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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Kobe Bryant: "A Straight-A Student Who Still Goes to all the Extra Study Sessions"

ESPN's Mark Jackson sometimes refers to "fake hustle," meaning that an athlete does something to make it look like he is trying hard but it's all for show. That is what I think of most of the time when I see coaches ranting, raving and screaming on the sidelines. Think about it: how often do you see truly great coaches do that? John Wooden used to sit placidly on the bench with a rolled up program in his hands. Phil Jackson sometimes seems to be looking at his fingernails more than the game. A cynic might say that those guys had/have the horses, so they don't need to say or do much--but someone who really understands the game knows that the most important coaching is done behind the scenes in practice while preparing the players for the games. Once the game begins, it is up to the players to utilize what the coach has taught them. If the players are not adequately prepared before the game, there is not too much that can be said to them during the game to make up for that.

The reality is that most games--not just basketball games but any kind of games--are won before they begin, at least when the opponents are fairly evenly matched from a talent standpoint; the players/teams that are better prepared and better focused are most likely going to win.

That is why this L.A. Times story about Kobe Bryant's disciplined preparation habits is so meaningful: Bryant's edge over other top players is not solely based on athleticism or flashy plays or hype; it is based on studying the strengths and weaknesses of opposing players and applying that knowledge to gain an advantage during games. You really should read the whole article but in case you don't, here are three quotes about how Kobe Bryant uses video study to prepare for games:

1) "Hands down, he's the biggest video fiend we've ever had," said Chris Bodaken, the Lakers' director of video services. "I didn't know if it was possible to be more competitive than Magic was, but I think he might be. It carries over into his preparation, and this is part of that."

2) "It's a blueprint," said Bryant, an eight-time member of the NBA all-defensive team. "So if something goes down, it's not something you haven't seen before. Everybody's got tendencies. If he scores 40 on Monday, he's going to try to do it on Tuesday. You've got to take him out of his spots. That's the key."

3) When the Lakers hired Phil Jackson in 1999, Bryant was tipped off that his new coach sometimes asked video coordinators to edit random on-screen words into video packages viewed by the entire team before practice. Jackson would then ask a particular player which word just flashed on the screen, the equivalent of a pop quiz for multi-millionaire athletes.

"I remember mentioning that to Kobe once and he just laughed," Bodaken said. "The concept of not watching something on film was so foreign to him."

So, the next time you see Bryant charge into the paint to grab a key offensive rebound versus a bigger opponent or jump into the passing lane to snare a key steal or position himself to prevent a top scorer from making his favorite move in crunch time, you will understand and appreciate that such plays are the product of dedicated study. In a league full of elite athletes, it is very difficult to gain an edge and the slightest advantage is very important, much like a tenth of a second difference is huge in an Olympic sprint; knowledge is power and the best athletes are very knowledgeable, at least regarding the intricacies of their craft. The lasting image that I will always have of Dennis Rodman is not his hairstyle or tattoos but the fact that when he joined the Bulls he studied the arc of each of his teammates' shots so that he would know how to position himself for offensive rebound opportunities. Rodman also studied a lot of tape of opposing players, though he reportedly would turn the VCR off if members of the media came into the locker room; he had his own reasons for developing and maintaining a certain kind of reputation/image but any of his coaches will tell you that his basketball IQ was off the charts. Rodman may have acted like the court jester but he was a veritable Einstein in high tops and he understood rebounding angles like Euclid knew geometry.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:54 AM



At Thursday, January 01, 2009 9:48:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read conflicting reports on Jordan and video scouting (much like Jordan and pregame training): sometimes I've read that he all but ignored the VCR in the locker room, and others that he became fascinated with it and would play and replay the tape.

At Friday, January 02, 2009 7:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I think that MJ always had a great training regimen but I don't think that he was an aficionado of film study the way that Kobe is.


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