A crowd of students from the exclusive schools around Greenhills in San Juan were already in line by the time we got to the Ronac Art Center, also in Greenhills. What was the fuss about? The Rajon Rondo jerseys, Rondo shirts, and a whole other bunch of Boston Celtics paraphernalia dangling from the fingers of these privileged kids provided our only clues.
“There must be a huge sale on Celtics merchandise!” we had almost screamed. Then we remembered that we were there because we had been invited to the Red Bull Skills Clinic—a basketball clinic helmed by the swashbuckling Celtic point guard, Rajon Rondo.
The guard is in the country for a two-day work/vacation. He’s taking a quick break from the Asian leg of the Red Bull King of The Rock tour in Taiwan and Hongkong, and conducted a clinic here today, August 28. Tomorrow, Rondo will cap his Philippine stay with Red Bull Product of Europe’s Manila’s Got Wings project. The project is a joint venture between the energy drink and the local government of San Juan City to refurbish the San Juan National High School basketball court.
Now, back to the clinic. We went inside, ready to snap pictures of the Boston star with our cameraphones. But he was nowhere to be found just yet. "Thirty minutes before show time," the P.A. system said. Thankfully, there were many other things of interest every hoops fan could take a snapshot of: PBA players and coaches, a slew of sports commentators, and really pretty girls handing out Red Bulls.
Then it was Rondo time. Cool, calm, and collected as he has always been on the court, the one-time NBA Champion started the drills. Talented high school and college ballers including Ateneo’s Kiefer Ravena began dribbling, crossing over, and throwing behind-the-back passes in a clinic that lasted a little around an hour and a half.
Here are some of the things we learned while trying to keep a close ear on what the spitfire guard was saying:
When a defender gives you an inch, or when you get him on his heels after a stutter move, make your own move (sweep the ball or drive pass him) and make a dash for the basket. The defense will collapse to prevent giving you a clear lane towards the basket, which now gives you a couple of options to finish the play with: a corner pass to a three-pointer at the corner ("Like to a Jason Terry," said Rajon), a crosscourt pass over to the weak side ("Where Paul Pierce is spotting up"), a skip pass to a cutting big man ("K.G."), or a strong finish to the hole.
Every coach preaches this: keep your head up. We heard the phrase a lot of times from Rondo, too. Hearing an established floor general like Rondo say it just gave the age-old advice some added oomph. Because, as Rondo elaborated in so many ways, how can you distribute the ball or execute the play if you’re always staring at the floor or your defender?
Keep It Low
During one segment, chairs were set up all over the court for the players to dribble around. Rondo sat on one of those chairs, and every time a player passed his station, he took a stab at the ball, successfully swatting it away around 80% of the time. The lesson: protect the ball by keeping the dribble tight ("No fancy stuff, keep the ball close to your body") and low to the floor.
Whether you’re trying to imitate Rondo’s eurostep moves, the dream shake, or his many juke moves, you have to sell it. Commit to a move hard enough that the defender believes you’re going one way. When he bites, go the other way. Devastate him. Of course, doing such things are simpler when you’re Rajon-freaking-Rondo.
Finishing a lay-up off the wrong foot
Doing a lay-up off the wrong foot could make you look like a fool, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. But if you do know what you’re doing, like Rondo does, it’s the defender that ends up the fool. Taking off with the “wrong foot” ruins the timig of the player defending you. It also allows you to use your body to create distance betwwen your defender and the ball. According to Rondo, tricks like these help small guards survive the NBA. And here’s another Rondo trick: use the hand closest to the basket when finishing under the rim. Get the ball up there quick, and bounce it off the glass to have a better chance against would-be shot-blockers. Of course, this means you'll have to first learn how to finish lay-ups with either hands.
The behind-the-back pass: fancy AND effective
One drill was dedicated to the behind-the-back pass. Four chairs were established in a line, with one player on each side. One player would lob it, and the other has to make a bounce pass through the spaces between the chairs. Rondo later demonstrates that not only is the behind-the-back fancy-looking it’s also a quicker way to get the ball to a teammate in certain situations ("K.G. and I usually use it when we do a pick-and-roll") as opposed to pivoting and throwing a regular pass.
When Rondo is not playing ball, he dedicates his off time trying to recover to play some more ball. He emphasizes the importance of stretching everyday—his hips, legs, backs, arms—and relates how it could be an important factor in the longevity of one’s athletic career. Limber bodies are harder to injure ("That's why guys like Steve Nash and Jason Kidd have been around for a long time"). Also, he prefers healthy grub. His favorite? "I eat a lot of yogurt. Regular yogurt and special yogurt." Finally, a reason to eat yogurt!