Internationally renowned basketball skill guru Ganon Baker came to Japan earlier this month to teach local boys and girls some of the drills and techniques required to elevate a player’s game.

At an event in Koshigaya, Saitama Prefecture, which was the final of five clinics he held across Japan, Baker worked with participants ranging in age from about 6 to high school teenagers all at the same time. The 44-year-old has trained many NBA stars, including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, so the setting was a little unusual.

Nevertheless, his coaching philosophy, which is to tell players what they need to do in a straightforward manner, didn’t change.

“I thought they were quick, I thought they were flexible. I thought (their) shooting was surprisingly good,” said Baker, a former professional player in Iceland, after the Koshigaya event on May 5. “Their passing was the worst skill they had. (And their) defense was awful.”

Baker, however, was relentless in his efforts with the kids, and didn’t hesitate to direct some harsh words at them at times:

■ “If you want to be better, you’ve got to go stronger! You’ve got to get exhausted,” he exhorted in one instance.

■ “Every drill, you’ve got to go harder! Every rep, you’ve got to do it better than the last one.”

■ “On the court, I’m not your friend. My job is to push you.”

In fact, mincing words is not an option for Baker, whether he’s training an elementary school student or an NBA player. His intensity is always constant.

“Coaches have to praise right, tell them they are doing good, tell them they are doing bad,” said Baker, who’s based in south Florida. “That’s how my parents raised me, that’s how a lot of successful mentors that I’ve had in the United States (work).

“Some of the greatest women’s coaches, (NCAA women’s basketball legend and former University of Tennessee head coach) Pat Summitt, (University of Connecticut women’s basketball team head coach) Geno Auriemma. (Duke University coach) Mike Krzyzewski on the men’s side, (San Antonio Spurs coach) Gregg Popovich, (Los Angeles Clippers coach) Doc Rivers. All those styles are positive, constructive criticism. That’s exactly what I did. You need to tell kids the truth.”

He went on: “It’s hard at first, it stings. But after a while, they get it right, it becomes sweet to them.”

Baker played college basketball for Duquesne University and the University of North Carolina Wilmington. At Duquesne, he was named to the Atlantic-10 Conference All-Rookie Team as a freshman. In 2003, Baker earned an invitation to the Denver Nuggets’ rookie/free agent camp.

He added that just having the right techniques would not make you a superstar. You’ve got to have the burning passion as the fuel to power that ambition.

“Your talent can only take you to a certain point. You’ve got to be tough. And to be tough, you’ve got to have passion, you’ve got to have energy” said Baker, who’s been to 43 countries to host his clinics and travels inside and outside of the U.S. for months each year.

“And sometimes you feel so much pain, you feel like you are going to quit. Having passion kind of makes you numb playing through the pain. Sometimes you get scared. The energy and passion get you to be confident.

“So it’s almost an accelerator. If you are on fire, passion is your gas. And (when) the gas is on fire, it explodes.”

Baker awed the kids with his high-performance basketball techniques, but also ended up inspiring them with his phenomenal motivational speaking.

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