Kobe Bryant was named American Family Insurance ALL-USA Player of the Year in 1996 because he was the most dominant player in the country, that much we know.
But what made him the best back then?
Lower Merion (Ardmore, Pa.) Gregg Downer said the root of Bryant’s dominance in high school was his unrelenting motor.
“He just never stopped coming,” Downer said. “He was never gonna be outworked on the court. Ever.”
Players, coaches and experts agree that having a motor – seemingly unnatural energy on the court – is not only an important attribute, but also a skill that separates good players from elite ones.
“It’s all about effort when you’re talking about the motor,” said Norman North (Norman, Okla.) star Trae Young, who is ranked No. 2 among point guards in the ESPN 60. “I don’t understand when I see players without a motor. I’ve always been taught that you have to put in that effort. That’s just part of the game; that’s what you’re supposed to have.”
Most agree that a motor is a skill, but can it be developed like a jump shot or ball-handling skills?
“It’s definitely something you can work on,” said Tampa Catholic (Tampa, Fla.) wing Kevin Knox, who is ranked No. 6 overall in the ESPN 60. “Well, having a motor means you’re in shape because you’re getting up and down the court and you’re active. That’s definitely something you can work on. It’s just something that you have to want; it’s like a desire thing.”
Chaminade College Prep (St. Louis, Mo.) forward Jayson Tatum agreed; he said his desire comes from the fact that he’s made excelling on the court his only option.
“Some people have plan B and C, but I always carry myself on the court like basketball is my only option,” said Tatum, a Duke signee who is ranked No. 2 overall in the ESPN 100. “It’s a mindset that you have to have on the court to be at your best at all times. You can always tell who wants it more than others by their motor. I play with a motor that says no one wants it more than me.”
That said, constant activity on the court alone won’t get you the coveted “elite” label; there are a couple of prerequisites.
“I want a more specific offensive skill and athleticism, that’s what you win with,” ESPN recruiting analyst Reggie Rankin said. “You can have a great motor but if you can’t shoot or you don’t know how to play then you won’t get as much done. The motor is terrific; if everything’s equal, everybody has the skill and athleticism to play at the high major level, the motor can be the separation.”
It’s similar for teams.
It’s no coincidence that the country’s No. 1 boys’ team, Chino Hills (Chino Hills, Calif.), combines superior shooting and passing with a motor that seems to infect all five players on the floor.
“Some teams have motors with no talent, others have talent with no motors,” said Chino Hills point guard Lonzo Ball, a UCLA signee who is ranked No. 5 overall in the ESPN 100. “But when you have both… That’s special.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY