Coaches Corner: Q&A with Basketball Development Trainer Mike Procopio

In this week’s edition of Coaches Corner, Championship Productions editor Adam Warner sits down with renowned basketball development trainer Mike Procopio. As Director of Basketball Operations for Attack Athletics in Chicago, Procopio leads NBA, Pre-Draft and Grassroots training and has worked one-one-one with headlining players like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce. Procopio also talks about how he went from a junior varsity coach in suburban Boston to dishing out tips to some of the world’s top basketball players.

Talk about your background and sports experience while growing up.

“I was born in Boston right across the street from the Garden and moved out to Revere at the age of seven. I played sports as a kid growing up and really fell in love with the game of basketball. I decided when I was finished high school that I wanted to stay in the game. I wanted to coach and soon worked at Revere High School for a few years as an assistant coach.

I eventually hooked up Leo Papile, who headed the Boston Amateur Basketball Club, an AAU team. I worked with him on some good teams sponsored by Nike and worked out a lot of different players, did summer camps and met a lot of influential basketball minds. I was able to pick their brains a bit. I’ve been fortunate.

One thing led to another and the Boston Celtics eventually hired me as a scout. Then about five years ago, I started working with Attack Athletics and I now serve as director of basketball operations.”

You went from JV coach all the way up to NBA scout in impressive fashion. Can you describe that whirlwind ride?

“In the NBA, it’s about keeping your head above water. I kept my head above water by doing things in basketball well. I put in a lot of hard work in the summer trying to do a number of things.

I never had a fascination with coaching in college. It’s so unpredictable with recruiting elements and not knowing when that next paycheck will come around. I wanted to become the best basketball guy that I could, and that meant going to camps, talking with people, and watching as much basketball as possible.

Like the knockaround guy I was, I never really was an opportunist or would shake people down for jobs. It was about being around the game – and I lucked out through Leo and the guys that were comfortable around him.”

Talk about Attack Athletics and its mission, plus your role with the company.

“The mission is to educate and develop all of the players that come through those doors the best we can both on and off the court, things like basketball IQ and working every inch as possible to give them success in college, professional ball, or overseas. We mostly deal with NBA players. They will come to us in the offseason and work with us for 2-3 hours a day and play at our facility. There will be guys with a minimal salary to guys like Kobe Bryant.

My role is to oversee all basketball skill development, scouting, player information and communicating wit players, plus identifying talent, and getting ready for the NBA Draft.”

Attack is now one of the preeminent training centers in the world for basketball players. How did it get that way?

“Our owner Tim Grover worked with Michael Jordan back in the 80s for 18 years. Basically, Michael was the first guy to have a trainer with him and have someone work with him throughout the year to keep him strong. Word of mouth happened from there. Other players asked to train in the same manor in the offseason, and guys like Michael Finley and Juwan Howard starting working out. The number went up to 8 or 10 guys and it worked up that way. We gained a lot of notoriety with those players.”

Describe how you have developed this niche of yours of breaking down game footage and organizing key information to benefit players and make them as efficient as possible.

“I’m always trying to stay one step ahead. Back in 1997, there wasn’t much player development outside of the NBA or college. I decided what I wanted to do after college, but it didn’t include coaching. My goal was to separate myself from other guys getting into the basketball profession. I’d go out and work out players and get as much information as possible. I’m not a big fan of doing the same things as everyone else.

Tim was working for Kobe full-time and using statistical analysis to break down players, defenses, and other research, and came up with a plan for him. That relationship started from there. I will break down anything defensive, like how guys guard, how rotations happen, or trying to read certain situations and finding where teammates will be open. I started watching as much defensive tape as I possibly could. I could then bring that niche to the table with Kobe and others.”

Talk about your role with NBA draft prospects, especially with the 2011 draft looming. What are you working on right now?

“We have about 16 players coming in right now and working out for the draft, guys predicted to go in the Top 5 and other guys likely to land in Europe or the Developmental League. We have a variety of players looking for further education on the court, looking to get stronger in the weight room, and working on things like breaking down tape, pick & rolls, defensive rotations, moving without the ball, how to defend, etc. We try to take guys all the way through the training camp process and make sure they are prepared as much as they possibly can be once the team takes over.”

What are some of the most common pieces of advice you dish out to players? Is there something you constantly preach to athletes?

“It’s to be a student of the game. It can take you further than individual talent can take you. Don’t already go in with a sense of entitlement. Be humble and go to work. Do everything in your power to get on the floor as much as possible.”

What kind of tools do you use when analyzing footage? How do you organize everything and then implement your findings with clients?

“I’ve been a longtime fan of Synergy Sports Technology. We will break down games at the college, pro and international levels and chop up a game and watch possessions, download those and put them in folders. For instance, I have created an entire database for Kobe. I also use a variety of gadgets like the iPad, iPod Touch, laptops, Blackberrys, DROID, and I use them all to implement the video I need. Another tool is FastDraw to diagram plays and drills and be able to upload to a database and see different aspects. It was huge for me last year in getting Kobe prepared for last year’s NBA Finals against the Celtics.

How integral are drills towards what you are teaching on a day-to-day basis?

“All of our drills have a life of their own. We use drills to work on certain situations, like passing out of double teams, making plays for a teammate, being in the post, taking a shot from different spots on the floor. We put players in as many drills as possible featuring different game situations. The most important thing is correcting mistakes and keep things relevant. One of the worst things a coach can do is to work on things that don’t happen in a game.”

Do you have any advice for coaches and athletes out there, whether at the youth or high school level?

“For players, be as studious as possible. Watch the game and watch players that are close to what you are at your position. Find an NBA clone. It may not be a Kobe Bryant or Derrick Rose, it may be a Jodie Meeks or Brian Scalabrine. Find a player you play like and be honest with yourself. What gets them into the game? What skills do they have? Develop those skills and keep working on them.

For coaches, don’t be in a rush. Develop value for yourself and spend a lot of time in the game. Be honest with yourself and develop values. Your level might be as a high school basketball coach and that’s okay. Be patient and be that guy that says the least but is the smartest guy in the room.”

Mike Procopio has been a past contributor to Championship Productions. Check out his basketball DVDs by clicking here.

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