Training Grounds, Part Six: An Interview with Mike Procopio

Training Grounds, Part Six: An Interview with Mike Procopio
Jun 26, 2007, 02:17 am
Part One, Keith Moss
Part Two, Joe Abunassar
Part Three, Idan Ravin
Part Four, David Thorpe
Part Five, Dan Barto

Part Six: An Interview with Mike Procopio

Mike Procopio is the Director of Basketball Skill Development of ATTACK Athletics. He works with Tim Grover in Chicago, Illinois, and is a former NBA scout for the Boston Celtics as well as an employee of Nike and the Michael Jordan Flight School.

Matthew Modderno: Where did you get your start in coaching or training athletes? Describe your background a little, what led you to what you do today

Mike Procopio: When I was 18 years old I worked for a Nike sponsored AAU team out of Boston, with Leo Papile, who was Rick Pitino’s assistant coach at Boston University. Basically we were a top notch, one of the top 2 or 3 travel teams in the country. That was back when AAU was actually pretty good and not so watered down.

We had a lot of players that went on to Division One. They would come back in the summers and want someone to workout with and I basically started working players out that way. I also had the opportunity to work for Nike Top Flight and from there I went to work at a camp called Snow Valley in California. We did a lot of offensive drills there working on footwork and such and here I started honing my skills. I also worked out college players in the Boston area where I’m from.

After that I had the opportunity to work as a scout for the Boston Celtics for four years and in that time I became close with Paul Pierce and some of those other players. After that I was working in Chicago and Paul was playing Antoine Walker’s charity game and I got a chance to go. Tim Grover, who was Michael Jordan’s trainer, was standing there and he basically offered me a job on the spot. As far as where I got my start, a lot of that comes from working with Tim and a lot of great basketball people.

Matthew Modderno: Who are some of the players you feel you’ve helped the most? What areas do you think you had the greatest impact in?

Mike Procopio: You know in all my years, I’d say Channing Frye, Thaddeus Young, and Julian Wright. Those are probably the guys I’ve been able to help out the most as far as what I’ve showed them and basically how they can utilize the skills and their athletic ability. As well as what shots and what offensive moves are going to get them to the next level.

Matthew Modderno: The word is that you are a big “footwork” guy, were you able to help those players out in this area?

Mike Procopio: Yes, Thaddeus and Julian are going to play small forward in the NBA and with their size. Julian being 6’8 and Thaddeus being about 6’8 as well, their size is going to be a big advantage at that position. The thing with footwork is that it can help them with multiple things like being more of a threat as an offensive player. You know whenever you’re big its great to be able to post up. Not just making shots, but being able to make things happen down in the post with fadeaways and different offensive concepts of which we teach.

Matthew Modderno: Do you continue to help foster a player’s development after the draft?

Mike Procopio: Oh yeah, we get out our players’ emails and phone numbers. We don’t really try to do too much. We’ll talk to them, say, “Hey do you have any issues?” We’ll call like a Channing Frye. I talk to Channing probably every couple weeks during the season. We talk about all different kinds of things that he did. We get a chance to use Synergy Sports Technology, which I think is the best video program out on the market.

We get them tapes and are able to break down and watch a lot of their games. We can chart a lot of stuff and track different things and do it in minimal time. We’ll call them up and say, “You want to do this or want to do that.” Because especially as a rookie, but also during their first few years in the league, you want to do that for them. The veterans, they figure it out, but in the first couple of years, it’s important. I don’t think many players, I’d say about eight percent, will really know what they are in for. NBA players, they are all great players, going to be great players, drafted in the top five or six, and they all athletic and long, and they all know the tricks of the trade. Those guys are the veterans though.

Sometimes coaches are tough on young players, but that’s why I think we are the best in the business. We keep in touch with our guys, we don’t overdo it. We try to say, “Oh what are you doing? What are you having trouble with?” And they say we are having trouble with this, this, and this. We can go back and watch ten or twelve games of theirs and try and pinpoint a solution. We can say, “In your offensive schemes you could try this.” We just don’t try and overdo it because it can be hard, but I think we do as good a job as any of just trying to find out the problem and solve it. We are a full service training company; we don’t just do it when the cameras are on. It’s not just for the draft and to look good. As long as a player wants it, we try and help them out as much as possible 365 days a year.

Matthew Modderno: So, is there a certain philosophy or methodology that you bring to your work?

Mike Procopio: I try to make it as simple as possible. I see a lot of guys try and reinvent the wheel. They want to make these big dynamic drills and have people see and notice them. So they draw up all of these very complicated things. I think the most I’ve learned from Tim Grover is just to try and keep it simple, don’t try and do too much. Keep it as team oriented as possible, and focus on what kind of physical body you are dealing with, what position they are, and just know the eight or nine things you’re going to have to do.

Things like what shots do they take from their position, whether it’s a two-guard coming off screens, or if he’s a 3, help him handle the ball more or side pick and roll, high pick and roll, or post ups with 4’s and 5’s. Give them all their offensive stuff that they can make in games. Don’t overdo it, but keep it fun, keep it interesting, keep them focused so they will keep it going. I think the biggest thing we do is we communicate. We talk to our guys and we look them in the eye. We don’t just have them come for a workout. If we find a problem, though, we correct it right away and I think we are the best in the business at doing that. We have a great staff who handles when the workouts are and when to do that stuff.

Matthew Modderno: Do you put together game plans for what you’re going to work on with a player after the season, or do they come to you with one?

Mike Procopio: Never, never, never. I love watching football but I’m not going to be one of those coaches with the big plastic playbook with like 400 play calls on it. Our philosophy is that when you come in here we will work with you, we know what we are doing, and we don’t need a cheat sheet. We don’t need to look pretty with one of those notebooks or graphics sheets with everything written down. We don’t need to plan out a play for LSU on fourth and ten on the 35 yard line. You go in and you know who you are working with and you know what you have to do. You make changes on the fly and if you really need the notes and the game plan that’s fine.

But our thing is if it’s a player we’ve never seen before we will watch tape off Synergy. We make sure we have seen the tape and watched as much of it as possible. We will set aside certain time to work with the kid and go over certain things he needs to work on. I’ve got a sickness I guess, I love watching games and I’ll just sit there and watch our guys’ tapes to death. You just don’t need a chart plotted out with all these different things on it, you should know what you are going to work on and what position you are working with, and what assets and what skill sets they need to build on to be good at that position. You just start simple and don’t be afraid to add a little wrinkle.

Matthew Modderno: Do players ever come to you with a specific skill set that they want to work on?

Mike Procopio: If it’s a veteran you say, “Cool.” If it’s a guy in his first three years and he comes in with something that’s not going to help him much, I’ll go to him and say, “Look this isn’t going to help and here’s why it’s not for you.” We will go in and watch more tape and I’ll burn a CD of 6 or 7 plays and show them why it is not going to be for them. I mean you don’t find that a lot. There might be some that say here’s something I’d like to work on. You give them the right answer, though, which is why they are going to do it or why they are not going to do it. You’ve got to build trust and be able to look these guys in the eye and have them say, “He knows what he’s doing.” I don’t like arguing but a guy that can have a discussion about aspects of these things are all doing ok. Andre Iguodala came in last year and wanted to learn Kobe Bryant’s post up game as well as Jerry Stackhouse’s. First thing we did was give him a DVD so he could see video of it.

Matthew Modderno: Could you speak a little about the importance of being mentally prepared as compared with being physically prepared?

Mike Procopio: Very few players can just do right to the NBA and be ready. You’ve got to be able to set up moves. There are three ways to score: with the defender behind you in transition, with the defender beside you, and who can go by you and is athletic enough to do that, and the hardest is naturally when the guy in front of you. Catch the ball in front of you and then figure out what to do now. You have to know what to do for the situation and be able to mentally know why you are doing this. We teach our guys not to be robots.

Matthew Modderno: What do you think is more important to a player, the situation they get drafted into or the position they are drafted?

Mike Procopio: Situation, 100% situation, but these guys see it as money and they don’t want to be drafted 22nd, they want to be 7th. But the money really should have nothing to do with it. First contracts have nothing to do with that, and it’s tough to teach the young guys that. If you can play on a great team where the hardest worker is also your best player, like with Tim Duncan in San Antonio, then it’s going to go a long way toward making you want to work hard too. It’s a fine line though, look at Darko Milicic with Detroit. He got drafted to a great team but he’s not going to learn anything if he never gets off the bench.

The best situation is somewhere you can learn but still be good enough to get some minutes. You don’t have to play 40 minutes a night but when you are playing with great players that can really help you. I’d rather have situation over spot because it has a huge impact on the psychological aspect of things. If you go to work everyday, you accept coaching, and you change your game to fit, you’ll be fine. But guys don’t really want to hear that sometimes, they want to able to spend their money and they have other things on their mind. There are probably only eight to ten franchise players right now in the league anyway so it’s important to know what you need to do just to be a good player.

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