Any doubt about the future of the combine as a regular feature in the landscape of the sports world was dealt a severe blow as the N.C.A.A. cast a resounding “yes” vote in favor of the combine with the launching of its N.C.A.A. College Basketball Academy. The N.C.A.A. did not jump into the combine arena with a bang, but rather with a B.A.M. - Basic Athletic Measurement that is. The N.C.A.A. has contracted with the foremost combine testing company to conduct its college basketball combines as part of its new College Basketball Academy, and MAD accompanied Brett Brungardt and his B.A.M. team to assist in the administration of these combines.
The N.C.A.A. offered the combine as a service to high school athletes who aspire to play basketball at the college level. The new College Basketball Academy invited select high school basketball players from around the country, and the N.C.A.A. covered the cost for each athlete and one guardian. The Academy was administered at four different sites around the U.S.: Grand Canyon University in Phoenix; the University of Houston; the University of Illinois in Champaign; and the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
The program was designed to accommodate 600 athletes at each location in two sessions of 300 each. The curriculum for each session consisted of three parts: B.A.M.’s combine; basketball drills and games; and a Life Skills lecture series. The lectures covered a range of topics including what to expect in college, what to expect in the N.B.A., how to improve your skills, how to prepare for combines, how to train, how to deal with social media, how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally, and the importance of rest and recovery.
Since B.A.M. was operating at four sites simultaneously, Brett Brungardt was forced to split up his crew. He handled Grand Canyon University himself, and B.A.M. Consultant and Strength and Conditioning Coach Iliyas Rahman oversaw operations at UConn. MAD Head Coach Eric Bringas administered the combines in Houston, and MAD Strength and Conditioning Coach Ryan Muñoz ran the show in Champaign.
Brett’s older brother Mike Brungardt, the legendary Strength and Conditioning Coach from the San Antonio Spurs, also helped oversee events in Champaign as did Brett’s younger brother the author and journalist Kurt Brungardt who serves as B.A.M.’s ombudsman and special projects coordinator. In addition to their combine work, Mike Brungardt, MAD Director John Murray, himself a veteran N.B.A. Strength and Conditioning Coach, Coach Bringas, and Coach Muñoz all presented lectures for the Life Skills portion of the N.C.A.A.’s program.
Overall, the B.A.M. and MAD crews thought the N.C.A.A.’s first College Basketball Academy was a success despite some first day logistical and communication glitches. Mike Brungardt observed that any time you gather that many people to work together for the first time there are bound to be some hiccups. All were impressed with how quickly and efficiently the N.C.A.A. staff and administrators remedied the problems. When Coach Muñoz informed the N.C.A.A. administrators that the accommodations on the first day were too restrictive for the number of athletes they were testing, he was amazed that at the outset of day 2, the N.C.A.A. staff had relocated the entire operation to the Illini’s capacious Student Rec Center.
Similarly, after a hectic registration process on the first day in Houston, Coach Bringas was pleasantly surprised the next day and every day thereafter when registration proceeded more smoothly than it ever had at any of the dozens of combines which he has administered. From top to bottom, Bringas was particularly impressed with the professionalism and competency of the N.C.A.A. staff. For example, one N.C.A.A. staffer was Derrick Anderson, a 13 year N.B.A. veteran who was available to assist with combine drills, basketball drills, coaching or pretty much anything. Anderson typified the capability of each N.C.A.A. team member.
The B.A.M. and MAD coaches were happy with how the athletes responded to the combine and its varied drills, but they were also pleased at how these high school students seemed to embrace the Life Skills portion of the Academy’s curriculum. This did not happen by chance; the topics of each talk were carefully chosen to target the real needs of the young players. In the throes of an injury epidemic among young basketball players, each of the B.A.M. and MAD coaches who participated in the Life Skills program spoke at least once on the importance of rest and recovery.
Most such events involving high school basketball players appear to be geared towards helping club teams showcase their talent for the benefit of college coaches and scouts. However, the N.C.A.A. designed a program whose primary focus is on the enrichment and education of the athletes. Gary Waters, former Cleveland State University Men’s Basketball Coach and now one of the commissioners for the N.C.A.A.’s new academy, sees this as the Academy’s primary role. “What we’re doing, we’re training kids for the future,” Waters said. “We tried to give them an idea of what they will experience when they get to college. That’s the whole process of this. And bring each player in here with the understanding that they’re going to get better.”
This phenomenon was even apparent in the actual basketball portion of the Academy’s curriculum where just as much time was devoted to drills teaching fundamentals and the coaching of individual skills as was to exhibition games. Again, Commissioner Waters believes that an essential part of the College Basketball Academy’s mission is to help these young players improve their fundamental skills. “It’s paramount in their development because they’re so focused on going up and down the court playing a basketball game they’re not working on the fundamental piece of basketball,” Waters said. “Our objective here is to help them become better on the fundamental side of basketball so they don’t have to think about it.”
Although there are those who see B.A.M.’s combine chiefly as an instrument that benefits only elite athletes and major sports institutions who court them, the combine is a tool that can help all athletes and particularly the ones who participate in the N.C.A.A. College Basketball Academy. First, the modern combine is here to stay, and it is ingrained in the N.B.A.’s draft process. The Academy’s combine helps players familiarize themselves with a process which if they are serious about pursuing a professional basketball career, they will eventually have to deal with. Second, B.A.M.’s C.E.O. Brett Brungardt sees the combine as the G.P.S. of athletics; it shows athletes where they reside on the athletic landscape relative to their peers. As Brett likes to say, “You need to know where you are in order to know where you’re going.” Third, the combine can be used as a diagnostic test as well as an aptitude test, and unlike other such tests, training to improve one’s combine performance directly correlates to an improvement in athletic performance.
The N.C.A.A.’s adoption of the combine is one more step in the sports world’s acceptance of it as a regular fixture in sports culture. In the next MAD Times, “On the Shoulders of Giants” will discuss the evolving role of the combine and how it relates to other trends in athletics and the strength and conditioning field.