When I sat down with Rick Gorman after the workout he said the group was a sort of cult, and he meant it in the most positive way possible. Gorman told me ahead of time that the high school workout was from “7a until 9a.” If he had not specified the “a” after the numbers I probably would have come at night. After all, these were high school kids on summer vacation. That is what society has come to expect from Generation Z. Gorman might have called it a cult, but I came away thinking it was a culture.
I walked into the gym at 7:05. The clipboard and paper that I would use to take notes for the next two hours was my excuse for being tardy. The players were all on time. All twenty-four of them engaged in a dynamic stretch when I arrived. Calling it an “optional” summer workout seemed unfathomable.
Passion in Showing Up & Showing Effort
The players possessed passion as evidenced just by showing up. In addition to getting there early, their attitude suggested there was no place they would rather be – including back in bed. Gorman would later tell me that one player rides his bike four miles to and from the workout because he cannot get a ride. Another player was under the weather after the vaunted “Seven Stations from Hell.” He bounced back shortly thereafter and outworked a player in a one on one drill.
The players came from several high schools, but there was a oneness and a sense of belonging among them as a unit. You could sense it in the unrelenting verbal encouragement they brought in exercises designed to break you physically. And you could sense it in the conclusion of each step of the workout with high fives and minor cues of belonging from one another.
Gorman informed me that demand has grown over the past eight years. It is at the point where they cannot take on more players even though there is demand. They have toyed with the idea of using a bigger gym. What caused them to show up when their peers were asleep? What was so magical about this culture that allowed them to play with such enthusiasm?
BST Positive Culture
You would think that starting at 7:00 A.M. would drive kids away, but it may in fact have the exact opposite effect. When kids are crazy enough to be there at that time and they meet other kids who are just as passionate, there is a sense that they are growing together.
I saw it in the feedback from the coaches as well. They held players accountable to communicate and uphold the skills that they were emphasizing, but they were positive. They took pictures for social media purposes and rewarded not just winners, but groups that were displaying effort and enthusiasm.
Throughout the entirety of the workout, there was not a single minute being wasted. Players would get about a minute for a water break and then they were right back to work. The coaches spoke to me afterwards about the feedback process.
Everything is taught on the fly. Make quick points during the breaks or between reps and then get right back to it. Teaching players multiple things is information overload and pointless.
Players had to be physically and mentally tough. Just the component of starting at 7:00 A.M. weeds out the players that are not going to want to be there. Rick did say there might be a small contingent doing it because mom or dad wants them there, but they are the exception.
The standards are set very high and players are held to those standards. If the coaches find something wrong in a player’s footwork, spacing, etc. the coaches jump on it right away. That said, they want feedback.
Gorman said that players are specifically instructed not to wear their AAU stuff. He does it because he wants to strip away the ego from everyone in the gym. When players enter, past accomplishments mean nothing. The job is to get better in that moment.
Ultimately what the three coaches (Steve Boudreau, Matt Medeiros, and Rick Gorman) are focused on is teaching players how to play basketball. The high school players and some of the college players (they come at night) that show up to them do not know how to play. The parents think their child knows how to play because of time spent, but they have often lacked specialized training. Boudreau specializes on footwork, Medeiros on shooting, and Gorman emphasizes efficient dribbling.
At its core, teaching players fundamentals is driven by the idea that most in attendance are trying to carve out a roll or make the team. They do not need to develop Dirk Nowitzki’s one-foot step back. What they need is to make a left-handed lay-up. Throughout every drill that involved a ball, finishes at the rim were being contested by a coach or player. They emphasized the fundamentals of ripping, jabbing, and being efficient with the dribble, but at the end of the play could you score two points?
Much has changed for the BST workouts over the past eight years. Gorman has brought in another coach and become more comfortable delegating. The success stories of players that come through BST continue to grow. At the top of the list is Fairfield University graduate Tyler Nelson and former Iowa State star and current member of the Utah Jazz Georges Niang. Gorman actually had dinner with Niang the night before the workout. Niang told Gormon to pass on word to the current crop of BST players to learn more about nutrition, out work people, and don’t let other people’s labels for you define you. Not surprisingly with this success Rick’s confidence has grown, but he still is looking to get better.
He always believed in pace and space ahead of that becoming the trend that it is today, but the game will continue to evolve. As an avid fan of Gregg Popovich, Rick is following their offseason very closely. High efficient two’s could start to become a new way to compete in the NBA.
As a consistent Twitter user (@FennisDembo87), Rick constantly favorites articles he finds so he can come back to them and incorporate them. He is even considering starting a Podcast to communicate new ideas. As Rick said, “If you stop learning, you die.”
Addressing Weaknesses or Growing Strengths?
One issue that I have always had with players is how to build a skill set. There might be a player who can shoot the lights out of the gym, but cannot defend. Or a player who has a tenacious motor, but no footwork skill. With these players it is clear that they have a role, but should more time be spent developing that strength or making them a more complete player? Rick and Boudah shared an interesting perspective.
Boudah told me that if it is the effort or energy that is a weakness, it cannot be ignored. That aside, the time to build on individual weaknesses for him is during the off-season. Finding the time during the season is much harder, and it is more efficient to focus on what a player can do.
Rick referenced some current and recent high school players that were labeled as one-trick ponies (shooters). With that label inevitably comes playing time crunching or defensive liabilities. Rick argued that to give up on developing a player who has a gift in one area of the game means you’re not a good teacher as a coach. Sure that player might start deficient, but as a coach they should never be permanently labeled as incapable of getting better at their weaknesses.