How to Master Fundamentals to Achieve Greatness with Jefferson Mason
Tristan: All right, welcome in, everyone. We have with us, on the line right now, coach Jefferson Mason. Jefferson is an employee, a pretty high ranking employee over there at Airborne Athletics. They run the products. You've probably seen out there in the marketplace, Dr. Dish Basketball, also have a few other products out there in the realm, in the basketball and volleyball space. Jefferson, how are you doing today?
Jefferson: I'm doing well. The weather here in Minneapolis is great, so I can't complain.
Tristan: Absolutely. Because I bet next month or whatever it's going to start coming down the white stuff, so take it while you can get it, right?
Jefferson: You never know here. It's up and down, but this is a good time of the year for us and you'll see a lot of smiles on Minnesotans' faces around this time of the year.
Tristan: There you go. Let's start where we start with all of our coaches, all of our players here, at Square One. Tell us a little bit about your background. We know you played up there at the next level, overseas as well as in college. Tell us your story a little bit, Jefferson. What got you to where you are now? Give us the CliffsNotes real quick.
Jefferson: Yeah. I grew up in Minneapolis Minnesota, played for Robertsdale High School. I had a really good career there, my junior and senior year. I wasn't really a highly ranked player coming out of high school. I wouldn't even consider myself a top 25 player in the state my senior year, but things worked out for me. I was very fortunate to get Division I scholarship to University of Northern Colorado where I played for Tad Boyle for about two and a half years. I was a starter there for two years and had some success but decided I wanted to transfer home and play in front of some friends and family and just get the love of the game of basketball again. Took a few visits and ended up settling on Division II powerhouse Minnesota State, Mankato. I finished my last two and a half years there, was very fortunate to play for some amazing coaches, amazing players, and teammates. And there I garnered a lot of different individual awards, all American, all district, all region. Essentially every award that you could win as an individual player on a Division II level, I accomplished. Because of the success of our team and the notoriety and the eyeballs on us, I was fortunate to get opportunities to continue my career and play professionally after that. After graduating college, I started my career off in Germany. I played for the Webmoebel Baskets there my rookie year. I had a really good year, was named to a lot of euro basket teams. From there it took off a little bit for the next few years. I was able to work out with the Minnesota Timberwolves and play with them for a couple of months before getting drafted in the G League by the Dallas Mavericks. I played down with the Texas Legends for a while and then after that I went back overseas for another three or four years or so and played in countries, Romania. Luxemburg, Germany again, Turkey. I bounced around a couple times for a month here and there with some other countries, so very fortunate to be able to play for five or six years or so and then transition to now here in my role at Dr. Dish Basketball.
Tristan: Yeah, I'd say so. Now tell us, you've played several next levels, so not only from high school to college but college to overseas, overseas over to the G League and then back over to Europe as well. Tell us, what drove you? What was that driving factor? Did you always want to do it? Did it just come up and you took the opportunity where you could? What was that driving factor in your training, and your skills development that really led you to everywhere you went?
Jefferson: Well, you know what, when I was a kid, obviously I think anybody that plays sports, your ultimate goal is to be a professional. I think every kid has that dream. As you continue to get older and your body matures, your skills either increase, or they decline. You start to put into perspective what you could be as a player. For me, every year that I continue to play basketball, I love the game more and more. I continue to work and new doors and opportunities kept opening up for me. As I got older the opportunity to play varsity basketball, college basketball, professional basketball became realer and realer every single time I hit the next goal that I was trying to achieve. I remember one of my coaches when I was younger always saying, "If you can be prepared for your moment or when your opportunity comes, you're going to have a chance to succeed." For me, I just always tried to maximize my own potential and be the best version of myself at all times on the basketball court and off the court. For me the blessing of opportunities coming at the right time and right place allotted me the opportunity to continue my career a lot further I think than some other players with even my skill set. So, for me I always had that dream but every single time I hit a new goal or milestone, it was still a surprise to me even though I put in a ton of work and I tried my best at all times. It just always was an unbelievable dream that I was reaching until my professional playing career's concluded.
Craig: Got it, yeah. It certainly takes that drive to continue to do the types of things that you've done in your career as a player. Something that just jumps out to me, you've played in a lot of different places. Besides playing locally and Minnesota, what's been your favorite places to play?
Jefferson: I would say this. The most challenging league that I've played in, ironically when I played in the G League and even when I spent some time with the Timberwolves in preseason and all that good stuff, to me that style of play was actually a lot easier. It was more spread, a lot faster. If you're athletic, which in my heyday I was, it's a lot easier than playing against teams that can pack the line, and what not. For me, playing in Romania was probably the hardest, because those guys over there, you have lot of Serbian guys, a lot of Romanian guys that come from rough areas and they're just tough guys. For me, the style of play and the way they played was very difficult for me to get accustomed to, just the physicality of it and just the style and so that was really difficult for me to adjust. But, I would say that my favorite place that I played in was Luxembourg. It was a beautiful city. The level of basketball I wouldn't say was very high. It's kind of crazy. Alfonzo McKinnie who plays for the Golden State Warriors right now, he played in the second division of Luxembourg a few years back. I didn't get a chance to play with him, but he played in the same league there. The level of basketball wasn't great, but the living standards were amazing. At the time, my wife and I, we lived there. The accommodations were great. The fans and the community were great. Living standards, like I said, were great. It was just a fun environment, a fun place to be in, a central location in Europe, so I had a chance to travel. As far as basketball, the success I had there, and then outside just living my regular life, I really enjoyed my year there in Luxembourg.
Craig: Nice, got it. Yeah, it really shows how important it is, location for the place to play. I certainly agree with that. Can you tell us about, during your playing career, what's one of your most memorable experiences over that time?
Jefferson: You know what, I have so many. I can give you one. I'd like to give you one at each level. My first one, I would say, was my high school days. I told this story before and it's one of my favorites ones. I remember the beginning of my senior year, one of my good best friends who I'm friend with today, Jermaine Davis, I remember the beginning of our senior year, I was talking about how great our team was going be that year. We were pretty talented, him and I, had put in a ton of work. We were super excited. We ended up playing Hopkins high school. Running joke is they call them the University of Hopkins here in Minnesota because they pump out Division I players left and right and they're just absolutely amazing. We played in the first game of the season and we ended up losing by 16 and we went into the locker room and we looked at ourselves and we said, "We're not that good." We took a step back from that and said, "You know what? That was a really good team that we played, but if we can come together and we can stick as a team and work hard together and take everything that we've been doing the last two, three months in the off season put together and we're going to be successful." From that day on, all the way until the end of the year, we rattled off 21, 22 straight wins, ended up finishing the season 27 in four, I believe. We ended up losing in the state championship to Hopkins again. But it was a cool story of, I think, us facing adversity. That was the first time in my life where it really hit me hard and I overcame it. That's one memorable time in my life. I think the highlight of my basketball career probably was playing in the Division II Final Four at Minnesota State, Mankato. That run with that group of guys was incredible. We weren't overly talented. We just had a group of guys that filled their roles, and we worked extremely hard. We trusted each other. We won some tough overtime games and made baskets when they counted and played our best basketball at the right time. When you go through the ups and the downs of a basketball season, any player, any coach can understand this, when you come out on top at the end or have a really good, successful season, it's really fun to look at all those accomplishments that you had throughout the journey. For me, my senior year is one of those ones where I didn't think that we were going to be as good as we were. I knew that we had some talent, but I just never imagined that we would make it that far. Obviously, it feels good when you get individual accolades and all that good stuff, but for me the most important thing was the memories that we made along that journey my senior year at college. To this day, I get a smile on my face thinking and going over some of those stories when they pop through my head.
Tristan: Wow, yeah. I'd definitely say that's certainly a unique look at the game, especially when you get to play in so many different spots, appreciate all those stories there. Now let's transition post career. You started as a trainer, right, for the Minnesota Timberwolves?
Jefferson: Yeah. Actually when I was playing professionally over in Europe, I would come back during the summers and because I was affiliated with a lot of people with the Timberwolves and Lynx organization, I started doing some training through them during the summer, and that kind of transitioned into me being a director for the youth academy. What I used to do was travel around the state, direct youth camps, for the Timberwolves and the Lynx. Then also I would run player camps as well, so we would have guys like Zach LaVine at the time. Some of the Lynx players like Lindsay Whalen. So, I would help direct their camp and we'd have 150 plus kids that would come out and so I would do that during the summer and then after I retired from basketball, I did that for another solid year or so. Kind of full time, running camps and clinics, doing a ton of training, getting as much knowledge as I could. More on the coaching and training side, and trying to transition there in my career before I started with Dr. Dish.
Tristan: Got it, so now tell us what were some of your tactics, in terms of training, especially when you're working with these guys at the highest level? Maybe you pulled from some of your experience playing overseas and playing in the G League yourself. What were some of your tactics in identifying what these players needed to work on?
Jefferson: Well, I'll tell you this. When you train high level guys, it's actually not very hard and any trainer out there, I don't care who they are, if they say that, they're lying. Training high level guys is easy because they've already had the base skill and knowledge of the game. Really, all it is, is critiquing the small things that they need to understand within their own game. You have some of these guys that are number one, number two ranked players in high school or they're elite players in college that will work with trainers and they'll take the credit for the success the player is having, but in reality whoever worked with that player before them, when they were younger, or in high school actually laid the groundwork for them to be successful. To me, it's just about fine tweaking the things that the NBA players, WNBA players, college players, what they need to do. So, for me playing at a high level, I can see the game from a different perspective. I can say, "Okay, tell me what you did in this situation and why it didn't work," and what I can do is provide some insight on how I was able to overcome that obstacle, or how I was able to maneuver in that way during the game and try to implement that into their game. Now every player is different so you have to find the nuances in their game and what works for them athletically and skill wise. But, those small details are the things that will help take a great player to being next level. To me to be honest with you, working with the kids at the youth level, at the high school level that haven't reached that elite status, those are the ones you get the most gratification at the end of it because you're really starting from scratch with these kids and you're teaching them everything that they need to know. For me, what I try to do is, I try to make everything as game like and situational as possible. If you're getting into the gym and you're just shooting shots at one location, or you're going through the drills using cones and all this type of stuff and it doesn't actually translate to what the player's going to see in the game, they're not going to get better. The goal for me is always to make sure that my players feel comfortable come game time in the different situations and decisions they have to make. It doesn't matter how you create the drill, whether that's with cones or D-man or players or whatever it is, whatever works to simulate the game like action where they can remember and think about the decisions they have to make, that's when it's going to translate the best.
Craig: Yeah, so let's stay on the idea of youth players because we have a lot of youth coaches and players that listen to the Podcast. How do you work across different skill levels, especially youth players, say even middle school-aged players versus high school players? And what's your strategy there?
Jefferson: I think the biggest thing is to understand the player that you're working with and the limitations that they have at their age and their skill level. Players will come in sixth grade and be super, super talented and athletic already, and then you'll have some other kids that will come in as ninth graders that have really never picked up a basketball or did any playing. So understanding where they're at athletically, knowledge-wise, and skill-wise is what's going to really start or step in and set you apart as a trainer. For me I like to look at the player and say, "Okay, this is where we're at." I don't want to jump into all these different moves and all these different progressions and all these things if we don't have our base structure down. We want to build the mold. We want to build the body of what you're skillset is going to look like and then add pieces to it as we hit different goals. So for me what I do is I get a player in, and I go through the very basics of what they can do. Can you dribble with your left hand? Can you dribble with your right hand? Can you pull up to the left? Can you pull up to the right? What does your footwork look like? Are you strong enough to shoot from the three-point line with good form? What do all the small things look like, and once we can get beyond that then we can add everything else that will make that player unique in their skillset. I think for a lot of youth coaches that are working with different talented players sometimes they jump ahead too quick. They'll do some things with the players that are lower level or just beginners, they'll do the same things that they do with more talented players. What it does is it mixes the players up a little bit. They start to do things that they're not physically capable or they're not mentally capable of doing, and it sets them off a little bit. To me that's where the game at times can kind of get a little bit misconstrued or messed up because we're not starting at the basics. Just like mathematics if you jump to calculus right away you can't expect a young student to succeed. They have to learn everything up until that point for them to be successful.
Craig: Sure. So for you as a trainer would you say that you have any particular specialty when compared to other trainers?
Jefferson: You know what, I think a few things that separate me from some of the other guys out there is I like to keep it basic, to be quite honest with you. If you're athletic enough to blow past your guy or girl on defense, and you only need to do one move or no move I'm all for that. I think a lot of people they want to get into double, triple moves and all this stuff because it looks really cool, but in reality if you have the skillset, the athleticism to just be very efficient in what you do to score the basket or create opportunities I like to create and focus around that. You look at guys like Klay Thompson. By no means is he not a skilled player. He's incredibly skilled, but if you watch him as a basketball player he keeps it very, very simple. He's just mastered it. I think nowadays everybody wants to be unique in their training. They want to be the first to create a move or this or that and so forth, and I think at the highest level that's very important to do, but I think if players just nowadays mastered the basics of the game and understand why they're mastering it and how they can use it come game time those are the players that are really going to score the basketball and really going to understand and be successful and know how to make the teammates around them better and how to win.
Craig: Yeah. I can see that. It's all about fundamentals for sure. Here at Hustle we're all about those drills, different things that players can do. When thinking about the basics, what are some good drills or what are drills that you've found successful for players across multiple age groups and skill levels? Any kind of particular drill you can sort of walk us through?
Jefferson: Yeah, I love decision-making drills. There are so many simple decision-making drills that you can do by adding in a defender and forcing the offensive player just to make a split decision. You can take these simple drills, and you can make them really difficult depending on the level of players that you have. The one that I really like that starts off really basic is two offensive players and one defensive player. You receive the pass at the top of the key, and you have the basketball. You have your help side defender as they are somewhere in the lane area, box area, short corner area.
Craig: Yup, got it.
Jefferson: Now, what the player is going to do is catch the basketball, and they're going to attack the hoop. Now, that help side defender is going to make that offensive player make a decision. If they close out on the defender they're going to make the read to kick out to the teammate in the corner or the wing for the shot. If they don't they're going to pull up for a mid-range jump shot. You can do this drill with fourth, fifth graders all the way up until high school players, and you'll see players make the wrong decision. And this is probably one of the easiest decisions that you'll have to make in a game. It doesn't really require you ... You only make one or two decisions with this drill. And the cool thing about it is you'll start to see kids understand when a defender is faking at them, when a defender is closing out hard, what are some of their options. It also shows the other players how to work with their teammate as well. Now, as you progress through it you can add a second defender and an additional offensive player, so now you can go three on two, and you can work on your different rotations. For a three on two situation we would have offensive player at the top of the key. We'd have another offensive player on the wing, and then another offensive player in that same corner. And we would have two defenders help side. Now, in this drill it's same concept. You would drive to the basket from the top of the key. And now we'll switch up the defender. We may have the top side defender come help. We may even have the back side defender come help. Depending on which one of those defenders helps we're going to make a pass to either the wing or the corner. After the pass is made to the wing or the corner we'll have that passer flare out to the opposite side, which they'll receive another pass. We use the dish in this situation so that we have an extra passer. They receive a shot off the relocation, and then the other two players that were on the wing in the corner they're going to read that second defender. If that second defender closes out on them they'll quickly assume the pass for the jump shot at the wing. If the player doesn't close out they'll shoot it themselves. So what it really simulates is if guys are closing out, they're helping what are the decisions do I make? Do I shoot it, do I pass it, do I drive it? These are things that every single play every single game you're going to see. It doesn't require crossovers, it doesn't require triple moves, it doesn't require anything. All it requires is you to understand the game of basketball. If you can understand these simple concepts at any level, once again you're going to have scoring opportunities, you're going to get your teammates scoring opportunities, and you're going to have a successful team.
Tristan: Yeah. I like how you describe that as in any given offensive play you're only going to have two, three decisions to make. Just at the end of the day is it going to be the right one. And obviously that drill is going to help instill you to make the right one more consistently than not. Now, let's get into Dr. Dish a little bit. Obviously you're involved there with them. Tell us how Dr. Dish is really helping bring along the training for a lot of basketball players nationwide.
Jefferson: I'll tell you what, our machines are the best thing that you could get out there if you're a basketball coach or a trainer. For one it's going to help you with efficiency, it's going to help you with reps, it's going to help you with tracking data and numbers. The game of basketball is all analytical now. Understanding where strengths and weaknesses are is huge. Like I said we've created over 150 different workouts with some of the top trainers in the world along with our in-house coaches here so that coaches and players and trainers all around the world have access to all these different drills that highlight individual work, teamwork, small group work, emphasis around different offensive schemes. Anything that you can think of we have drills for it. This allows coaches to really gain the knowledge that maybe they don't have in their own playing careers or maybe they didn't learn from their own coaches. It's all one hut, and we have it here at Dr. Dish basketball. With us our main goal is to train game-like, train purposeful, really simulate what you're going to see come game time. With our machines and how amazingly they're built with the technology on top of it and the tracking it really allows for coaches to accelerate their players' development and take the player that, hey if they weren't using the machine, if they weren't doing their workouts on some of the drills they may not progress as fast, but you can look at a player over the course of three months and say, "Wow, they've really, really progressed skills wise and understanding the game in a shorter period of time." And ultimately at the end of the day if you can help players progress with their skill level and understanding of the game at a quicker rate to have a better opportunity to maximize their potential as a player and then ultimately become the best version of themselves on the basketball court.
Tristan: Yeah, I'd say so. Tell us, you are involved with Dr. Dish. Obviously you guys are trying to move the game forward in terms of training and skills development off the court a little bit as well as on. Give us a little insight. Obviously here at Hustle we're well in tuned with the future of technology and training. Where do you think the future of technology and training in sports in general is taking us?
Jefferson: You know what, I think right now with, like I said, the different analytics and what not it's giving players the insight of where they can be the most successful on the basketball court. I think one of the biggest things that I faced as a player was adjusting to different styles of defenses, of coaches, or schemes on the court. Once you get to a certain skill level and you're capable of playing at the high school, college, or pro level it's more so about understanding your role on the team, understanding how you can be successful within your coach's system and being successful against different defenses you'll see. With the different shooting analytics and metrics that we have now with tracking progress over time it really gives players the opportunity to say, "Okay, where can I maximize my skillset and be a positive force on the basketball court for my coach and for my team?" It really gives players that insight of where is their niche going to be. Everybody wants to be Lebron James, a Kobe Bryant, a Michael Jordan where they're the best in the world, but in reality 99% of players are going to be in some sense a role player. They have to figure out what you do best. So for us we're trying to understand where are your weaknesses as a player. Also where your weaknesses are as a coach. How can we help you fill the gap so that no matter what your potential is as a coach or as a player we can help you reach that and be successful. Back in the day if you couldn't do a couple things in basketball you probably weren't going to make a team. But nowadays if you're good at playing defense, if you work hard, if you can hit a corner shot, if you can understand plays better than the kid to the left of you you're going to have the opportunity to play. That's where the game is going. It's more of an analytical thinking game. I think technology helps provide us that information that we didn't have 10, 15 years ago. And once again it's allowing the game to evolve and change and increase at a higher level. I look at myself now, I'm 31. I retired about three, four years ago, and I look at some of the players in high school and college now, and I'm like, "I don't even know at my peak if I could stay with some of these guys because the skill level has increased so much."
Tristan: Yeah, I'm with you. Coach, definitely appreciate the time here today. Really appreciate it. Again, we're talking with Coach Jefferson Mason here, former pro baller himself now with Dr. Dish Basketball as well as a coach and trainer himself. Before we let you go we want to get a little input. It's a little rapid fire round. We're going to fire some questions at you, boom, boom, boom. You just come at you with the first thing that comes to mind. Sound good?
Jefferson: Sounds great.
Tristan: All right, here we go. Let's get it started here right now. Coach, what is your favorite sports movie?
Jefferson: My favorite sports move. Remember the Titans.
Craig: Yeah, that's a good one. Who is the coach across any sport that you admire the most?
Jefferson: I would say right now the coach that I admire the most is Brad Stevens of the Celtics. I think that he handles himself and his players at an extremely high level. You don't hear anything crazy about him. And he's very, very smart, and I think his players respect that. I think he's one of the best out there.
Tristan: Definitely. Maybe let's take you back to your playing days a little bit. What was your favorite or the best pre-game meal?
Jefferson: I used to eat at this ... I can't remember what the spot was called, but it was in a mall in Luxembourg, and it was basically almost like a Greek hero, so I would go there with my wife at the time, and we would eat kind of a roll-up with some fries and a Greek salad on the side. To this day I haven't found anything nearly as good here around the Minneapolis area. But it was one of my favorite meals and one of her favorite meals at the time as well. I'll never forget that place, and I hope one day I can get back there and eat it again.
Craig: Nice. Sticking with your playing days, what's the best warm-up music before a big game?
Jefferson: For me I was more into the Calvin Harris type music. I like all genres of music, hip hop, classical, but I really like the Calvin Harris type music where it is a little bit more upbeat. I wouldn't say electric, but a little bit more let's get the blood flowing. Let's get things going. Let's get pumped up because a lot of the times that's what they were playing in warm-ups over in Europe, so I kind of got used to that, but at the same time it really got me fired up, and it was more of a positive vibe. I always wanted to go into games positive and then also kind of hyped up, and that style of music really did it for me.
Tristan: There you go. Coach, appreciate the time here again today. Definitely think you dropped some knowledge on us, definitely think you dropped some tidbits, especially that training drill. I was going through it over in my neck of the woods just trying to figure out who I'm going to dish it to in that moment. Definitely appreciate your time again, and next time I'm over in Luxembourg I'll definitely make sure to check out that Euro place.
Jefferson: Yeah, I definitely appreciate you guys having me. And once again for more drills and information make sure you come visit us at drdishbasketball.com. Our social handles are Dr. Dish B-Ball. We have a lot of cool team and individual drills and stuff like that coming out every single day, every single week so make sure to check us out.
Craig: And then your personal Instagram? How do we reach you?
Jefferson: My personal Instagram is @JeffersonMason4, and you'll catch some highlight dunks on there, and I also throw out some training nuggets on my personal account as well.
Tristan: There you go. All right, Coach. Again, appreciate it. Take care, and I'm sure we'll check in with you down the line. How's that sound?
Jefferson: Sounds great. Thank you guys. I appreciate your time.