill is better than your best skill
Identify the areas where you can best contribute and then find that teammate that does those things well. Pick their brain, show interest, and compete with them. Great upperclassmen will do whatever it takes to win. Now, be warned, they are going to come at you hard in practice. Often the best advice you’ll get is the butt-kicking they give you in practice. If your head is in the right place ahead of this, you’ll view this as a positive, instead of a negative.
If you’re not used to playing with older players, take advantage of fall scrimmage time to better “understand” how the game flows at the college level.
If you have the ability to watch film, do that as well. Learn about what constitutes a good shot. Learn how your teammates play and what they like to do. Freshmen that “contribute” often do so not because they’re the best basketball players but because they understand how to play.
Tutors, aids, “athlete only study areas,” etc. are all great, but they’re not a crutch. These things are meant to supplement the work that you’re doing. Successful student athletes say things like, “I developed better study habits,” “I learned strategies to better organize my time,” or “I learned to be a more concise and efficient communicator.” They don’t say things like, “I have a paper due tomorrow, but it’s cool, my tutor will write it for me.” Use them but don’t abuse them. Just like assistant coaches help to teach the finer points of the game, academic support should do the same.
Have a comment, thought, or best practice that worked for you? I’d love to hear them below!
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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