Chris Ballard on Training Like a Pro

Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard was at the Pro Training Center at IMG Academies when I was there a few weeks ago, and he has written a great piece about it.

Here's one of his many good anecdotes:

In the evening session, we practice finishing strong at the rim -- always overhand rather than with a scoop or finger-roll ("Remember Patrick Ewing," warns Thorpe). Then, after practicing coming off of screens -- drills Thorpe refers to as "Reggie Millers" -- we pair up, a guard with a big man, and work on ball screens, turning the corner and, my favorite, running the "pinch post." If you've watched many NBA games, the play is familiar. First, the big man comes to the foul line extended to receive a pass from the guard, who's at the top of the key. The guard can then cut off the big man's hip and receive a handoff, picking off his defender in the process. Or, the big man can fake the handoff and then hit the guard with a dump down pass as he continues looping toward the basket. Or, finally, as Chris Webber used to do for the Sacramento Kings, the big man can fake the handoff, then spin and shoot a free-throw line jumper. Only, unlike Webber, we try to actually put arc on the ball.

That learning dovetails into his local pickup game a little clumsily, as I have found. (Ideally, I guess, you'd being your entire pickup crew to this camp ...):

In the weeks that follow, I find myself clinging to the glow of the experience, fighting to make it part of my daily life, which again revolves around typing and diaper changes and unfreezing food that looks like perhaps it should stay frozen. I exchange e-mails with Henry at ESPN, who writes, "I really, really, really need some time to perfect the things I kind of learned" and I can't agree more.

At my local YMCA in Berkeley, Calif., I continue incorporating elements of the warm-up routine, and focus on the little details when I play -- keeping that foot forward on the drive, curling tight off screens. Once, I even find myself inadvertently blurting out "Pinch Post! Pinch Post!" to a teammate. Since it's Berkeley, he isn't fazed in the least. After all, people shout crazy stuff all the time around here.

I am aware that expecting someone in a pick-up game to run the Pinch Post is complete lunacy. It's like going to McDonald's and asking for your burger medium rare. I can't help myself though. The impulse is like a vestigial tail from my week at IMG.

(Since getting back from training like a pro, I have learned that we journalists were the guinea pigs. As none of us was hospitalized, and we all seemed to have a good time, IMG has launched similar programs open to the paying public.)