Oct 11, 2019
‘The Oak Hill Grind’
Bryan Meagher & Micah Kurtz, contributing writers

A basketball-specific preseason strength and conditioning program

Oak Hill Academy basketball
Oak Hill Academy associate head coach Bryan Meagher (left) and strength and conditioning consultant Micah Kurtz (right) with 2008 Oak Hill graduate Ben Mockford (center). Mockford currently plays professional basketball in Greece.

The period from August to the end of October is an extremely important time for all basketball programs to focus on improving their athleticism, building a championship culture and work ethic through their preseason strength and conditioning program.

At Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, this time is of the utmost importance. As AAU basketball has expanded, basketball for the high school player has become an almost year-round sport. This makes it difficult for a player to find time to truly focus on athletic development. The preseason provides a special time for the players to work together, gain each other’s trust, and embrace the process of becoming the best at getting better.

A key success factor in Oak Hill Academy’s championship winning basketball culture is our legendary preseason workouts, known as “The Oak Hill Grind.” The goal is not only for each player to become a better athlete and player through a focused and comprehensive strength, speed, power, quickness and injury reduction plan, but also for the players to become better teammates, competitors and individuals.

At Oak Hill, our players are required to give their best effort in everything they do. That includes school, work, games, practices and workouts. With this in mind, we design our preseason workout program as competitions, not only to make each athlete stronger, more explosive and more resilient to injury, but also to teach them to be competitive in everything they do.

The Oak Hill preseason workout program starts with individual baseline testing. We test our players in strength, power, endurance and injury reduction assessments. These tests include, but are not exclusive to, the bench press, standing broad jump, vertical jump, chin-ups, the mile run, the pushup stability test, and the ACL hop and stop test. These initial tests set the stage for designing each player’s individualized program and for our preseason competitions.

Preseason goals and focus

In our preseason competitions, the players choose their own teams. The teams then become the player’s workout groups for the rest of the preseason.

Our preseason goals and focus include:

  • Developing competitive attitudes and mental toughness.
  • Becoming better teammates.
  • Gaining basketball-specific strength and power.
  • Learning how to absorb force, bend, decelerate and land properly.
  • Improving basketball speed, quickness and agility.
  • Improving basketball-specific endurance.
  • Embracing the process of becoming better every single day.

Preseason training period

After our initial baseline assessments, the players are grouped into four athletic development categories:

  1. Developmental
  2. Overpowered
  3. Underpowered
  4. Experienced

Each player’s workout program is then based according to their specific developmental category. At the high school level, all of our players’ “training age” is relatively young. Therefore, we continue to adhere to the five core values of our athletic development program. These include:

  • Protect. Everything we do in our strength program is designed to protect the athlete from getting injured in the game of basketball.
  • Move well. We want all of our athletes to have proper fundamental and functional movement patterns to allow them to progress in the most efficient manner possible. An increased importance is placed on mobility, stability and the ability to properly absorb force.
  • Move strong. As an athlete gets stronger, they become more explosive, quicker, faster, have less chance of injury, and obtain more overall self-confidence.
  • Move fast. We consistently work on every athlete’s ability to quickly react and move rapidly both in a linear and lateral motion.
  • Thrive. Our athletes will develop skills that translate to improved sport performance, a lifetime of wellness, the ability to overcome obstacles, and maximize their potential in all areas of life.

It’s important to note that this is a unified athletic development program, but not a uniform athletic development program. This means that all of our athletes are training toward the same goal of maximizing their athletic development as it pertains to the game of basketball. However, it’s not uniform given that each athlete does not perform the exact same exercises, sets or reps.

During the preseason, our players complete basketball-specific strength and power training three days a week. On the remaining two days, their focus switches to plyometrics, speed, quickness, agility, deceleration and force absorption drills.

Every other Friday, the players compete with their selected preseason workout teams in strength, speed, agility and endurance competitions. To foster an aggressive mindset in the athletes, points are awarded according to where each team finishes each competition. The goal here is for the players to bring their competitive desire into the weight room. This helps foster that competitive mindset as it translates to the court and the game of basketball.

Basketball-specific strength, power training

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays we use a variety of strength and power exercises. These are selected according to each individual player’s athletic development category. These exercises can range from bodyweight fundamental movement patterns to different types of explosive, Olympic-style lifts. An emphasis is placed on the athletes gaining a relative strength base.

Basketball speed, quickness, agility training

On Tuesdays and Thursday, we make a conscience effort to design all our plyometric, speed, quickness and agility exercises to simulate the game of basketball. We also explain the purpose of each drill to the players so they understand how it helps them become quicker and more explosive on the court.

The first day of the week, our drills are focused on short, powerful plyometric movements. The second day of the week focuses on agility and quickness through closed and open chain change-of-direction and agility drills. Again, these movements may vary according to the athletic development category each individual athlete is placed in.

  » RELATED: Inside Gonzaga basketball’s strength training program

Finally, we add competition to each workout by incorporating games like tag, which is one of our favorite agility and quickness drills. Tag is a great drill because athletes rely on speed, agility and quickness to avoid getting tagged. We make sure our players know that this is not just a little kid’s game. If you’re a true athlete who is quick and agile, you should be able to avoid getting tagged.

Basketball-specific endurance

Training with basketball-specific endurance exercises (repeated movement with short bursts of sprints) is something we take pride in. We believe it’s a reason why our players perform at their best late in games.

One of our favorite exercises is the Kentucky Ladder Drill, where players continually build on how many lengths of the court they run according to an assigned time. In addition, we have our players run a timed mile. This may not be a basketball-specific exercise, but the mile run is still a great cardiovascular workout, and it teaches our guys to compete to beat their previous times. You can learn a lot about a player’s competitiveness, desire and work ethic by their mile run time.

Competitions

Every workout of the week contains some form of team competition. The competitions can vary from push-up or pull-up competitions to relay races or team broad jump competitions. On every other Friday, we make the competition the center of the entire workout.

To be great, basketball players must be driven. The competitions help keep our players motivated to continue working hard throughout the long preseason. The competitions also teach the athletes the importance of competing in everything they do.

Training life lessons

There’s no better place to equip young people with the tools to be successful in life than through a training program in the weight room. We are blessed to be able to work with some gifted young basketball players, but our duty as their coach goes beyond just maximizing their athletic potential.

The goal of our strength and conditioning program is to teach our players life lessons and provide them with the experiences necessary to maximize their potential in all areas of life. We want to equip each of our athletes with the self-confidence and character traits necessary to chase their dreams both on and off the basketball court.


Bryan Meagher is the associate head coach at Oak Hill Academy (Virginia) and is entering his 17th year at the school. He has been part of five high school basketball national championships and coached numerous NBA players, including Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo, Josh Smith and Keldon Johnson. Micah Kurtz is the assistant athletics director and director of sports performance at Windermere Preparatory School. He also serves as the strength and conditioning consultant to Oak Hill Academy and has consulted on projects regarding youth athletic development education for the NFL, USA Basketball, USA Football and Nike Football. They can be found at www.TheAthleteMaker.com.


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