If you take those Dr. Dre headphones off for a minute, you can hear another soundtrack of the streets emitting from behind a steel door leading to the gym entrance of August Martin High School in South Jamaica Queens, New York. Late into the evenings after school and all day and into the night on the weekends, the thumping of basketballs pounding the hardwood and the fast-paced shrieks of rubber soles kissing the freshly waxed floors serves as a warning to the basketball world: Team Footprintz is putting in work.
Team Footprintz is a rapidly growing skills factory founded by two basketball-crazed cats with a mutual affection for teaching, training and molding effective basketball players.
Former UConn star point guard Taliek Brown, who led the Huskies to their second of four national titles in ‘04 and Mark Williams, a former streetballer and current high school basketball coach, have transformed a modest training operation into the hottest ticket in whatever basketball town they’re in.
When Team Footprintz is in the building, they show love to the world’s greatest players and the worst. It’s all about getting nice wit’ it on the court, in a place where the instructors know you and improvement is almost immediate.
“We don’t consider ourselves trainers,” said Williams, the company's Executive Director and outspoken, business-minded half of the combo. “We’re skills enhancers. 'Trainer' has a negative connotation to us to some extent. You know… they lump us in with someone who works at Bally’s fitness. You know the word trainer is very broad. We’re ‘basketball skill enhancers.’ We want to work on all the fundamental skills necessary to excel in a game; dribbling, passing, shooting, quick moves to the cup. We’re not going to have kids doing 20 sprints up and down the gym. We don’t do that.”
The formula has been working and picking up steam. With an elite team of skills trainers including Brown, Chris Harris and Chad Williams, Team Footprintz is becoming one of “the country’s premier elite basketball training companies," recently expanding into the burgeoning Asian market.
The Shadow League sat down seperately with both “skill enhancers” and their overseas connect Marcus Douthit and kicked it. We wanted to know how word on the streets, solid work ethic and a unique, focused approach has taken them international in such a short time.
In Part I of this Three-Part interview, I speak with NYC legend, Lefrak City’s own Taliek Brown.
How did you and Mark hook up?
I always worked out with Mark in the offseason just to stay in shape and I always had access to this gym here at August Martin and I would meet up with Mark here. As time went on I started bringing a couple of high school kids from my neighborhood to come work out with us.
We started getting better and working on our drills, improving. Things just started spreading. The name just started getting out there to different parents and different people, so more kids started coming. Little kids started coming, girls. Now we are just trying to make Team Footprintz a big name, and keep it going.
What year did you actually make Team Footprintz an official business ?
In 2011. I finished playing professionally about two years ago and I went back to school because I had to finish up my last class to graduate. I did that and then just came here and we started pushing the whole skills enhancement concept more and more.
When I was at UConn and when I was overseas I always used to come back and we always had kids in the gym. We always had the name and we were always working kids out but we truly embraced the business aspect of the entire operation this year.
What do you hope to accomplish?
It just gives me that happiness to see the kids developing everyday and you can see them improving. It’s like night and day and that’s what really excites me. Just teaching and immediately seeing improvement in every kid. Teaching them new moves, different skill sets to work on their game and just trying to get them to the next level.
Because at that next level it’s all about your team, so coaches bring you in to make the team better and you really are just a piece to a puzzle. They don’t really try to improve your skill set and get you ready for the next level by telling you what moves to execute in what situations, what to do off a pick –n-roll, or how to attack certain things. So that’s what we do here at Team Footprintz. We really get into the individual with our coaching.
When I left UConn we really didn’t have any basketballs or nothing. I stole two balls from UConn and took a pad from there and we left. So we started with two basketballs and a pad… (laughter). Today we have 50 basketballs so you know, we just keep improving and spreading the love anywhere we can.
You guys work well together. Explain your individual roles.
Mark is the behind the scenes guy. He gets all of the workouts together, coordinates times and has everybody on the same track. However, he knows how to do the workouts too. He can work you out and put you through a whole bunch of different drills and show you different aspects to improving your game.
Me, I’m just the drills guy. I do all the drills. I like working everybody out. I got the handle and I teach everybody different moves, different dribbling moves to get to the basket. So that’s my whole thing.
Tell us about your trip to Asia?
I knew a guy named Marcus Douthit who played at Providence. UConn used to always play them. I knew him from the Big East scene. He was just in my era so we used to go to all of these camps together when we were younger. So basically he flew us out to Asia the first time to train him. He was playing with the Philippines national team, and he wanted to get in shape and get ready for the National Games. He just connected us with different people out there and we just started working out with different players and different teams. Now we have a whole little following over there and we’re just trying to continue to expand our brand internationally and within the U.S.
We’ve been over there three times in a row. The first two times we were right before the National Teams’ games were about to start last August, so we were in the gym twice a day for two weeks. This time in April, we were only there for a week so we just trained for like four days, for four hours a day, two-a-days too. Then we just went to the island to hang out and just get a little vacation. We ran into a lot of people. Met a lot of people and did an interview with Slam (Philippines), so everything is starting to work out. People are really hearing about us now through word of mouth and seeing what’s going on. They see that we know what we’re doing, so everything is going good right now. I can’t complain.
What are your best offerings as an instructor?
Just knowing the game. My IQ for the game. I’ve played in so many games and big games. I’ve played in different countries. I’ve played by myself and with my friends. I’m just used to this basketball life in general. I’ve traveled the world and I’ve done everything there is. Mostly I love executing and teaching different moves really. Nothing excites me more than teaching different players how to do different things during different situations.
What was it like going to Texas to support the Huskies surprising run to a National c’hip?
That was an unbelievable experience. Nobody thought they were going to take it all. We already had a clinic scheduled down at the Final Four, so that was the whole purpose of us going down there. But UConn ended up advancing to the Final Four, so that just made the trip much better, you know?
We were in the mix of everything and down on the court. I was around all of my fellow alumni and people I went to school with and played with. All of the NBA players that went to UConn or are friends of the UConn family. It was just a great feeling to see everybody again. It just brought back a lot of good memories. Ironically, when we won it in 2004 it was in San Antonio, so we won both these championships in Texas. It was just great.
What made UConn, a small school in the middle of nowhere (Storrs, Conn.) into an attractive powerhouse? What makes a kid from the big city—the Q-Borough—go there?
Well, definitely the school winning changes everything and makes it a hot spot. A lot of great players came through the doors and it’s just a hard-working university. Everything is built on family and progress off and on the court. Coach (Jim) Calhoun taught me how to be a man. They teach you about life.They give you perspective on your future. That’s what we try to preach there at UConn.
The buzz is profound. Ballers respect your basketball gangsta and acumen. What’s the next step for Team Footprintz?
We are trying to go everywhere and takeover everything. We’re going to hit up other countries, states. Link up with different trainers and do different clinics. We work out all ages from preschool to NBA. We work out everybody and in total, generally between 200-250 kids that we work out during the week. We are just trying to connect with different organizations like we’ve done in the Philippines.
Name some of the cats you’ve recently worked out .
Wow, so many…Ben Gordon, who played for the Bulls and Bobcats and played with me at UConn. Another UConn kid, NCAA champ DeAndre Daniels. All-American, girl’s phenom Sierra Calhoun (Christ The King) who’s going to Duke. NBA’s Jimmer Fredette. A lot of up-and-coming, young kids.
I’m not into name dropping, but we work out anybody who wants to be worked out. There’s no negativity or motive. We’re not trying to guide you to an AAU program or a certain school, or a certain coach to play with. We’re just trying to help your game grow and get better as an individual.