Mr. Phenom

by February 22, 2013

Alex Stoddard is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Game Time Magazine, an avid basketball player and fan, and the youngest author to write for SLAMonline. A sixth grader at Wellesley Middle School, Alex attended adidas Jr Phenom Camp in San Diego, CA, in 2012 and was ranked seventh overall among the sixth grade attendees by Hoop Scoop. The rising hooper and writer interviewed the camp’s director, Coach Dave Taylor, about everything from early skills development to how to choose the right camp to attend. Check out their conversation below.—Ed.

interview by Alvie Stoddard, Alex Stoddard and Jarron Flynn

“One, two three…Lift ’em!”

It’s day one of the adidas National Jr Phenom Camp in San Diego, CA, at Alliant International University, and all 350-plus kids at the camp are laying on their backs, raising their legs in what camp director Dave Taylor calls a leg lift.

Why were they lifting? Because despite being warned, some of the campers had still left trash in the dining hall after lunch. The price they had to pay was three, one-minute leg lifts. For the next three days, lunch and dinner, no more trash could be found left on the floor.

Game Time Magazine caught up with Coach Taylor over the phone recently to talk with him about coaching, the Phenom Camp and leadership.


Game Time: As a coach, what qualities in younger players make them stand out from other talented players?

Dave Taylor: The fundamentals. I like to see kids that play the game the right way. At the Jr Phenom Camp, we are looking for kids that display the characteristics which coaches want to see in a player, such as: being defensive minded; team oriented; fundamentally sound; pass first, shoot second point guards; and intelligent players that can sit through a film session and describe what they are seeing. That’s what puts a kid in a different stratosphere.

Game Time: Do you look for athleticism and basketball IQ at the middle school level?

DT: The one thing that I do not look for is athleticism. I think that comes with age. At the middle school level the kids may not have all of the athletic skills yet, but, if they are fundamentally sound, in four or five years they will catch up to the other more athletic kids, and pass them.

What I look for are kids with high basketball IQ, academic intelligence, good grades in school, discipline, coachablity and good speaking and writing skills. These are the characteristics that DI and high school coaches will look for. These are the kids that are going to be successful.

Game Time: What specific things do you look for regarding basketball IQ?

DT: Kids that understand the flat triangle defense, see man and ball, move without the ball, lock down the ball and who are great off the ball defender. A kid that passes and cuts and sets the screen, slides and moves laterally and stays in his stance. Good coaches will recognize these skills.

Game Time: In your opinion, why is it that so many talented basketball players never make it to the college level? What qualities do you think separates the kids that do make it?

DT: The kids that do make it are the ones that are mentally tough. Mental toughness and perseverance are the most important traits to have if you want to become a successful athlete. When it comes to being a successful athlete you have to be mentally tough because you’re going to lose games, have bad games, and you’re going to fail a lot and miss a lot of shots. But the kids that are mentally tough will be able to persevere through this. The difference between a great player and a good player is intelligence and mental toughness.

Game Time: What should we be looking for in our coaches?

DT: As middle school players, you need a coach that provides the necessary discipline and focuses on the fundamentals.

Coaches that are tough on you: If you are arriving late to practice, not playing hard, not getting good grades, then the coach should bench you.

When you get to high school the discipline required should not be foreign to the kids. In high school discipline and fortitude are required to succeed in the academics and in basketball.

Game Time: Do kids spend too much time on the wrong things with respect to practicing? What would you recommend for a young player who only has one hour a day to practice?

DT: If you only have one hour to practice and you have a hoop/basket you should work on your mid-range. Work on step backs or catch and shoot or shoot off the dribble. (As a kid Coach Taylor always worked on his jab steps and pump fakes.) Also, add push-ups and sit-ups to your workout. Always practice at game speed. To quote John Wooden, “Practice like you play.”

The difference between a DI and DII player is that a DI player can shoot off of the dribble.


Game Time: What are the most rewarding aspects of the camps?

DT: The kids. On day one, you can see the fear in the kids but by day three it’s like a family. If we can reach 20 percent of the kids with our messages, this is a major accomplishment. These young kids (sixth-eighth graders) play hard and there is a sense of freedom.

Game Time: What is the toughest challenge that you face?

DT: The toughest challenge is getting the parents to understand how to best support their kids. Parents need to let the kids fail on their own—the kids need to learn how to succeed in the game.

Game Time: In addition to the Phenom Camps, what are a few of the other good camps to attend for kids our age?

DT: Attend camps that are focused on skills development. Some of the best camps are run by the local high school coaches. (Parents need to do their homework on the camps—vet out the coaches that will be running the camps and their philosophy.)


Game Time: In your opinion, who is, or was, the greatest forward to play the game?

DT: Magic Johnson was the best player in my opinion because he was a leader and he could handle the ball as a big guy. He could play all five positions. He was a great passer. It was important, for the team, when he played center in his rookie year during a Championship game since Kareem was hurt. He always had a positive attitude and had great sportsmanship.

Magic could beat a team without shooting the ball—through his passes, defense, leadership, unselfish playing. He could play any position on the floor: 1, 2, 3, 4 or the 5. Great leaders do what is required to win.

Game Time: We read the book Play Their Hearts Out. Do you stay in touch with any of players who were highlighted in the book?

DT: Demetrius Walker, University of New Mexico. The book was indicative of that time—there are a lot of points that needed to be elaborated on.

Alex Stoddard is a sixth grader at Wellesley Middle School. An avid basketball player and fan, he is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Game Time Magazine. Game Time Magazine features articles about NBA, college, high school and even middle school players and coaches. Alex is also a sports writer for the Wellesley Middle School Student Newspaper. Alex plays for the Wellesley sixth grade Metro West “A” team, for the DEMI sixth grade AAU team and for the Sudbury Fieldhouse Sting seventh grade AAU team. Alex attended the adidas Jr Phenom Camp in San Diego, CA, in 2012 and was ranked seventh overall among the sixth grade attendees by Hoopscoop.