NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. – After every game at the Nike Peach Jam, without fail, nearly every player follows the same routine: Throw on a backpack, toss on their headphones and bury their face in their cellphone.
That last part gets a bit tricky for AOT (Ga.) players.
“Coach took everyone’s phone this week for Peach Jam,” AOT guard Brandon Boston said. “It’s pretty rough, but we’ve gotten used to it.”
The tournament no-phone zone is a practice that head coach Omar Cooper has been implementing all spring and summer.
Players turned their phones in when they left for Peach Jam and will get them back when they board the bus to leave.
“It’s pretty rough,” AOT point guard Sharife Cooper said. “But those are the rules.”
Hard to argue with a practice that contributed to a 13-3 finish during the regular season.
Sharife, specifically, is used to not having a phone since Omar, who is also his father, took Sharife’s phone back in December after back-to-back subpar showings in games.
Omar said the reason for the rule is solely to put a premium on mental focus.
“It keeps the guys engaged on what’s important,” Omar said. “Instead of looking on social media for hours and talking to their families they get to lock-in. This is the chance of a lifetime to even be in this tournament and in order to fully grasp the opportunity to even have a chance to win we have to be 100 percent focused.”
Sharife and Boston buy-in to that belief, but quickly added that they feel like they’re capable of focusing even with their phones.
To illustrate that point, Boston said the players pointed out to Omar that they were permitted to have their phones during the Nike EYBL Atlanta session and the team finished 4-0.
“We thought it was a strong point,” Boston said with a laugh. “But coach wasn’t trying to hear it. I can see the difference with being mentally prepared for the game.”
Sharife wasn’t sure whether he actually believed it helped or that his dad’s constant message of phones being a distraction was influencing him, but he said he agreed that not having the phone allowed the players to get more rest and think about the day’s games.
“My dad talks about the benefit if not having those phones so much that I think I believe it too,” Sharife said with a laugh. “I have to say, though, I was a lot more rested for the morning games and I thought through what I wanted to do. It helps, it helps.”
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