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Becoming a Better Ball Handler, Part 1

Lee Taft, MS, CSCS, SPC, USATF, Performance Director, Sports Speed, Etc., Inc.


Having been involved with basketball for roughly 40 years I can honestly say the most important skill for a young player to develop is the ability to handle the basketball. Yes, shooting is important and each young player should learn how to shoot and score, but if you can't move around the floor and get to open spots with the ball you will not score.

In the past year I have taken on clients to develop their overall basketball playing ability. I teach them strength and conditioning, but the primary focus has been on skill development. It has become obvious that our young players, and many older players, do not dribble the ball well. They might be able to do fancy street ball dribble moves, but they don't go anywhere on the court. John Stockton made a living off one move; it was the Blow By move. He knew how to get where he needed to in order to make a play for himself or a teammate (usually Karl Malone on a pocket pass off the pick and roll).

What I did was take it upon myself to develop simple yet well orchestrated ball handling skills to enhance young players. Heck, I even use these same drills with top level players such as my nephew and current NCAA Player of the Year Jimmer Fredette.

The drills are designed to increase hand eye coordination and control. They are also designed to develop a sense of confidence. The confidence comes as a result of skill acquisition. In order for players to develop skill acquisition they must learn the pattern, increase the speed, and eventually add random reactions so they learn to react and control.

Let me share with you a little bit about the routine I use to get players started.

Ball Handling Drills

These drills are designed to increase the speed at which a player can move the ball around the body. There are many drills that can be used but I have found my progression works very well.

  1. Learn the patterns. Start out slow and gradually pick up the speed.
  2. Once learned, add a 2 lb. to 4 lb. medicine ball to increase the strength and nervous system firing.
  3. On the same day, go full speed with a basketball again so the body gets a release of maximum speed. This is a version of overspeed training for the upper body.

Here is an example routine I have my players use:

  1. Single Leg Circles - Get down in a great stance and wrap the ball around one calf as fast as possible for 10 seconds (half way through the 10 seconds reverse the pattern. Switch to the other leg and repeat.
  2. 2 to 1 - Put legs together and perform a single circle around both. Immediately step back and wrap the front leg, step legs together and wrap both again, then step back with opposite leg. Continue this pattern for 10 seconds as fast as possible.
  3. Leg-Waist-Leg - Wrap around one leg, immediately go to the waist then to the opposite leg then back to the waist and to the starting leg. Repeat.
  4. Legs-Waist-Head - This is an old one, but a great one. Wrap around both legs 2 times, then the waist 2 times, and finish at the head 2 times. Now work down the body.

These four exercises will dramatically improve hand speed and ball control.

Dribbling Drills

Now we want to put the ball on the floor and improve our dribbling skills.

I don't care if you are a professional player or a beginner; keep the drills simple at first so proper motor programming can occur. Once basic skills are improved then more difficult skills can be added. Remember, it is not a street ball competition; it is a way of setting a great foundation of control.

Here is my favorite dribbling series to do with all my players I privately coach and my teams. This set of drills is called the "Cone Slalom Series." It is simple yet extremely important and effective in learning how to control the ball.

The set up: Use eight cones and set them up in a straight line with 5 feet in between each cone. Stay in an athletic position (knees bent, good posture…), walk through the drill, but pound the ball as hard as you can control. When you get to the end of the cones walk back to recover and repeat 3 to 4 times for each of the four drills. Here are the drills:

  1. Crossover - Snap the ball hard and low under the knees to the other hand on each crossover.
  2. Through the Legs - Snap the ball through the legs. Perform a quick drop lunge to push the ball through the legs. Get the ball in front of the body immediately once it gets through the legs.
  3. Around the Back - This is not a wrap around dribble. It is a quick low cross-behind. Keep your hips back and down, and cross the ball under the hamstrings. Get it in from quickly for the next cone.
  4. Inside-out Dribble - Stay on one side of the cones the entire trip up. If the ball is in the right hand as you get to the opening between cones quickly fake like you are crossing over and stepping in between the cones then pull the ball back to the right side and continue on. Be quick with your feet when faking the crossover.

These four drills have improved many basketball players' dribbling skills. It is about being aggressive with the ball, dedicated to getting better every time you perform these drills, and not being afraid to make mistakes. If you go easy and never challenge yourself, you will not reach your potential.

Attack Moves

At this point we are ready to start putting moves together to attack the defense. I want to share with you what I call my Attack Moves of the dribble.

I will traditionally start out by attacking from the wing and moving to the top of the key then eventually to the corners or short corners.

The first series is the pick and roll attack moves from the wing. Take 5 shots of each.

  1. Pull Up Jumper - Attack hard off the hip of the screen and get to the near elbow and pull up.
  2. Lane Floater/Runner - On this move attack into the lane and perform a one-foot take-off runner or a two-foot quick release floater.
  3. Split the Hedge - When the screener's man hedges or jumps out but leaves a seam, split the screen with a low crossover dribble and finish at the rim.
  4. Flatten Out and Attack the Hedge - The hedge man doesn't let you split the screen and pushes you out toward half court. Use a back up dribble and square your body to his or hers then quickly attack the outside foot of the hedge man away from the where the screen was set. Take a pull-up jumper at the opposite elbow.

Repeat these four pick and roll attack moves at the opposite elbow.

To learn more of my attack dribble moves and my shooting progression you will have to wait for part 2.

Stay motivated, stay focused, and train right!

Yours in Speed,

Lee Taft

Please contact me at info@sportsspeedetc.com if you have any questions.

Or visit SportsSpeedEtc.com



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