By Madisen Carter
This year, more than 280 basketball players woke up on Thursday, June 23rd, with the hopes of their dreams coming true and being drafted to a professional basketball team. Every year 60 athletes are chosen in the NBA Draft to join a new basketball family, and six of players that were drafted this year spent ten weeks in Santa Barbara with Coach Packie Turner preparing for that special moment.
While in Santa Barbara, Coach Packie worked with eight athletes including the second overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Chet Holmgren, as well as Jalen Williams, Christian Braun, E.J. Liddell, Kendall Brown, Jabari Walker, Hyunjung Lee and Jermaine Samuels Jr. Both Holmgren and Williams were drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder, Williams was selected at the No. 12 spot. Braun went to the Denver Nuggets with the 21st pick, Liddell was drafted No. 41 by the Detroit Pistons, Brown went to the Indiana Pacers in the 48th spot, and Walker was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 57th pick.
All of these athletes dedicated a tremendous amount of time and dedication to get to where they are today. In their last two and a half months before the final countdown to the Draft, they spent their time with Coach Packie working on what they could improve in their game and what can make them successful at the next level. Along with Coach Packie, his lifelong friend Jason Hughes and the Director of Basketball at VReps, Mike Greenman, worked with the players.
“You got to do the work [to] end up where you're supposed to be. That's kind of what I tried to bring is just, you know, every day we're going to get after it, we're going to work hard. You know [what] your focus is, [and] I'm gonna call you if you're not on it, and we're going to keep building and growing,” Packie said. “You know, hopefully at the end of it, you can look up and be exactly where you wanted to be.”
Coach Packie and the guys were on the court six days a week, starting at 7:30 A.M. and ending around 4 P.M. For one of the six days, the guys would play a full 48 minute game with refs so they can compete and get comfortable with the NBA-style game. Packie said that each player he worked with had a slightly different focus, but they all worked on differentiating the game from college play and worked on fundamental mechanics.
“So [for] every individual, we kind of hone in on things they need to work on, things they need to get better at. I'm watching a lot of film of these guys throughout the year of their college season, and as they signed with the [BDA Sports] Agency, I'm really diving in all the way to really know them, know their holes, [and] even talk to some scouts I know and teams [to] get a feel for what they think of these guys,” Coach Packie said.
With all of the speculation about what teams the players can go to or when they are going to get drafted, they can get caught up in everything that is being said about them. Although most of the player’s time in Santa Barbara was spent on the physical training, Packie also put at the forefront the mental side of the game and gave them the advice to just focus on running their own race.
“I try to help put that in perspective to guys like, ‘hey, it's cool, but it means nothing until it's done. So let's just keep working, let's stay focused, let's run our own race, let's not worry about what anybody else is doing. Let's focus on you,’” Packie said.
Besides working with these players six days out of the week, Packie and the guys were also able to spend time with each other off of the court. He and the guys would watch games together, get food, and they even went bowling. Packie said that the guys are in a fun stage of their life and he wanted them to enjoy every day they spent in Santa Barbara, maybe even try out things they would not be able to do outside of the city.
With another year under Packie’s belt leading a NBA Pre-Draft, Packie’s appreciation for being able to be a part of these young men’s journeys never deteriorates. Packie and these athletes were with each other from April to June, and they will continue to keep in touch throughout their journey in their rookie seasons.
“To me, basketball is just a really special game. It's opened up a lot of doors and opportunities for me in my life and taught me how to work with others, how to work hard, how to have a goal and work towards it and achieve it,” Packie said. “Everybody wants to reach the NBA. I will never score a bucket in the NBA, that was never my path. But to play a role in somebody else's journey and help them along and figure some things out, it's a fun thing to be a part of. It's a lot of excitement this time of year, you know. Dreams are becoming a reality.”