Tools for Basketball Development: An Interview with Mark Grabow

In 2003, I interviewed Mark Grabow for Basketball Sense magazine. Grabow is the Director of Athletic Development for the Golden State Warriors, serving as Golden State’s strength and conditioning specialist, while responsible for the team’s strength training, conditioning, speed and power development and flexibility programs.

He also is the author of The Basketball Coaches’ On-Court 100 (available by contacting Grabow via the Golden State Warriors), a training manual of 100+ drills, warm-ups, conditioning, agility, Big Man and Catch-and-Shoot Exercises. The On-Court 100 is a valuable resource for every coach. Every time I watch a college practice or an individual workout with a college or professional player, the coach/instructor utilizes drills from this book, which is comprised of five detailed sections.

Section I: Warm-ups
The first section centers on warm-ups and Grabow does a good job with the introduction, though the stick figure drawings aren’t always helpful. But, he goes through a number of warm-up and light plyo-metric exercises, like skipping, walking, and jogging, and some strength exercises for different muscle groups: hips/legs, hamstrings, abdominals, lower back, and upper body using medicine balls and Swiss balls. Next he goes through a variety of different team warm-up exercises, mainly running exercises using the earlier concepts.

Section II: Conditioning
This section offers drills grouped into “Team Conditioning,” “Team Conditioning with a Ball,” and “Individual Conditioning with Ball.”

An example of a drill from this section:

Sideline Diagonals w/1-2 Quick-Catch
Duration: 2-3 laps = 1 set
Intensity: High
Sets: 3-4
Recovery: 1:1
Description: Divide team into two groups. One group who runs will be lined up in the deep corner. Each player in other group will be lined up down the center of court with a ball each. If there is a team of twelve, six players will run and other six have a ball and serve as feeders. First player in deep corner bursts to fist feeder. As he approaches, first feeder plays a crisp pass to him and player plays it back to him for a quick 1-2 pass. Player passes by feeder and continues to run at an angle to the opposite sideline. As soon as he hits the sideline, he turns and heads toward second feeder, where they again play a quick 1-2 pass to the runner. Player continues to go from sideline to sideline working up the court and always receiving a quick 1-2 pass as he approaches feeder. After last sideline touch is made, player will back pedal, jog or stride back to start to repeat. This completes one lap. All players in line will always start heir sideline runs after the player in front of them completes one sideline touch. This will ensure proper spacing throughout the drill. After players return back to start, they can repeat again. Every other feeder will face in one direction and others in opposite direction, so oncoming player can receive pass.

Section III: Agility
This section has a similar breakdown: “Team Agility,” “Team Agility with Ball,” and “Individual Agility.”

An example of a drill from this section:

Bull in the Ring
Duration: 10-20 seconds = 1 set. Perform 4-6 sets.
Intensity: High
Recovery: 1:2 work/relief ratio. Players change positions.
Description: Have player stand at foul line with two feeders, one under basket and the other just beyond three-point area with a ball. All three are in a straight line. Player starts in ready “athletic position.” On GO, he performs on-the-spot “foot-fire” for several seconds. When he hears the call TURN from the coach behind him, he does an explosive 180 degree turn. As he is turning, the ball is played directly to him. He must catch the ball cleanly, then return it quickly back to the same coach while he continues to “foot fire” and face coach. When he hears TURN from behind him, he again turns 180 degrees ad quick catches from that coach ad returns the ball quickly. He repeats this every time he hears the cue TURN. Drill should last 10-20 seconds.

Section IV: Big Man Drills.
Before I knew Grabow, I knew “Grabow’s Drills” as some are included in almost every coach’s pack I’ve received at various college camps. Most of these drills are from this section, as the Big Man Drills, around forty drills in total, are great conditioning, agility and post-specific drills that can be tweaked to meet the needs of an individual player. These drills formed the base of my post instruction when I coached in Europe, and my three post players improved greatly.

An example of a drill from this section:

Tap..Tap..Pitch, Follow, Post-Up
Duration: 30-40 seconds per set. Perform 4-6 sets.
Intensity: High
Recovery: 1:2 work/relief.
One coach or player needed on foul line extended. Player performs quick power jumps high on the glass touching ball to the backboard. On coach’s call or clap, he pitches ball to coach. After pitch, he follows ball to coach with sharp run, touches ball and returns back to the same block then turns and pivots and establishes position for post up and feed. Ball is played down to him where he performs any low block move. Player then repeats after taking ball out o the basket.

Section V: Individual Catch and Shoot Drills
The final section features the drills most often seen in professional workouts. If you go early to an NBA game and watch an assistant coach workout with an injured player or a player at the end of the bench, the coach conducting the workout will use many of these drills.

An example of a drill from this section:

Elbow to Corner Jump Shots
Duration: 30-60 seconds or prescribed number of shots = 1 set. Perform 1-2 sets.
Intensity: High
Recovery: 1:1 or 1:2 work/relief. Shoot free throws.
Shooter can start in corner or elbow area. If there is one feeder he will serve as rebounder and feeder under basket. If there are two not working, then there will be one feeder at top of the key with other under the basket to rebound all shots and pass to feeder (2 balls will be used). Shots are taken from two spots, corner and elbow, and shooter works in a sharp rhythm as feeder plays ball crisply to shooter as he arrives at each spot.

The Proof
The Golden State Warriors finally experienced a small measure of success in 2002-03, behind 2003 Most Improved Player Award winner Gilbert Arenas and fellow 2001 draftee Troy Murphy, who finished third in the MIP voting. Furthermore, Murphy’s development and Mike Dunleavy Jr.’s progress throughout the summer of 2003 prompted the Warriors to jettison Antwan Jamison, challenging Murphy and Dunleavy Jr., along with Jason Richardson, to lead the Warriors to the next level.

Arenas jumped from 10.9 PPG and 3.7 APG as a rookie to 18.3 PPG and 6.3 APG in his second season; Murphy jumped from 5.9 PPG to 11.7 PPG and 3.9 RPG to 10.2 RPG; and Dunleavy Jr. improved upon rookie averages of 5.7 PPG and 2.6 RPG, averaging 12.3 PPG and 6.4 PG.

In the last couple years, especially with Arenas, Murphy and Dunleavy Jr., the Warriors’ second-year players have seen tremendous development and progress from their rookie season. What types of thing do you do during the summer to improve their game?

Grabow: Summertime is when players can really improve because they don’t have any time constraints so they can get in lots of repetitions with high quality interaction. Most coaches will sit down with players and give the player 2-3 things to work on in the off-season, so we address those weaknesses.

With Murphy, for example, he was a good shooter, but he needed to extend his range and improve with his back to the basket, so we focused on those areas, working on his strength.

What is the biggest difference for players entering the League?
Grabow: Weaknesses are magnified. Every time a player progresses to a new level, whether it is from college to the pros or from junior high to high school, his weaknesses are magnified. Because of the level of scouting done today, teams know everything about a player. Every player has a weakness and teams will attack the weakness.

What can a player do to get faster?
Grabow: He needs to do speed drills, working the fast-twitched muscles. The drills should be sport specific, done with a high intensity and lots of recovery time. They need to be done technically correct, with correct body posture.

What is an example of a speed workout? Do you work-out on a track or just in the gym?
Grabow: An example of an off-season program is 2-3 weeks working on strength, running 300m at a time, building anaerobic endurance. During the strength phase, run about 2000 total meters, working on lots of turnover, running at about 90% of maximum speed. Use a 1:2 or1:3 work to recovery ratio and try to reduce the recovery time as you progress.

The next 2-3 week phase is the speed endurance phase, running 150-200m at a time, 1500-2000m total in a workout. Finally, in the speed phase, we drop to 30-60m sprints, or we go on the floor and concentrate on change of direction drills because by this time, a player should have a good base.

What type of weights workout do you recommend?
Grabow: We workout four days a week, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Monday and Thursday we work the chest, back and triceps, so we push, pull, push. Tuesday and Friday we work the hips hard, the legs, biceps and shoulders. On Wednesday we work the core with the medicine ball. In this set-up, we’d run on Monday and Thursday, when we don’t work the legs.

What is the biggest thing a high school player can do to improve his game and athleticism?
Grabow: Work on skills first. If you don’t have fundamentals, the body doesn’t matter. Address weaknesses. Address the body’s needs; a guard needs to work on quickness and speed; a post needs strength. But, fundamentals are most important.
Originally published by Basketball Sense in March 2004. Visit Hoops Training for more information.

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