A Ten Year Timeline of How I Went from 2-Time National Player of The Year To NBA Shooting Coach
Hi! My name is Andrew Olson and I’m shooting coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers. My title is “Shooting Coach,” but I’m also a player development coach. Over the course of a season, I'm on the court with players, I’m breaking down film, I’m looking into numbers to help players improve. I have some creative freedom to explore things whether that’s looking into the shooting mechanics of players in the draft and analyzing their work or assessing free agents and their productivity.
As a freshman at Amherst College, I didn’t really think about my future after basketball. I knew I was there to get a degree and I thought I’d probably be a sports agent and go to law school and do all that. By senior year I was not ready to do more school. Because of the success I had playing basketball, I realized there were going to be opportunities. I had won a National Championship, I was the two-time National Player of the Year, and I was getting ready to play professionally overseas.
10 years later and I’m in the league helping players improve. Nothing comes right away so I thought I would document a timeline of how I got here to show anyone reading the dedication and journey it took me to find my place with the Cavs.
Let’s dive in!
Fall 2008: I’m playing in Germany that year. It was right after the stock market crashed. It ended up being a great decision to keep playing just because a lot of my peers were trying to get jobs and things weren't as available. I was playing basketball and getting paid in euros you know? It all just all kind of worked out.
Spring 2009: After the first year, I told my agent I either wanted to change countries and have a different opportunity or play with one of my teammates from Amherst. There were five of us that graduated and we all played professionally. And so I was like, if I can play with one of my teammates, that would be awesome.
Summer 2009: My agent found a team that would take me and Kevin Hopkins (now the Head Coach at Muhlenberg College). I went into that season with the mentality that if I do really well and get an amazing opportunity, I'll just continue to play.
April 2010: I had a really good season, made the All-League team, and the offers I had were pretty much very similar to what I had experienced. But at the same time, I also came to the conclusion that the opportunities to really ascend through the professional ranks were going to be a lot more difficult just being 5’10, short, white, and unathletic. And during that season, I got that entrepreneurial itch.
June 2010: I moved back to San Diego to create a one stop shop for training. My plan was for high school kids and athletes to come to me for personal training, fitness, and basketball. The reason I had this vision is because growing up, there was a guy I would go to for basketball, another guy for jumping higher, and another guy for lifting weights. I knew there was a better way to do this.
Fall 2010: I was trying to build up a client base. I would do small things like work with high schools to do their strength and conditioning just to get in front of as many people as possible. Like any entrepreneur, you're just kind of building your network and working for less money than you think you deserve. I was doing that for a couple of years, working for myself, making my own hours, and building a training business. My mindset was as long as this gets better every year, I'm doing something right.
March 2013: One of my buddies had his own gym. It was a studio fitness facility with an outdoor basketball court that he basically built. He got an opportunity to move to LA to get involved in NFL combine training. He felt like I was the perfect person to take over the business so I basically used all of my money to buy him out. The gym already had clientele, it was in a great location, and I figured worst case scenario, I could sell all the equipment and get my money back.
January 2014: I was training this 12- year old on this outdoor court. He couldn't jump and he was just very uncoordinated. I had this aha moment where it hit me how and why shooters shoot well. Like in my mind at that moment, I saw all these patterns and factors that go into what happens when shooters shoot and make shots.
One of my roommates, who was a former player too, he was really good in excel. I went home and told him all the insight and he started charting and recording all of these variables that go into shooting in an excel model. Basically I created a way to quantify someone's shooting mechanics. We recorded all the factors and made a formula that could help assess someone’s shot.
I thought what I found was useful for every single person in an NBA organization. If you're a front office person, you can use it to analyze talent and prepare for the draft. From a coaching and player development standpoint, you have this information and can see how a player’s mechanics make him a better shooter because you know whether moving to his right or left is advantageous. From an analytics standpoint you could use the information across the league to assess free agents. I knew there was this potential for every single person within an organization to use to make their team better.
May 2014: I got in touch with Mike Wohl (a former Amherst soccer player who worked closely with the Rockets). I told him about this idea and asked him if there was some way to get it in front of Rockets GM, Daryl Morey? He told me to let him know when it was done first.
So I go back and watch every single game the Rockets played during the 2013-14 season. I chart every single jump shot that they took and put together this powerpoint presentation. I just have this gut instinct about my training and this analysis I had to help players improve their shot. I show Wohl all the information and he thinks it’s good enough to send over to Morey and see if there’s any interest.
NBA Summer League 2014: I commit to going to Summer League that year. I drive out to Vegas from San Diego, pay for my own hotel, do everything just on like this hope that, you know, I get a meeting with Morey. I was talking to some other people while I was there and met up with Koby Altman (former Amherst assistant coach who at the time was an advanced scout for the Cavs). Wohl got me a sit down with Morey who basically told me everything looked good, but that I should talk to their head of player development. Nothing really materialized, but I got the feedback that they were interested. My work just needed some polishing.
October 2014: Koby put me in touch with the analytics guys at the Cavs. So I started doing the same thing with them, analyzing their shooting and putting a report together. I was still doing my training in San Diego, but I was having an ongoing conversation with the Cavs analytics guys throughout the whole season.
May 2015: Before the NBA finals, the Cavs were asking me why Lebron was struggling so much. I didn’t know exactly. According to my numbers, there wasn’t much difference in his shooting, but he was shooting 26% on 113 jumpshots in the playoffs. And during the regular season it was about 38% or 39% on jumpshots. It forced me to look deeper into everything I was doing because something was missing. And that's when I realized I hadn’t been computing for consistency. So thanks to Lebron, I refined my work up until that point which I used in any presentation moving forward.
Summer League 2015: I went back out to summer league and networked. All I kept hearing from front office people was that they can see this being used especially for the future of basketball, but I had to prove that it actually works on players. So I basically started this quest to train an NBA player and prove that what I'm doing works.
November 2016: My training business back home was getting better every single year and I had moved to a bigger facility. And then I realized there was somebody at the facility whose son played in the NBA. I took him out for coffee, showed him my work and he set up a meeting for me with his son's agent.
I meet the agent for two hours and he tells me I need to get this in front of all the GMs and the front office people. And I'm like, that's all I've been doing the last few years! During that conversation, he mentioned that one of his clients, Julius Randle, was looking for a trainer to improve his shot. At the end of that conversation as we’re walking out, I ask “is there any way I can get in front of Julius?” He said he couldn’t promise anything but if I put something together in the next 48 hours, he’ll make sure Julius sees it.
So I went home that night and stayed up until five in the morning putting together a report for Julius Randle. I got it done in 24 hours and sent it over, but didn’t hear anything for a week. So I thought that ship sailed, but he eventually got back to me saying Julius was interested.
December 2016: I go up to LA to pitch Julius at CAA, his agency. I show him all these numbers and variables, what I think I can do, and how I can help him improve his shot. 20 or 25 minutes into the meeting, he just kind of perks up and says, “You live in San Diego, I’m in LA. How's this going to work because basketball is my life and I need to know that whoever I'm working with is going to be committed.”
I basically tell him that these numbers are just how my brain works. I also told him I’m a player at heart. I managed to become the two-time National Player of the Year because I am dedicated and I knew how to play the game to be smarter and figure out ways to make everything better. And I told him that’s what I was willing to do for him if he gave me the opportunity.
End of January 2017: I get a call from his agent saying he wants to do a workout with me. He texts me the address for an 11:00 AM workout all the way up in LA. I cancel all my clients at the training facility and drive up there. The session goes really well and I'm driving home thinking that couldn’t have gone any better.
A week goes by and his agent calls saying he needs me to go to the Lakers facility the next day. So I cancel all my clients again and drive up there, but I was kind of confused as to who I was meeting at that point. I get up there and put Julius through a workout in front of Mitch Kupchak, other front office executives, and coaches. After the workout, Julius’ agent tells me Mitch wants to meet upstairs. So I give him the whole presentation for what I was calling Shot Analysis at the time. I was at the Lakers facility for almost four hours! Driving home later, it feels like it couldn’t have gotten much better. And then 10 days passed so I’m thinking that’s the end of that.
April 2017: I got a call from Julius’ agent saying Julius wants to work with me so then I knew I was getting an opportunity to do what I really wanted to do. It was a launching point because now I had an NBA player to work with that upcoming season. I wasn’t the sole reason for his improvement. Of course he had the work ethic and a lot of other help from his team, but he jumped from 44% overall to like 50% overall. I felt at that point like all right, I'm going to do it for Julius's side and possibly the entire Lakers team.
2017-2018 NBA Season: I was commuting back and forth to LA that season and basically going every single day. That season he went from 50% to 54% and he just kept improving. The whole time I was continuing my shot analysis stuff and my regular training business was getting better each year. I started talking to other teams and finally got a consulting gig with an NBA team.
May 2018: Things were progressing so I reached out to Koby who was now the GM of the Cavs and we kept talking. The Cavs flew me out to meet with some of their guys and Koby just told me to let him know how it goes. I didn’t really know what to expect.
June 2018: It went really well so Koby flew me out for the finals that year and said if I was interested, he wanted me to work for them whether it was a consulting role or something more permanent. He wanted me around the team for summer league as well. So I had two weeks to make a decision and I was thinking now is the time to do something if I’m going to do it full-time. So I made the decision to join the organization and move to Cleveland.
What I’m Most Proud of Now: It’s not necessarily one thing or one moment. I’m proud of having a vision and really being dedicated to it. The journey never materializes the way you envision it in the beginning. Most people overlook this journey and say, you just made it to the NBA because you knew Koby or whatever. But they don't understand this: this took years! From 2014 to 2018, I did this shooting project for free. I thought in 2014 that there was a way to get paid for it, but it didn't happen. There's so many things that go into it so it’s the dedication and vision that I’m most proud of. It’s always about the journey, dedication, and relentlessness.