How Repetition, Persistence and Perseverance Guarantee Success for Basketball Trainer Steve Dagostino

Tristan: All right, welcome in everyone. We have with us on the line a very special guest. It's Coach Steve Dagostino. Coach Steve. He is the CEO, Owner, lead trainer for Dags Basketball. He's also a court coach for the USA Basketball junior circuit. Coach, it's great to have you on here tonight. How are we feeling?

Steve: Good. Good. Thanks for having me guys. I'm excited to be on.

Tristan: We're excited to have you. We want to hear about what you got going on over there at Dags Basketball, but we want to start really obviously where we start with all of our guests. Give a little backstory here. Tell us your story of how you got to where you're at now. I know you played college and professionally overseas, but what really pushed you over the edge to get into the coaching circuit?

Steve: Gotcha. So you know, my story is an interesting one. You know, I'm 5'11". I weigh about like 155 pounds. So it's funny when, you know, I'm training guys now or I go to different networking events and people see me and I tell them that I was a Division Two All-American and I played six years professionally in Europe, they kind of look at me and you're like, "Wait... You?" So they're not used to seeing guys my size that have done that. So, I mean, my story kind of begins... My dad is a high school coach in upstate New York where I'm from. It's about two hours from the capital of New York, Albany. And so like by the time I got into eighth grade, I kinda fell in love with the game. I had been playing my whole life and I just decided to commit myself. And I said, "Listen, I'm going to do something every single day. I know I'm going to be small, but I'm going to work on getting better over the next four and a half years until I graduate high school." And wherever that puts me along the scale, whether that's, you know, just being a good high school player or being a college player, or hopefully being a pro player, we all have great, goals and ambitions, you know, that I would accept it and I would go from there.

So, when I was in eighth grade, I was like 4'10". Ninth grade, I was like 5'3". So I was always super small, but I worked on my game in a way that was like no nonsense things that were going to translate into games. And I made the varsity team as a sophomore, and I was 5'6", probably like literally 120 pounds, but I could shoot the ball really, really well so there was a spot for me. And then by the time I graduated high school, I played for the Nike AAU team in our area, the Albany City Rocks. So traveled all over the country, had a bunch of Division Three interests, had one Division Two school that offered me a scholarship.

I literally sent out, you know, in those days it was like, it wasn't highlights. It was like, you know, like a VHS tape to every Division Two school, every low Division One school in the Northeast, and literally heard back from one. A Division Two school in my hometown. They offered me a scholarship. I accepted it, and by the time I graduated college, four years later, I was a two time Division Two All-American, two time Player of the Year in our conference. It was the same conference where four years earlier I was sending out my game film itself and nobody would return my call. So, from there, I decided to go play in Europe. I played for six years, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Iceland, England. And then basically, you know, like I said, I'm a small guy. 5'11", 155 pounds, you know, the years of diving on the floor and taking charges, and just playing like a wild man took its toll.

And what I had done, when I was finished playing in college, was I'd go and play overseas for 10 months and then when I would come home for two months, I started just by working out maybe like two groups of five of just local high school kids that had seen my success and wanted to get better. So I started small, ran them through drills all summer, and then that kind of built into a camp. And then I kind of got my break my third year when I was playing overseas and I came home. Two of the high schools in our area decided to hire me as a trainer for their teams for their off season workouts in the summer. And nobody, at least in upstate New York at the time, it must have been like 2011, was doing that. Like trainers weren't like a huge thing, especially in our area. There was no full time trainer in upstate New York. It was really, at that time, it's like guys like Ganon Baker, you know, the people really started it, like those were the only ones that you really saw that were kind of doing it full time. So those teams, I ended up working with them. They believed in me, trusted in me, and they ended up being two of the better teams in our area. They both won, within like the next three years, won state championships. And I'm thankful to them that they allowed me to be a little piece of that. But after that kind of happened, then all of a sudden it was a lot of the schools in our area wanted to work with us, the better players wanted to work with us, and it just kind of blew up from there.

Craig: Incredible progression. But let's go back a little bit more to your playing days. You know, early on you mentioned your dad being a coach. What role did he play early on with your development as a player?

Steve: Yeah. It's interesting. You know, and I see it now just with training guys. You know, you deal with all different types of parents, all different types of kids who have different positives and negatives about their attitude, about their games and things like that. My dad, he was a high school coach. He's been a high school coach for over 20 years. He definitely instilled the love of the game into me. My brother and I have an older brother who's two years older and he played at Iona College, Division One school, and then became a college basketball coach for a handful of years after. So we were always playing, but it wasn't like, "Hey, you guys better go outside and do your layups and do your ball handling" and things like that. It was more of a... By the time we got into middle school, it was a passive like, "Hey, you doing your workout today?" And for me it was almost like never no. I probably missed literally seven days of working out from eighth grade until when I stopped playing six years after I graduated from college. But it would just kind of, he would just kind of push me like, "Well, you're not going to do it. You know, somebody else is probably out there doing it," and that would be it, you know?

So, and it's funny when I tell parents that, and they're like, "No way. Nope, no, no way did he do that." So part of it for me was I learned how to work myself out. I learned how to be reliant and disciplined and what I wanted, and I figured out how to get it. You know, like I learned, I try and tell these guys now when I was first starting out, you'd get players that you were supposed to train that would text you 10 minutes before the workout, "Hey, I can't make it today." And normal people will be like, "Oh my God, what the heck?" I was so used to it from my friends doing that to me when I was in high school and we were supposed to work out that I just did my normal thing. "Okay, you're not going to come. I'm going to go get my workout in." You know what I mean? So it kind of built that in me where kids nowadays, I think it's like, "Oh, you know, John's not coming to work out. Like, all right, I'm not going to work out today." You know, little things like that. So I'm kinda grateful for the approach that my father took with me. I think it benefitted me in the long run. Will I be able to do that with my kids? I don't know. You know, I don't know if I'm going to trust them to go and do their stuff on their own, but, you know, we'll see.

Tristan: Right. So obviously you've already demonstrated here such a strong work ethic. When you decided to move overseas to play professionally over there, did you have to kick it up a notch? What was that transition like for you?

Steve: Yeah, it was different because the game is so different over there. I actually fit better as a player in the international game than I kind of do in the American college game. The pace is a little faster. You're taught to make reads instead of like, "Oh, just go out there and make a play." So I fit in pretty well. I was lucky where I didn't get thrown into like a crazy high level. My first year was in Hungary, which is like a mid level league over there. And my team wasn't very good, so I kinda got the ball put in my hands. And it was actually, that's the only team I've ever been on that we had a losing record literally from high school all the way until I stopped playing six years after college.

But I got the ball put in my hands. I got the lay of the land. The organization wasn't great, so I kinda got out of the way. You know, in international basketball, some of these organizations, you don't get paid on time, you know, things they say they're going to do, they're not going to do. You know, I kinda got that all out of the way. So after that first year, I kind of had the lay of the land and it kind of helped me get through the next five years. It also helped that my wife now, but at the time was my girlfriend who we met in college, she would come over once every couple months. So it gave me that kind of feeling of being home and, you know, I wasn't just like stranded over there.

So all that kind of played a part in my success over there, but it helped me kind of acclimate. And I think that's the hardest thing for players that could go over there is number one, the shock of a different kind of basketball. But then you're just like a lot of alone time. And you know, if you don't find different ways to use your time or people are coming over, you're making friends with the guys on your team, then you're going to struggle off the court for sure.

Craig: Yeah. We've heard that before from other players coming from the U.S. playing in Europe. Staying on the topic of playing in Europe and the style of basketball overseas compared to the U.S. you know, you started out in Hungary, but, you know, you mentioned you played in a number of different countries, a number of different leagues. Did you see stark differences between leagues overseas or was it mostly the same style of basketball?

Steve: So most of the style is the same. So like, if you really want to dive into it, you know, you can look at like the country's international teams, like their teams that play in the Olympics to kind of get a sense of what the basketball is like in their country. So like. You know, if you watch Lithuania play, they're snapping the ball around the perimeter. They're tough, they rebound, you know, they're physical. You watch France play, they're athletic, they play above the rim, they fly up and down the court. Spain is just, they play it like it's soccer. They play it like it's a beautiful game. You know, they're always making the extra pass or playing the right way. They're communicating, things like that. So different leagues have like nuances like that, but as a whole, because the rules are the same in every single country, you're not going to get a variation of like every country and teams in different countries. A lot of them run the same sets. They have the same philosophies. Like, you know, I remember being in Italy my second year and we're down by three with 15 seconds left. And you know, our point guard's bringing the ball up the court and he gets fouled. And I had never seen that before. This is before, you know, obviously before like Twitter and all that was huge and I had never once in a game, high school or college or any game that I watched seen anybody like, "Oh, we're up three? Like we're going to foul." And I just remember like little things like that where they're kind of like ahead of the game strategically.

And now having played over there, I look back and like the things that we were doing, you know, 2010, 2011 are like literally ingrained into NBA basketball. And when I was growing up, NBA, you know, 2004, 2005, when like And1 mixtapes were huge, you'd watch the game and guys are like doing crazy stuff. And now, you know, I love watching the NBA. The actions are great. Guys guard, they understand how to play. Like literally if you don't know how to play, or like can't make good passes, like you're not going to be on the floor in the NBA. So, it's kind of cool to see that progression. But there isn't, on the court, there isn't that many... There's nuances that are different, but it's not like stark differences.

Tristan: Got it. So we play professionally over there six years, like you said, a number of different teams and leagues. Come back home. You do catch a little bit of a break in terms of starting to work with some of the high schools in your area. How did you really get to the place where you are now? You coach players of all skills, of all levels. How'd you go about building that client base?

Steve: Yeah. So I, to be honest, I kinda just like threw everything at the wall and then I figured out what stuck. So I decided after I stopped playing, I'm like, "Listen, I'm going to do this full time, so I'm going to figure out a way to hit different areas." So not just staying in one area, but find a way to kind of work within a triangle in my area where you're hitting three separate towns and then have people in a 5, 10, 15 mile radius in all three of those towns kind of hit it up. So, you know, we started. The high schools gave us good promotion to all of their players and their youth programs as well.

I started to do free clinics for all the youth programs as well, or like at least low cost clinics so I can get in front of everybody. And what happened really was... By the time I was done playing, and I wish somebody had told me this earlier, like my first couple of years I wouldn't collect any emails. So I wasn't collecting really any information. I'd go in, I do the workout, I get paid, and that would kind of be it. And then I really put an emphasis towards the end of my career and then obviously when I went full time of anything that I do, whether it's free or paid, I'm going to collect as many emails as possible. Which even like saying it now, I look back and like, you know, how dumb was I to not do that in the beginning? But once I started doing that and our product was really, really good. We were honest with the kids. We taught them the right things, we understood how to speak the language of a player. It wasn't just like a coach yelling at them or a parent being negative towards them. So that kind of built on top of itself.

And then the other thing that we tried to do, and it helped me that I played overseas. So like when I first came back, my kind of catchphrase was, you know, we're going to teach you European fundamentals with American creativity. Because at the time when I would look at, you know, I was kind of ingrained in both of these basketball cultures. I would look at the European game and it can be flashy, but it's like so fundamental. Like guys are making the right reads or making the extra passes. And then you'd go back and like... Obviously American players when you watch the NBA, they're so creative and they can get to anywhere they want on the court because their handles are really tight or you know, they're super aggressive.

So I was trying to merge both of those things and kind of, we tried to stay on that trend. And if you, obviously, again, if you watch the NBA and college basketball now, the European players kind of have that creativity as well. And then a lot of the better American players are very fundamental and they're very skilled now.

So, we try to stay ahead of the curve on that. The other thing that we did that helped us out besides the team training, the camps, you know, all of these things that we're talking about with the actual workouts was, I implemented a lot of 3-on-3 in our workouts. So, a lot of trainers, what they do is it's like a lot of skill work. Basketball training has shifted so far towards the skill side that I think it's going to come back around to like, you know, the 90s, the 80s, all that, where like if you didn't compete and play hard, you couldn't play.

And so now these guys that are coming up are so skilled and you know, you have 6'9" guys that can handle it, could shoot it. But you have a lot of players, and this is the number one complaint I get from college coaches and even high school coaches, like, you know, "Johnny is a really good player, but he just doesn't play hard consistently. He doesn't know how to compete."

So what we've done in a lot of our workouts is we play a ton of 3-on-3. There's nowhere to hide. You can put in a ton of different actions so kids have to make reads. You still have the ability to go 1-on-1 and work on your ability to penetrate and make passes and score the basketball.

But it literally gives kids, instead of them going to the gym and getting just reps up where they can get bored with it, we allow them to compete while they're getting reps up. And it not only works on that aspect of their game because again, my belief is if you don't compete, you can't play, at least not on a winning level. But it also engages the kids a little more so they're more apt to come back in the gym. The more fun kids have, and the more they love playing the game, the more they're going to want to put in that hard work.

So, you know, you do two sessions where you're doing ball handling, shooting in 3-on-3, and then you sneak in a session where like, "All right guys, we're going to do all reps today. So no 3-on-3, but we're just going to work on our skills." You can sneak that in there and they'll buy into it. But if you do only skill work, there's not many guys that are going to buy into it. And then on top of it, you're going to get guys that just, they need the game reps, they need to be competitive. So, all that kind of all mixed in together has allowed us to build our base locally, and then it allowed me to do stuff outside the area as well.

Craig: That's a really interesting take. I mean, we can see that ourselves is just seeing the amount of skill some players have. But it really comes down to learning that work ethic and understanding how to play as a team. So then also you mentioned, your kind of expertise bringing European style to the U.S. but a U.S. style creativity to it. Is there kind of an area of the game that you specialize in, like, you know, ball handling or shooting? We've seen some pretty impressive shooting performances on your Instagram from yourself. Is there a certain area that players look to you as an expert on?

Steve: Yeah, so I think there's two areas. One is definitely shooting. The other one is understanding game action. So by that I mean like really diving into ball screen, off-the-ball screen. Really simplifying the game for players so that when they get to college, no matter what offense they run, whether it's, you know, drive, kick, read and react stuff, whether it's, they're going to do a lot of off-the-ball screens, whether they're going to do a lot of ball screens. I can really dive into all those actions. And like even our better players, and we've got guys playing at the highest levels in Division One and the NBA. We have really good high school players that are ranked. I literally spent a year and a half with the best players in our area going over reads and having them understanding off-the-ball screens.

So like, you know, I swing the ball and I go and pin down for a teammate. You know, what are you looking for all the time? And literally it's like five simple options and they've gotten really, really good at it. And what does that do? Like, okay, what if their team doesn't run a pin down? It doesn't matter. They're understanding spacing. They're understanding how to slip a screen. So eventually every offense is going to end up running screens. It allows them to get better at driving, kick situations and find space. So those kinds of two things, the shooting and the game actions. And if we're going to look like kind of deeper into the shooting, we've had a lot of guys that have given themselves big time opportunities because they've understood how to make shots in games.

So like, the guy that I train in the NBA is Kevin Huerter. He's like a 6'7", two, three guard, was never highly ranked. I think he was a Top 100 guy in high school. Played point guard for his high school team, went to Maryland for two years. Again, wasn't like, didn't like blow everybody away in his two years there, but just has a high IQ, has a really good shooting stroke, make shots and I mean, he went to the NBA Combine, shot the ball really, really well, performed really well in the scrimmages there. And by the end of it, had locked himself up as a first round draft pick. All centered around his ability to kind of shoot the ball and his IQ. We have another kid, Andrew Platek, who is a prep school guy from our area. Went to prep school for the last two years, was getting recruited by like all Ivy League schools and then, you know, had a game on the Nike circuit where, you know, had four or five threes, was diving on the floor, made a couple of really good passes. North Carolina offered him, and you know, finally this year he's getting a big chance. I think he's averaging over 20 minutes again for North Carolina.

We had another kid. Joe Cremo, who played at a low Division One in our area, University of Albany, who's one of the best mid-majors actually in the country every year. They've had a couple of down years the last two years, but he was an All-Conference guy for three years, shot 45% from three, grad transfer to Villanova last year had an opportunity to play a role on their Big East championship team.

So we've had guys like that that because they could shoot the ball, like again, if you look back at kind of our whole culture I guess you would say of guys basketball. They could shoot the ball. They were super tough. They understood how to play, they competed consistently, and then they're just like, good dudes, you know? And that's what we've kind of figured out is if you're not a good dude, if you don't work hard, you're not gonna, you're just not gonna fit in with the people that we kind of have around us. So it's kind of allowed us to build a culture where guys are feeding off of each other.

And I'll even give you a one more story about one of our guys who I am... This is a recent one and I love it. We have a kid who, his name's Jordan King. He was like a 6'0" guard, under- sized, maybe weighed like 165 pounds, but averaged 25 a game at New York state's highest classification. This team won like six, 17, 18 games last year, but was just a scorer. And I was begging Division Two teams to offer this kid a scholarship, and everybody kind of looked at him and was like, "Ah, I don't know. You know, he's not that tall. He's skinny, blah, blah, blah, whatever." And he went... So he was going to go to prep school. He got a chance to play in one last live period last year before he went to a prep school. He played with a different team than he usually plays on. Ended up having eight threes in a game, had like a hammer dunk in the half court, and all of a sudden, all these Division Ones offered him for when he was, you know, after his year of prep. And Siena College, which is in our area, they're in the MAC Conference. They were like, "Hey, we want you to come here, walk on the first year, and then we'll give you a scholarship the next three or four years. So he decided to do that. And literally first inner squad scrimmage. The kid lights it up. He has 29 points. Cut to first game of the year, their point guard, something happens with their point guard. He's starting the first game of the year for a Division One school where literally I was begging Division Two teams to even take a look at him, literally like five, six months earlier. So, you know, again, his toughness, he's talented, he's competitive, but again, his ability to make shots kinda got him to where he needed to be.

Tristan: Sure. That's an awesome story right there. Definitely got what he earned, that's for sure. So basketball shooting and basketball IQ. Two areas where you specialize. Is there something common in either of those areas that you see a lot of kids are maybe lagging behind and you really have to point out how to fix these issues?

Steve: Yeah. It's funny cause I say this all the time. We do a bunch of different shooting clinics, but literally you can apply these to both, whether it's understanding game actions and really taking the time to learn how to play or being better as a shooter. Both of those, if you really think about it, are boring. Like becoming a really good shooter is one of the the most boring things that you can do. It means taking a lot of reps at not a fast pace and just really being focused on every single shot. Like if you're going to shoot threes and be a good three point shooter, you need to shoot two, three, four, 500 threes a day, but also be locked in on every single one. Hold your follow through, land balanced. Make sure you're catching it the right way. All the little things, whatever your checkpoints are, you need to be locked in for whatever it takes you. An hour, an hour, 15 minutes. Not a lot of people can do that. I think, and I tell this to all of our players, the number one reason why people aren't good shooters is because shooting is boring and they don't want to put in the reps. The meaningful reps where they can actually understand their shot and get better. It's not mechanics because you look around, go watch high school, college, NBA. Literally, everybody has different mechanics. So there's not like one set of mechanics that, "Okay, this is how you need to shoot in order to be better." Everybody's kinda got their different checkpoints, but I promise you, if you really lock in and take meaningful reps and understand your shot...

So like when I say checkpoints, everybody's got checkpoints. Whether that is, you know, you have to set the ball on a certain side of your body or your follow through or your feet. Usually everybody's got like two or three that will help them shoot a better percentage. If they don't, number one, understand that, and number two, they don't put in the reps to do it, which most people don't do because it's boring, there's no shot they're going to be a better shooter. It's the same thing with understanding of the game. How can you understand the game and understand how to play if number one, you don't put in the time to practice it with your teammates. It takes other people to practice that. But then also watch. You have to watch the game. You have to sit there and say, "Oh, this is what, you know, the Chicago Bulls do on their pin downs. That's what I need to do." Or "Oh, there's the slip, or that's how you set a screen. That's the angle." And again, guys don't want to do that, but the ones that do, especially nowadays, because a lot of people don't do it, they're a commodity because you're in the minority because most people don't have that scale.

Tristan: Sure. So now, is there any specific drill that you want your guys doing a ton to get those reps up? And can you walk us through that drill that you teach to your guys?

Steve: So as far as the IQ goes, I would tell anybody who's listening, whether they're a coach or a player, it's two things as far as like the game actions. Number one, breaking down the game action and playing live 1-on-1 out of it will allow them to get the most benefit and the easiest way to translate it over into a game. So like if you want to work on getting better as your teammate drives and kicks it to you, and just being really efficient on the catch, understanding when to shoot, when to drive, you need to do those reps. Like you can literally take 20 minutes and if you have four guys in the gym and just keep alternating it, you can get 30, 40, 50 reps in, in that live game action where you could go play in an AAU tournament and maybe get four of those reps. So you can expedite that process just by going game action 1-on-1, and then also 3-on-3 and just isolating those actions. And then also if you just play regular 3-on-3 and don't even put any rules into it, you're gonna naturally come across those actions.

So you're gonna naturally get a driving kick. You're gonna naturally get a ball screen. So the more that kids can do that, the better off they're going to be. I think kids playing so many organized, and by kids, I mean, you know, younger kids, but also high school kids and our college guys. They play in so many organized events that they don't get a chance to just play 1-on-1, 3-on-3, or even 5-on-5, and just don't worry about making mistakes. Play. Try the things that you've worked on with your coach. Try the things that you're seeing on TV. And don't worry about messing up, but learn from all those mistakes. So that's what I would tell people to implement. As far as shooting stuff goes, we do a lot of situational shooting. So we'll take those same game actions and say like, "Okay, you're going to get a lot of your shots by your teammate drives and you drifting from the wing to the corner. So what I'll do is I'll take that action and starting out, we'll say, "Okay, you have to make five." Right? Then the next progression would be like, "Okay, you have to make three in a row." That's a little harder than just making five. Then we'll take it a step further and say like, "Okay, you have to make, you know, eight out of 10" and then it's like, "Okay, the next one, you have to make five in a row twice."

So we try and increase their mental capacity and their mindset so like, eventually what we want to do is, like with Kevin Huerter, who's an NBA guy, or even our other guys that are really, really good shooters, we want to get them to the point where if they're going, you know, 13 for 15 from three, they're upset and they're mad and they know they can do better.

That way them stringing together four, five, six, seven makes in a row is like nothing. And so we do a lot of that. And I'll have days where, you know, I'll give guys like a shooting drill. Like we do a shooting drill. It'd be hard to explain on a podcast, but it's tough. It's a three minute shooting drill. It's multiple spots where you have to make three in a row and it's all on the move. So you're getting tired. You know, you could be making two out of every three shots, shooting 67% and not even beat one spot. So like I'll have them do that drill. It's a common drill that we use, but then at the end of it, instead of just saying like, "Okay, you guys are done." "Hey, once you beat this drill, now you've got to go from half court to the top of the key and you got to make 10 in a row." So like you almost make it impossible and like it's a bonus. Like if you beat it, then you're super hyped and that's great, but you're really using it as like, as they're doing it, like, "Yo, we're not stopping, even if this takes the whole time," like things like that. But you know, guys, that's how you build. Then once they overcome that obstacle one time, then all of a sudden they're like 10 in a row. That's nothing. So we do a lot of stuff like that with our shooting. And then again, just simplifying everything. I think good shooters, you know, catch the ball balanced. I think they hit their checkpoints, whatever those are. And then, my biggest thing with shooters is that they can shoot the ball straight. Like, I don't care what your form looks like. If you can shoot the ball straight consistently, you'll figure out the distance and that thing will start going in. So we do a lot of stuff that just kind of helps our guys shoot the ball straight.

Tristan: There you go. And sometimes fixing the mentalities is just the way to do it right there. Well, coach, I appreciate your time here tonight. We want to close it down here with something we do with all of our guests. It's a little rapid fire round. We're just going to throw some balls at you, throw some questions at you. You just come back with the first thing comes to mind. Sound good?

Steve: Yeah. Cool.

Tristan: Alright, here we go. Favorite sports movie ever?

Steve: Oh my God. He Got Game.

Craig: Nice, alright, got that one. What's the best warm up music before a big game?

Steve: I'm going to have to go back with my high school because you know, like memories, right? We used to listen to 50 Cent when his first album came out. That was fire.

Craig: That's great

Tristan: Get rich or die trying. Love it. Alright. Best pregame meal?

Steve: I'm Italian, so pasta.

Tristan: Love it. Awesome. That'll wrap it up right there. Coach, appreciate it one more time here. You can maybe take a look at that shooting drill you're talking about on your Instagram there. It's @SteveDags0 for those of you that want to check it out and make sure you check out Dags Basketball as well. Coach, appreciate the time and hopefully we can check in with you down the line here once we see Kevin Huerter and the rest of your folks out there light it up this year. Sound good?

Steve: Absolutely. Thanks for having me and I really appreciate it and you guys do a great job. So I'm looking forward to catching the rest of your podcasts as well.