by Franklyn Calle / @FrankieC7
For the past couple of years, Under Armour has had the strongest presence in the youth basketball circuit–more than another other brand out there. It resembles in the type of players they feature in each of their invitation-only events and all of the nationally renowned prospects that make up their grassroots traveling teams. The Baltimore-based company has been able to gain credibility as one that focuses on the development of young players’ skill-sets and attempting to challenge players with a rigorous workout regimen–instead of just flying guys in to play in a bunch of full-court all-star games, which has become customary in many of today’s events. Personally, I was able to witness one of UA’s intense workout sessions two years ago when the company hosted some of the top prep ballers in the Northeast in New York’s Chelsea Piers for their Combine360 program. UA has been successful in adapting its highly recognized football combines into basketball-specific training drills–transcending the concept of basketball training. Another perfect example will be this weekend in Atlanta (GA) when UA hosts about 45 of the most promising talent in the nation for its second Grind Session of the year.
The event will put selected players through various demanding and arduous drills that will test and refine each player’s skills and conditioning. The exercises include emphasis on ball handling, circuit breaker, fundamentals, shooting and creating space, pick and roll, 2v2 and 3v3 competition, and a set of games to cap off the day. From about 9am to about 4pm, the players partake in continuous skill-developing routines.
“Basically we want to give them things they can take back to their own back yard and do themselves,” says Senior Basketball Manager Ted Gladue. “I think it’s different. They enjoy it and understand that it’s work. They are not just coming in and throwing the ball around and just playing. They are going through a structured set of skill development session. And I think it will be helpful to the kids–whether it be a guard or big man, you’re doing the same thing.”
On board, UA has two of the most respected trainers in the game for their Grind Session events: Jay Hernandez and Hanif Hill–both of whom have worked with an array of NBA and overseas talent. And both are there to make sure the players leave feeling like they’ve just completed one of the most challenging basketball workouts of their lives. “It’s a one-day event for a reason because it’s very hard,” says Gladue. “We could always stretch it out to two or three days. I think we just want to give kids a taste of it and give them what it takes to be great. Right now it’s mainly about getting the kids in and putting in the work.”
At the previous Grind Session, former legendary Maryland head coach Gary Williams was the guest speaker and delivered a powerful message about the game to the invitees. “Gary speaks to the kids about the people around you and understanding the care about playing,” says Gladue. “Not just going on the court–you know, when you are watching kids play a bunch of games and they don’t care whether they win or lose, just that the game is over. It’s basically about caring and giving it everything when you’re on the court.” Although Williams won’t be in attendance this weekend in Atlanta, he is expected to partake in other Under Armour Grind Session events this summer.
Aside from Grind Sessions, Under Armour has also been hosting its 2012 Championship Series, which hosts some of the top UA-sponsored AAU teams in different cities throughout the country. So far, the UA Jamfest in Pittsburgh, the Jayhawk Invitational in Kansas City, and the “Are you from Here” Classic in Dallas have lived up to high quality of competition as a result of the top-notch talent on display. The last of four tournaments will be held on July 18-22 in Milwaukee, hosting some of the top performing teams from the previous tourneys. Reports have been that the Harrison twins (Andrew and Aaron) out of Texas have been playing tremendous thus far, while Rashad Vaughn from Robbinsdale Cooper in Minnesota emerged into the national scene in Dallas. Others standouts thus far during the Championship Series include North Carolina-commit Nate Britt from Gonzaga (DC), Dwayne Morgan from City (MD), Trayvon Reed from Shiloh (GA), Markel Crawford from Melrose (TN), Karl Towns from St. Joseph (NJ) and Josh Brown, a Temple-commit from St. Anthony (NJ).
This weekend, point guard sensation Aquille Carr, along with Vaughn, Reed and many other nationally respected players will partake in the Atlanta Grind Session.
The progress UA has made the last few years on the basketball side is now becoming transparent to all of those involved in the game, specially those who have watched the player-development of many elite prospects on the prep scene. “I think the team of guys we have, they would all say the same thing, we have structure and we have a plan,” says Gladue. “We’re basically putting these kids on platforms and giving them the exposure they need and that’s our job. So I think the things that we’re building up have been appreciated by the guys that are with Under Armour. I think the team of guys in Chris Hightower, Marquise Watts and myself that have put this thing together, we have lots of work to do obviously but I think we’re on the right path.”
The overall purpose and expectations of the Grind Sessions are not to create an all-star focused showcase but to give the opportunity to these elite players, who usually are not able to work on their game individually during the summer because of the grueling AAU traveling schedule and all the games in between, to learn ways to enhance their games and take it up to another level through very specific drills. For Gladue, measuring the success of the Grind Sessions depends on the performance of the selected players next time around. “I see it more in the younger kids, which I think a lot more people would see too–when I see older kids that are at that elite level listening to the guys that we have and progressing with it, whether it be ball-handling or keeping your jumper up rather than down,” he says. “Each time we see them you can tell they worked on it. I guess on the younger kids it’s probably easier to see but it’s on the older kids that I find it the most gratifying because you can tell they went home and actually worked on what they learned on either the Grind Sessions last year or the one in D.C. It’s exciting because you don’t know what the kids are going to take out of it.”
The following is the official roster for this weekend’s Grind Session in Atlanta.
And so you’re probably wondering what are some of the drills that Under Armour puts some of the best players in the nation through. Check out the videos below!