In March of 2021, DJ McCall reached out to Shooting Coach Dave Love through his agent Kevin Tarca. DJ had graduated from IUPUI in 2019 as the Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year, but his jump shot was holding him back. He shot 28% from 3 and 65% from the line in his college career and struggled shooting the ball in the G-League in 2019-20. Improving his jump shot was his focus. Coach Love agreed to work with McCall, but the Covid Pandemic and limited financial resources forced the work to be done remotely. This is their journey, trying to shine a light on the work professional players and coaches do to get better.
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DJ's THOUGHTS TO DATE
DJ McCALL May 12, 2021
GENERAL THOUGHTS SO FAR…
There have been a couple big “a-ha” moments so far in this process. The first one is the overall understanding of the setpoint. Prior to working with Coach Dave Love, I had no idea what the setpoint was which caused a disconnect between my upper and lower body on my shot. The second one is keeping the ball in front of me when I shoot. This is one of my worst habits I’ve had. I still struggle with it but have continued to move closer away from behind my head. Which has lead to more consistent shooting. The last one and probably the biggest “a-ha” moment has been having the ball move first. I would always jump then move the ball which led to an out-of-sync, hitchy shot. Having the ball move first before my lower body has helped out tremendously.
ON HOW THIS HAS BEEN DIFFERENT FROM OTHER TRAINING IN THE PAST…
It’s not about actually working out or trying to get in shape, mixing conditioning and reps. It’s about being deliberate and as technical as possible.
ON COMPARING THE LEVEL OF DETAIL HE’S GETTING NOW TO PAST COACHING…
I honestly can’t. This level of detail has been above and beyond and great for me.
ON MISCONCEPTIONS PEOPLE HAVE ABOUT SHOOTING IMPROVEMENT…
I think coaches, trainers, players often think “your form doesn’t matter as much if you just continue to rep it out and practice it.” This is very wrong because bad form leads to bad habits. When you’re just continuing to rep out bad habits, you’re just putting yourself in a deeper hole in terms of inconsistency shooting the basketball.
ON THE BIGGEST BENEFITS TO THE PROCESS SO FAR…
I just feel so much more confident and comfortable as a basketball player. I still have lots of work to do on my shot but knowing what was holding me back as a shooter and working on those things daily, has just grown my overall confidence as a player.
OUR SECOND FACETIME WORKOUT
APRIL 23, 2021
This was our second time doing a FaceTime workout together. I’ll be honest, I recorded the first one but accidentally deleted it. Technology isn’t always my jam.
DJ and I have identified that his set point gets back over top of his head and his legs tend to push early leaving him our of sync.
So everything we do is centered around making sure the legs stay engaged as he lifts the ball, and that the ball just moves up and forward, not out away from the body and then back over head.
Then we layer drills to see how variable the situation can be while maintaining accountability to those habits.
WORKOUT WITH A SKILLS TRAINER
APRIL 17, 2021
Today DJ travelled to Indianapolis to meet with his agent Kevin Tarca and get a group workout with a general skills trainer.
The video below is a short clip from that workout. There is a lot that we’ve learned from it, and there is a lot that you can learn from it, whether you are a coach or player.
First thing DJ and I spoke about was that the shot he was shooting in this workout is much closer to his old shot than the one we are trying to build… and that’s FINE RIGHT NOW.
I think DJ was initially disappointed when he saw the video because he felt like his shot was so much different than before, but then it didn’t look different.
What we talked about was the fact that AT THIS MOMENT in time he has two different shot. The one he’s done millions of times but is holding him back, and the new one that should unlock potential but he has no experience with.
THIS IS NOT A NEGATIVE AT ALL. It’s just the reality of where he is in his development.
We’ve built up his ability with new mechanics to a certain level, but we haven’t approached the level of this workout. So of course he won’t be able to execute the new habits in this situation.
All we talked about was that this was a nice way to measure where we stand right now, and that we can’t just do workouts like this otherwise he’ll just continue to revert back to the old habits we are trying to avoid or break.
So now watch the video with a critical eye… If DJ was only doing this type of workout, or even doing a LOT of these while also changing his shot… he would be reinforcing old habits as much as he’s building new habits. So progress is minimal.
In this kind of workout, what is the benefit to someone that is changing their mechanics? What are they being deliberate about? Where is the accountability to new habits?
This was a good test, and a fun day for DJ, but nothing more than that. He came home, we looked at the video and agreed that wasn’t the shot we were building and we got back to work.
Does that mean the trainer was doing a bad workout? No. Not at all. But in a group setting, it is almost impossible to be deliberate about individual habits, and individual habits are what DJ needs to focus the most on.
So if you are high-school coach, what you can learn from this is…
Are you actually doing the most important work? Or are you actually UNDOING the most important work just so you can check the box of doing a certain drill. DJ was repeating the very habits he was trying to break with no accountability to the habits, or adapting the situation to find his appropriate level of challenge. So getting ONLY this kind of workout isn’t going to help him get better at the things holding him back.
WORDS FROM BOTH OF US
Dave and DJ
APRIL 14, 2021
WHERE WE STAND NOW
APRIL 5, 2021
I’m having so much fun getting to know DJ, even though we haven’t been in the same gym at the same time, and likely won’t for several months.
I’m starting to get conditioned to know when my phone screen lights up at 8:30pm, it’s likely him messaging me video from his workout.
We are focussed on a couple things…
- Making sure the set point is over his nose, not over his head.
- Making sure the ball is moving in one fluid arc more than a pronounced S curve as he lifts to his set point and through it.
We have our eye on the synchronization of his legs within his shot as well, but the way that we are practicing right now, we don’t have to focus on that too much. The drills almost force him to synchronize well, and he doesn’t need to give it as much deliberate attention.
That is why I like the progression of form shooting drills I use a lot. They do a good job of forcing a lot of things into place, without the player having to think about a lot of different parts of the shot. AND, the drills catch a lot of the most common bad habits. So I can have two players doing the same drill, but thinking about very different ideas while doing them.
There are two ideas that I wanted to share in this entry that I think players and coaches get confused about.
First, we are focussed on building the shot up every day, but not worried about building it up to game speed in a workout. What I mean is, we start with form shooting drills early, and we add in more an more variability as we go, but we aren’t getting to a finished product by the end of the workout. In the first workout, we started at 0% game speed, and probably only progressed to 5% by the end. In the second workout, we reinforced the habits at 0% game speed, and make progress to maybe 7% game speed. He wasn’t capable of applying what he was doing in any more complicated situation, so we didn’t try. We practiced at the level he was ready for. DJ hasn’t even come close to shooting game-speed shots yet, or shot from the 3 point line yet. We are at about 2/3 game speed still, maybe even less, and we’ve worked out to about 17-18 feet.
Secondly, we are focussed on getting a high percentage of deliberate reps. This is the advantage of the off-season, and DJ coming off an injury. He isn’t spending a bunch of time playing in situations where he undoes all the work we are doing.
Too many players and coaches spend the first portion of a practice or workout “working on their shot” and doing great work, then feel the need to press further than the player’s ability. They spend the second half of the workout in situations that the player can’t execute the habit they are working on, the player reverts back to their old habit, and they undo all the work they did in the first half of the work out.
Since DJ needs to work on his shooting… we are working on his shooting. And if he wants to do ball-handling or finishing work, he does that. But we don’t want to do form shooting and be deliberate for 30min, and then work on Pick and Roll situations but ask him to shoot 3s or pull-ups he’s not ready for.
If he does that other stuff (and there is nothing wrong with working on other parts of your game too), we just have to adjust it to make sure he’s not undoing his work. Instead of shooting 3s or pull-ups, use that time work work on finishing. OR…. end the Pick and Roll situation with a form shooting drill.
Just don’t undo your own hard work.
I’m working on getting more video of what we are doing and incorporating that into posts more, so look for that in the future.
WEEK TWO - Update from DJ
March 29, 2021
I have been working with Coach Dave Love for almost 2 weeks now and I am blown away by the amount of progress I’ve made and the amount of information I’ve attained when it comes to shooting the basketball. Dave has put me through detailed, broken-down Form Shooting situations like Isolation Drill, ABC Drill, and the Slow to Quick Drill. These 3 drills have been a complete gamechanger for me.
My shooting struggles over the years consisted of my inability to get fluidity between my upper and lower body. I was always jumping first then shooting on my way down. This was all because of the fact that I had no concept or idea of a shooting Set Point. Isolation, ABC, and Slow to Quick Drill have all helped me identify and locate my Set Point, and then just go up and forward from there. My elbow goes up from my Set Point, and then my legs and hips follow along.
I have not quite yet mastered getting to my Set Point; sometimes my forearm is still a little too high. My goal is to get that parallel to the floor every time. This, as well as keeping the ball closer to me from Triple Threat to my Set Point are my two biggest areas of focus/improvement right now.
I’m very excited though to keep working and improving on this going forward. I still have a ton of work to do but I am very happy with the progress I’ve made so far. “Low, Close, Forehead, Follow Through” has been my recipe for success in shooting the basketball.
WEEK ONE - IMPROVING THE SET POINT
March 24, 2021
Really in full swing now.
DJ and I have been in contact via text usually about 2 times a day. I’ve already learned “this guy will work, and he will focus on details.” That CAN be a double edge sword – you need to focus on details early on in the process, but you don’t want to create ‘paralysis by analysis’.
One of the things I try to do to negate that issue is keep the cues short. Last night DJ and I were texting and we basically created a checklist of 4 things to concentrate on during the shooting motion, and we got those down to a totally of 5 words. “Legs, Close, Under, Follow Through”.
As time goes by I hope we can get that down to 2-3 words, and those words be more based on FEELINGS (an external cue, rather than internal).
I have DJ doing 3 very similar form shooting drills that I use with just about every client because they are so good at catching so many different habits. As we go on, we are adding more and more variety to the situation by playing with layers within drills. This early on in the process I want him to have lots of time and brain-power focussed on mindfully changing his habits. And has he improves, he gets less time to hold himself accountable to the new habits, and more things to coordinate while he’s doing it.
The layers I focus on adding first are distance (I don’t want him to just learn to shoot from 10ft at first, we want a little variability in distance), speed (slow enough to get the habit right, but as fast as he’s able), and movement (can he stop the negative energy he creates by moving on the floor, and then create positive energy as he shoots).
The one thing I see coaches making a mistake with is trying to have a finished product by the end of the workout, and thus spend too much time on drills the player isn’t ready for. We are only doing things that DJ can do well, really simple movements in simple situations, then slowly complicating the situation as he grows. It’ll take several weeks or months, but when we do it like that, it works. When you try to build it in one workout, it would be faster if it worked, but it doesn’t work.
Here is an example of what he’s working on now… stopping a simple movement, lifting the ball slowly to make sure he arrives at the new set point we are working and not the old one, then getting his guide hand off and releasing up and forward. Almost everything being over exaggerated at least a little.
WEEK ONE - Identify and Isolate
March 23, 2021
Time to go to work.
DJ and I have communicated back and forth, and he has watched the video that is copied on the Day 1 video. We’ve identified the things that I felt like were holding him back – the synchronization of his legs and body, and his set point.
I’ve noticed with the hundreds of players that I’ve worked with over the years that the set point is key. If you can get that right, you are good. If you struggle, you are probably out of position in some way at that position.
So just about every player that I work with spends a LOT of time ISOLATING the positions in that habit. Then we start to learn to apply those new habits into slightly more difficult situations.
That is my general goal…
- Identify the bad habits that need improving
- Isolate them so the player has a chance to not only do them differently, but get comfortable and good at them.
- Then slowly complicate the situation so that they can start to apply them into game situations.
I’ve found too many coaches either won’t isolate the habit, just expect that the player will be able to change at game speed. Or they will jump right from form shooting back into game situations. And in many cases the gap between those two situations is too big for players to be able to apply what they’ve learned.
So DJ spent the week well inside the free throw line holding a new set point, and making the correct move out of the set point.
This part of shooting development is a delicate balancing act. We need to hold the player accountable to actually doing the right thing, PLUS make the practice as simple as it needs to be for them to do this well, PLUS make it as variable as we possibly can.
In the beginning, the situation won’t be that variable so that DJ can focus on the new positions. But even then I ask him to introduce as much variability as he can. Different spots on the floor and different distances each time.
The often-overlooked thing that I really want to focus on is this… we need to learn to MAKE SHOTS. DJ has grown up thinking he’s not a shooter. We need to slowly build that belief in himself. And for the belief to start to grow he needs to see the ball going in fairly often. We can definitely learn from misses, and we want to have some challenge, but DJ needs to see what is possible, and see the ball going in often in the beginning of the process.
So most of DJ’s workouts in this first week have been made up of one drill, with a couple small variations, over and over and over again. Different spots on the floor, slightly different distances (all well inside the free throw line), but focus on the same habits and positions.
After he sent me this video I reminded him to keep his elbow a little lower at the set point, but to remember to add more variability to the situation. Sometimes players get so hung up on trying to get the habit right shot after shot, that they forget to slightly change the situation.
DJ’s report on the percentages he tracked for some of the shots he took:
While I love how high those percentages are, my biggest take away from them was “we are ready to make the situation harder”. So I added a couple more variations to the drill.
One last thing I want everyone to be aware of… DJ isn’t going to be playing a meaningful game for the next two months. So I’ve encouraged him to be VERY mindful of trying not to shoot his “old shot”. That he should try to only use these habits when he shoots, or at least do so as often as possible. In a lot of ways, coming off an injury will help him, because he can’t really play anyways. But with young players I’ll just remind them that they can’t play for 3 hours, shoot 100 shots with their old habits, and expect that 20 form shots a day is going to break the habit. The key is to overwhelm the number of shots taken the old form, with a much larger number of shots with mindful, good habits.
Day 3 - MEET Agent Kevin Tarca
March 20, 2021
In the fall of 2019, Dave and I connected on Instagram. After quickly identifying a few friends and colleagues we had in common (which is par for the course in the professional basketball industry), we jumped on a call to get more familiar with each other and see how we could potentially work together in the future.
I was immediately impressed with the way Dave approached his work. I could tell he was not only knowledgeable, but he found ways to genuinely connect with players, despite their team or level of play. I think that’s what got me hooked to his coaching style. I noticed he communicated just as effectively with his NBA clients as he did with his youth players who were just starting to learn the game. That is a very difficult thing to do, and he seemed to get it done with ease.
Originally we brainstormed some ways to work together – shooting development for my clients, introductions to my o