Winning mentality as important as height in basketball, says Smith

KUALA LUMPUR: Height definitely matters in basketball.

After all, some of the greatest NBA players of all time – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Scottie Pippen – all stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Today’s NBA stars – LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose – are all gangling giants blessed with dazzling ball handling skills and game-changing ability. 

But US Professional Basketball Alumni Association (PBAA) chief executive officer Charles Smith said in an exclusive interview with The Star that while height does make a difference, it is the winning mentality which makes a great player.

“Height definitely matters. But you can’t teach height and strength to someone, it’s something that you have to be born with,” said Smith, who was a former player himself, having played for the LA Clippers, New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs from 1988-1997.

“Yet just being tall doesn’t mean the shorter players are out of it. While they might be at a disadvantage initially, with the proper training and guidance, I am sure that they have the ability to overcome the big guys.

“It’s all about the mental toughness and how much a player wants to be great. Frankly, if you want to be the best, you have to train for it.

You have to come out with five guys who want to be the best in basketball and what do they do? They play basketball all day long.

“This applies not just to basketball, but to any other sports, and career as well.”

Smith’s advice should be heeded by the Malaysian team, who are currently struggling in the Fiba Asia Championships in Manila, having suffered whooping defeats to Iran (115-25) and China (113-22).

“I did not watch the matches, but based on the scores, they definitely lost out on the boards,” said Smith.

“If they can’t prevent the taller teams from getting under the basket, they will definitely suffer. What makes a championship team is not just height, but good defence as well, and the first rule of defence is that if you can’t get the ball, you make sure your opponents do not either.”

However, Smith who was present at the launch of the Ninetology Malaysia Basketball Carnival at the Maba Stadium yesterday, added that Malaysia have great talent in basketball but it is vital that the proper development is done in order to produce top players.

“Well I always believe that there can be a Jeremy Lin in every city in South East Asia. Why can’t it be possible for a player from Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand go on to play in the NBA?” said Smith.

“It is always about the proper grassroots development, where you put the kids through school and they go to college in the US and continue their basketball there and get a shot at playing in the NBA.

“Unfortunately that development is a little lacking and kids don’t know that they can be good. It is the PBAA’s responsibility to train these kids.

“In fact, there are actually a lot of talent in Malaysia – like an uncut diamond. But we have to process it or it will always remain as a raw talent.

“It’s not an easy process because we can’t just come here and implement our ideas. Fortunately, we have the support of the Malaysia Basketball Association (Maba) and we always try to help train the younger kids, especially on the mental and psychological side. Hopefully we’ll see improvements one day.”
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