A day before LeBron James made his “decision” two summers ago to join the Miami Heat, Belmont point guard Drew Hanlen stood by and watched the superstar work out.
Attending the LeBron James Skills Academy to learn from Boston Celtics assistant coach Kevin Eastman and the other Nike camp coaches, Hanlen was briefly in awe as he watched the three-time NBA MVP practice.
That didn’t last long.
Suddenly Hanlen realized he could help James with his mid-post game or at least could provide some assistance in passing out of double teams. He shared his thoughts with James, analyzed game film and sent his findings to James’ 15-member posse.
Hanlen is only 22. But he is not being naïve — this is what he does for a living.
Well, sort of.
After his collegiate career ended last month when the Bruins lost to Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament, Hanlen turned his attention to graduating from Belmont next month with his degree in entrepreneurship.
But he has had one foot in the real world for some time. Hanlen runs Pure Sweat Basketball — a personal training and basketball skill development company he founded three years ago.
What started as a basketball camp with his former high school coach is now a company that features four trainers, a business manager and a couple interns. While the rest of his staff implements drills for high school-age players and younger, Hanlen focuses on college and NBA talent.
He was in Los Angeles two weekends ago to watch client and Golden State Warrior center David Lee. He also on occasion works out former Kentucky one-and-done phenom John Wall, point guard of the Washington Wizards. He plans to serve as the skills coach and consultant for Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins and Florida’s Bradley Beal after they end their college careers.
“I think that is my niche,” Hanlen said. “I have spent my whole life on it. I’d like to say I know the Xs and Os pretty well. I think I do a really good job at enhancing players’ skills, breaking down their weaknesses and turning it into strengths, building their strengths into stuff that can’t be stopped.”
While a junior at Webster Groves High School, just outside of St. Louis, Hanlen fell into the personal training business.
“It just kind of started naturally,” he said. “I was working out by myself on a court and there was a game going on right next to me and a parent said, ‘Hey, will you put my kid through a lesson? I want you to put him through the same lesson you just put yourself through.’ I started with that one client and after that I built it up. …
“It is 100 percent word of mouth. It keeps spreading.”
Hanlen got his big break when he started training Beal, who played at another St. Louis high school, Chaminade Prep. The former national high school Player of the Year and possible NBA lottery pick just finished his freshman season with Florida, where he averaged 14.8 points and helped the Gators reach the Elite Eight.
Impressed with the results, Beal recommended Hanlen to former Chaminade and Florida standout David Lee. For the past two years, Hanlen has worked with the NBA center, who spent his first five years with the New York Knicks.
“I’m 100 percent David Lee’s guy,” said Hanlen, who added that when he isn’t with Lee he sends daily text message updates with that day’s workout regimen.
His clientele list has grown to include more than 15 NBA players, who “just jump on and off” and utilize him as a consultant to break down game film or work one on one with drills.
“The greatest thing for me is when I am watching one of my clients play, and I see him use one of the moves that we have worked on or when his play just increases, and therefore he becomes a better player,” he said.
If Hanlen watched the film from his own games this past season, he would see he took his own advice.
A pass-oriented player — he led the Atlantic Sun Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio as a junior — he didn’t average more than seven points his first three seasons. As a senior, though, he developed into more of a perimeter threat. He ranked second in Division I in 3-point shooting percentage (48.2) and averaged 10.8 points on his way to first-team All-Atlantic Sun honors.
“I think John [Jenkins] helped me out a little bit,” he said. “All summer long I was working on quickening up John’s shot. I was trying to get his shot off anywhere between a half-second and .75 seconds. The whole summer I was stressing, ‘Catch high, keep high. Catch high, keep high.’ One day, he asked me, ‘Why don’t you do that?’ So I started following everything that I told my clients, especially John. ... It helped a lot and made me a lot more effective shooter.”
Juggling a playing career, class and a business, Hanlen worked closely with Belmont’s director of compliance, Heather Copeland, to make sure he followed NCAA regulations. As a student-athlete, he couldn’t use his name, picture or likeness for commercial purposes. In fact, he had to take his 75-page, skills-oriented flipbook, Drew Hanlen’s Driveway Dedication, off the market when he came to Belmont. He is currently on page 930 of his second book, which is “basically a basketball training how-to.” He plans to launch an iPhone app this summer that will provide the same skills and drills curriculum he offers to his clients.
“It is pretty remarkable the fact that he has his own business and how far he is taking his love for basketball,” Jenkins said. “Training NBA guys when he is still in college is kind of unheard of. He is well-respected, especially around St. Louis. In 10 years, the whole world will know about him.”
Though he is based in Nashville, Hanlen plans to return to St. Louis when he graduates. Regardless, he travels widely. During the summers, he bounces from New York, Philadelphia and Miami, and visits Nike and Reebok basketball camps around the country to court possible clients.
Hanlen doesn’t limit himself just to NBA players. He also works with those who hope to be there soon, very soon.
While he was a student-athlete, he voluntarily trained Jenkins and Georgia guard and Tennessee State transfer Gerald Robinson. Hanlen enjoys it so much that a career in coaching hasn’t really crossed his mind. Instead, he wants to build what he started.
“I want to try get 10 to 15 [clients] and just help them all have very successful [NBA] careers,” he said. “If I take care of them, I think they will take care of me as well. ... I do know that I am very blessed. I love what I do, and I wouldn’t change my job for anyone else’s job in the world. It is something I can look forward to every day and hopefully grow into a prominent company.”