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June 22, 2018

Trainer Drew Hanlen dishes on Markelle Fultz's new jumper, prior case of 'the yips'

If you're the sort of person who spends entirely too much time watching clips of professional basketball players working out on Instagram — guilty as charged — you're no doubt familiar with the name Drew Hanlen. The St. Louis native has worked with a number of notable NBA players during his rise to prominence, including Bradley Beal, Jayson Tatum, and Philadelphia's own Joel Embiid.

He has another star pupil this summer, and one that Sixers fans are waiting for any morsel of news on. Markelle Fultz's disappearing jumper was one of the most perplexing stories of last season (and really in recent NBA memory), and the degree of the problem cast Fultz's future in Philadelphia into serious doubt.

On Fultz's end, all we've really seen from these workouts with Hanlen are a series of dunks and athleticism highlights, which are fun to watch but don't really get to the root of what people are interested in.

Thankfully, the guy on the other side of the equation decided to throw everyone a bone on Friday. During an appearance on the Talking Schmidt Podcast — which claims to be about "the best stories and sports takes from Columbia to St. Louis and beyond" — Hanlen went in depth on the problems facing Fultz, and he put a name on the problem many people have discussed for months: "the yips."

With Markelle, obviously he has one of the most documented cases of kind of the YIPS of basketball in recent years, where he completely forgot how to shoot and had multiple hitches in his shot. So for me it was, hey listen, how can I get this kid that was No. 1 in last year’s draft back rolling and get him to the point where he was before, if not better?

We’ve been working hard every day, working on rewiring his body and getting a kind of smooth stroke back into his shot. We’re way ahead of pace where I thought we were going to be, I thought it was going to take me at least six weeks before we had kind of a serviceable jump shot, and we’re already starting to shoot with a jump in week two.

It’s not perfect yet, but I think by the end of the summer it will be perfect, he’ll be back rolling and he’ll show people why he was the No. 1 pick. Even though I still give him trouble on a daily basis and tell him and remind him I still believe Jayson Tatum was the best player in that draft.

A few things of note here:

• This is the first person that could loosely be defined as "inner circle" with Fultz to put the yips designation on the problem publicly. Plenty of people have danced around it, but that's a pretty strong stance out of the gate.

• If Hanlen is to be taken at face value, Fultz sounds like he's well ahead of schedule compared to where many people thought he might be at this juncture. Keep in mind that Hanlen is essentially a salesman and wants people to care about and buy his product, but it would not serve him well to offer false bravado and have Fultz fail in the aftermath of his claims.

• For those of you who don't want to actually listen to the podcast, the Tatum claim is clearly a good-natured ribbing with his pupil, even if Hanlen does have a ton invested in the Boston forward's success.

Moving past my notes and back to the interview, Hanlen was asked about what the conversation was like between he and Fultz that prompted their work together, and whether Fultz came to him in search of a complete reconstruction or smaller pointers. Hanlen wouldn't divulge everything, but his answer was revealing.

Some of these conversations are private, the only thing I can say is I knew him because of Joel, obviously I spent a lot of time in Philadelphia working with Joel. Basically what I told him is me being me, I said hey Markelle listen, you’re going to make me really famous, and you’re going to make me a lot of money when I fix your shot and can sell your program. And the good news is, I can’t go down because it can’t get worse.

So I said give me a chance, let me help you get back to where you are, and he kind of laughed and chuckled and I said let’s do this. For two reasons: one I want to get you back rolling, I want to get you back kind of loving basketball and finding success, and two I want to arrogantly be able to tell everybody yeah that’s me right there, I fixed it.

We took kind of a funny approach to get rolling, but we’ve been working hard every single day, spend a couple hours in the gym, and so far the program is going well and he’s finding some success with his new shooting motion.

The open ribbing of Fultz combined with Hanlen's comfort dishing on all this seems like a positive from afar, but whether this ends up paying off is anyone's guess at this point.

In related business, Sixers head coach Brett Brown offered a few stray thoughts on Fultz during a gathering with reporters on Friday afternoon, and the coach shared that he'd be returning to Los Angeles to see all three of Fultz, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons this upcoming weekend.

Asked about Fultz's progress and the possibility of him playing in Summer League, Brown spoke as though it was unlikely to happen for last year's No. 1 overall pick.

His development of his shot is looking great. The progress of his shot is looking great. His body, we all see him like with his shoulders and his arms and his wingspan...He's not doing much playing right now, the effort has been his's back to foundational-type stuff. And to like expedite that worries me a little bit as it relates to Summer League. It does. He's in a good place.

There's a timeline on that, where you're going to have to start doing some things skill wise, handle and playing and all that, but I think when you look at what's most important, what thing needs the most work, it's [the shot]. And I don't really want to pivot out of that if we think it's going to hurt a very like, elementary way we're going about reclaiming his shot.

It sounds like there will be a long summer of shooting ahead for Fultz, and maybe that's the best thing for him. All that ultimately matters in the end is whether he emerges on the other side with a jumper, regardless of the cause of his struggles or his reported progress a few weeks into working with Hanlen.

And with Zhaire Smith now in the fold for Philadelphia, suddenly that jumper becomes more important than ever for Fultz.

Listen to the full podcast episode, here.

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