Specialized individual trainers thriving as athletes look to boost skills, profile


Personal trainer Hanif Hill, right, runs through ballhandling drills with Gonzaga rising senior Bryant Crawford at the Boys & Girls Club in Washington. Crawford credits his seven years of work with Hill for his recent success on a national scale. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
July 8

In the bowels of the 14th Street Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington, Bryant Crawford threw down repetitive tomahawk dunks off the dribble as part of a meticulous regimen on a recent evening. The dimly lit, windowless gym at the Northwest Washington facility has served as a quiet sanctuary for Crawford and other area high school standouts who hone their basketball skills with trainer Hanif Hill.

Crawford, a rising junior at Gonzaga, began this routine with Hill at the age of 10, and Crawford credits his trainer for much of his recent acclaim. Crawford received a four-star rating by ESPN and in October 2012 participated in the USA Basketball Men’s Development National Team mini-camp. Late last month he traveled to Union, N.J., for the Nike Point Guard Skills Academy, one of just 20 high school guards invited to the exclusive camp.

The 6-foot-3 guard is one of a growing number of players from the Washington area and other sports-hotbed cities who receive individual instruction from trainers to improve their games.

While offseason camps and high school games serve as tools for athletes to boost their respective profiles for scholarship offers, individualized training across high school sports allows athletes an opportunity to improve skill sets with focused instruction.

Gonzaga Coach Steve Turner said he’s seen the progression in Crawford’s game through his workouts with Hill since his freshman year on varsity.


From left, Bryant Crawford and Rodney McGruder take pointers from personal trainer Hanif Hill during workouts at the Boys & Girls Club in Washington. After working with top NBA players, Hill has become one of the area’s most sought-after basketball trainers. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

“Hanif is great with ballhandling, and I can see the growth in Bryant’s ability in that aspect,” Turner said. “He’s also helped his game out of pro sets like pick-and-roll action, and that has helped his basketball IQ grow.”

Hill, 35, began training NBA stars Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Ty Lawson seven years ago after coaching Cardozo from 2003 to 2007. Today, he’s one of the most sought after trainers in the District, and he regularly hosts some of the nation’s top players at his workouts. But there are many others like him.

In Forestville, McNamara assistant basketball coach Koran Godwin doubles as a trainer whose pupils range in age from 5 to 22 years old. This summer, he reconnected with Pittsburgh graduate and NBA hopeful Talib Zanna, a McNamara alumnus.

“When you get them young you can kind of mold them,” Godwin said. “And when they’re older, they can train alongside the college kids that come home.”

Putting in extra work

Athletes can be hard-pressed to find time to work with trainers in season between practice and game schedules, but the summer offers ample opportunity.

In an average summer week Godwin says 60 youths contact him about training. He charges $50-60 per hour for one-on-one sessions and $20-30 for group sessions.

Godwin, who starred at the University of North Florida, forces his pupils to work out in special ballhandling gloves he released in November.

Godwin, 34, also stays plugged into his athletes through an iPhone app that allows users to watch his training videos, buy the gloves and ask questions via Twitter about workouts.

Three years ago, Godwin began training McNamara rising sophomore Jamir Moultrie outside of team practices. Last season, Moultrie broke out as the leading freshman scorer in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.

“It’s extremely difficult to handle the ball with [the gloves], but once you take them off you feel like you have handles for days.” Moultrie said. “When I’m in the game Coach Godwin gives me confidence to play my game and shoot the open shot.”

Godwin also flies to Florida to train nationally ranked 6-foot-10 swingman E.J. Montgomery , a 14-year-old rising freshman at nationally ranked Montverde Academy in Montverde, Fla.

Hill’s workouts are similarly intense and at game speed. At 5-foot-6 he keeps the ball very low as he shows his pupils how to complete the drills, and he expects the athletes to do the same when going through his sessions.

Through his connections, he also offers area high school players an opportunity to work out with professional players. In a recent workout Crawford trained alongside Rodney McGruder, a 2008 All-Met at Carroll who spent last season playing in Hungary. McGruder is currently playing with the Golden State Warriors in the Las Vegas summer league.

Individualized training is not a new phenomenon, but Turner said he has seen a growth in the number of area players who use trainers since he became Gonzaga’s head coach before the 2004-05 season.

“There are a lot of positives in the training, and it’s benefitted a lot of kids” Turner said. “For me, the more kids get extra work in to better their skills, [the more] it will improve their games.”

Training as a platform

On the football field, Dominion assistant coach and former East Carolina starting quarterback Paul Troth has emerged as a quarterback guru in Loudoun County. For the second consecutive year, Troth is in Beaverton, Ore., this week for ESPN’s nationally televised Elite 11 Camp, which showcases many of the best high school quarterbacks in the country.

Troth, 31, attended the second Elite 11 camp in 2000 as a rising senior at Vance High School in Charlotte. After making several stops at Nike camps with Dominion players, he reconnected with an Elite 11 coach in North Carolina in the spring of 2013. This year he worked with athletes at camps in Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, Dallas and Columbus, Ohio. He is currently training Gonzaga rising senior quarterback and Virginia commit Nick Johns, and also works with quarterbacks at Ashburn’s three high schools — Brady Reitzel (Broad Run), Joe Thompson (Stone Bridge) and Jake Maffe (Briar Woods).

“It’s so much more than just good throwing,” Troth said. “There are little savants walking around, and these kids have been groomed to play the position since eighth grade. Watching these kids is impressive and kind of scary — all the kids we bring are better than the coaches at that stage of our lives.”

Hill, who works with St. John’s graduate Tre Campbell (Georgetown), and Montrose Christian transfer Allonzo Trier (now at Findlay Prep in Nevada) is headed to the Under Armour Elite 24 in New York for the fifth straight year in August to work with top basketball players.

Last year, Hill was named a consultant by Under Armour and he has become a major decision-maker in the company’s grassroots program. But for the most part, he trains youths ages 5-17 just outside the Clifton Terrace neighborhood in which he grew up.

With the demand growing, Hill and others are attempting to corner the market when collegiate players return home — and high school players take notice.

Crawford is spending this week in Las Vegas for the LeBron James Skills Academy, but his highlight of the summer came at the National Basketball Players Association's Top 100 camp last month at the University of Virginia. Crawford slammed in a highlight-reel dunk on LSU commit and camp MVP Ben Simmons. He completed the dunk off a pick and roll from the right side of the lane — a move seven years in the making.

“He showed me his best interest, and he stayed loyal,” Crawford said of his trainer. “I can say he’s a big part of why I am who I am on the court today, and as a man.”

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