When I was 17 I was in Pennsylvania for a basketball camp. It was a big camp, one run by the Hoop Group in the Poconos.
One of my teammates, Wes, had ridiculous handles! I'm talking, the type of handles that draws kids from other games court side just to see the kid cross up a couple defenders. It seemed every game he would break a couple ankles and draw some "ooooh's" from his friends as he attacked the basket at will. While Wes wouldn't give up his secrets to handles with me, I went out on a search of my own and have come up with the following plan.
Improve Feel of the Basketball
There are lots of ways to improve your feel of the basketball. As a matter of fact, I don't think there is any magic drill that works, but rather prefer that players mix it up on a regular basis. Things like ball wraps, ball wraps with passing/shooting drills, pound dribbles, heavy ball work, eyes closed drills all work great and should be used regularly to add a different stimulus to their game. Make sure you do this every time you work on your ball handling, and do it first thing!
The old cliche that you need to crawl before you can walk, should also be used in the world of ball handling. You should start stationary before you work on dribbling on the move. I always start players with single dribbles (pound, inside-out, crossover, behind the back, etc.) stationary before I work on anything else. You can do a variety of different things to make drills and practice more interesting (which I'll talk about next). After single dribbles you can add 2- and 3-dribble combo moves into your mix for stationary handling as well.
Add Another Implement
Basic ball handling, especially stationary tends to get very stale as you progress. That's why I like to add other implements into training, like a tennis ball, a second basketball or a soft medicine ball. I will use a variety of drills with a variety of implements. By adding this implement you're working on developing the capacity of the brain to handle two different stimuli at the same time—a form of multi-tasking. I've found that this method is superior in improving hand quickness and body awareness.
On the Move
After stationary work and using an implement I will work into handling the ball on the move. I prefer to do these moves with a variety of finishes (lay-ups, up and unders, reverse lay-ups, etc.) as a way to add more skill to the drill. At the same time, I don't want the finishing moves to be so challenging that it takes away from the dribbling aspect.
As an added challenge, I will often add implements on the move once the player has the basic dribble moves down.
The final step in improving your handles is learning to use it in live game play. While there are no shortcuts to mastering the moves (other than hard work), it takes lots of time to learn to read and react when making plays on the court. Putting players in spots on the floor where they'll use the moves is the first step; follow that by adding some token defense while allowing the player to make the move; lastly put the player in live game situations once they have enough moves to read, react, and use a counter move if needed.
There are no magic pills you can take to get sick handles. However, if you follow the progression that I've listed above, you'll see quick improvement and be well on your way to crossing up defenders of your own.
Make sure to check out an example progression here:
Whether you're a coach or a player, you should appreciate a player who has put in the time to improve his skills, and this teammate was no different.