It's been a while since I last set foot on a basketball court. My life now is all about nonstop work, lack of sleep, and the occasional night out with friends.
That's why when FHM was invited to try out the latest LeBron 14 'Chase Down' shoes, I wasted no time RSVP-ing to Nike's 'Come Out Of Nowhere' experience. Sure, I thought to myself, a pickup game won't hurt.
What I didn't know was the price of testing the new LeBrons was to undergo a workout under new Far Eastern University mentor Olsen Racela, who conducted the drills with the help of some of his players and coaching staff.
While I'm not that good to even crack Team C of a collegiate hoops program, I've had some burn against good competition on the hardwood when I was younger. Though I admit to having lost a step, I was still confident that at 26 years old and 26 pounds heavier, I could hold my own against skilled opponents.
Or so I thought.
It had to be the first stop.
Unlike most players, I picked up the sport not after watching Michael Jordan in the NBA, but rather Hanamichi Sakuragi from the anime Slam Dunk. I then took to heart Akagi's words: "The one who controls the rebound, controls the game." As a late bloomer in basketball, I focused on one aspect of the game, and that was to grab every board possible.
In the latter part of high school, I shot up to almost six feet, which meant an automatic inclusion to the varsity team. For us big men, the coach emphasized defense and rebounding, and left ball-handling and playmaking to the guards during training. Throughout my short-lived interschool career, I wasn't able to give much attention to dribbling, other than the occasional coast-to-coast drives in pickup games.
Making things worse was the fact that most drills required two balls. Being a lefty, I had little problem handling the leather with my dominant hand. My right hand was a different story, though; the other ball was all over the place. Every time it slipped out of my hand, I was haunted by all those practices that I had skipped and didn't take seriously. You can imagine my relief when the first whistle was blown, and we were instructed to proceed to the next station.
I couldn't wait to get to the post-up part.
Some are impressed by my ability to convert left-handed layups and shoot jumpers with my right. But that's where it ends, really.
The problem is, I wasn't a primary offensive option during my playing years. Not only do I have a broken jump shot, but body contact can easily alter my attempts. Most of my points come from drop passes and offensive rebounds—if I'm able to secure them. I also had no problem deferring to my better teammates; I pride myself in being a willing and decent passer.
In all fairness, the shooting exercise, which was actually more of driving to the basket, went smoother than the first one, before we were asked to incorporate crossover and spin moves that saw a two-fold increase in difficulty. I was able to put the ball through the hoop, but not before botching the 'slashing' part of the routine.
No wonder my moves were so predictable. I realized that I developed the wrong tendencies when I was learning the game.
For someone who has a shaky sense of balance, I was surprised to fare better than most of my groupmates in the speed ladder drills. I could've even perfected this segment if not for the confusion caused by how some of the motions were almost similar. Other than that, it looked like that I knew what I was doing compared to when I was in the first two stations.
The only thing that gave me a hard time jumping from point to point is all the weight I've put on in recent years from stress eating and playing sparingly. Paired with my historically poor stamina, I was already sweating like a pig a couple of minutes into the workout. We were only on the second half of the training session and I could barely stand up.
It was then that I realized I should really lay off the fast food and start lacing up those trainers.
The moment of truth.
I wasn't exactly a go-to pivot, but I do know my way around the paint. Especially when I began bulking up, I had to improve on my inside play, and based on what I've observed in my latest games, I got fairly better in the post. Besides, I realized I was the biggest dude in the affair, so falling short in this round would be a total embarrassment.
I watched and listened to coach Olsen's demo, but just as a formality. I kept telling myself, "Time to shine," before lining up to his side. I received the ball while being guarded by him, did my move, and most importantly, made the hook shot. I was on the verge of breaking out a smile after finally doing something right, when coach suddenly called me out.
I committed a traveling violation.
Even though I was able to do it properly the second time around, the failure of my initial try had already broken my spirit. This affected my next drills, most of which required deconstructing my incorrect habits and relearning how to operate down low. I suddenly had an epiphany. I was approaching basketball all wrong.
While we were all lying on the court and stretching to cool down, everything dawned on me. The reason LeBron James and his predecessors are great is not solely because of talent, but for the most part, they've been putting the work since Day One. The best players took no days off. An amateur like me can't afford to slack off even one bit if I want to be better. It took a failed drill to bring me back down to earth.