3 Secrets to Breaking Ankles

The following is a guest post by Tyler Gaffaney, a professional basketball player who recently completed his second season in Spain. He credits his focus on the mental game and developing the fundamental skills for launching his athletic career. Tyler is the founder of where he writes about player development. mental training, and his own personal journey.


Have you ever played against one of those guys who just seems like they’ve got the ball on a string? It’s almost like no matter where they go, the ball follows them. They’re impossible to guard because they can literally make any move at any time. What makes those guys different?

To find out, I’ve analyzed video of the NBA’s best ball handlers like Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, and Steph Curry. In my research, I found 3 qualities that separated the good ball handlers from the elite ones. If you take these qualities and apply them to your game, you’ll be breaking ankles in no time.

1. Unpredictability

Elite ball handlers are able to change their pace, rhythm, and footwork while still maintaining complete control of the ball. This makes it virtually impossible to predict which way they will go because they’re constantly going at different speeds and performing moves that are slightly different each time.

The best ball handlers don’t have just 1 type of crossover, they have an infinite amount. Each crossover is different depending on their current body positioning, placement of defenders and a whole host of other variables. This idea may seem complex, but check it out in action.

When Steph skips forward and to his left, Chris Paul jumps it. To counter this, Steph ends up performing a hybrid behind the back move. It’s neither a wrap around or a straight cross. It’s a unique move that came as a result of the situation that called for it.

2. Reactionary

Elite ball handlers never predetermine their moves. They react to the openings the defense gives them.

This clip clearly shows how Kyrie Irving reacts to each obstacle. First, he drives baseline because Zach Lavine is siding him that way. Then, two helpside defenders jump in his path to the basket so he pulls the ball back between his legs and looks to go middle. Zach Lavine is still there, forcing Kyrie baseline.

But that between the legs pull back fakes the helpside defenders into thinking he is retreating so Kyrie crosses back the same way. Bingo, for an instant, Kyrie has a 1 on 1 with the big man and crosses into the middle to create space. Amazing.

3. Creative

Elite ball handlers think just a little bit differently than the rest of us. They see openings where we don’t and can visualize moves that we hadn’t even thought of.

Most players would pull the ball back out to the 3 point line after they got cut off. But Chris Paul sees the opportunity to spin back. He never eliminates the option of getting back to the basket and imagines a creative way to get there.

If you can incorporate these 3 aspects of ball handling into your game, you’ll be breaking ankles in no time.


Great Defense Is Key

How to Make Your Varsity Basketball Team- Guaranteed

You want to be a varsity basketball team member.

However, there is a problem.

There’s only a limited number of spots on the team, and you want a guarantee that you’ll make it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman, sophomore, or junior, if you follow the advice below, you’ll make the team.

Here’s the process that you should follow:

  1. Assess
  2. Improve
  3. Repeat


Many people understand that you have to assess yourself, but you also have to assess the current varsity basketball team and what the varsity coach wants and needs.


Tall Vs Short

Who would you rather have on your team?

This is the part where you have to be brutally honest with yourself.

What are your strengths?

What are your weaknesses?

Do you have a height, weight, or size advantage over other people on the team?

If you’re naturally tall, you have a better chance of making the team, and if you’re short, you’ll have to work harder.

If you played basketball this year, talk to your coach and ask him what you need to work on during the off-season.

Think back to the games you played and figure out why you were put into the game, or why the coach took you out.

Did the coach always put you in to play defense? To score? To lead the team?

Did the coach take you out because you committed too many turnovers? Didn’t pass the ball? Took a dumb shot?

You have to be completely honest with yourself because otherwise, this doesn’t work.

Write down all the things you’re good at, all the things you’re not as good at, and whether you have any advantages or disadvantages compared to the others on the team.

Also write down the comments that your coach made about what you need to improve on.

Don’t listen to your teammates at this point because they’re not the ones who get to decide if you play or don’t play.

At this point you should have something like this:

  • Good
  • Great ball-handling
  • Great mid-range jumper
  • Always hustle
  • Fast on the court
  • Tall
  • Bad
  • Terrible 3-point shot
  • No post game
  • Average at free-throws
  • Get lazy on defense
  • Small vertical
  • Other
  • Coach said I need to play smarter and look for the extra pass
  • Coach usually puts me in when our guards keep turning over the ball and can’t handle the pressure.
  • Always hustle
  • Fast on the court
  • Tall


Now that you know what your strengths and weaknesses are, you need to figure out what next year’s varsity team needs.

Look at the current seniors who will be leaving the team. Note their roles on the team. Were they there for defense? Scoring? Something else?

Talk to the varsity coach and tell him that you’re planning on trying out for the team next year and ask if there’s any pieces to the puzzle that the team is missing.

The coach might tell you that the team needs a great passer, defender, or something else.

Even if the coach ends up not saying anything “useful,” it’s still valuable because it shows the coach that you care.

Write down the roles of the people the team will have on the team next year and try to figure out if there’s anything missing.

For example, you might notice that the team has 4 people who want to be high scorers, but no great defenders or passers.

That means that you have a very easy way of making the team: improve your defense and passing!

Putting It All Together

After you do the assessment you have to figure out what it is the team needs and whether you’re already good at it.

If the team badly needs a great defender (which most teams do), and you are a lock-down defender, then you’re in a great position.

If you improve your defense even more while getting better at a secondary skill that the team needs, the coach will love to have you on the team!


Once you figure out what it is that you have and what the team needs, you gotta start working hard.

You should train every day, and you should spend 75% of the time developing the key skill that will allow you to make the team, and 25% of the time on polishing your other skills and making sure that you don’t get worse.

The Key Skill That All Coaches Love

There is one skill that is nearly guaranteed to get you a varsity spot.


Many people can play good defense.

Some people can even play great defense.

But most people can’t play great defense all the time.

That’s the key.

Coaches want players who are able to shut-down the best player on the opposing team, and who they know they can count on.

Most coaches love the peace of mind of knowing that they have someone who will go out there and play defense until he falls down from exhaustion.

If you want to make the team and you’re not amazing at anything else, you need to become a defensive beast.

Great Defense Is Key

Demonstrating Improvement

It’s important that the varsity coach sees you improve and work hard.

If your high-school offers a summer basketball camp you should sign up, and be the first one to come and the last one to leave.

If there is no basketball camp, you can talk to one of the current varsity players about organizing “open gym” practices at the high school where people can come to play and practice.

You don’t need to be the one to organize it, and you can let the varsity player take all the credit for it. What’s important is that you come to all of the open gyms early, leave late, and work hard while you’re there.


Every 3 months you should re-assess yourself and figure out where you stand compared to all of the other players you’re competing against.

You might now be able to guard everyone on the team, and now you realize that you need to also be able to score if you want playing time.

Maybe you realize that you can shoot from anywhere, but now you need handles to get you to different spots on the court.

Whatever it is, the most important thing is constantly improving.