Justin Matsu's journey | from 12th man to State Champion

NBA great Kevin Durant posits that “hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard”. Team Esface looks to cultivate the talented players hungry to work hard. Justin Matsu joined Team Esface as a frail, small point guard yet by 2012-13 he was awarded Team Esface Hungry Player of the Year - an honor given to the player who worked so hard that talent could not escape him. As Coyle of The Talent Code confirms, in the process that produces talent, “struggle is not an option: it is a biological requirement.”

In 2012, when Justin tried out for my 8th grade championship, national contenders All-Net A team he was offered and took the 12th, bench warming, spot on the team. By the middle of the season, Justin was the starting point guard on this rarely defeated team. How? Justin was relentless, hungry, insatiable. He came to every skills clinic we offered, where deep practice is developed; he worked out with every coach, allowing them to focus on and correct his mistakes; he came to every Gladiatorial workout (outdoor optional fitness workouts) to improve speed and agility; he became every coach's little brother, special project, joy to coach/train. By the end of the season, he was a bonafide shooter, a deadly assassin with the ball in his hands, possessed ball handling skills to get by the best of them, and understood the nuances of leadership. He was now equipped to and reached his goal of making the freshman team at the competitive program of Serra High School.

After playing freshman, he graduated to JV and for his last two years he was able to play on the Varsity team, a top ranked team in northern California with highly accomplished Serra legendary Coach Chuck Rapp. Though he didn’t play a lot, his work ethic and intangibles offered tremendous value to the team. His junior year, Matsu made history by winning Serra High School's first State Championship for any sport. 

Serra High School 2016 State Championship picture. Justin Matsu pictured sitting in middle under the trophy during his Junior year. 

Serra High School 2016 State Championship picture. Justin Matsu pictured sitting in middle under the trophy during his Junior year. 

Before Justin makes his way to Corvallis entering Oregon State University as a freshman, he made time to inspire the next generation of Team Esface ball players, especially the undersized players who may be discouraged. With the right amount of hunger, work ethic, and leadership ANYTHING is possible!!!

Check out this small clip from his interview and stay tuned for more stories like this. I hope your baller can be inspired to keep the hunger alive and to persevere through the ups and down in everyone’s journey to reaching their big goals.

Stay Hungry.

Four Factors to decide which team to play on this year

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Hey Everyone, 

In today’s youth basketball world, there are so many options to choose from. You have your child’s school team with all of their classmates, local leagues like NJB and several clubs that seem to emerge every year. So the question becomes: How do I make the right decision for MY kid? Every kid is different. They have their own personalities, maturity, desires, challenges, insecurities...the list goes on. There is no ONE best option for every kid. So in light of the challenge that many of you are faced with right now, I put together FOUR Factors that can help guide your decision and alleviate some of the stress..hopefully. 

  1. Coach: We all know the this is the most impactful position on any sports team, especially youth sports given kids are much more impressionable. The single most important man/woman that will shape the experience for your athlete. Few things to consider:
    1. Are they positive mentors to your kid? Studies show a sports coach in most cases can be the most influential person in your kids lives next to their parents.
    2. Do they know how to coach?? To coach is to teach. We can’t confuse a basketball resume (e.g. I played Div. 1 basketball 20 years ago or 2 years ago for that matter) with the ability to coach. To coach is to TEACH. Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time (arguments??) but it didn’t translate to him being able to TEACH others how to become great, just ask the Wizards front office.
    3. Are they credible? Did they play basketball at a high level? Can they play now? Have they coached at a high level or had success at any level? How do you measure success? Things to consider.
  2. Teammates: Who are they playing with? There is more practice time than game time most of the time (if not then I have another list for you :)). Who your child plays with in practices and workouts will hugely impact their experience and growth as an athlete.
    1. Can they play basketball well? Having healthy competition in practice will always push your athlete to work harder and play with purpose, producing more results.
    2. Are they committed to the sport or just playing for a social after school activity?
    3. Do they love the game as much as your child?
    4. Are they hungry to get better? This attitude is contagious and produces results.
  3. Competition: Who are they playing against? They say competition brings the best out of player. Not only does this competition exist internally on your team, but who you play against plays a big role.
    1. Are they playing against comparable talent? “Bad competition makes you bitter, healthy competition makes you BETTER.” Being on either end of a lopsided game is not fun nor is it helping your kid develop.
    2. Are they playing against different kids? Playing against different kids will present new challenges and ensure that your kid is able to learn how to play against different sizes, speeds, styles, etc. Being battle tested against different types of players is a valuable thing. This is not the most important question but can be considered if the top 2 don’t already make a decision clear.
  4. Development: This is not an obvious one, but I had to throw it there. Before your kids get to high school, the MAIN focus should DEVELOPMENT. We believe in 3 elements of every athlete: the MIND, BODY and SKILL. The first points above can heavily influence this (especially the coach) but if you’re involved in a program that offers more than just basketball skills, you're investing in the development of your kid’s growth as a healthy, happy, productive human being, not only a high caliber athlete but a high character student and one day adult.
    1. MIND: They say 80% of the game is mental...or is it 90%?? Not sure what you heard growing up but it definitely was above 50%. If this is the case you must ask how is the development of your kid’s mind being developed on the team they may join. MIND includes the intangibles but impacts tangible stats as well: attitude, mindset, behavior, character traits like work ethic, basketball IQ...you get the picture.
    2. BODY: without a healthy body, your kid can’t play the game they love for very long and definitely not at a high level. Having the opportunity to develop the body in a safe yet effective way is very important, not just for their youth athletic careers but in life as long term. 
    3. SKILL: The game of basketball is not an easy sport to play and be good at. Being able to defend, rebound, pass, rebound, handle the ball, finish at the rim and shoot is not easy...oh yeah, I forgot to mention that you need to be able to do all of the above with the left and right hand. Each of those require training and instruction on how, when, why, where...this is where basketball IQ comes in. Unless your kid will be 7’ tall, there’s not an automatic path to “success” in this sport. Even if you’re 7’, you may go far, maybe even the NBA, but ultimately you will not go far or play long if you don’t have a high degree of all the above. Please refer to the top NBA busts for several examples.

Stay Hungry. Stay Esface.

Coach Dele 

Sign up for Team Esface Fall season here

3 Reasons Playing MORE Games Can Hurt a Player's Development

The low barriers to entry in youth basketball has led to exponential growth in mom and pop and local basketball teams over the past 10 years. With so many options it is hard for many players and parents to pass up on the opportunity to play MORE GAMES. But is MORE GAMES what your athlete needs? I would argue NOT. The game is always about developing and attacking your weaknesses (see Kobe article), but I would argue even more importantly at the ages of 6 - 14 before they enter high school. 

Having worked with hundreds of kids myself and thousands as a program, I’ve been able to see the damaging effects of the “PLAY MORE GAMES” philosophy. When thinking about the end goal in mind, we all want our kids to be the best player they can be and to maximize their growth before they enter high school. Here are THREE reasons why playing for multiple teams in the same season HURTS the development of your player and doesn’t help them achieve that goal.

  1. Opportunity Cost: When you play on more teams, that usually means more practices and more games. These both take a lot of time and for the most part, team workouts are not focused on your player's individual skill deficiencies and weaknesses. This is time that can be used for the development of the athlete with respect to the MIND, BODY and SKILL. Student athletes are busy, with school, homework and extracurricular activities, playing on multiple teams will almost guarantee no bandwidth to focus on developing their skills or working on their bodies to increase performance and decrease risk of injury.
    • Solution: Train more than playing games and you’ll see your kid become a better player in the long run (long run = by the time they hit High School). 
  2. Confusing: The game of basketball has so many styles and coaching philosophies can vary. While getting exposure to a diverse mix of coaching styles and philosophies can be very beneficial, if during the same season it can be VERY confusing for a kid who is still trying to learn the game. To be expected to remember what each coach values and adjust their games and tendencies accordingly is unrealistic and almost impossible. I would urge they focus to learn from ONE program or team’s philosophy for at least a season before going elsewhere to change it up. Ideally, a program has a diverse mix of coaching styles but a consistent philosophy and vision for their athletes (see Academies like Team Esface :)). 
    • Solution: Choose one team to play for per season and get the most out of it, taking advantage of extra workouts as well. Make sure you and your athlete are clear on what the objectives of the team are and what concepts are being taught that season. It's a marathon not a sprint.
  3. Divided Loyalty: Being loyal to a team or program is shown by your commitment to, first and foremost, show up when the team meets, be it for practice or games. When a kid plays on multiple teams, it’s virtually impossible that they’ll be able to attend all the team’s events. Consequently, the kid is put in a very tough position where they feel like they let one of the teams down (both the coach and players who they presumably care about). This dilemma can potentially damage the trust between the players and his teammates and coach, trust being a crucial ingredient for all healthy, lasting relationships. It’s hard not to feel bad if you’re forced to choose one team over the other every weekend. There are ways to mitigate this conflict, however it is easier to avoid it if you ask me. Again, this is based on playing on two different basketball teams, playing multiple sports in same season is for another article :). 
    • Solution: Focus on being FULLY committed to ONE team/program for a season and supplement the team commitment with extra WORKOUTS or OPEN run at a local gym or rec center (or outdoor park..remember those:/). 

#stayhungry #stayesface

-Coach Dele

Tunde Sobomehin walking on to Stanford lays the foundation of Team Esface

Below is an excerpt from an article from scout.com following the athletic banquet at Stanford University following the 2002-2003 season when Stanford University went 29-9 (14-4 Pac-10) and following year making it to the second round of the Tournament. 

What parents should know about strength training for youth

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Enhance your health. Reduce your injury risk. Improve your performance

As strength coaches, we’re often confronted with the question of if resistance training stunts growth, or is harmful to young athletes. This misconception could not be further from the truth. Every human body has a unique physiology and development process. Some youth grow before high school, some grow during high school, some grow after high school (Anthony Davis), if resistance training were to stunt growth many high school programs would not have their athletes in the weight room. We know this is not the case, as most high school programs require weights. Resistance training greatly ENHANCES bone density. A population of 9-10yr old girl improved their bone density by 7% during a 10 month resistance training program. Compared to 1% increase in the same age group participating in regular physical activity. There are many other studies finding similar results. What’s the bottom line? The more dense a bone is, the less likely it is to fracture (i.e Less injury risk).

On a similar note the term resistance training is associated with weight lifting movements. Weightlifting is part of resistance training, but resistance training can be as simple as a bodyweight squat. Our MAD curriculum focuses on FUNCTIONAL and SAFE movements. This entails a large amount of bodyweight or light weight movements, with an emphasis on proper technique, and adequate rest between sets. At MAD we have comprehensive approach to your child's health, focusing on core stability/mobility, balance, proper jumping/sprinting mechanics, fundamental weightlifting variations, and flexibility. When put all together this will greatly decrease the risk of injury and greatly enhance performance!

10 Reason for Resistance Training (in youth and adults)

  1. Stronger Muscles

  2. Stronger Bones

  3. Stronger Tendons

  4. Stronger Ligaments

  5. More Muscle Mass/ Less Fat Mass

  6. Higher Metabolism

  7. Decrease Stress Reduction

  8. Greater Physical Capacity

  9. Increased Self-Confidence



- Murray Athletic Development, powering Team Esface Strength

Enhance Your Health. Reduce Injury Risk. Improve Performance.

Murray Athletic Development (MAD) has partnered with Team Esface to offer high level strength training to transform our athlete's bodies and help them maximize their potential on and off the court. 

Long Term Athletic Development

MAD operates within the framework of the NSCA’s (National Strength and Conditioning Association) long term athletic development (LTAD). What is LTAD? As defined by the NSCA it is the habitual development of athleticism over time improve health and fitness, enhance physical performance, reduce the relative risk of injury, develop the confidence and competence of all youth. Athleticism is the ability to repeatedly perform a wide range of movements with precision and confidence in variety of environments, which require competent levels of motor skills, strength, speed, power, agility, balance, coordination, and endurance.

There are 10 pillars of LTAD which Murray Athletic adheres to:


  1. LTAD pathways should accommodate for the highly individualized and non-linear nature of the growth and development of youth

  2. Youth of all ages, abilities and aspirations should engage in LTAD programs to promote physical fitness and psychosocial well being.

  3. All youth should be encouraged to enhance physical fitness from early childhood, with a primary focus on motor skill and muscular strength development.

  4. LTAD pathways should encourage an early sampling approach for youth that promotes and enhances a broad range of motor skills.

  5. Health and wellbeing of the child should ALWAYS be the central tenet of LTAD.

  6. Youth should participate in physical conditioning that helps reduce the risk of injury to ensure their on-going participation in LTAD programs.

  7. LTAD programs should provide all youth with a range of training modes to enhance both health and skill related components of fitness.

  8. Practitioners working with youth should systematically progress and individualize training programs for successful LTAD.

  9. Practitioners should use relevant monitoring and assessment tools as part of a LTAD strategy.

  10. Qualified professionals and sound pedagogical approaches are fundamental to the success of LTAD programs.


LTAD in action?  Below are examples of players who started strength training in 7th grade while playing on the Class of 2019 elite team under Coach Dele. 

  • John Mills (SOPH starting on Varsity Lacrosse and JV Basketball)

  • James Beckwith (SOPH Varsity Basketball)

  • Kiran Kruse (SOPH Varsity Basketball)

  • Will Beasley (SOPH Varsity Basketball)

  • Parker McDonald (SOPH Varsity Basketball)

Breakdown of a Team Esface Humble Baller

There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. As a baller, our confidence should be humbly rooted in our knowledge of our teammates hard work, our coaches preparation, and our individual dedication to improvement. While arrogance is about ME, confidence is about TEAM.  Being humble does not mean thinking less of yourself, but rather thinking of yourself less. Team Esface ballers are HUMBLE BALLERS. 

Click below to see a complete breakdown of what it means to be  a HUMBLE BALLER.

4 Lessons Basketball Teaches

It would be nice if you could just sit down and tell your child what he or she needs to know about succeeding in life, but realistically, a lot of what you say will go in one ear and out the other. Children need hands-on experience with situations that illustrate why those life lessons are so important.

Exposed to the right experiences, children can better internalize those lessons and apply what they learn. Sports, especially a fun youth basketball league, are excellent avenues for teaching your child what is really important in life.

Collaboration is Key

Collaboration, in sports and in life, is essential. Photo credit: Manson Chan

Collaboration, in sports and in life, is essential. Photo credit: Manson Chan

You hear a lot about how teamwork is an essential life skill that you'll learn in sports like basketball, but perhaps a better term to use would be collaboration. Basketball requires teammates to work together on a pre-planned offense or defense, but also to change strategies and to listen to each other. Winning a game is a collaborative effort in which everyone needs to hear what other players are thinking and then decide which suggestions work best.

Learning how to contribute and to listen to what others are saying -- and learning how different people react to events -- is a skill that your child needs to know to survive in the workplace, in family interactions, and in society in general.

Failure Is Part of Life

Losing hurts, but handling failure well is an important life skill.Photo credit: Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office/Flickr.

Losing hurts, but handling failure well is an important life skill.Photo credit: Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office/Flickr.

Failure happens. In basketball, it can be small, like a missed shot early in a basketball game, or it can be big, like accidentally blocking a would-be-winning shot from a teammate.

Your child is going to fail at other things in life, too, from relationships to work projects and more. Learning how to handle the moment of failure and its aftermath is an important life lesson. Learning how to analyze what happened so that it does not happen again is another one.

Without this knowledge, those moments of failure could dishearten a child and have more of a devastating emotional effect than is healthy. Holding onto embarrassment, frustration, and anger stemming from past mistakes can sour future attempts to succeed. Having past experience with failure and recovery, though, makes it easier to take on new challenges fearlessly.

Control and Responsibility are Essential
Everyone is prone to mistakes at one time or another. Basketball teaches your child to identify times when he or she chose the wrong action, and it provides practice for overcoming mistakes and learning from them.

It's difficult to admit being wrong, but your child needs to learn to take responsibility (when it's truly his or her fault, of course), and to move forward and make things right. Those who can graciously admit a mistake and make the situation better are going to have an easier time navigating through life both as teens and as adults. Refusing to admit a mistake can make a situation worse and result in strained personal and professional relationships.

Tain't What You Do....
Ella Fitzgerald's song about learning that it "tain't what you do, it's the way that you do it" illustrates another life lesson inherent in basketball: achieving balance. It's important to try your best. But if you constantly strain and struggle to make something happen, you'll only tie yourself and whatever you're attempting to do into knots. Achieving balance, or "being in the zone", gets better results than tensely forcing a situation.

In basketball, players learn to trust themselves and wait for proper openings that will allow them to make their moves. A free throw that's attempted under duress and tension can go wildly off mark, but a free throw that's taken when the player finds that sweet spot of concentration and relaxation has a better chance of sailing through the basket.

If children can get into the flow of the game, they'll find that plays go much more smoothly than if they're stressing out and rushing things needlessly. Players can apply this practical lesson to other areas of their lives, leading to a happier, more balanced life that is proactive instead of reactive.

Sign up your son or daughter for a Team Esface league or camp in the summer time. Not only will your child get exercise, but he or she will also begin to see how each game is a microcosm of real life played out on a court.

See you on the court soon.

Stay Hungry. Stay Esface. 

Coach Dele