When John Lucas retired from coaching five years ago, he saw a void in the basketball landscape.
Player development and advanced skill training, it seemed, were relics of the past. They didn’t matter in a basketball world moving towards an isolation-heavy, dunk-or-three mentality.
So, he added player development (something he’d done in the past), coach development and youth camps to the John Lucas Enterprises banner. Since then, he’s worked with many of the top high school, college and NBA players in the world.
“As a former NBA coach and GM, I’ve noticed that most of the college practices during the season are all about team development,” said Lucas. “Because of NCAA limits on practice time and then academics, too, there’s not a lot of time for individual work.”
Located in Houston, Lucas’s training facilities aren’t far from Justin Jackson’s home. That’s one of the reasons UNC’s sophomore wing has worked with Lucas the last few summers, improving his game.
This summer, Jackson’s intensive stint at home is combining weight room workouts and skill development. He joins a number of other college standouts at Lucas’s gym for four group sessions a week that each exceed two hours, plus he works one-on-one with Lucas for two 90-minute sessions per week that focuses solely on shooting.
As part of an ongoing series tracking Jackson’s offseason preparation for the highly anticipated 2015-16 Tar Heel campaign, Inside Carolina spoke to Lucas about working with Jackson this summer.
What is Justin hoping to achieve this summer?
Well, I’ve known Roy (Williams) and Coach (Hubert Davis) forever. They’re great coaches, but NCAA rules don’t allow guys to do a lot during the summer. Justin wanted to kind of spike his development. We’ve worked with him before, he’s a great kid, and had some good sessions.
What areas of Justin’s game are you focusing on?
It’s the same things he was told by Roy, becoming a more consistent outside shooter. If he does that he can make quicker reads from what he’s been doing. We want him to play quicker as well. On the defensive side, we want him to use his length and finally he needs to improve his ball handling.
How long have you been working in player development?
Well, I started this thing with Kobe Bryant when I was with the Philadelphia 76ers. Then they changed some of the rules and I also did it when I was in Cleveland with LeBron (James). I believe the thinking should be different at each level – high school, college, NBA. High school is different from college – from high school to college there is a shot clock. Then from college to the NBA, a shorter shot clock. In college, there are about 60 to 70 possessions per game, and in the NBA it’s about 90. And then there’s specifics on who, when, where you’re going to get your shots from. So we work on those things from certain spots, places where we know you’re going to have to make shots. I tell guys all the time: ‘this is how you earn your money, being able to knock down these shots we’re working on right now.’
Who are some of the players training with you this summer?
There’s been a lot of players from all different places. You know Justin Jackson, then Trevor Lacey, Troy Williams, A.J. Hammons, Wayne Selden and Robert Johnson. It’s been a blast and we like that. The guys are real competitive.
What’s an average daily session like for Jackson?
The first thing we do is ball handling. There is a 20 to 30 minute requirement for every player, every day, to work on ball handling. From there, we go to another 30 minutes of shooting. Not just getting shots up, but figuring out and discussing the mechanics of his shot. He has to hit pull ups, floaters, runners and then make his spot shots. All of this is done with a ball between his legs to make sure he has the same spacing and that he isn’t floating with his feet. He does that sometimes.
My feeling is that great shooters land in the same spot they take off from, no matter what. After we finish shooting, it’s live, competitive work.
How much do you think playing against not only college players, but ones not on his own team, helps Jackson?
It’s important for him because competing is also a skill, just like shooting and dribbling. If you don’t compete over the summer, you can’t just turn it on in the fall. Now, this is a controlled competition. It’s 3-on-3 all in different spaces, so it forces Justin and the other players to make quick decisions at the end of a shot clock. Every time they get the ball, we’re counting down ‘9, 8, 7…’ so they have that mental clock going. We call that our reading and reacting drill and he usually does it against smaller guards… which is going to help his ball handling.
Did you see many games from Jackson’s freshman year?
I did and I think one of the things he learned is that college isn’t easy. I think the other thing that happened is he hit a mental wall. You saw that as he came out of it when the NCAA Tournament hit, Carolina did much better because his production went up. I think he’s on the verge of emerging as a mismatch player able to play three different positions from the ‘4’ to the ‘3’ to the ‘2.’
What’s been your impression of Jackson so far in your sessions this summer?
“Coming home has given him a new confidence and a different look.”
He’s a true professional. I’ve really been on him more because of his personality. He can do so much more and he’s got to bring it out of himself. The work we’re doing has been as much mental as physical. Coming home has given him a new confidence and a different look.
We’ve been working on separation. There were times last year he didn’t separate from defenders like he should. He’s a good shooter now and as he goes up the ladder, he’s got to become a great shooter.
And because basketball is getting bigger and taller, I don’t know what position is his long-term position. We’ve put really quick guards on him to make him have to handle the ball, because he’s going to have to at the next level and even college. We’re also focusing on spacing on the weak side and being able to be effective off the weak side, through being in the right position and cuts.
Last year you told Inside Carolina that Jackson didn’t have a limit to how good he can be. Is that still true?
I see the potential. I think he’ll have a better year this year, without a doubt. Carolina was an enigma and I think for him, he was a little bit of an enigma too. I think he’s going to be a star, but we learned those things take time. I expect him to have a big-time year and continue to be better and improve his rebounding and defense.
Why is training with you so valuable to Jackson?
(Laughs) He’s got to guard Troy Williams. He’s got to guard Trevor Lacey. He’s got to guard Wayne Selden. He’s got to guard A.J. Hammons. It’s all about competing.