Zac Boster dove into some minutiae during a September workout with former Bulls player Chandler Hutchison.
Boster, a 2009 Huntley graduate and a basketball skills development coach, loves becoming immersed in the finer points of the game.
He literally lives for it.
In the workout with Hutchison, Boster explained how James Harden used his elbows to maintain driving angles, something he had picked up on while watching videos.
“I’m obsessed with figuring out the best way to do things on a basketball court,” Boster said. “When I was working on the (Harden) elbow stuff with Chandler, he was like, ‘I never thought about this.’ I said, ‘I hadn’t either. This is my first time teaching it. I just started noticing it a couple nights ago.’
“It’s fun, man. It’s an art, not a science. It’s being progressive in those methods and finding ways to do it.”
Boster was always a basketball junkie. Former Huntley coach Marty Manning calls him “one of the biggest gym rats I ever coached.” Boster was one of the area’s most dangerous shooters with the Red Raiders, a player who, given a split-second, would knock down a 3-pointer like it was a free throw.
Now, Boster shares much more than his knowledge of making shots. He has a growing list of high-level clientele in a burgeoning profession. Working with a basketball skills development coach has become a staple for many high school, college and aspiring professional players. Such coaches formulate workouts for players that focus on the smallest details to improve their games.
In the Chicago area, Boster is one of the names players seek out.
Rolling Meadows product Max Christie, who worked with Boster, is now with the Los Angeles Lakers. Justin Smith, a Stevenson graduate, who plays with the Delaware Blue Coats (Philadelphia’s G League affiliate), and Shaq Harrison, who is with the South Bay Lakers (the Los Angeles Lakers’ G League affiliate), were two players who worked out extensively this summer with Boster at Triton College.
Smith has worked with Boster for more than a year. He appreciates the attention to detail Boster brings to his players.
“It’s broken down. He’s very specific. He’s a student of the game,” Smith said. “He sends us videos of actions we’re going to implement in our next workout. It’s stuff we all do in games. It’s catered to each person’s game. What I do is going to be different from what Shaq does or Max. It’s predicated on how we impact the game.”
THE GROUND FLOOR
Boster twice won IHSA 3-Point Showdowns, once in Class 3A and once in 4A. He was a sharpshooter at the start of a string when Huntley won five regional titles in eight years.
Boster, who is 6-foot, went to Illinois State University with the idea of going into teaching and coaching. While in college, Boster did some managerial work for Redbird coach Tim Jankovich and his staff. He also worked out with the team as a practice player.
Basketball skills development coach was in its infancy and Boster got a taste.
“We had some good coaches who would get in the gym and work guys out,” Boster said. “It started to pique my interest. I really started working out with the team and I worked with a couple local high school guys while I was in college.”
One of those players was a 6-8 kid from Normal University High, just down the street from ISU, Keita Bates-Diop.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing,” Boster said. “I was stealing stuff from the ISU coaches. I kind of always knew that making shots was important. We focused a lot on shooting.
“Me and Keita would get in the gym two or three times a day. He had a lot of success, but he was already really good before I got with him. I just continued to learn as much about it as I could.”
Bates-Diop went on to play at Ohio State and became the 2018 Big Ten Conference Player of the Year and now plays with the San Antonio Spurs.
“If there was anybody who was suited for that job, that skills set, it’s definitely Zac,” Manning said. “He loves basketball. He loves working on his game. He was huge in skill developments for his own personal improvements. He took a lot of pride in that development and he found it to be really fun.
“Those (skills coaches) have learned what NBA guys think about and they tell that to their proteges. It’s a constant evolution of learning, that’s why I think that skill development has kind of taken off as a huge opportunity. Everyone’s looking to get a little bit better in their sport.”
LEARNING FROM THE BEST
Rich Czeslawski was Crystal Lake Central’s boys basketball coach for 13 seasons and now works as chief operating officer for Pure Sweat Basketball in Crystal Lake.
Czeslawski hired Boster to work with Pure Sweat after he graduated from ISU, which gave Boster a chance to learn from Drew Hanlen, one of the forefathers of basketball skills development, who trains many NBA stars.
Czeslawski says skills development coaching has really picked up in the last seven or eight years. He addressed what to look for in a development coach in a podcast about seven years ago.
“(Boster) probably checks a lot of those boxes,” Czeslawski said. “What kind of a reputation does that person have? Are they a high character person? Are they going to fill the gym with as many people as they can get or are they going to be teaching? Are they willing to work with your high school or travel coach?
“The good ones get more results and tend to check more of those boxes. Drew (Hanlen) was kind of the original guy to put the time in with those details. That’s why he has the All-Star clients he has now.”
Boster initially worked with Hanlen for a few months, training players before the NBA Draft. Now, Boster has about 19 professional players in the U.S. and overseas, as well as more than 20 college players. He also works with high school players. Rolling Meadows’ Cam Christie (Max’s brother) and St. Rita’s James Brown, two of the highest-rated players in Illinois, work with Boster.
“Drew taught him quite a bit,” Czeslawski said. “He worked the whole pre-draft, probably a two- or three-month deal. He spent several summers learning from Drew. That really helped him a great deal.
“You see a lot of trainers out there just trying to get ‘Likes’ on Instagram and they don’t actually have any results. The quality of a trainer is not who they get in the gym for one workout, it’s who they help achieve whatever goals they’re trying to achieve. That’s what you’re looking at when you look at a trainer.”
THE EARLY DAYS
Boster takes great pride in looking at the list of former Northwest Herald Players of the Year. Since Huntley’s Amanze Egekeze in 2014, almost every Player of the Year – Marengo’s Zach Knobloch (2015), Marian Central’s Adam Pischke (2016), Jacobs’ Cameron Krutwig (2017), Johnsburg’s Zach Toussaint (2018 and 2019), Cary-Grove’s Beau Frericks (2020) and Marengo’s Matthew Volkening (2021) – worked with him at some point.
Krutwig, who played professionally in the Philippines this fall and now plays in Japan, and Egekeze, who plays in Finland, were part of Boster’s workout group again last summer. Boster said the 3-on-3 games with them and players like Smith and Harrison, were something to behold.
“We always joke about how he’s pretty big now and guys from all over are coming to him,” Egekeze said. “I was kind of his first client. He was still learning about training and everything. Just to see his growth and guys from all over go to him. Guys in the city. It’s cool to see. He’s one of the best.”
Krutwig worked with Boster since he entered high school in 2014.
“Zac has grown and grown and grown and developed into a big name in the Chicago area,” Krutwig said. “Amanze and I were with him when he was starting out. He wasn’t charging us and he just wanted to get better. I’m really proud of him, where he’s come from and where he’s gone. He’s still growing.”
When Boster, who will coach as part of Triton’s staff this season, goes home at night, he often watches more videos.
“I learned a lot from Drew Hanlen early on,” Boster said. “I was fortunate to spend a good deal of time around Drew. I’ve stolen things from college coaches, some in the NBA. I’m a basketball nerd. A lot of how I learn is I watch tons of film. I watch 2-4 hours of film every day. Once these guys leave I’ll watch more than that.”
In the winter, he trains high school players on weekends. And he keeps tabs on what his players are doing, watching video of their games.
READY TO ROLL
Smith and Harrison, who played college basketball at Tulsa and has spent time with four NBA teams, including the Bulls, felt prepared for their upcoming season after working extensively with Boster over the summer at Triton.
In a late September workout, shortly before both were to leave the area, Smith was working on corner 3-pointers, then various drives to the basket. Harrison’s workout was a little different, although heavy on corner 3s. He also worked on running floaters in the lane.
“One of our main focuses this offseason was shooting from the corner,” Smith said. “In the NBA, there’s a couple of guys who are primarily going to be scorers. The superstars. They need guys who can make an open corner 3 and play defense. That’s kind of where my game is going toward to get an opportunity in the NBA. A lot of floaters, ball screens, rolling to the basket. Very player-specific.”
Prairie Ridge assistant coach Ryan Hartman, who works with Boster, rebounds shots and passes to Boster, who then instructs the players on what move to make and feeds them the ball.
“It is great. Everyone has a different style of working guys out and teaching,” said Harrison, a 6-foot-4 lefthanded shooter. “Zac is more technical. He works on the small, little details to make things better. That’s what I needed in my game. That’s what we’ve been working on. He pinpoints everything every day. Reps. We got results from it.”
Harrison was training with Luke Cooper in Los Angeles a few years ago and met Boster, who also worked with Cooper. Later, Harrison was picked up by the Bulls and reconnected with Boster.
Boster had Harrison shooting a high volume of 3s from the corners, sometimes more than 20 at a time. He would hit several in a row, but as he grew tired, he got frustrated when he missed a few.
Harrison stepped back and caught his breath, then came back to finish the workout hitting 13 of 15 3s from the left corner. Then, sweating and out of breath, he ran sprints for another 10 minutes.
“He’s an animal,” Hartman said.
Harrison averaged 19.6 points per game for the G-League’s Delaware Blue Coats, the 76ers affiliate, and hit 37% on 3s last season. It was a huge improvement from the previous year. Harrison said Boster overhauled his shot two years ago and it is now paying off.
“(Working with Boster) helps in a great way,” Harrison said. “The gym never hurt anybody. I’ve never heard of somebody getting worse by getting in the gym. But there’s also ways to have bad reps and Zac doesn’t allow that. If he sees you doing that he’s going to say something about it and correct. He’d rather you have five misses in the correct way than makes with the wrong way.”
BASKETBALL IS LIFE
Every offseason, Boster likes to “assign” himself a project. This year it will be more about driving angles and change of direction type of things, similar to what Boster brought up to Hutchison about Harden, one of the NBA’s best scorers.
Boster always wants to be on the cutting edge. He watches NBA games, Euro League games and college games that involve his clients. He is always studying, although he finds his homework more enjoyable than his early sociology classes at ISU.
It says a lot about Boster’s work and effort that he draws most of his players by word of mouth. He says that has done well so far and that he was busy over the summer with training.
“Up to this point, I’ve been able to spend some time with some really good players and some really good coaches and kind of develop my own philosophy,” Boster said. “Now, I’m confident in that. I always say you have to be stubborn in your goals, but progressive in your methods.
“I feel like I’m learning year by year and getting better myself. That’s a fun thing about it. It’s a continuous pursuit of excellence and just trying to help people. I’ve always loved helping people and seeing other players’ success is what drives me now.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle