Kyrie’s killer drill
Kyrie Irving’s rise from an injury-prone top draft pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA champion took years of gruelling work in the gym, away from the bright lights of NBA arenas.
Easily one of the world’s most exciting players, Irving has dazzled hoop fans with his ball-handling, acrobatic layups, as well as clutch shooting—all of them in full display in last year’s NBA Finals, where the Cavaliers put the Golden State Warriors to the sword in Game 7.
When Nike Philippines executives broached the idea of selecting five Filipino media members to go through a series of workouts that closely mirror Irving’s regimen for four weekends, while trying out the third signature shoe of the Cavaliers star, there was plenty of apprehension from the head office of the sports apparel brand in the United States.
“Will they survive?” was the question posed by the top Nike executives to their Filipino counterparts.
A month after the Kyrie 3 was launched in the Philippines, that question was answered when this reporter, along with four others, completed the “Cut Out of Nowhere” training sessions while acquiring new skills and developing a newfound respect for players who work tirelessly to improve their game day in and day out.
For someone who manages to squeeze in a few pick-up games between sports coverages during the week, I was confident that I would breeze through what was initially described as light training, as opposed to those being done by varsity standouts.
But I was dead wrong. It turned out to be a struggle, to say the least.
From the opening salvo of the training sessions, where Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin and the Blue Eagles put us through the paces, until Week 4, when Ateneo guard skills coach Yuri Esecueta had us run the length of the court in just four dribbles before finishing a layup, there were days I felt I shouldn’t have showed up for training.
“You can’t really play the game well unless you can play the fundamentals,” Baldwin shares.
“As a coach, I’ve spent most of my life trying to convince players that when you walk into the gym, the first thing you do shouldn’t be to pick up the basketball and shoot it. There are so many other things you have to master because, actually, when you’re playing the game you spend very little time with the ball and spend a lot of time playing defense, cutting … there’s a lot to do without the ball.”
The basics of handwork and footwork were covered during the first weekend, capped by dribbling attacks around cones and various layups, in the same way Irving finishes against the giants in the NBA.
“No matter how good you are dribbling the ball, if you don’t have the right technique and footwork, you can’t really beat your defender,” Escueta says. “The handwork should come with the footwork.”
I dreaded the sight of heavy balls, the ladder and the resistance bands but they were used heavily in the second week, when explosiveness and attacks to the rim were the focus of the drills.
In-between squat jumps while holding on to the heavy ball and lunges, I almost threw up. Escueta jokingly describes the session as merely “light” training for aspiring collegiate players. Not for me, obviously.
Escueta stresses that repetition is just as important to becoming an elite player. I left the third training session feeling pain in my thighs. I struggled to walk the next couple of days after we did moving lunges with the heavy ball and side-to-side jumps again with the heavy ball.
I got dizzy on more than a few occasions, but it was too late to turn back.
A former Ateneo standout, Escueta assures that the drill gets easier in time, especially if one repeats them over and over. “Those exercises and technique, like staying low, will become second nature with repetition,” Escueta says. “The exercises strengthen the muscles in your legs and that’s where you get the explosiveness.”
Attacking cones using the heavy ball, war drills and one-on-one battles covered the final session last Tuesday.
Escueta shares they had players at Ateneo execute the same drills coupled with weights training during the off-season. “Our practices are like this during the summer,” he says. “Basketball is played at a faster pace now. You would need to find an edge.”
Irving certainly found that edge, translating it to success on the court.