Questions always come up on what makes college players great. There are many answers given to this question but one will always stand out to me. Lets look at some of the usual answers:
Hard work. Yes this helps a player develop and become better. But it is not the main reason a player becomes good.
Dedication is another thing often mentioned. You must have more than just dedication.
Athleticism is a good one and very important in the way a person performs
Knowledge of the game always makes a person better
Ability to shoot the ball, or the rock as many say. Very important
Quickness helps performance
Toughness is a needed ingredient for good playing and performance
Ball handling always helps
Ability to catch the ball is always good, especially for big people who often have to handle passes from guards
All the things I have mentioned are essential ingredients in the making of a GREAT PLAYER. But now I am going to give you an ingredient that could determine if a person with all I mentioned will ever reach his or her potential. Without this ingredient 8 out of 10 players will not become the player they are projected to be. The ingredient is:
LOVE PLAYING BASKETBALL!
If you look at local players as well as those on the national level, most of the true great players loved playing basketball and did not play just to kill time. Michael Jordan was such a competitor he would play in the park in Wilmington North Caroline with almost anyone. Magic Johnson loved to play so much he came back to play multiple times despite not needing money. Larry Bird? Please! He just loved playing and wanted to play against the best all his life.
Young players are easily identified as future college and NBA players just by their attitude towards playing. I knew Ron Artist was going to be a very good player when he was 13 years old and was a horrible and somtimes dirty player. Every time I saw him in the Queensbridge Projects in Long Island City, he was on the basketball court. He just always wanted to play. I remember him wanting to play in older games when he was 16 and the guys playing were 20 and older. He was still below average but his mouth watered from his desire to get on the court and PLAY!
Ron had a friend named Reggie Jessie. Reggie was rated higher than Ron and was a very good HS Player. But unlike Ron he did not seem to love playing as much as he loved being around those who did. He was a more "Cool Guy." Reggie had a good career at St. Johns and I am sure he worked out etc. But I am not sure he loved the game like Ron, who to this day still plays in 3 or 4 summer tournaments in NYC as well as in his old neighborhood on occasion.
Lets look at Steve Nash. Not highly thought of coming out of Santa Clara University by way of Canada. I watched him on TV and thought he was OK. He loved playing and just got better and better because he PLAYED all the time. I would bet that if he is in NYC next week (He spends summers in NYC with his Actress Wife), he will be up at Fordham taking part in the run that happens every Monday and Wednesday with Jim Couch and The Dyckman Program.
Some players just have natural ability but most who become stars share the love for the game and the desire to play all the time. A recent Bounce magazine article (You folks need to read this publication because it is great) talked about various summer leagues across America. One in particular was a Washington DC league with no sponsors, just guys playing the game hard. When Gilbert Arenas arrived to play for the Wizards the first thing he did was jump in his rental car with sneakers in hand to play some ball in the park with any team that would have him. Needless to say this is why players such as he and Nash, both drafted as 2nd rounder's are NBA All Stars. They love playing. I can say the same thing about Quincy Douby. I watched him when he was growing up in Brooklyn. He had so many other guys on his Grady team that seemed to have more potential than him. I for one thought he was a good shooter but never dreamed he would become an NBA player. But he just played and played and got better and better. He just loved playing and competing which is why he might have been so hard on his teamates at Rutgers. He might have felt they should have the same desire and love for the game he had.
Before looking at local players I want to make a point about competing and desiring to get better. Those that take off time from playing always seem to under achieve. Still remember my son prior to going to a Big 10 school saying he needed to relax. needless to say he relaxed all of his freshmen season on the bench at the Big 10 school watching kids without his ability play over him because they loved to play and compete more than him. There are many other examples of this including some local players.
Kids should want to compete. They should want to play. I always tell HS and College kids they should be excited about the chance to play against the best. Many shy away from this because they do not want to hurt their reputations by being outplayed. But the person who wants to get better will be watering from the mouth just hoping to go against the best. They will seek the challenge head on and use the experience to their benefit. This was the case with Labron James vs Lenny Cooke years ago at ABCD Camp. Labron, from what I heard, could not sleep the night before because he was so excited about the opportunity to go against Lenny. Lenny was cool the night before not thinking about the matchup as he spoke with his people, if you know what I mean. Well we all know what happened. And if you are in Ohio in early September do not be surprised to see Labron on the court playing with old friends if he is in town because he loves playing.
One of the worst things ever is when Colleges have kids stay on campus all year and work on their game in air conditioned gyms with professional shooting guys, etc. A smart coach will use the film Rocky as an example of how to get better. Rocky went back to the "Hood" to prepare for his next fight after losing his previous bout. Kids get better in the sun, on the playgrounds, and by playing some 3 on 3. In 3 on 3 you have to develop a going to the basket game. And with 20 guys waiting to play you work hard to stay on the court.
Lets look at local players. Unfortunately many have that I am a Big East Player mentality already. Even a few I am close to. I have a friend named Evander Ford who works NBA guys out as well as trains younger players. He can not walk past a court in the city without stopping and teaching. I have seen him do in with kids as young as 10 years old. He loves the game. I watch my buddy Bobby Holford, a GREAT COACH, get on a plain to Florida to be the Assistant Coach to Donald Osbourne (future Great Coach) with a group of 12 year olds. This is a guy who was the National Junior College Coach of the Year 3 years ago. I watch Tiny Archibald, or is it now Dr. Tiny Archibald? I watch Tiny go into Fordham with Mr. Couch and work guys out FOR FREE. A Hall Of Fame guy working people out for free? A guy who led the NBA in scoring and assists working for free? Think Steve Nash is not listening. Well these guys mentioned love the game. Players who wish to reach their potential need to have the same fire and desire.
Locally I think there are a few who meet the fire and desire category. Jeremy Hazell loves to play. At least he did from what I remember. Eugene Harvey used to love the game. Not sure if he is too much of a star to still enjoy. I am sure Keon Lawrence loves to play and will at every opportunity. Mike Rosario seems to be in the same mold. Mike Davis also. I often say some kids have just too much meat in the refrigerator and are never hungry. That is the case with many who play local. JR Inman, Anthony Farmer, Anthony Mason Jr., and others are all very good players. But if they learned to love the game like it was a women, or a great burger, watch out!