In this week’s edition of Coaches Corner, Championship Productions’ editor Adam Warner sits down with renowned basketball instructor Ganon Baker. As the owner of Ganon Baker Basketball, the Hampton, Virginia native dishes out basketball training, instruction, drills, camps and clinics from the youth level all the way up to the NBA. Baker reveals some of his unique coaching techniques, how he trains NBA superstars, and describes some effective drills for shooting and ball handling.
Talk about your background a bit, where you grew up, how you got involved with the game.
“I grew up in Hampton, Virginia. My Dad was a high school coach and played basketball in college at Randolph-Macon College. He was my role model and I picked up the game from him. My grandpa Bill was also influential. He made a homemade basket on the porch of his house and lived across the street from us.
I played college basketball at Duquesne University and then later UNC Wilmington. I played pro basketball in Iceland. At the age of 30, I had a tryout with the Denver Nuggets for their summer league team. From the age of 18, I worked at Five-Star Basketball Camp every summer as a counselor. Howard Garfinkel was a major influence on me and really gave me the confidence to succeed.
I also served as an assistant college coach for five years, first at Hampton University, then Belmont Abbey College, and then Coastal Carolina University with Pete Strickland. He is one of the best teachers around. He turned simple concepts into dynamic teaching points.
The person now that I still learn from and continues to inspire me is Kevin Eastman, now an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics. I played for him at UNC Wilmington for a year and then we hooked up in 1997. He was running a skills clinic at Randolph Macon for 20 high school players in a gym that had no air conditioning. It was late at night and he was teaching us about the game. I remember him being so passionate. He ran this clinic long before it was even popular. Eastman was a pioneer.
Eventually, I took over some of these concepts of skilled workouts and built on those. There was a big need for it. I started my business at the age of 29 and I’ve been a skills coach for 10 years now.”
What’s your philosophy when it comes to the game of basketball?
“I’ve always thought that basketball is a platform to help kids succeed in life. My parents preached this, too. Jerry Wainwright came to UNC Wilmington after Eastman left and talked about life through basketball. I want to teach kids how good they can be in life. Basketball is only a short part of it.
I want to help them stretch their mind and body. I want to make them uncomfortable. I’m a confrontational teacher. I’m in your face and always going from good to great. I want to take an average player and make him good and make a great player into a superior player. I am never satisfied with what the players are doing. I encourage right and correct wrong. I deal in truth and reality.
I want to teach players about solutions. For example, when the defense does this, then you do this, this, or this. When I’m watching them, I have polaroid eyes. They can’t see themselves. I like to be efficient with my workouts. Kids must learn quickly these days. They must be stimulated or they quit easier than in previous years. The key is to get to success quickly. Therefore, I also must be a good teacher. After a week or two, or maybe after a few days, they start to see the light and say, “Yeah, I’ve got it.” It then becomes a light bulb moment.
I try to teach players how to have every skill on offense. I teach guards the same thing I teach the big guys. I don’t put numbers on players. So after awhile, they can all pass, shoot, finish, and play balanced. I’m looking to create a player who doesn’t have any offensive weakness.
I was around Kobe Bryant for five days at a skills academy. One day a kid asked him, “What are your weaknesses?” He responded, “I don’t have any weaknesses.” And he was dead serious. My goal is to create the ultimate basketball player.”
You now head up Ganon Baker Basketball. What drove you to wanting to become a basketball instructor? Why is it important?
“I love getting on the court and sweating with the players. I love the skill development aspect of it and making players better so they can make the team better. I have a passion for it and I love it.
I’m also a Christian. I thought that this was my calling and what God wanted me to do. I had no clue if I was able to do this or not. I’d say three or four guys around 2001 were doing what I was doing at the time. But I started out with one kid and $200 bucks in the business bank. And now we’ve been to 19 countries and have eight “Level 3” trainers and 11 “Level 2” trainers. I’m currently training Amare Stoudemire down here in Miami.
As a human being, if you have a purpose and a passion, you can be unstoppable. With God, all things are possible. He gave me a vision. And still to this day, I don’t have fear. A small business can be stressful. But I have no fear – this is what I am supposed to do. I want to leave a legacy of how to run a great program, help kids improve their skills and have a platform and the intangibles to be successful in life.”
Your clinics and camps take you all over the world. Can you name some of the most interesting places you have visited?
“Lithuania. I loved it because of the skill level of the kids and the overall passion. Scotland. I admired the grittiness and toughness of the kids. Qatar in the Middle East was memorable for the culture. For instance, the girls wore clothing so you couldn’t see their skin. They were starving for basketball knowledge. Also, Australia, the Bahamas, Germany, Italy, and Greece have been memorable stops in the past.”
You also work as an NBA Skill Development Coach. Talk about some of the pro players you have worked with over the years. How often do you still work with them and in what capacity?
“Their agents will call or they will call me directly. They’ll say, ‘I want to work on X, Y, and Z.’ They are very specific and detailed and how what exactly they have to work on. A lot of it comes from the coaches. They tell the players what they need to work on specifically. They are more mature than other players at lower levels. I don’t have to be as tough on them and I don’t influence them as much. I say, ‘Let’s Go.’ It’s more about keeping them not bored and having a good workout. The players will say to me, ‘I need to work on this, what do you have?'”
Can you recommend an effective shooting drill that you’ve taught over the years?
“For beginners, I recommend form shooting, one-hand shooting, chair shooting, and taking shots around the lane. For intermediate players, there are some great toss drills. For instance, you can toss the ball, let it bounce, and get it, and then see how many shots you can make in 10. For elite players, we do that same drill from 3, and then add a dribble move off of it or a triple-threat or jab move.”
Do you have a favorite ball handling drill?
“I love two-ball drills. So instead of doing everything with one ball, you do it with two. On my DVD’s, we throw the ball against the wall and then shoot with the other. There’s a lot of work on moving off the dribble, too. Players should really work on their ability to be equal with the right and left hand. It’s also key to have good hand-eye coordination, being able to pass, finish shots, and drive with both hands.”
You can certainly teach a player how to shoot or dribble. But how do you teach a player about motivation, desire, and drive?
“There is no drill for that. Players are in control of their own emotions and thoughts. All you can do as a coach is to create an environment that stimulates them. Speak powerfully and have works of affirmation. Drop “Bombs” and give them a word that penetrates them and gets them fired up. As a player, it’s up to you to be motivated.”