Chris Brickley has coached some of the world’s greatest basketball players, including James Harden, Kevin Durant, Sabrina Ionescu and Cade Cunningham, to name a few of the famous stars on his current client list.
Last week, however, Brickley took some time out and partnered with BODYARMOR to coach local Harlem kids at the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club on the corner of Bradhurst Ave and 155th Street, just a block from the famous Rucker Park.
After the class, BasketballNews.com spoke with Brickley about one of his most valuable clients, Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, and discussed how the coach and Hooper plan to prepare for the 2021-22 NBA season.
Is there a particular skill or a couple of drills that you will primarily focus on with Donovan Mitchell this summer?
Chris Brickley: “Basically, there have always been stages. When I first started working with him before my freshman year of college, it was one thing. Then we moved on to another. Now he’s kind of figured out how he manages to get balls in the league. He’s found his niche. So we’re working on his strengths, but we also want to improve his three-point shots off the dribble and off the rebound. He already has some basic moves, but we want to add some more. And the ability to finish throws around the rim, with floaters and runners, is an important part of his game, so we want to improve on that as well.”
You both have ties to Louisville. Have you had a relationship with Mitchell since college? Is that when you first started working together?
Brickley: “Actually, when I was assistant coach Rick Pitino on the Puerto Rican national team, we did a training camp at the University of Louisville during the summer. Mitchell was a freshman starter that year, so we started working then, and that was almost six years ago. We had a very close relationship over the years, so it was great to watch him develop into a superstar.
Considering he was drafted with the 13th overall pick, were you surprised at how productive he was once he stepped onto the NBA court as a rookie, averaging 20 points a night? Or were you confident he could make an immediate impact?
Brickley: “Honestly, I always knew. Even after his first year at Louisville, when he didn’t play much, I worked with him, and he was a great shooter. He understands pace; he’s a super athlete. His work ethic is at 1,000. He’s just one of those guys. He’s got that “it.” So I always knew that, and I always knew that as soon as he got a chance to show it, he would show it.”
Some players prefer to rest and recuperate in the offseason instead of practicing several times a day. Is Mitchell one of those who needs a summer to let his body recover, or is he one of those players who needs to be shut down in the gym?
Brickley: “When we started, he was one of those guys you have to lock up in the gym. His first year or two in the league, those offseasons were just ridiculous. He was the only player I worked with that started at 5 in the morning. We’d come in at 5 in the morning and leave again at 2 in the afternoon. And those were the most intense workouts. This guy pushes like no one else. He’s still very young, but he had a few injuries last season, so it’s important to get his body in shape. He’s doing a good job with [DBC Fitness owner] David Alexander in Miami getting his body in the condition he wants it in.”
Among the many ways Mitchell has improved his game since coming to the league, what aspect impressed you the most?
Brickley: “His efficiency and professionalism. This guy almost became Rookie of the Year, won the dunk contest and became a star after his first year. And yet, coming into practice, he was 15 minutes early; he was very punctual, very professional. Then he became a star and came back the same way. He hadn’t changed. It’s already a skill for anyone to be humble. On the court, every year he scored more points and was more efficient. I’m proud of him for that.”
Last season, Mitchell averaged more than five assists per game for the first time in his career. Are there specific drills you can work on to improve a player’s passing ability, court vision or basketball IQ? Or are these skills innate?
Brickley: “I think watching film is a big trend in the NBA because it’s one way to improve your IQ. I think the best way to improve your IQ is to watch your games to see: “Ah, that worked. That didn’t work.” I know that Donovan really likes to study movies. Whenever he travels, he watches movies. He watches movies almost every night. He’s a huge movie buff.”
Mitchell has been a very productive player during the regular season, but he has somehow managed to take his game to an even higher level during the playoffs throughout his career. It’s exceptionally rare for a player to significantly increase his scoring average and efficiency in the postseason. What do you attribute that to?
Brickley: “I think he takes care of his body and, literally, doesn’t skip water. He also has a partnership with BODYARMOR. He’s in recovery, and it shows he’s not fooling around. He plays his games and then uses his recovery tools… Things like that are really important. And that’s why he’s able to last so long into the season.”