Here's what it's like to face Alabama football's Bryce Young one-on-one — in basketball
A couple hours before the workout began, Mike Teller got a text.
“Hey coach,” Bryce Young wrote. “I heard you have a battle group at 2:30. Think you got a spot for one more?”
Teller, a professional basketball skills trainer, laughed.
“Of course man,” Teller responded. “I think I can squeeze you in.”
“Awesome,” Alabama football’s quarterback replied. “Going to buy basketball shoes now.”
Then Young, back home in Pasadena, California, during spring break last month, quickly stopped at Dick’s Sporting Goods to get some shoes. He was going to not only make an appearance but participate in the live drills — which are also called battles — in the gym at Foothills Community Church as part of Teller's "The SecreTrainer" program.
Young, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, has visited before to see his former trainer and basketball coach, but this time he wanted to be part of the action.
Young might be known across the country for his football abilities, but he was once a basketball player. He first worked with Teller when he was 11. By the time he was 13, he was good enough to be the starting point guard for Teller’s 14U club team. Then at 15, Young stopped basketball and focused on football.
He hasn’t lost his ability to hoop, though.
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During two visits to Teller’s gym over spring break, Young displayed the same athleticism and deception that make him lethal on the football field. Meanwhile, he took the time to get to know younger players and mentor them.
One of those players was eighth-grader Cane Ortiz.
He wasn’t supposed to be there for the 2:30 p.m. workout on March 12. Ortiz had planned to attend his AAU team’s practice, but he was behind schedule. The session was more than an hour away, and he was going to miss a good chunk of it. Ortiz still wanted to get some work in, so he stopped by Teller’s gym, only about 10 minutes from his house.
Ortiz’s father, José, texted Teller to let him know his son wanted to attend.
“There might be a little surprise for you,” Teller said. “I think you picked a good day to come on in.”
Ortiz arrived about 20 minutes before the workout started. He was warming up when Young entered. Ortiz had met him before when Young came to visit, but he had never played against him in basketball.
“He shows up in the gym, like shoes, shorts and everything,” Ortiz said. “He’s fully ready to play basketball. And I was just amazed.”
Ortiz wanted a chance to guard him to see how he stacked up against the Heisman winner. Ortiz had to be careful what he wished for.
Ortiz said Young had a nasty pull-up jumper, was quick and had a strong first step.
“He did some stuff that I didn’t know anybody could do, handles wise,” Ortiz said. “It was pretty crazy.”
Young’s hesitation move proved the trickiest to defend. The quarterback would hit Ortiz with a "hesi," as he called it, or a pump fake, and Ortiz would bite before Young sped by him.
“He definitely understood what I was trying to guess at,” Ortiz said.
SEC defenders can relate.
Cy Orlovski, a high school sophomore who had a chance to face Young during the second visit, was able to stay somewhat in front of the quarterback when defending him. But when Young decided to pull up, there was nothing Orlovski could do.
“He’s a really good shooter,” Orlovski said. “His handles are pretty tight. He was really shifty.”
Orlovski immediately realized how well the quarterback could play basketball, too. The first one-on-one Young had, Orlovski was glad he got to watch it and not get burnt himself.
Young put the defender through a lot.
“(Young) dribbled between his legs, (hesitated), the kid jumped who was guarding him, then he drove, but then he pulled back,” Orlovski said. “The person who was guarding him had to figure his way back to him. (Young hesitated) again, the kid jumped again, and he kind of went in for the layup, and it was a really nice layup. He put a little flare on it.”
Young’s performance wasn’t dripping with ego, though.
If players blocked his shot or stole the ball, he would compliment them. When Ortiz’s shot was off, Young constantly encouraged him to keep shooting. Ortiz, who played both with and against Young, had a chance to pick his brain, too. The quarterback taught Ortiz how to set screens on different sides, among other lessons.
Young also made sure to ask each player questions. He took a genuine interest as he wanted to know how basketball and school were going.
“He was such a nice person,” Orlovski said. “He was just really chill.”
It’s an experience others who work with Teller are bummed to miss when they find out about it later on social media. Teller never broadcasts when Young will be there.
“I love that it’s some sanctuary for him that he can come and know there’s always going to be some love,” Teller said.
Some love, and some unexpecting youngsters who get to take on college football’s top player on the hardwood.
Contact Alabama reporter Nick Kelly: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly.