by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford

In suburban Chicago over the weekend, Under Armour, the apparel and shoe company who is making serious inroads into the world of basketball, held a combine style training event for some of the best HS players in the country. Dubbed ‘Grind Session,’ the event, in partnership with the famed IMG Academy in Florida, is the basketball translation of the combines the company has held in other sports for years.

Under Armour invited 52 of the best prep players in the country across three separate classes (2012, 2013, 2014) to Chicago, and the kids also got to train with and received inspiration from the company’s newest sneaker endorser, former University of Arizona standout and the No. 2 pick overall in this years draft, Derrick Williams. Players in attendance went through a series of testing, measurements and drill-like events that the company calls Combine 360. It is akin to what one might see while watching the NBA Draft combine held every year.

According to UA, “Grind Session is the newest initiative reflective of the brand’s long-standing commitment to grassroots basketball and helping young basketball players improve their performance.”

Unlike other shoe and apparel companies whose sole purpose at times is to push product, Under Armour’s sole commitment is to make athletes the best that they can be.

Says Ted Gladue, Senior Manager for Basketball at UA, “Ideally, the idea was to get the kids off the court and teach them how to think the game rather than continue to play. That was the overall premise of it. If it were up to me, they wouldn’t play at all, they would just go through drills. I think it’s a natural progression for where we are as a brand and it fits into what we’re doing.

“We sat down with a few skill development directors and asked them to develop a curriculum for us that we can put into our events along with our combine testing components. So we came up with ‘Combine, Drill, Ball’ as the tag line for the event and that’s what we’ll do moving forward.”

On Day 1 players went through measurements (height, weight), had their wingspans and reach charted along with their athleticism, vision, strength and flexibility tested. From there they were taken through a brief warm-up before they were taken through individual basketball skills such as post play and executing proper a step back in order to create separation from defenders, and this was just in the morning.

After a brief break for lunch along with an informational session by the NCSA and media interviews afterwards, players were allowed a bit of downtime which for many of them included playing Madden and NCAA Football ’12 on Xbox 360, if they so chose. But after lunch, it was back to business with the second half of the day primarily focused on the situational aspects of basketball, a brief practice with their individual teams and then games in the evening. By then, the players were spent but that was the underlying goal, to see how well they could perform under the pressure of fatigue.

The games were round robin style and after playing 20 minutes, players had to shuffle to another court to play their next contest. As you can expect after so much work being put in beforehand, play tended to be a bit sloppy at first. But once the spirit of competition kicked in, it was easy to tell why these are some of the best players in the land.

Day 2 was even more intense as it was shorter with even more testing and drills packed in. Players were taken through more combine events such as 10 and 20 yard sprints, agility tests, broad and vertical jumps, vertical leaps and 300 yard shuttle. After that, a brief warmup and once again, 2 more hours of games.

Some of the standouts from the weekend: Aquille Carr (Patterson – Baltimore, MD), Robert Carter, Jr (Shiloh – Thomasville, GA), Nate Britt (Gonzaga Prep – Washington, DC), Shaquille Cleare (The Village School – Houston, TX), Isaiah Whitehead (Lincoln – Brooklyn, NY), Glenn Robinson, Jr. (Lake Central – Sabereville, IN) and the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron (Travis – Fort Bend, TX), although Aaron didn’t compete due to injury.

Other notables included: Connor Frankamp (North – Wichita, KS), Frank Mason (Petersburg – Petersburg, VA), Daniel Ochefu (Westtown – Westtown, PA), Skylar Spencer (Price – Los Angeles, CA) and Miles Overton (St. Joseph’s Prep – Chester, PA).

All of the players measurements and times in the combine event are posted on Under Armour’s combine testing site which can be found here.

Overall, it was a fantastic and well organized event with a premise than can be appreciated by any serious athlete whose main goal isn’t just to make it to the pros, but to work as hard as they can to be the best athlete out there which gives them an even greater advantage over competition and increases the likelihood of being a professional athlete someday.

Eric Ogbogu, who played collegiately at Maryland and spent 8 years in the NFL, is the Director of Grassroots Marketing and NFL Relations for the brand. He summed up Grind Session this way:

“Under Armour is a brand that was created by athletes, for athletes. And how we treat athletics at the youth level is important. We want to give these kids an experience that will help them take their game to the next level and not just with the products we sell, but with the product we put out there on the court or on the field.”