Christian Kezmarsky, Player Development Coach | Hoop Story #062

Christian Kezmarsky, Player Development Coach | Hoop Story #062

Player Development is what it sounds like, so what that said, are there any common areas or themes involved when first assessing a player, take us through that process ?

My process is a little bit different than other guys. It changes from player to player, skill level to skill level. When I lock in with one of the pros, I’m very game and film oriented. Everything comes from film and hours of studying it. It’s never just, hey this is what I want you to work on let's work on it. I’ll examine the player directly, what they are good at and what they can get better at. Those are the obvious areas of focus. Second, I'll note a direct comparable player to that player whether it be in a similar league or the world. We look at what the comparable may do better and vice versa. We also look at what we can take from him, what a team does with him that works or doesn’t. The third question we ask is, “If everything goes right, what is the most realistic comparison of player we can emulate or get to?” Not just game wise but stat wise etc. “Where is the next level we can take it to?” It’s easier to look at things from a player to player perspective especially in the NBA because those guys simply get paid more money. For me, instead of saying, “Let's go from this percentage to this percentage in one area to the next.” I look at it from the angle of, “If you do these things better, you can be Kris Middleton, or this guy, or that guy.” The last assessment is, “Whose one player you probably don’t play anything like, but enjoy watching. In a perfect world who would you play like?” That's the area where we incorporate enjoying the game and having fun. 

I work a lot with Cam Johnson from the Suns. He’s one of my best friends in the world. For him directly, I look at his numbers and a direct comparison to him as a base. In my opinion, Duncan Robinson was a good comparison and Kris Middleton can symbolize the next level I’d like him to get to. Finally, we will still watch some Kyrie and James Harden stuff to see how they twitch with the ball or how they do certain things in-game. That's the area where we get to be basketball junkies at the end of the day. That's how I come up with my areas of improvement for my guys. I also don’t care to have 1000 clients, I’d rather have 5 I can truly make a difference for. I run a full time training program in Pittsburgh so I don’t have the luxury to do that with every client. Not that I BS workouts but in group settings I can only do so much.

Many ballers read this publication, some current players, some former. As a development coach what advice would you give to players coming off of a long hiatus?

Keep watching and studying the game. There's so much value in watching guys do it at a higher level and really knowing and absorbing that. Today more than ever we are blessed with how much basketball is at our disposal, it's everywhere. 

If you're a guy who had to get away for more of a mental or circumstantial reason the first thing you must do is lock back in mentally. Oftentimes the mental part of sports is so looked down on. A guy can be in a slump and there could be a factor that is going on in his life that he or she may have never made known publicly. It’s a lot more than just playing better or getting in better shape. The main thing is locking in mentally and setting small goals that soon turn into bigger goals. You won’t get back to where you were in just one day. 

For someone just coming back, find your love again for the game and do things you know you can have success with. Get back in the gym and get some makes in, get back in or develop a routine that will help you get back on track. There are some guys who can come back and still be in good shape and some who come back in worse shape. That's why first and foremost besides conditioning, take it slow. Start with 5 min of ball handling then move up to 10. Soon, you will be up to 30 min after a week. Start with 50 made shots a day, then 100 etc. I think once you get back into your routine the rest will settle itself. Find your love again, set goals and recognize its a process. Of course if you’re off via injury you will have a different path than the common person taking time off. I’m big on one win a day makes a very good week. Do one small thing a day and it might not seem like much but when you look back on the week and on the month and on the year those small wins will equal bigger ones.

You’ve worked with players of all levels. What would you say the differences are between working with a high school level, college level or Pro level player?

The biggest difference between a professional and the average high school player or college player is the attention to detail. 

I tell parents all the time, the biggest misconception is that pros have all of these crazy drills, magic pills and dramatic things but it's actually the complete opposite. No disrespect to any trainers out there but you see a lot of gimmick trainers on the internet. The common person who doesn't know basketball might think, “Hey that's pretty hard that must make me or my kid better.” They may think the NBA guy is doing the craziest level of that drill. 

In reality, these pros are doing the most simple workouts but they are so detail oriented that it makes the drill or workout more effective. Things like footwork, understanding why you’re doing something, pace, gamelike movement. That’s the biggest gap between a pro and other levels, how detail oriented the workout is. Every workout is mapped out, the player is talking during the workout and on top of that, the physical aspect is that NBA or Overseas players are in far better shape than most people. It’s the details, locking in on those details and wondering why you're doing things and why they do or don't work. 

The other thing is being honest with yourself and where you're at.  Pros know their bodies and games better than anyone. A high school player might come in and work on whatever he wants to work on while pros have a set gameplan every single day.

Is there a type of player or positions you primarily work with?

It’s almost a trick question for me. I work with guards and wings for the most part but I’ve also worked with Oscar Tshibwe a ton who was the 2022-23 player of the year. If i had to choose in a perfect world it would be all guards and wings but I have worked with some good bigs.

Being from Uniontown, PA. How has that shaped your journey as well as view on the game?

Where I’m from, it's kind of a rough area. Not many people have a lot going for themselves. It’s hard to make it out of Uniontown. It brings people in, but makes it hard to get out. However, my high school was one of the winningest highschools in basketball from our region ever. 

When I grew up, my high school was always good at basketball and that's what shaped my love. My uncle is the head coach of Uniontown High and he was one of the better players ever from our area and we are really close. He was the one that made me really fall in love with the game of basketball. Just seeing him coach while I was the ballboy, watching him run his own camps and just the basketball culture of the school made me want to be involved with the game. 

I moved to Pittsburgh when I was in college and Pittsburgh is a Football town. It was like being a big fish in a small pond since people aren't too into basketball here. I’ve done my part in trying to shift the culture and day by day still trying to. Where I'm from, not even just basketball wie made me who I am. Uniontown people are their own kind of people. We talk and act differently and we’re very loyal and about toughness. It’s made me who I am. When times are tough I just think, I’m from Uniontown I will figure it out.

Take us through your path to becoming a development coach. Was it always in the plan? Were there some obstacles you’ve overcome along your journey?

My story is very unique and one that may not ever be mimicked which is why I love to tell it. I was a good high school player, went to play D3 for a year and didn’t like it. I honestly didn't respect the game the way I should have. I did know however that I wanted to be a coach at some point.I didn't know. When I transferred from my division 3 and I became a manager for Robert Morris. Being a manager is one of the most humbling experiences ever. 

At that time my old AAU coach was a development coach and I worked for him as well. That's where I really saw the development side, liked it and realized I could make money with this. When you're a college kid with no money you pretty much would do whatever. I started training some kids from my hometown. I would drive and go work them out and I made it a business. The first kid I ever trained was Rodney Gallagher who is now committed to West Virginia to play football. At the time he was one of the best 7th graders in the world. I started with him in the 5th grade and he went on to play for the Blue Chips with Bronny. I went with them to a couple tournaments and that's where I met Mikey, Bronny and those guys. I worked out Bronny and that's when it became a real thing. It was all over the internet and I was still working with the Blue Chips. I was blessed being around those guys. Cam was going back to North Carolina and Ethan Mortan was going back to Purdue. I had a nice group of guys I was working with. 

Then in my last year of college I had some family things that forced me to drop out. I had no money, no car, no job and I had to make player development my job. I started with local kids and branched out. Luckily enough I got to re enroll into school and finish. In that time it swayed me away from wanting to be a coach and it showed me I could work with top guys in high school, college and NBA. That’s where everything happened. I had no choice but to figure it out or starve.

You are the founder of The Combine, take us through what it is, the start of it and how important it is to today’s youth.

We are on our third Combine event at this point. It started when I knew I wanted to have an event in Pittsburgh but I wanted it to be different. I was working a lot with Deuce McBride from the Knicks. He went to the combine. Cam Johnson had success at the combine as well. 

I was sitting around one night and thought, “Maybe we should provide these tests to youth players who may need to get better or never get to experience a day like that.” That's where the idea came from. I did one last year with 75 kids at the high school level and 70 at the middle school level. It’s a day-long event where I bring the best local trainers to do skill work, players get to play live and are provided with the same tests that NBA players receive at the combine. 

This year we will have a couple of ranking services there as well. It’s great to see where you stand, combine test wise and skill wise but you get to be a kid. In today’s time we pressure these kids so much into not having fun and my idea is how do we combine the hard with what it takes to be successful while allowing them to have fun. Everyone wants to test kids on the court but they’re never mentioning the tests that will help them get to where they want to get to. It's important for kids to be kids and go to events where it's fun and you aren't always worried about your performance but you still get to exercise your love for basketball.

Anyone you want to give a shout out to or thank?

Definitely my immediate family. Even when it seemed crazy they always backed me and were always down to support me. My uncle Rob, who was also my high school coach, was a huge inspiration for why I started all of this. Coach B my first AAU coach to introduce me to development. The Blue Chips, without them I wouldn't have been as known. Cam Johnson and DJ Kennedy. Jake St. George, who is my assistant. Having him around has helped a ton. There’s a ton of people but those are the ones that come to my mind.

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