The Mental Game
Jahlil Okafor, Stephen Zimmerman and Tyus Jones pick the brain of famed trainer, Idan Ravin
There's so much more that goes into basketball than what can be seen with the naked eye.. Great players not only have to constantly prepare and improve physically, but mentally as well. Top high school players from around the country asked renowned basketball trainer Idan Ravin, known as the Hoops Whisperer, what they can do to gain every advantage possible and to separate themselves from their peers.
Check back with Fivestarbasketball.com regularly throughout the spring and summer for interviews, information and advice from Idan. That is, if you are serious about improving your game, mentally and physically.
Jahlil Okafor 2014 CENTER /// MAC IRVIN FIRE (ILL.)
Q: What are three characteristics that separate good players from great players?
A: Great players neverwaiver when it comes to their belief in themselves. This belief began years ago when their mother asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Doctor, lawyer, accountant, engineer and teacher were the easy answers. After all, a formula exists to lead in that direction. However, in response to their mother’s question, great players answered, “I want to play in the NBA.” And that unconventional dream didn’t come with a blueprint or a map. It required each player to maintain an amazing belief in their dream while they maneuvered their way through an unfamiliar maze until they finally landed in the NBA.
Great players perform when it matters — at the highest level, with the most at stake, in front of the largest audience. Imagine studying for weeks for your math final. During your final, you inadvertently omit some information you really do know. Unfortunately, your teacher can only grade you on what she sees on your paper, even though, she recognizes that you know much more than your exam answers reflect. Great players seem to always perform when it matters. They find a way to put “everything down on paper” whenever they play.
Great players have incredible courage. Imagine having NBA dreams and betting everything on this dream. Imagine playing high school and AAU games in front of the country’s top college coaches so that you can secure a scholarship offer. Imagine playing in the NCAA Tournament and knowing much of your basketball future hinges on your team’s success because NBA teams weigh postseason tournament performance more heavily than the regular season.
Imagine playing in NBA Pre-Draft Camps and NBA team individual workouts in front of dozens of high-ranking front office personnel with your NBA dreams at stake. Imagine NBA veterans on opposing teams gunning for you every time you step foot on the court during your rookie season. Imagine facing veterans on your team who try to undermine your success in an effort to ensure their roster spot and playing minutes. Imagine the pressures of performing on a strained hamstring and dislocated finger after signing a large contract. Imagine speaking with media after the game but you can’t share with them your dislocated finger causes you to miss shots because you don’t want to offer any excuses for poor performance.
Great players have the courage to assume more responsibility on and off the court and, in doing so, become more vulnerable to criticism, judgment and mistakes.
Stephen Zimmerman 2015 CENTER /// DREAM VISION (NEV.)
Q: How do you deal with multiple coaches telling you different things from the sideline?
A: Great question. Your success will become tied to when you listen, how much you listen, to whom you listen and when not to listen. I imagine you must hear a ton of opinions, suggestions and criticisms from coaches, players and parents. This will never change, even at the NBA level, so this is something you will learn to deal with. The beautiful, yet difficult aspect of sports is that everyone has an opinion. Sports doesn’t require a degree, an internship or work experience, so many folks make suggestions and offer criticisms, as if they were experts on the topics.
I encourage you to give different weight to different opinions based on what feels right to you, what works for you, the prior track record of the one giving you the advice and the objectivity of the advice. You are not insubordinate because you decide whose advice makes the most sense for you. At times, you may not think it’s wise to listen to anyone and to simply to trust your intuition. Those will be difficult times to stand firm when everyone pressures you to concede. Your coaches may not like it, but is important to learn when and how to listen, and to do what is best for you.
Tyus Jones 2014 POINT GUARD /// HOWARD PULLEY (MINN.)
Q: Some people train to have a variety of moves and ways to score or attack, some people try to specialize in what it is they do best and have a counter to that. Do you think it is more beneficial to make your strength your top priority as well as a counter to that, or to try to expand your game in all ways?
Consider yourself aFortune 500 Company, like Pepsi or Coca-Cola. These companies sit atop the soda market but they continue to spend millions in advertising dollars each year to stay relevant in the minds of consumers. As a top high school player in the country, you do a few things well. And it is important to continue to do these things well. But the best players in the game, like CP, Melo, Bron, KD and D-Wade are not satisfied with just doing it “well.”
They look to master these strengths so it becomes part of the fabric of their games. You have many more weaknesses than you are willing to admit. Close your eyes and imagine playing against the best players in the world, regardless of age, and on the biggest stage. What would terrify you at that moment? CP3 taking the ball from you in the open court? Having to defend Melo on the wing? Trying to contest KD’s fade away jump shot at the buzzer? Hoping to block out Dwight for a defensive rebound? Taking the charge on D-Rose as he attacks the basket in transition?
I encourage your complete honesty and transparency when you answer this question. It will offer real insight into your weaknesses. At this stage in your career, I assume you are better skilled and more athletic than most everyone you compete against which affords you the opportunity to mask your weaknesses. But as you get older and play at the collegiate and professional levels, you will not be able to hide anymore. The best players will identify and then expose your weaknesses immediately, so it is imperative that you begin to address these weaknesses now.
You must always evolve and develop every dimension of your game. There are so many uncertainties and situations you can’t control with basketball: the game changes, teams change, systems change, coaching philosophies change, athleticism and skill levels change, teammates change, expectations change, pressures change and goals change. Your game must continuously evolve to prepare you for these changes.