Basketball's Best Kept SecretBy Tomas Rios
May 6, 2010
Basketball is a sport dominated by some of the world’s biggest and best athletes. So what would you think if I told you a short white guy from Michigan was being paid to train these great physical specimens?
Micah Lancaster is a rising star in the basketball world. The 26-year-old skill development trainer has gained notoriety across the country for his ability to instruct some of the best basketball players in the world.
Lancaster is the lead trainer for Ganon Baker Basketball. Ganon Baker Basketball is sponsored by Nike and responsible for training some of the best basketball players in the country. Lancaster can be seen on www.ganonbakerbasketball.com or www.hoopscityu.com training both professional and amateur basketball players.
Lancaster recently sat down with Planet Blacksburg for an interview. What follows is an edited selection of questions from that interview.
Q: I read on one site that you were 5-foot-6 inches tall as a junior in high school and 5-foot-9 inches tall on Hoops City U’s website. So which one is it really? How tall are you?
Lancaster: I was 5-foot-6 as a junior in high school and that’s when a big transition in my life happened. I began training the way I should and through that summer, I grew an additional three inches and ended up being 5-foot-9 as a senior in high school.
Q: I read online that your older brother got cut from his high school basketball team for being too short, what did that experience tell you?
Lancaster: Well that experience with my brother completely changed my perspective on what I was going to have to deal with. In all honesty, he was good enough to have played and be a starter…that gave me the perspective that I was up against a battle with my height. I was going to have to be that much better and that much more prepared to have a chance. So it wasn’t good enough for me just to be good, I had to be great and it wasn’t good enough for me to just work hard, I had to work harder than anyone else.
Q: In high school you tore your cartilage in your knee, how did you motivate yourself to get back in the gym and train eight hours a day?
Lancaster: The very first play of my very first varsity game I tore all the cartilage in my left knee. It pretty much caused me to hobble through the first part of the season and by the second half I was able to tweak out a good second half of the season…the fact that I had a decent second half was all the motivation I needed to know that if I could put in the work and train the way I could, that my senior year could go very well. So that was the motivation I needed, I always wanted to play college basketball, I always wanted to play professional basketball and I was always told that would never happen. So once I experienced success at that very hard part of the season that’s what inspired me to just do it and hold nothing back. And that eight hours of training a day changed everything.
Q: What was it like to be the focal point of your team senior year, after a tough junior season?
Lancaster: It was amazing and I still look back at my high school experience and I rate it as the top experience in my basketball career. It was life changing. What really brings the most memories is that tournament run. Where we literally were picked to lose every game and I was able to score 30 points a game during that tournament. And that really not only catapulted a really fun run of proving everyone wrong as at team, but it was fun to finally be turned loose as a player and be able to show what I can do.
Q: After your senior year how did the recruiting process go?
Lancaster: I was still one of the late bloomers I was virtually unknown. Because I was so small and because I had been written off for so long no one was really taking me seriously…in the district’s first game I scored 39 points and that was our very first game of the tournament. Everything really took off for me after the district finals when I scored 45 points and hit the game winning shot to send us to our first district title in many years. From there the recruiting process really began late into my senior year.
Q: After being recruited by Spring Arbor University did you feel like you finally arrived?
Lancaster: Well, I didn’t have much time to enjoy it. I definitely felt thrilled that I was able to get a full ride scholarship and get my education for virtually nothing… but everything started over again because the first thing I heard from everyone was that I was too small for the college level… literally it was like I had to do high school all over again, by that time I had the confidence I could play at that level. It was like groundhogs day.
Q: Do you enjoy that role of being the underdog?
Lancaster: Yeah, it turned into that. Pressure was something that I learned to cherish and love. I loved the situation of people not believing in me because I had learned how to believe in myself and had the work ethic to back that. That carried over into other parts of the game. I loved having the ball in my hand at the end of the game to take and make the last shot. I loved to be the playmaker that everyone counted on. When you’re the underdog you learn how to win as the underdog and you learn how to love all those situations. It turns into a blessing for a player.
Q: After college you played professionally in the International Basketball Association, was it tough to choose training over playing?
Lancaster: It was easier than I thought it was going to be…in the IBL I started out the season as the fourth string point guard. I had to build my way up. By the second game I was third string, by the third game I was second string and by the fourth game I was starting. From there I was able to have an all-star season. At the professional level the game because more of a job. So the love of the game started to slip away and the love of the process was still there. It was an easy experience to choose what I loved more and I just happened to love training players and training myself more than I did competing in games.
Q: Was working for Ganon Baker your first training job?
Lancaster: Everything started for me after those eight hour summer days in high school and what I had done was learn how to train and how to efficiently train. People actually started approaching me to train after that year. So I started training kids in high school as a freshman in college. Bringing them through the same things I did for those eight hours a day. I continued training all through college and my first DVD was “Serious Basketball Volume 1.” Where a production company approached me wanting to put that eight hour work out into a DVD. We filmed that DVD based on the things I did that summer. It’s amazing to think people are purchasing that DVD simply based on the things I did to get better as a junior in high school… so that’s where it started for me and I started my own business out of that and that led to joining Ganon Baker basketball.
Q: Now that you are part of Ganon Baker Basketball how does it feel to be with such an elite company?
Lancaster: You can’t really put it into words its been an amazing experience. It continues to be a testament to me of how hard work can pay off… all the sacrifice finally paid off. To finally be recognized for your work and for what you are able to do for players and make players better is a blessing for me. It’s just a constant reminder for me and the players I train, that hard work and persistence pays off.
Q: You also are the director of basketball training for Hoops City U, so how did that come about?
Lancaster: Hoops City U hired me to run a camp and they loved it. Out of that process they invited me to move and do my training through their facility. I’m still able to do my Ganon Baker training here and actually run the Hoop City U program also. It gave me a home, a place to call my own, and instead of me traveling to other players across the country and internationally they can come to me. It was a no brainer move from my side to have a place where you can immediately schedule and have players come in. We have a player from India coming this summer and another from New York.
Q: So do you still have to travel?
Lancaster: I still run camps and clinics across the country and around the world. There are still players I’ll travel to if they are a high level guy and they want training. I’ll go to them if they can cover my expenses and my rates. The facility has made me more affordable to more people because I can keep my rates lower. For me that’s what its about, training more players, at a rate more people can afford. I am a family guy first so its fun for me to not have to travel as much.
Q: How are you able to train seasoned veterans as well as 18-year-old high school seniors?
Lancaster: You learn as a skill trainer that training doesn’t change much. Training a pro is not too much different from training a kid. You always start at point A then take them to B, C, D and E. The only difference between my pro’s and my kid’s are the intensity levels and how quickly they can learn… what you do as a skill development trainer at this level is take a move that a player might need a month to learn and break it down to the point to where they can master it in an hour. You learn how to formulize the move and teach it in a way pros and kids can learn. It’s just about reading their skill level and pushing them toward their goal.
Q: Are you currently training any pros or college players one-on-one right now?
Lancaster: It’s on and off right now. Hoops City is focused on bringing in some of the best high school players in the country right now. We are really pushing towards Nike High School All-Americans and offering our services to them and helping at that stage. It’s going to be a mix of working with players at every level, but we are really focusing a little bit more of the younger side of the game. The pros will come when they need their training.
Q: What do you think separates those great players from those who are content with being where they are?
Lancaster: It’s a fine line between players at every level. There are only small differences that separate each level. It can be a player’s mindset or just having a couple of inches on your vertical… I think where you see the big difference is in those players who are very special. That usually just always comes down to what their work ethic is. Those who can push themselves to unbelievable levels and beyond are the ones that make it. It comes down to how hard they are working and how efficiently they are training.
Q: What small things separate the college players at each level?
Lancaster: The skills are very close at each level so it can come down to the vertical or speed. The bottom line is when it comes down to those special players… So you want to find those players who are the All-Americans at the division 1 level and who are the All-Americans at the division 2 level. Where there skills are that much better, or they can handle the ball that much better, or their footwork is that much better, so that’s when you see the difference, in those special players.
Q: In one of your videos on Youtube you say players should imitate pros, who were some guys you imitated growing up?
Lancaster: Its important that people first imitate then innovate. When you first learn a move, you learn the dance steps, the footwork. Every move can be broken down into scenes. Once you get the process you can add your own style and bring you into that move. I looked up to Michael Jordan just like everyone else and Isiah Thomas. Those two were really the ones I focused on and adapted a lot of my moves and finishes at the basket around.
Q: On Youtube I saw another video of you doing a move that was a Kobe Bryant and Tony Parker mash-up. Is that what you mean by innovation?
Lancaster: Yeah, it is. One thing I learned recently as I train more and more players is that I have always had a knack for picking up details. Where I would see a person do a move and I would see those small details. I would see how their feet moved and I would see everything that went into the move. Where a lot of other people would just see a picture. I never realized that I saw things a little differently. I never realized how detail oriented my mind was when it came to what people were doing. So when I watch a move it allows me to come up with a creative way to teach people that move and how to teach their body to do it in a very progressive way and it also allows me to get creative and combine some moves.
Q: How do you come up with your drills, like the use of the medicine ball during dribbling drills?
Lancaster: The key is basically never forgetting what skill you’re working on. I think there are a lot of trainers, who will use a tennis ball or a medicine ball, like we do, and they will keep the focus on what they are using and so it becomes a show and tell type of thing…so the medicine ball has been something that no one else has ever done and I was just looking at problems. I was looking at the fact that players had a hard time getting low and getting their hips down. That is always a problem players and coaches are working on. The medicine ball served as something people can actually pick up on the move and give them some really great resistance, so it was great tool to get people to stay low. And the other issue that people need to work on is protecting the basketball so if we can keep a player occupied on both sides of their body they become better equipped for the game. So the key is first pin pointing the skills or need and then coming up with ways and different tools to improve those skills.
Q: A lot of critics say Europe is gaining on the U.S. in basketball because of their skill training. Do you think kids would benefit more if they focused on the kind of training you’re doing as opposed to just going out and playing?
Lancaster: Kids in the U.S. desperately need skill training. It hasn’t necessarily always been prevalent in our game because we’ve always been ahead of everyone else. The big thing in Europe is that they are putting more focus on skills. Unfortunately, we have a system in the U.S. where players play a lot of games. So we’re playing too many games and not doing enough training. The other problem then, is simply how players train… the majority of U.S. players go out and shoot and work on a move, but they don’t necessarily work on how to effectively use that move. Europe has done a great job of really focusing on the skills and developing the system in which they train their players. That should be a message to our U.S. players that we should be training a little bit more and playing games a little less.
Q: Does it frustrate you when a guy isn’t skill orientated and more focused on just playing to play?
Lancaster: It doesn’t frustrate me; they can’t know what they don’t know. What’s frustrating is just our system. I don’t want to put the blame on coaches. Coaches can’t focus on skills. They have to focus on philosophy and the x’s and o’s. A great example, coaches will generally teach their players one way to stop. They might teach their players a jump stop because it’s easy to teach. When really there are four ways to stop that each player should know…what we really need is our coaches stepping up and having their players get involved with skill development trainers.
Q: You’ve received a lot of notoriety and everyone keeps talking about you as the next big thing in training, how does it feel to be getting this success at a young age?
Lancaster: It’s amazing. That was one of the things I always worried about after my playing career. Are people going to give me a shot? As a player I was in front of a coach and I could prove myself in practice. Where as a trainer, people were going to first look at how big I was, they were first going to look at how young I was and really how young I look. And were they going to give me a chance. Really what has happened for me is that just the very way that I look and the very size that I am have really given me an edge. When I get in front of a player and show them what I can do with a basketball I can help them believe they can do it too…it has turned into a blessing that I don’t fit the part. I have learned that if you can reach people and teach people that notoriety will come.
Q: Do you have any funny stories about players who were caught off guard when you were the guy coming to train them?
Lancaster: I remember training a semi-professional team in Virginia. When I walked in the gym and they realized I was about to train them they started laughing and pointing. I could obviously tell they were making fun of me and I loved that. I thought that was hilarious because I knew what I was about to put them through and I know enough about that level to know that those players have things I could help them with…but what’s really unique about the kind of trainers that Ganon Baker and I are is that we have really worked hard to have the skills of NBA players. We know we can do things that other players cannot do. I am very confident that there are things I could show any player in the world and they would not be able to do it. So I always know I can stump them, so I always love those challenges.
Q: From what I have seen on Youtube it looks like you can play in the NBA, why don’t you?
Lancaster: We get asked that all the time. Ganon got his chance to play in the NBA very late. Could he have been a player at a younger age, definitely…I can’t tell people if I could have played in the NBA or not. What I can tell people is that I succeeded at every level I played at and I continued to get offers to play overseas and I just simply stopped. All I can say is that skill wise; do I have the skills of an NBA player? Absolutely…the luxury of our job is just that we get to continue working on our own skills so we will be able to get to a level that not a lot of players are able to reach.
Q: Do you see yourself continuing to train or do you think you may want to coach at some point?
Lancaster: I am going to continue to train…I’m going to continue to train for as long as God can allow it. I want to really change the game so I am going to continue putting videos on the Internet and really use that as a resource to get the word out. We are launching a brand new website on ganonbakerbasketball.com where we will give people memberships to really learn everything that we do. So we are going to be unleashing that. That’s the future right now.
Q: Do you have any DVDs coming out soon?
Lancaster: I have my two available right now “Serious Basketball,” and “Keys to a Quick Handle.” The one I am most excited about is a DVD designed for coaches that they can implement into their practices and work on their offense while working on their skills. I think it can revolutionize the game.
Q: It sounds like that is going to solve the skill problem we were talking about earlier?
Lancaster: It understands that coaches don’t have the time. They will be working on their offenses anyway. So it’ll be good to work on the player’s skill while working on offense.