The TNT KaTropa is determined to improve their offense after a shaky Philippine Cup campaign, and they tapped one of the best ever to help them in that department. Former NBA champion Craig Hodges, who won two titles with the Chicago Bulls in the early 1990s, has been working with the team for the past week in an effort to improve the team's 28.3 percent 3-point shooting, which was 10th overall in this past conference.
Hodges, a 14-year veteran in the NBA, is in town by way of an invitation from one of his good friends, TNT assistant coach Alton Lister. The two were teammates for two seasons in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1980s, and have kept a good relationship since. When Hodges got the call, he wasted no time in joining the staff.
"My teammate Alton Lister invited me to come over and coach," Hodges said. "Coach Dickell has been real cool about letting me work with guys. It's been a good experience."
The former Chicago Bull has been in town for almost a week, and since then has used the time to get to know the players and their coaching staff. So far, what he's seen is a team that's stuck together and is determined to make a deep run in the Commissioner's Cup playoffs.
"When I was 16, my uncle told me I should just practice on catching and shooting the basketball. And it worked for me. It worked to a point to where I was shooting at a 50% clip, and it wasn't by accident." Craig Hodges
"What I like more than anything is that it's a good group of guys," Hodges said after TNT's Tuesday practice at the Moro Lorenzo Gym. "You have some players who are great teammates, and that's one of the things you look for as far as being able to put together a winning formula. You have guys that come to work hard, and when you mistakes, they're working on correcting them. And that's all you can really ask for."
Though Hodges' reputation is one of a knockdown three-point shooter, the fallacy according to him is that some players are simply blessed with the ability to knock down shots early on. According to the three-time NBA three-point king who had a career shooting percentage of 40% from long distance, the grind at an early age paved the way for his future success.
"I put in plenty of work," Hodges noted. "I was a dribbler, ball-handler type guard all along. But when I was 16, my uncle told me I should just practice on catching and shooting the basketball. And it worked for me. It worked to a point to where I was shooting at a 50% clip, and it wasn't by accident."
Helping TNT's shooters
According to TNT Consultant Mark Dickel, Hodges has been a big help in the team's buildup for the season. "The fact is that as a team we shot more threes than anyone else, but we made the least amount. So any kind of help we could get, just getting guys more confident and working on their game, and just so that when they get open they're feeling more confident. So who better than him?"
Curiously, TNT attempted the most number of triples as a team, with 37.1 shots per game. However, they only made 10.5 a game. Hodges is in town to teach TNT's noted gunners the art of the three-pointer, and to lend his vast experience to the team.
Veteran Harvey Carey is one of the players who was thrilled to have Hodges helping out the team, being someone who witnessed Hodges winning titles with Michael Jordan and company back in the early 1990s. "Just his skillset of shooting, and helping guys with their form and getting their feet set ready for shoot," Carey said about what Hodges has been able to teach. "I think a lot of the younger guys have been working with him, and he's helped us a lot. Hopefully he'll help our shooting this conference."
"I don't really consider myself a head coach. I like the pure parts of the game," Hodges said about his responsibilities with the team. "I like to see people improve. And wherever I can help young guys improve in the game, whether it be mentally, or the actual physical work that needs to be put in to improve. "But that's the main thing- helping people to get better."
According to Hodges, anyone can be a good shooter. What matters is the amount of work a player is willing to put into the art shooting in order to be truly great.
"It can definitely be taught," Hodges said of shooting well from long distance. "We can talk about any sport or any business, and there's work involved. There's no naturals at anything. It's a matter of the passion that someone has in a given interest. And the more you're passionate about that interest, the better you'll become because it becomes a thing you love instead of work."
TNT will be putting their lessons learned from Hodges to good use soon, as they plunge into Commissioner's Cup action against the NLEX Road Warriors on Wednesday. The team is raring for a deep run, and perhaps another Finals stint since their last appearance back in 2017. Though the KaTropa isn't banking on their new mentors to turn around their fortunes, the team is hoping that simply assimilating Hodges' confidence and mindset before he leaves the Philippines on May 28 will be a big factor in a successful campaign.
"I think the mentality just to be ready to shoot and if you miss, the next shot's going to go in," Carey said of the lessons the team is learning from Hodges. "That's the shooter's mentality. That's why he was so great at what his craft was in the NBA. Three-point champion, he has two rings. Who wouldn't want to absorb what knowledge he has to give?"
"I've been blessed to be able to get plenty of chances to do it over a long period of time," Hodges said with pride. "Now I'm in a position to help people get better at it."