Using the Mikan basketball drill to take your game to the next level

Casual observers who aren't familiar with the game might not realize that basketball is a complex, sophisticated sport in which players are constantly utilizing a highly choreographed, well-trained set of moves. As a result, it should come as no surprise that there are countless basketball drills intended to improve everything from ball handling to dribbling and shooting. Each of these drills will work to sharpen and focus a certain set of skills on the court in different ways, and most rely on fast-pace and repetition to transform specific techniques into second nature reflexes.

Players who've accumulated plenty of court time playing pickup basketball at the park or gym might think they have nothing to learn from drills. In reality, the very best professional players will usually cite the benefits of drills on their performance when game time comes along. One basketball drill in particular has been a training staple for great players who play the center position like Shaquille O'Neal(notes) and Kareem Abdul-Jabar. Meant to improve performance at the rim, the Mikan drill is a great way for tall, aggressive players to score when it matters.

The basic Mikan layup drill
Arguably one of the most famous basketball drills, this basic drill was named after George Mikan, one of the sport's first great players. As quick and repetitive as basketball drills get, this drill was originally intended to refine and improve basic layups, which are made by leaping up near one side of the basket and using one hand to get the ball into the basket from off of the backboard. This drill can be done completely alone, and you can time and challenge yourself as you go, or attempt the layups under the watchful eyes of your coach or trainer.

This extremely simple drill is done by alternating between left-handed and right-handed layups on either side of the basket. Catching the ball after it rebounds each time, players switch to the opposite side of the basket after every individual layup. For example, the player will perform a left-handed layup on the left side of the basket, catch the rebound, then perform a right-handed layup from the right of the basket.

Variations on the Mikan drill
Many players perform the Mikan drill with hook shots, in which the ball doesn't bounce off of the backboard. Hook shots can be very tricky when using your weaker hand, and are particularly tough for players who might lack the height they think they need to be effective. Alternating between between your left and right hand on each side of the basket using the basic Mikan routine will make you more comfortable attempting hook shots with either hand.

Consider timing the drill, and challenging yourself to make as many baskets as you can before the clock runs down, without letting the ball touch the ground. Also, remember to keep the ball as it rebounds and goes through the net, trying to keep it at shoulder height or above at all times. This will make you much more comfortable when attempting to score at the rim, especially if you're not one of the taller players on the court.

The reverse Mikan drill
Once you've got the basic Mikan routine down, using both layups and hook shots, consider trying a reverse version. Try the same alternating pattern of hook shots while facing away from backboard, towards the opposite end of the court, leaping as you shoot. It might seem awkward at first, but continue to keep the ball off of the ground, catching it after every shot.

The rapid alternating style of the Mikan drill forces players to coordinate their leaping shot techniques when they attempt layups and hook shots. Mastering this drill, you'll notice your confidence increase at the rim when it matters.

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Updated Friday, Oct 29, 2010