January 13, 2014 • From the BenchWinning Hoops

Training with a Passion

by Kevin Hoffman, Managing Editor

Coaching is a logical career choice for athletes unable to shake their passion for the game, but that never quite satisfied Ganon Baker. Countless hours of paperwork and months spent on the recruiting trail meant more time away from the court, where he preferred to sweat alongside those with dreams of state and national championships.

That’s what led Baker to training, where his drive and intensity placed him among the top skill development instructors in the country. No longer consumed by the mundane nuances of a basketball program, he has worked with the nation’s best athletes, helping to elevate their games to elite status.

“Being an assistant coach in college means you’re only on the court 18 or 19 percent of the time, and that’s a fact, Baker said. I know these coaches get paid millions to see a kid play, but I have to impart knowledge to a kid and let them know how great they are or how much they have to work.”

Baker knows exactly what it takes to build and sharpen the various skills necessary to excel at all levels of competition. That’s because he experienced it for himself.

Baker, whose dad was a high school coach, started playing basketball when he was 8 years old. He was always more skilled at sports like tennis and soccer, so at the age of 13 he asked his father what he needed to do to land a college scholarship.

“He said I need to put down the Twinkies and the Mountain Dew, and get after it and work like Rocky, Baker recalled.

It’s fair to say that’s a philosophy Baker holds to this day. He’s constantly on the run, working with athletes or participating in clinics to help coaches develop their young stars. Training is his calling, and he’s determined to do everything he can to inch aspiring basketball players closer to their dreams, whether it be a college scholarship or the NBA.

Baker describes that passion as a “Hunger Games attitude.” When he was younger, he practiced under the assumption that if he didn’t do everything necessary to elevate his game, he would “metaphorically die, being left in the dust by those working harder to get ahead of him.

Baker’s training paid off, and his high school team won a state championship against a squad led by future NBA star Grant Hill. He received about 30 Division I scholarship offers, choosing Duquesne University (Pa.) before transferring to UNC-Wilmington.

After receiving his master’s degree, Baker landed a pro contract to play in Iceland but tore a tendon during the playoffs, sidelining his playing career.

That didn’t prevent him from training. Baker continued to work on his game from a wheelchair, developing individual dribbling and ball handling drills. The weeks spent rehabbing his injury gave him time to think about his future, which led to the creation of his own personal training business.

“This was something that had never really been done before at the time, Baker said. It was really amazing. There were no skills trainers, and now you can throw a rock and hit about a thousand of them.”

Proper Training

Coaches looking to get their athletes involved with trainers won’t have to look far, but it’s not always that simple. With a lot of them, you don’t know what you’re going to get.

Baker said first and foremost trainers must be organized and it’s also valuable if they have a degree. A number of trainers do fine without a college education, but it can say something about who they are as a coach.

“A true coach is an educator, Baker said. They played in high school or coached in college as a graduate assistant. If you’re a basketball coach, you should have a basketball background.”

Baker added that the best trainers are not only teachers but also students themselves. They regularly read books or articles, discovering new ways they can improve athletes. A trainer’s repertoire is constantly evolving, adapting to the needs of those they are trying to help.

With that in mind, a quality skills trainer still must grow each athlete with the team concept in mind. Baker believes that’s where many fail.

“There’s a fine line between individual improvement and team play, Baker said. A good skills coach is one that implements individual drills and can transfer that into a team atmosphere. When I work out with kids for a long time, I interview their coach and get on the same page and see what he or she needs to work on.”

What it all comes down to is asking questions. Coaches or parents getting their young athletes involved with a skills trainer should make sure it’s the right fit. Baker said after about two or three sessions, you should be able to identify whether a trainer is qualified to take your athlete in a positive direction.

That requires buy in from more than just the trainer. Athletes must be passionate about the sport and their desire to improve, otherwise all that effort could be wasted.

“One thing people ask me is, ‘What does it take for a kid to truly be successful in basketball and beyond? ‘” Baker said. The average pro basketball career is three years and less than 1 percent of athletes make it there, placing an intense amount of value in education and abilities off the court.

“Make sure you’re working on your career, and not just working toward a job.”

Shooting Aids

Baker isn’t the type of trainer who stands on a soapbox promoting various training aids, but the Perfect Jumper is one he firmly stands behind. Anyone can shoot a basketball, but to do it with precision takes practice.

Two specific skills help basketball players hit more shots: alignment and arc, Baker said. The Perfect Jumper attaches to the rim and shrinks the diameter of the basket, making it more difficult to hit shots or get a lucky roll. Similar to throwing a football through a tire swing, the shooting aid teaches muscle memory and improves accuracy, making it that much easier on players when they step into a game and start shooting at a larger target.

“It’s basically the same as making all net or if you were to not count a shot until you make all swishes, Baker said. You pinpoint your target and try to find that trajectory with the elbow, and you’re training the body to shoot at a smaller rim.

“We also use it in practices for rebounds. We put the Perfect Jumper up there because there will be a lot of missed shots.”

Quentin Coryatt created the Perfect Jumper about seven years, determined to instill proper fundamentals in young athletes hoping to make an impact in the game. It’s certainly well equipped to reinforce proper shooting form and assist in muscle memory, but it’s also become an effective tool for veteran basketball players needing to make adjustments.

Much like a struggling baseball player takes to the batting cage to fix their swing, the Perfect Jumper can help put shooters back on track.

“It’s all inclusive and comprehensive when it comes to addressing every aspect of a shot from different areas on the court, Coryatt said. Players like Steve Nash, Carmelo Anthony and coach Bob Knight stand behind the shooting aid’s effectiveness.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge from the time a kid picks up a basketball that they need to learn the basic fundamentals of shooting. It starts from day one and goes all the way to the professional level.”

That’s part of what makes a great trainer, and Baker understands the value in pinpointing all aspects of an athlete’s game.

Training can be difficult, but for the coaches involved it’s a science best suited for those passionate enough to learn and teach the game at a high level. Whether it’s using training aids or innovative drills, helping athletes thrive in a team environment is ultimately what everyone strives for. But in the end, it still takes effort, determination and a positive attitude from the athletes involved.

“There’s more resources and less passion or desire to be coached, and in my experience kids now hate learning more than they hate losing, Baker said. These kids have no idea what they have. There are so many resources for them to be successful.”