At All Levels and From All Over, Basketball Players Head to Houston to Train

Pro basketball hopefuls make their way to Houston for extra training in the off-season.

James, the quintessential NBA survivor, has played in eight different leagues and, in the NBA alone, for 11 different teams. Along the way, he has managed to grind his way to more than $30 million in career earnings.

A maniacal worker and longtime Lucas trainee, the 38-year-old James works individually with Howard on a near-daily basis in the summer months. "I got to do the work. I can't just rely on my talent; I rely on my preparation. Matt is great at getting me ready. I wouldn't be the player I am without him," James says.

In July and August, there are pickup games played in James's gym that would be worthy of NBA Network coverage. That's the depth of the roster of players who come to Houston to train in the ­summer.

Matt Howard (pictured) and his mentor John Lucas have made Houston a destination spot for basketball players at all levels to hone their craft.
Photos by Brian Austin
Matt Howard (pictured) and his mentor John Lucas have made Houston a destination spot for basketball players at all levels to hone their craft.
Former Rocket and 16-year NBA veteran Mike James's (left) gym is home to some of the best pickup games in the country each summer.
Photos by Brian Austin
Former Rocket and 16-year NBA veteran Mike James's (left) gym is home to some of the best pickup games in the country each summer.

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"Coach Lucas started Houston as this hotbed, and now guys have houses and apartments here because Houston is the place to keep your game sharp," James says.
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Howard, with Lucas's full blessing, has been on his own training players for nearly two years. Still, he is close to Lucas and Lucas's family. "Little John and Jai (Lucas's two sons) are like brothers to me. In a sense, I'll always be part of Coach Luke's staff."

But being on his own invigorates Howard. Ask him about the potential for growth of his Houston client base, and he gets visibly excited.

As a player development and skills coach for the Houston Hoops Association of American Universities team, Howard has worked with many in what will ultimately be the next generation of NBA trainees, Houston-area players like Kelly Oubre (committed to Kansas), Justin ­Jackson (North Carolina) and Justise Winslow (Duke).

Winslow was a McDonald's All American this past season at St. John's School and is the son of former Houston Cougar Ricky Winslow, a connection that made for an easy "in" with Lucas and Howard.

"The level of attention and focus I get working with Coach Howard has been a huge help to me," Justise Winslow said between training sessions with Team USA in Colorado. "Also, playing in full-court games with actual NBA players, and taking my lumps, has made me the player I am today."

That's where Augustine Rubit hopes to be next season — in full-court games with actual NBA players. The NBA is a long way from South Alabama, though. For now, he's just happy to be finished with his set of dribbling drills.

Soaked in sweat, Rubit is ready for a water break.

"All right, Aug, you can take a break after you make two free throws in a row," shouts Howard. "Got to make 'em while you're tired, man! You're gonna be tired in a game. Refs ain't givin' you a break in a game!"

Howard tosses a ball to Rubit, strolls away and with a smirk on his face, semi-­whispers to himself, "Got to make 'em while you're tired...

"That's how you get better, man."

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Sean­Cablinasian or email him at sean.pendergast@cbsradio.com.

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