The list of people who’ve spent a sliver of their summer working with Hakeem Olajuwon—arguably the most fluid low-post player to ever lace up a pair of kicks—is quite long.
Macaulay Culkin. Don Cheadle.
Just seeing if you’re alive.
Anyway, according to RealGM.com, Jonas Valanciunas—the third-year forward who enjoyed a breakout season with the rejuvenated Toronto Raptors—is slated to put his burly frame through The Dream’s savvy-smooth regimen this summer.
JV says he has plans to workout with Hakeem Olajuwon this summer - in additon to commitments with the Lith. national team & more. #Raptors— Eric Smith (@Eric__Smith) May 5, 2014
Most who’ve weathered Olajuwon’s big-man boot camp come away with nothing but positive things to say about the experience—not to mention a couple new tricks in the quiver.
Not everyone turns out to be a quick study, however, as evidenced by remarks made at the beginning of the 2013-14 season regarding one of his more polarizing students.
"The truth is that I can’t wait to get back to Houston to do more work with Dwight,” said Olajuwon, who's in Nigeria to help launch a basketball program for local youths, via Fran Blinebury of NBA.com. "I wish he was doing a better job."
I thought we were doing a good job with this when we were working together over the summer and at the start of training camp. But what I see now is that when Dwight gets in competition, he has a tendency to go back to all of his old habits. He’s just doing all of the things that he did before. He needs a reminder.
That “reminder,” it turns out, can be an expensive one, according to a September 2013 story by Grantland’s Brett Koremenos that took a somewhat skeptical look at Olajuwon’s lucrative side gig.
Still, it’s hard to find tangible evidence as to what exactly players receive when they (or their teams) fork over some serious cash — rumor says it’s anywhere from $15,000 a week to $100,000 a month — to learn the nuances operating in the post from an NBA legend. Simply put, being a transcendent player doesn’t automatically translate into being astute in all aspects surrounding the game.
At the same time, Valanciunas is exactly the kind of player you want working with Olajuwon: young enough for the tutorial to have a tangible impact, but skilled enough to understand the nuances of movement required to develop a truly effective low-post repertoire.
Following a stellar showing by Valanciunas in last year's Las Vegas Summer League, the expectations were for a monumental leap in his second year. It didn't quite turn out that way, but the Lithuanian center showed enough improvement to reinforce his All-Star potential—even if it winds up being a year deferred.
So long as he’s charging what he does for his (quite specialized) expertise, Olajuwon will likely never outrun accusations of selling basketball snake oil. But if you’re the Toronto Raptors—young, hungry, coming off a disappointing seven-game playoff loss and with one of the game’s best young bigs at your disposal—the potential reward is more than worth the risk.