Listen up, young players. The Professor is ready to teach.
Certainly, a player known exclusively for his streetball skills can't possibly have a lesson plan like this. For years, Grayson Boucher--also known as The Professor--had his playground-style highlights aired constantly on ESPN as part of the And1 Mixtape Tour.
The Professor has handles, and he can definitely do some crazy things with the ball. But as he travels all over the world and sees young basketball players trying to imitate his moves, he can't help but think that a different message needs to get through to them.
"I saw kids emulating our moves and they weren't really grasping the fundamentals," Boucher said. "They only saw highlights and they tried to emulate that directly at a young age."
What the kids didn't see was all the work Boucher put in as a teenager to be a fundamentally strong ball-handler. After that was mastered, then he was able to add what he calls "the showtime" aspect of his game.
Boucher's story is unlike any other player making a living playing basketball. See him in person for the first time and you can't help but marvel at how small he is. He stands about 5-foot-9 and weighs 150 pounds, yet he's held his own on the streetball circuit for almost 10 years now--first with the And1 Mixtape Tour, and now with the Ball Up streetball league.
He grew up in Oregon and received no scholarship offers after a successful high school basketball career. So he walked on at Chemeketa Community College and played one season there.
In 2003, Boucher and his brother went to an And1 Mixtape Tour stop in Portland, Ore. There, And1 held an open run to put together a team that would compete against the current And1 squad that night. Boucher decided to try out, made the team, then impressed the And1 crew enough during the game that night to be invited onto the traveling squad permanently. He was 18 years old.
Boucher still travels the world--now with Ball Up--but he's hoping his message is as much about playing good basketball as it is about playing flashy basketball. In Boucher's mind, there's room for both. It just has to be in the right order.
"Master the fundamentals first," Boucher said, "and then if you want to gravitate to more of a show mode, you're able to do that and it's not improper."
Boucher and the Ball Up players made an appearance in Los Angeles at an iHoops court refurbishment ceremony recently. There, The Professor grabbed the microphone and urged members of the Challengers Boys and Girls Club of South Central Los Angeles to come down to the court and do a quick skills clinic.
When the 20 kids lined up, Boucher took them through a ball-handling warmup that starts simple and gets progressively more challenging. Ideally, you wouldn't go to the next step until you master the one in front of you. If you can do the whole progression, it's 250 dribbles.
The steps were:
- 25 dribbles with your dominant hand. Have your knees bent and put your non-dominant arm out to shield the ball from defenders.
- 25 dribbles with your non-dominant hand. Same form.
- 25 crossover dribbles (right-to-left, left-to-right, right-to-left, etc.).
- 25 dribbles crossing over every other one (right, right-to-left, left, left-to-right, right, right-to-left, etc.).
- 25 between-the-legs crossovers.
- 25 behind-the-back crossovers.
- 25 "inside-out" dribbles with your dominant hand. Also known as the fake crossover, an inside-out dribble entails moving the ball as if you're going to cross over, but at the last minute flip your wrist so the ball stays with whichever hand you're dribbling with.
- 25 inside-out dribbles with your non-dominant hand.
- 25 inside-out dribbles behind the back (right inside-out, right-to-left, left inside-out, left-to-right, etc.).
- 25 inside-out dribbles between the legs (right inside-out, right-to-left, left inside-out, left-to-right).
Boucher's demonstration in Los Angeles was brief, but his progressive warmup can be a long-term part of a player's training.
But it will take some practice to get it down.
"Practice is the time to mess up. It's OK to mess up," Boucher said. "When I was in the gym practicing all these moves, I messed up a lot."
Though the bread-and-butter of the streetball environment is highlight-reel (and sometimes illegal) plays, even Boucher recognizes his need to work on fundamentals.
"In the course of a (streetball) game, there's regular ball in there," Boucher said. "We're playing a regular basketball game. We just pick and choose times we want to show out. But those are the most exciting times of the game, so that's what kids want to imitate."
The Professor might be known for his flashy skills, but he's eager to let young players know that taking your ball-handling progression one step at a time is much more successful then just trying to jump to the top step.