Hawks, NBA players improving at The Skill Factory

Days after the Rockets were eliminated from the playoffs, their All-Star guard James Harden was in Atlanta.

Hours before the Hawks were to depart for the Las Vegas Summer League, their young guard Dennis Schroder was scrimmaging with other college and professional players.

Throughout the summer Hawks players such as Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll, John Jenkins, Shelvin Mack, Mike Muscala, Schroder and draftees Adreian Payne, Edy Tavares and Lamar Patterson have remained in town for workouts.

Nearly all year round, area youth from second grade through high school have taken part in camps, clinics and club teams with the goal of improving their abilities in basketball and several other sports.

You can find them all at The Skill Factory.

In only three years, The Skill Factory has grown from an organization aimed at continued development of youth to one that attracts elite talent. The goal, according to its management, is the same at each level. It’s all about skill development. An 8-year old may need to learn to dribble with his left hand. Dahntay Jones wants to return to the NBA. Schroder works to improve his shooting range. They are all treated the same.

Founder Josh Burr was working as the assistant athletic director at The Galloway School with an eye toward the future. His idea was to give his students a chance to stay together after a season. It also was a chance to lay the groundwork for his future as an athletic director, a position he currently holds at the school.

“I wanted to offer a positive athletic experience for those athletes interested in improving their skills in the sport of their choice,” Burr said. “Participating in sports taught me so much about the game of life, and I wanted to give our youth the opportunity to learn those same life lessons.”

Less than a year later, he was joined by Doug Coombs. The father of a Galloway student, Coombs wanted to lend his corporate knowledge to grow the idea. He assumed the role of general manager, and the operation continued to run camps in basketball, volleyball and soccer and training in lacrosse, golf and track.

Just over a year ago, Jeremiah Boswell joined as the director of basketball. Burr and Boswell had known each other from their days of playing AAU basketball in Georgia. They later played on the same recreational team, where a friendship was formed.

Boswell played collegiately at Columbia. He interned at the NBA offices and worked for the league following graduation. The full-time gig lasted a year and a half when the lure of the game became too much. He had some tryouts with the Hawks, but would play overseas for seven years.

During the offseason, he would return to work for the NBA in such programs as Basketball Without Borders. When it was time to settle down, thanks in part to a knee injury, he connected with Burr and brought an invaluable list of contacts.

When Harden wanted a place to work out, he contacted Boswell through an assistant coach with the Thunder. He has returned for more work. Other NBA players such as John Wall, Salim Stoudamire, Pero Antic, Ivan Johnson and Jamarrio Moon, in addition to several international players, have used The Skill Factory.

“There is great competition out here,” Schroder said after a recent workout. “It’s great to have this open gym, five-on-five. It’s better than just practice and workouts. It’s good when you play against bodies and you can feel the game.”

The elite program also includes players who were eligible for the draft and those trying to land NBA tryouts or international contracts. Millsap’s brothers, Elijah and Abraham, have taken part. Elijah went to summer league with the Hawks last season and will go with the 76ers this year. Abraham will go to summer league with the Hawks.

“It’s teaching people how to play basketball — basketball movement, footwork, basketball IQ, and all the detailed elements that help athletes continue to evolve and grow as basketball players,” Boswell said.

The Skill Factory does not have a permanent home, but rents gym time at locations inside the perimeter to conduct their various programs.

During pro/elite scrimmages, referees are used for added structure. It gives players real game conditions. It gives officials a chance to improve their resumes. Many work high school, college, WNBA and NBA Development League games.

Internships are provided for students. Students such as Kennesaw State’s Chris Echevarria help players in conditioning drills as he works toward a degree.

The relationship with the Hawks has gone beyond a place for its players to work out and develop. The Skill Factory has joined to become part of the team’s summer program.

“The variety of talents that each of us contributes is a big reason for our success,” Coombs said. “We are all passionate about delivering results. The main thing is for players to work in a great practice environment where the focus is on improvement.”