BACK HOME! from a week at the famous IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. Our younger son, Alex, attended The Basketball Academy this past week (Mon-Sat). While IMG is mainly known for its tennis component - begun by Nick Bollettieri (and his then-partner, Mike DePalmer, Sr.) - it’s expanded instruction to include basketball, baseball, golf and soccer. On any given day, there are upwards of 500 participants on campus which, from a social standpoint alone, makes for a worthwhile week (especially considering the number of countries represented by the attendees).
Alex has been exposed to basketball from his birth in Pasadena when I served as associate head coach at USC. I kid him that he has to belong to some kind of exclusive club of babies who were breast fed in three NBA arenas (The Sports Arena which SC and the Clippers shared; the Great Western Forum, then the home of the Lakers and where we were forced to play because of damage the Northridge earthquake did to The Sports Arena, and the Warriors’ home court, the Oakland Coliseum, where we played Cal one year. Luckily, the crowds weren’t that big, so my wife, Jane, could move up to an upper section where Alex could “dine” without anyone around).
When I became the Director of Basketball Operations at Fresno State, Alex would often accompany me to practice and never missed a home game (he and our older son, Andy, even made it to several road trips). Alex is pretty observant and is blessed with superior hand-eye coordination, so when he sees a player perform a certain move, he usually has the ability to emulate it. In seven years at Fresno State, we had about a dozen players make it to the NBA, so the skill level he got to witness was well beyond what most kids his age would ever get the opportunity to see - certainly from such an “up close and personal” point of view.
As far as playing the game, he’s been at it since he was four years old and has been coached by quite a number of people, each of whom contributed to his development - all the way from high school players and me to Dave Severns, recently hired by the Chicago Bulls as their assistant coach in charge of player development (a blog on Dave and his new gig will grace this site in the very near future). Dave put Alex through many of the same drills he’s currently using with Kirk Heinrich and Derrick Rose.
Back to IMG and what separates it from the others. Mainly, it would be the breadth of instruction. As far as the best one-word description of the experience, intensity would probably be the closest. Alex’s daily schedule consisted of, in addition to an average of four and a half hours of on-court instruction/workouts, between one to two hours of quickness and agility work (called Individual Performance Instruction or IPI), an hour in the classroom (discussing topics such as nuitrition and mental conditioning) and a hour session (Monday and Wednesday only) of strength and flexibility training. While two full courts and twelve baskets make for an excellent basketball environment, the other facilties (indoor and outdoor) are simply phenomenal.
I braved one outdoor IMG Academy Athletic & Personal Development programssession but the heat, humidity and bugs (I’ll take Fresno’s weather any day) kept me in the air conditioned gym, where I observed the college and professional players who were training there while Alex toiled elsewhere.
During one of Alex’s morning on-court workout periods, the kids were rather sluggish and one of the coaches lit into them. The intensity immediately picked up. It reminded me of a line I heard from highly regarded Orange County speaker, Danny Cox. I’m paraphrasing for the purpose of this blog, but it went something like:
“Employees will get excited as soon as the boss does.”
All in all, it was a fun, learning experience (albeit a somewhat expensive one) for Alex (and me). He returned with a better knowledge of the game, a greater love for it, improved his skills and made some new friends as well - and, to me, that spells success.