Teammate-Ology: Team > Self


Do whatever your team needs you to do.  It’s both simple and complex.  You set screens, you block out, you sprint the floor, you close out under control or you defend the best player because that’s what your team needs you to do.  Roles can shift and change according to the needs of the team.  The best teammate is willing to sacrifice their role for the greater good of the team.  NBA rosters are full of players who are on the team simply to mold young talent.  That is the ultimate sacrifice.  Players accepting a lesser role for the betterment of a young player and the organization as a whole.  These players often go on to coach or work in the front office because you need people around an organization that can relate to players yet understand what the execs need as well.  They rarely get the public praise but nearly every NBA veteran will attribute their success and longevity, in some small way, to a veteran who showed them how to be a pro. 

I admit that I have struggled with selfishness in my career.  I’m not ashamed to admit that because it was a part of my growth process.  I have shown visible frustration and even rage toward teammates because MY needs weren’t being met.  I believe as a pro there is always the temptation of selfishness because our performance determines our next contract.  Cut and dry.  You play good, they pay good.  I have since figured out that when my focus is on myself I’m never at my best. Teammate-Ology 101 teaches us that winning trumps all.  And to win, you need to be a great team which consists of great teammates.  I believe we become what we need to become in order to get where we deeply desire to be. 

Developing Team Over Self Mentality

If you want to develop your mentality of team first, it starts with you.  First and foremost you have to be about winning.  You have to allow yourself to be held accountable as a player.  Establish standards by which you will approach the game daily.  Things like chasing every rebound, sprinting in transition or developing your offensive arsenal.  This also includes picking teammates up after mistakes or even letting teammates know when they aren't behaving or performing in a manner that will be beneficial to the team’s overall goal.  Everyone wants to score, and you definitely should want to score.  But it’s also important to recognize a lack in your team needs and become that.  Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors is a great example.  On a team full of extraordinary scorers he has become a playmaker and a defensive specialist.  He is a key piece to their success as of late and his teammates as well as their front office understand his value.  A mentality shift like this is only possible win the primary goal is winning. 

“My uncle, my dad always made sure I had guard skills. But as far as defending everybody, that wasn’t really my mindset until my rookie year.”
— Draymond Green

For coaches, it's important to develop your player's character as you develop their all around game.  Who they are off the court will ultimately determine who they are on the court.  If it’s all about you, it will be difficult to accept accountability and criticism.  As a coach you are doing your players a disservice if you aren't holding them accountable.  Develop standards at which each player must aspire toward and let them know when they aren't living up to the standards you all agree upon.  Teach your players how to play the entire game of basketball, not just how to do individual moves.  Cone drills and cross-overs are great.  All players need to be skilled with the ball in their hands.  But teach your players how to defend, how to move without the ball and how to set proper screens.  A player’s mentality and approach to the game can be developed through playing and being coached by people who teach players to play the right way.  It’s important for young players coming up to realize that it’s not all about them.  The game is the most fun when the team is competing as a unit with players that have each other's back. 

What's The Right Way?  

The San Antonio Spurs are the international gold standard when it comes to ball movement on offense and tough fundamental defense.  Players come from relative obscurity to play for the Spurs, then make a name for themselves and cash in with another team after learning the Spurs' way of doing things.  In many different ways, playing for Coach Popovich validates a player.  Ironically, Coach Pop believes that a players character is far more important than their skill set.  Don't get me wrong, you have to be able to play the game.  No doubt about that.  When looking to sign a player he says he wants those ‘that have gotten over themselves’ meaning it's not about you.  In other words; TEAM OVER SELF!

“For us, it’s easy.  We’re looking for character… We’re looking for players that have gotten over themselves.”
— Gregg Popovich

Teammate Example

In 2016, I had the chance to play with Ricky Minard, Jr.  A European veteran who graduated from Morehead State.  Rick was a great player and a great teammate.  Rick and I played together for Pyrinto, a team based in Tampere, Finland.  That year we lost in the championship to a really good team.  Rick was quiet and unassuming.  He never bragged about what he had accomplished on the court.  In fact, he never even talked about his past experience unless you asked.  He had a ‘regular Joe’ type of vibe which made him approachable.  This also meant he had the trust of his teammates and he could approach them without them feeling attacked.  On court he willingly took a backseat to players who were, honestly, a lot less accomplished and a lot less capable than he was.  The great thing was that he took it all in stride.  He never complained, he just did his job.  

It was only later that I found out this guy was drafted to the Sacramento Kings and played real minutes in the NBA.  Rick had experience guarding guys like Kobe and Vince Carter in the prime of their career.  Not only that but he had spent the majority of his career competing in the highest levels of Europe.  (Finland is more of a mid level league).  So in the twilight of his career he accepted somewhat of a lesser role, but he never lost sight of the goal.  To win!  Thinking back, Rick didn't need to win anything.  Players with NBA experience are a premium in Europe.  Teams go crazy over guys like that.  He had proved himself time after time in better leagues than Finland.  He just had a winning mindset.  So no matter the level or what was at stake, he went about things the same way.  It was just his mentality to win at all costs.  I literally never heard this guy speak about things from a selfish perspective.  It was always about the team. 

The thing I respected most about him is that he set the tone defensively.  He once told me that he would often press guards full court to put himself in the right mentality.  Every time we needed Rick to get a stop or a bucket he was there.  The organization loved him for his demeanor both on and off the court.  His leadership helped push us all the way to the finals where we came up just short.  But he had some huge games in the playoffs and you could easily see why he played at such a high level for so long.  It was all mental with him.  Rick is now enjoying retirement with his family after a long, successful career.  Enjoy the next chapter of your life with your family, Rick.   

At Inspire Basketball Camps we believe that the physical is the easy part.  But what truly sets a player apart is the mental, the intangibles.  We aim to help each player improve both mentally and physically.  This summer 2018 expand your game mentally and physically when you sign up for either one of our NIKE Basketball Camps in Kansas City, Missouri!  Click the banner below to register.

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Esian henderson