Herb Magee knows a good shot when he sees one. Not only that, he knows how to make it better. Aside from being one of the winningest college basketball coaches in history—at any level—Magee is also one of the elite shooting coaches in the country.
The head coach of Philadelphia University, Magee has won nearly 860 games and is still counting. While he’s had a long run teaching teams, he’s earned a rep for his invaluable knowledge of shooting the ball while working with players like Charles Barkley, Jameer Nelson and Malik Rose. Few instructors rival his understanding of mechanics.
Magee shared a ton of experience and knowledge in a recent chat with SLAM.
SLAM: How are you doing so far, Coach?
Herb Magee: We’re 2-0. We’re very pleased.
SLAM: When did you actually get into coaching and why?
HM: I was a senior at Philadelphia Textile, which is not Philadelphia University, and I was going to take a job with a business. I went to my coach, Bucky Harris, and I said, You know what? This is not for me. I really want to be involved with basketball. He said to me, Let me go to the school president. So, they created a position for me. I was the assistant coach, phys-ed instructor, cross-country coach, tennis coach, and helped with the intramurals.
SLAM: Hadn’t you gotten drafted by the Celtics?
HM: I was drafted by the Boston Celtics. The problem with that was that I was injured when it came time for training camp—I had broken two fingers on my hand. Plus, the fact that their backcourt at the time was Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, and John Havlicek. I visited the Hall of Fame one year, and all of them are there. To make the team would have been hard. I think that I was a pretty good player, but you’re talking about Hall of Famers.
SLAM: How did you get serious about being a head basketball coach?
HM: I didn’t give it any thought until late in my college career when I realized that I wanted to stay involved because I loved it so much and hit had been a part of my life since I was a little kid. As I became the JV at Philadelphia Textile, I saw that I was pretty good at it. I had a way of communicating and teaching kids and our JV teams were pretty successful. When our coach retired, they offered me the job when I was 25 years old, so of course I jumped at it. Who wouldn’t want the chance to coach at their alma mater? And we were able to have immediate success.
SLAM: So you haven’t left Philadelphia Textile/Philadelphia University in years?
HM: Never. I went when I was 18 years old in September of 1959, so now I’m in my 50th year of being here. The last thing I can remember was shooting a jump shot against someone in the tournament in 1963, and now all of a sudden it’s 2008.
SLAM: What is consistently the toughest thing to teach?
HM: I’m not sure. I think you can teach basketball to any kids, but the change in coaching as been in the attitude of the kids. They’re still good kids, but they’re not like they were when I was a kid. I used to hate when people would say that to me: Hey, when I was a kid. But, I find myself using that phrase all the time. We never questioned anything; all that we cared about was winning games. Now, a large percentage of the kids are disillusioned because they think they can play in the NBA, but we all know the percentages on that. It’s now more of the “me” generation, but once they see the way I approach things; I haven’t really had too many problems. The way I approach it is you’ve got to give it the best you can. Kids always want to know about playing time, and I tell them that I don’t decide – you guys do. They best kid play. A kid says to me, What do I have to do to get more playing time, and I simply say to him, Get better. Nowadays, they all want somebody to work them out and this and that. I became a good shooter by practicing shooting; nobody had to tell me what to do, I just did it. I was in the gym all day, everyday.
SLAM: Have you ever had a guy go to the NBA?
HM: No. We’ve had a couple guys drafted, but since they lowered the draft to two rounds, no. We’ve got a couple guys playing overseas and earning a good living, but not in the NBA.
SLAM: Is it team chemistry and dynamics that rule over Xs and Os in the end?
HM: Without question. It’s important what you run, and your schemes, and the decisions during the game, but the most important thing is team chemistry and teams that play together. You’ll find that those are the teams that are successful. That’s why you see Duke teams, and North Carolina teams, and Bob Knight’s teams at Indiana being successful, because they get guys to play that way.
SLAM: How did you being to get a reputation not necessarily as a good shooter, but as a good shooting coach and a good shooting teacher?
HM: I started teaching shooting a camp that I still go to, called Pocono Invitational. A family named the Kennedy’s runs it, and Bob Kennedy called me one day and said, We’d love to have you speak at our camp. I went up there, and he said, What do you want to talk about, you pick the topic. I said, You know, I’m a good shooter, let me teach these kids how to shoot. Since then, in the 42 years that I’ve been doing camps and clinics, I’ve never spoken about anything but shooting. Jack McKinney, of the Lakers who was injured in a bike accidents and then became the coach of the Indiana Pacers, called me one time years ago and said, Herb, do you think you could help our team with foul shooting because we’re last in the league. So I flew to Indiana and spent a week at his training camp with him and then got the reputation of being able to help guys in the NBA. Since then I’ve worked with a number of guys.
SLAM: Can you tell me about working with Charles Barkley in the gym?
HM: Charles Barkley is as good a man as you’ll ever meet. We were sitting in the gym one day and he asked me if I knew where a certain church was that was in Philly who had recently lost all their sporting equipment. I said, Yeah, I know where that is, so he asked me to give him their phone number because he wanted to help them out. He said, I don’t want anyone to know this Herb, but he sent the money to take care of all the stuff they lost. That’s the kind of guy Charles Barkley is. When I worked with Charles, twenty something years ago, he’s not one of those guys that wants to go into the gym and spend hours. So, you gotta make sure that when you’re in there with him, you get your point across. We worked on his foul shooting. It paid off. He went from a poor foul shooter to a pretty good foul shooter and it was one little thing that he had to do; he was not completing his stroke—he would shoot it and pull his hand back.
SLAM: Out of all the guys in the NBA that you worked with, who was the hardest worker?
HM: Easy answer: Malik Rose. We spent one summer in the gym at Philadelphia University—he must have been there 10 or 15 times—each time working on foul shooting, jump shooting, shooting off the dribble. When he was with San Antonio, he had to be wing, because they had Duncan and the big kid from Navy (David Robinson). We would finish after two hours, and he would say, Can you stay a little long? So I would, but eventually I would have to tell him, Malik, I’m tired. So he would get a book out with a pencil and ask me what I wanted him to work on. I’d say, You gotta work on your guide hand, for instance, and he’s over there writing stuff down. That’s the way he was.
SLAM: Who is somebody that is in the NBA or college where you think, he has a perfect stroke?
HM: Ray Allen. Absolutely deadly. When Michael Jordan played, I’d say Michael Jordan. When I go to camps, I have a little folder with pictures where the camera man caught the guy right when he’s releasing the ball, so you can see the guide hand and everything in the perfect position. I carry them everywhere I go. One of the guys that is very, very impressive—and people think of him as a driver and dunker—really was Jordan. He was one of the greatest shooters that ever lived.
SLAM: What’s the most common flaw in a shot?
HM: Two things. One, the guide hand position; the off-hand. You’ll find that most of the mistakes occur in shooting when the guide hand affects the shot. In order to have your guide hand on the ball perfectly, you have to have it in a position so that when you shoot the ball, you shoot with your shooting hand and the ball goes through the guide hand and has no affect on the shot at all except to catch it and pick it up to the release position. That, plus, you’ll see very few players that complete their shot; in other words, follow through.
SLAM: As far as teaching and coaching, what’s the one thing you always try to keep in mind when dealing with kids?
HM: That’s interesting. Each kid is different. Over the years, there are some kids that will react and respond positively to me chastising them. Whereas, other kids, they may go into a shell. It’s your job as a coach to realize that kids are different. You can’t treat everybody the same way. That’s a very important aspect to remember when you become a coach, that each kid is different.
SLAM: You’re sharing some valuable info on these DVDs you have coming out. Can you explain to me a little bit about them?
HM: Everything that we do revolves around my daughter, Kay. I’m the one in the DVD imparting the information and showing the correct way to do it, but as far as the idea behind it, it was all her. Also, the idea to create the website, herbmagee.com. You can go on the website and learn everything you want to know about how to get the DVDs, shooting camps we run, clinics, individual instruction, and other things like that. She’s the brains behind the whole thing. She says a lot of times, all I have to do is get dad to show up.
Our first DVD, Nothing But Net, was done by Banyan Productions and I think they did a great job. Of course, I’m a little prejudiced, but I think it’s the best shooting video that I’ve ever seen—and I’ve seen a lot. Because it breaks things down in basic ways. If you watch that DVD and do the things that are on the DVD, and do the drills and take them step-by-step, and then you get the follow up DVD, called Nothing But Drills, and work on those things, then I think you’ve got a real good chance of becoming a good shooter if you spend the time in the gym.
SLAM: Overall, does shooting come down to really good repetition?
HM: Yes. In fact, the old adage is practice makes perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect. In other words, if you said that you go to the gym everyday and shoot for two hours, that doesn’t impress me. Only if you go into the gym with a plan. Let’s say every time you hit a golf ball incorrectly on the driving range, and now you hit one hundred golf balls, what are you doing? You’re grooming a bad stroke. If you go into the gym and shoot the ball 1000 times and your stroke is incorrect, you’re grooming a bad stroke. What you need to do when you go in the gym is work on something. Work on your shooting hand first, or your guide hand, or footwork. Step-by-step until finally you’ll be able to knock down every shot you take. A great shooter, when properly warmed up, will be able to make all their shots with nobody on them.
SLAM: Do you still ever see kids using that guide hand too much?
HM: Yeah, that’s the biggest flaw. One time, somebody asked me why that was so important. I relate a lot of this stuff to the golf swing. If your golf grip is incorrect, you can’t hit a golf ball correctly. If your grip on the basketball is incorrect, then you can’t shoot a basketball correctly. And there’s a certain way to do it. Basically, what I tell kids is this: look down at your hands, and for the shooting hand, you should never be able to see the pinky—because if you see your pinky, you throw your elbow out—and on your guide hand, your thumb should be aimed not in the air, but towards the target. In other words, in a shake hands position. If you can see your pinky and you come up to shoot, your elbow is out. Same thing with your thumb. You don’t want to be shooting with your thumb. When you come up to shoot, it should be aimed behind you.
SLAM: You’ve been in basketball for so long, is there anything you’ve got planned when this is over for you?
HM: No, just coach. I don’t really have any plans to retire. I’m a healthy guy for my age, and all I really need to do is stay healthy. If the time comes where I wake up in the morning and don’t feel like going to practice, or if a game day doesn’t excite me, then I’ll know. But that’s never happened since I started playing and coaching basketball. I wake up everyday and my thought are always on the game. How can be get better and how can we do the things we need to do to be successful.
Herb Magee’s “Nothing But Net” & “Nothing But Drills”
Reviewed by Adam Fleischer
Among all aspects of the game, Herb Magee has become best known for his ability as a shooting instructor. Through the years, he has lended his services to several NBA teams and, like many coaches, helped out at various basketball camps. Magee has taken it one step further, though, compiling instructional videos to bless those who can’t work directly with him with the tips of a master.
The two videos, Nothing But Net and Nothing But Drills, work together towards the goal of improving a player’s shooting. The former goes through all of the basic necessities that any player must have down if he or she hopes to be an accurate shooter. From the shooting hand and the guide hand to the use of legs and proper setting of feet, Nothing But Net ensures that one has a grasp on all of the fundamentals that a great shooter possesses. After the coach goes over each topic, he gives Magee’s Keys to further clarify and implant in the mind of the player what he has discussed.
Nothing But Drills may sound like a nightmare to those among us that just want to get out on the court and play, but it is said that practice makes perfect, and going through these drills is sure to bring a player steps closer to perfection. Developed as a supplement to the first video, Magee’s second offering provides countless drills for a player that looking to build on and put into use what was taught in Nothing But Net. Ranging from warm-up drills to in-game situations, the comprehensive set of drills can be practiced individually or with a partner. Of these, some we’re bound to have heard of before, while others are welcomed additions to one’s practice repertoire.
Hands down, the weakest part of my game has always been my shot. What was true when I played in elementary school at the YMCA still rings true today: the only way to improve this is through practice. Not just the same old practice, where I go out and start shooting jumpers in the same unmechanical way I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember, but guided practice, doings things the right way like we see in these videos.
While my career may be more or less over, there’s no doubt that the instructions by Magee, if followed, will help any player improve their shooting and, in turn, their all-around game. The videos run an hour and an hour and fifteen minutes, respectively, but kids coming up hoping to make their team, if willing to put in the time and follow the instructions as shown on each, will definitely benefit from Nothing But Net and Nothing But Drills.