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Bill Belichick, Bob Knight and what it takes to go from the hardwood to the NFL

12.07.13 at 4:21 pm ET
By
Bill Belichick. (AP)

Bill Belichick. (AP)

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick has had a good amount of success recruiting athletes from other sports and converting them into viable and productive NFL players.

There was offensive lineman Stephen Neal, an NCAA champion wrestler and five-sport athlete. There is defensive back and special teamer Nate Ebner, a world-class rugby player.

On other teams, there are numerous examples. Take San Diego tight end Antonio Gates. He turned down Michigan State because Nick Saban would not let him play basketball in addition to football. There’s Jimmy Graham, the Saints All-Pro tight end who also starred in basketball for the Miami Hurricanes.

Then there’s Jordan Cameron, the Browns tight end who could give the Patriots fits on Sunday. Cameron was going to play basketball at BYU before transferring to Southern California to play football.

Is there something those players have in common that Belichick sees when defending them?

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve seen with basketball players through the years is their hands,” Belichick said. “Those guys have to have good hands. They obviously handle the ball a lot and it’s on them quickly. They’re cutting and it’s a short pass and a lot of times it comes at good speed or bounce passes and trying to get it around the defender. They have to be able to react to the ball very quickly. It’s a lot different than football, seeing the ball travel however many yards to you. If you’re coming out of a cut, it’s still not like in basketball where the passes are, a lot of times, very short, very tight and you have to reach out and extend and get the ball away from the defender, like you do in football situations rebounding the ball. It’s not about – you can’t let it come into your body. You have to go up and aggressively take it.

“I would just say in general that basketball players, and certainly basketball players that have come into football that I’ve coached or I’ve observed, one pretty common thing is their hands and their ability to handle the ball aggressively, cleanly and it gets on them quickly but it doesn’t seem to affect them like it does other players sometimes where the ball is on them and they can’t quite find it and adjust to it. Those guys seem like they’re used to it. They’ve done it their whole lives and they’re used to it.”

If history is any indication, Belichick is likely to break out part of the game plan from the Saints game as the Patriots became the only team to hold Graham without a catch so far this season.

As for scouting basketball players to play in the NFL, Belichick says he has spoken with former Indiana legendary coach Bob Knight back in the early 1990s, when Knight was still with the Hoosiers and Belichick was coaching the Browns.

“We’ve seen those guys through the years – guys with football backgrounds than end up playing basketball,” Belichick said. “I’d say I’ve had many conversations with [former Head] Coach [Bob] Knight about that when he was at Indiana. I would say that the big thing for most basketball players is, in general, they’re quicker than they are fast. When you get out there and time a lot of those guys in the 40-yard dash, they’re slow. They might look fast on a basketball court, but we have such a much bigger field that vertical speed, especially for those positions – there aren’t many linemen playing basketball so you’re talking about skills guys, receivers and DBs, those type of positions, that most of them don’t have the speed that we, at our level, they don’t have the speed to play.

“They have quickness and a lot of times they have exceptional quickness but when it just comes to straight, flat-out speed, I’d say that’s where a lot of times, in the scouting part of it, the deficiencies come up. You go see a basketball player and say, ‘This guy has great hands. This guy has great quickness. This guy is strong, he’s competitive.’ Then you go out and time him and he runs 4.75-4.8 and you’re like, ‘What are you going to do with him?’ What corner in this league is – they have to be able to run faster than that or if they’re receivers, they have to able to run faster than that. I’ve seen that several times. Like I said, I’ve been in a couple of those situations with Coach Knight at Indiana, like ‘Hey, I want you to take a look at this kid, this guy he’s this, he’s that.’ And he was, but then you go out and put a watch on him and he’s just not fast enough to play at this level. It’s generalities but that’s my general experience with it.”

Read More: basketball, Bill Belichick, Bob Knight, Cleveland Browns
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