Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Meet Jeremy Russotti

Jeremy RussottiRussotti on hoops

Jeremy Russotti, owner of 1% CLUB Basketball, offers summer skill training sessions where his concepts and principles populate the curriculum, ones that proved extremely beneficial for two prepsters in particular.

Russotti is known throughout California but especially so in the Sonoma County area. That has been his home for some time. He is presently a schoolteacher nine months out of the year but he has been a player and a coach and now finds the time to impart his concepts as a basketball trainer.

Both Josh Akognon and Angelo Tsagarakis in particular are oh so glad about this. Under Russotti’s tutelage, Akognon went from someone who never played basketball until after entering high school to earning a scholarship to Washington State in the Pac-10. Likewise, Tsagarakis parlayed his interaction and hard work with Russotti into an Oregon State scholarship. Both former Casa Grande High students were never considered members of the crème de la crème prep recruiting portfolios yet what each displayed induced a head coach from one of the top college basketball conferences to extend an offer.

Another Russotti protégé is Jackie Gemelos who averaged 39.2 points a game, 8.9 assists a contest and 6.5 rebounds each time out as a senior at St. Mary’s High in Stockton. She was named the top female prepster in the state of California, enjoyed national ecognition as one of the nation’s best and is now at USC after changing her mind and de-committing from Connecticut.

However before any rushing to judgment, hear Russotti’s mantra regarding improvement on the court: "There is no microwave in basketball."

Nevertheless as a society, we do want what we want generally now, now, now but skill building in any capacity doesn’t operate in such a framework. "The key word is balance -- balance between playing and skill development," said Russotti. "Josh did not play with summer AAU club teams because he needed to get better -- not play. He was in the gym every day focusing on his skill training."

It was purposeful work, designed with an end result in mind. Playing in games and tournaments can be fun and often result in personal write-ups on recruiting sites and media recognition unavailable to 99.9% of other 14 to 18-year-olds, but all that does not necessarily advance the real purpose. "Josh’s willingness to stay behind the scenes, his not needing any ego stroking is one of the major reasons he is successful today," said Russotti.

It’s not that Russotti cloisters kids in darkened gyms and chases away any basketball paparazzi milling around but the key is "don’t expose yourself until you are ready to be exposed."

That was what was necessary for Akognon whose non-basketball background necessitated a total immersion in order to make up for lost time. Akognon realized and understood this and most importantly, he committed himself to continuous improvement.

Russotti had undergone his own personal road to Damascus. After compiling a 91-9 record in four years beginning as a 21-year-old junior varsity basketball coach at Analy High [his alma mater] in Sebastopol, Russotti moved over to Casa Grande High in Petaluma and won back-to-back league titles, aided by the presences of Akognon and Tsagarakis.

It was at this point that Russotti and his friends began the 1% CLUB, so-named because they believed that only one per cent of the world’s basketballers trained at their level and passion.

In addition, a falling out of love with team coaching took place. "My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I found that I would rather spend my hours training individuals, rather than a whole team" according to Russotti so he transformed his long connection with basketball into the challenge of developing players individually.

His morphing from coach into trainer has proven to be a win-win. "I can now work with a variety of youngsters from all over California -- junior college players, NAIA kids, those in D-2 as well as the Division 1 level players and even overseas professionals," he said. "It is amazing to have the opportunity to work with NBA type players."

His non-traditional techniques and focus on biomechanics is what makes his training philosophies different from most traditional trainers. "Basketball skill training is no different from being a really good school teacher," Russotti said. "If you have a unique curriculum that is backed by success, students will gravitate toward your style. Learning becomes easy when you believe and buy into in the process."

His showcase events were developed in retrospect due to the career path of Akognon. According to Russotti, "I wanted to form showcase events that were not solely based on exposure or rankings. Our events are instructionally based and we always have a wide variety of players at the event since every player in the nation needs to get better. We invite kids that want to be around ballplayers and love to improve. The exposure element is still part of the events, hopefully providing more opportunities for players at the junior college, NAIA, or D2 levels."

A new component coming this summer is weekly 2 1/2 hour skill clinics led by Russotti. They will be at gyms located throughout the Bay Area from June 23 to August 9. These particular clinics are for the moderate to highly skilled players who are serious about upgrading their games.

We asked Russotti one last question, getting him in on the recent discussion of transfers. His response: "So often kids and their parents make college decisions based on what name will be on the front of their jersey, where they’ll make the team but may not play much. Colleges recruit over players and college coaches also make mistakes [in assessment] so some players are pushed out. Kids get ranked early on, they are given stuff and all of a sudden they’re at a place where everyone is good and they’re not getting the level of attention they are used to receiving. Also, some kids can’t handle the freedom once in college and get into trouble.

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