The Coach John Lucas Blog: Potential aside, can he actually play now?

The Coach John Lucas Blog: Potential aside, can he actually play now?

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The Coach John Lucas Blog: Potential aside, can he actually play now?


Coach John Lucas is widely regarded as one of the foremost authorities for basketball training and development on every level in the world with top college and NBA players flocking to Houston to train in the offseason. A former All-American at Maryland, Lucas played in the NBA for 14 years before serving as head coach for the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers. Currently, Coach Lucas is the Director of Player Development with the Houston Rockets. Now Lucas kicks off his blog with USA Today High School Sports.

The question that needs to be asked FIRST in today’s AAU program and grassroots basketball yet is always asked last: Can he play?

Not who’s recruiting him, not who’s looking at him, not what position he plays, but, can he actually play?

So often that question gets mixed up in all the hype, from videotapes to who he’s playing for to what shoe company he’s with. Often times, we don’t find out whether or not he can play until it’s too late.

A friend of mine said to me… “The pros are responsible.”

We pay for their potential to play, and we’ve taken that same concept to earlier levels, focused on a player’s potential rather than his ability to play.

What’s his fundamental level? What’s his aptitude to the game? How does he interact with teammates? What is his shooting capacity? What position does he play in a sport that’s quickly becoming position-less basketball?

People forget that one has to be able to guard in his/her position based on one’s size in order to get to the highest level; and it’s much harder at the pro level to get everybody playing one position.

If we keep saying “this is what he’s going to be,” instead of “can he play?” then we never address the real answer: He can’t play!

Basketball at grassroots level needs people willing to help kids with no reward for themselves, and those who are able to move them on to people who can help them get to the next step. By not asking the MOST important question FIRST, the kid consequently gets the raw end of the deal; hurt feelings and a wasted career.

Questions that are usually asked: Who does he play for? Unimportant.

What year is he? Some importance.

What’s his potential? Who else has offered? All of those questions are asked before we ask and find out the answer to the real question: Can he play?

The people who can play are missed early because we’re looking at potential talent. If you ever follow the rankings all the way through, guards are ranked higher earlier because of their motor skills. As they get older you find that the guards fall back, and they then begin to rank the bigger, more athletic sized players. At this point they’re not ranking on skills now, they’re ranking on expected potential. So that critical question of “can he play” is now based on what he “might” become.

I thought I was going to become the first black President of the United States. What I became was an addict and an alcoholic who then went on to become a coach.

So, you can’t focus on what a player might become. Clearly, the focus must be on his ability to play right now.

Don’t forget to follow Coach John Lucas on Twitter: @JLEnterprises


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