by Adam Fleischer
Jon “Superhandles” Hildebrandt is widely viewed as one of the best ball handlers in the world. While that’s no easy crown to wear, through the years, Superhandles proved he’s deserving. Born and raised in Oregon, Superhandles started playing basketball on hoops that his father set up in the family barn where he worked for hours on skills ranging from dribbling to shooting. Through a combination of hard work, determination, and focus, he elevated his handle to an unprecedented level and helped to lead his high school team to two 2A Oregon state titles while being named Oregon 2A Player of the Year as a junior and senior.
SLAM recently caught up with the ball handling sensation to discuss his newest workout video, his advice for up-and-coming players, and his friendship with one of And1’s biggest stars.
SLAM: When did you start playing ball?
Jon “Superhandles” Hildebrandt: I started playing when I was shell high to a turtle. I’ve been working on my ball handling and dribbling ever since then. Pistol Pete Maravich motivated me a lot, and then also the more recent great guards of the game like Isaiah Thomas, Tim Hardaway, Jason Williams, Allen Iverson—guys that were really good off the dribble. I tried to pick up a little bit from everybody.
SLAM: Was your focus always on dribbling, or did you start out trying to become, for instance, a great shooter?
JH: My main goal was to be the best basketball player I could and to maximize my potential. Dribbling and ball handling isn’t the only thing I can do. Everything that had to do with skill, I worked on it. I would shoot 500 jumpers a day and keep a record of how many I made so I could see if I was getting better. I worked on anything that had to do with the game: jumping, sprinting, strength. I just set goals, kept records of everything, and went hard at it. That’s how you get better.
SLAM: What did you do to work on your ball handling skills and how did you incorporate that in your videos?
JH: Basically, I kept a record of everything I did in all of my workouts so I could go back and reference them. What I’ve done is created a 100 level program that, initially, will evaluate any ball handler from 1 to 100. Then, I have workouts predesigned for their own level and these workouts are available on audio and video. As people progress and get better, the workouts get harder and their skills will then improve. That’s the essence of my whole program.
SLAM: You’ve had a couple of videos so far, right?
JH: Yeah. My first video is SuperMix 1.0. That’s with the NBA announcing legend Bill Schonely who was great to have on the video. In addition to that one, I have four other videos that deal with my 100 level program. The first video is the first 25 levels, the next is the next 25, and so on. I also have separate workouts, and the workouts come in an audio/video package. There’s the audio telling what to do and there’s also a download of a video of me doing the workout so a person will know what to do. My program has over 2000 drills in it and eventually I’m going to try to have at least 50 workouts.
SLAM: That’s a lot of drills. Did you develop most of them yourself, take them from things that you’ve learned from coaches over the years, or is it some combination of the two?
JH: I was always tried to be a sponge to anything that would help me get better at basketball. I would learn from videos, from watching players play, and from books. Any kind of information that I could get, I would use it to try to make myself a better player. At the same time, I have a vast imagination, and I was constantly trying to figure out new ways to improve. Anything that I would think of, I would try to create a drill for it, all with the goal of being better for game situations. Yes, there’s an entertainment side to this but, at the same time, it’s not just there for show. There are a lot of guys that can do a lot of tricks with the ball and entertain people, but actually have no handles with the ball in real game situations. This stuff is real.
SLAM: You won a couple state championships in high school and played a bunch with The Professor from And1.
JH: That’s my boy. The first time we played together was in seventh grade when we went and played in New Orleans together. He grew up about 15 minutes from my house—we lived across the river from each other. Even when he was on And1, he’d come over to my barn and we’d play and get our workouts on. He’s a good friend.
SLAM: In that backcourt, who played point and who was at the two?
JH: Back when we played together, we could always play interchangeably. We got to play on the same high school all-star team. We would just feed off of each other cause we would work out together, and I always knew how great of a player he was, and he knew my game well, too. I was thrilled that he got the opportunity to be where he’s at right now.
SLAM: Back in high school, did you ever do something a little crazy or out of the ordinary with the ball that caused a coach to get on you?
JH: Yeah, I’ve had coaches get on me. Many times, coaches will restrict players; they won’t play to a players strength, but instead refine them within a system. This happens throughout all levels of basketball and it’s a sad shame, because so many players with talent aren’t being used and teams could be much better if they did use these players’ strengths. So, yeah, I was reprimanded by some coaches for certain passes I would throw or moves I would do. I was never fazed, though. You just got to keep going and keep playing your game. This stuff is fun to me; I play because it’s fun and I have a good time doing it. If I’m going to be confined to being a guard that just comes in and dumps it down to the post, that’s not my game. You can get anybody to do that. Like Pistol Pete always said, he played to entertain the fans. It can be entertainment and a job, but it’s also fun.
SLAM: Everyone who plays ball has a weaker hand. Which is your weaker hand?
JH: I’m a righty, but a lot of people say that I go left better. That’s just what it is—when you’re doing the two ball drills, both your hands are working. That’s why I always try to emphasize the importance of being strong with both hands, because if someone can go both directions equally well, they’re twice as hard to stop. They have twice as many options, really. Even in the NBA, there are guys that can’t dribble as well as they should. Through every level, from middle school to the pros, more often than not, ball handling is overlooked.
SLAM: What do you see for yourself in the future?
JH: As for playing, I’m always ready if there’s a good opportunity out there. That’s why I always try to keep my skills up. I think that God put me here to influence people, so I want to do that in any way possible, whether that’s training them, or playing, or simply entertaining. Anything I can do to make a difference in somebody’s life, I want to do it. At this point, I don’t want to be the coach of a team, but would rather work with people on an individual level with their individual skills in order to help them maximize their potential.
SLAM: Have you pursued any playing opportunities since school?
JH: I played a little bit in the IBL, a semi-pro thing, but that was while I was still in college. I would definitely like to continue playing, wherever that may be. I know what my skills are, and I can play anywhere given the right opportunity.
SLAM: You tell people that, “If you can handle two balls well, one is going to feel like it’s part of you.” Can you explain that?
JH: Just think about it. If you can handle two balls well—that is, full speed with the basketball, changing direction, both hands, behind the back, crossing over—just think how well you’ll be able to handle one basketball. That’s really the thinking behind it. If you can work with two basketballs going full speed, one is going to feel like it’s part of your body. No matter what situation you’re in, or what hand placement you have on the basketball, you’re going to be able to handle it.
SLAM: What would you say to kids coming up trying to make their middle school, JV or high school teams?
JH: Work on your ball handling, and work on it hard. Ball handling involves dribbling, passing, catching, shooting; every time your hands come in contact with the basketball, that’s ball handling. I would emphasize that, even if you put in only 10 minutes per day, you’re going to improve tremendously. It’s an overlooked part of the game, but it can help your game tremendously if you truly work on it. If a player can break their defender down off the dribble, they’re worth their weight in platinum. You can see that with guys like Chris Paul. Instead of having to run an elaborate offense to get someone a shot, they have the skill to create a shot for their teammates. That’s basically what Superhandles is empowering players to do and teaching them to do.