The older I get the more I appreciate the quality of toughness in a player. let me give you an example of a player who is tough both mentally and physically. last year, in Utah, a player signed with the Jazz as an undrafted free agent out of Marquette University. Wesley Matthews was a very good college player but had a few knocks against him. He wasn’t a great shooter or a great athlete. In NBA terms guys like Wesley Matthews are a dime a dozen so no team thought it was worth the chance to draft him.
When Matthews showed up in Utah he immediately became a fan favorite because of something that doesn’t always show up on a stat sheet or when you are measuring someone. He became a fan favorite and coach favorite because of his toughness. By mid-season, this undrafted free agent was starting for the Jazz and guarding the top players of the league each night. He was rewarded this off-season with a multi-million dollar contract with the Portland Trailblazers.
What do I mean when I talk about toughness? It is something that you just see on the floor. you can tell when a player has it and you can tell when a player doesn’t have it. Kobe Bryant is tough. He plays tough, plays through pain and you don’t rattle him. Rajon Rondo is a horrible shooter but a tough player. John Stockton had a toughness that separated him from other point guards that were a lot more talented.
When I watch for this trait I usually look on the defensive end and in the little things on offense. on defense I’m watching for how a player defends someone. does he get up on him or does he back down on the first jab step. When I appreciated Wes Matthew’s toughness it was when he was guarding Kobe. He got right on top of him, was physical and just battled. When Kobe scored, Matthews got right back up and guarded him as tough or tougher next time. That’s what basketball toughness is about.
Coaches absolutely love this trait because it is what creates winning teams. Every team needs that player who is willing to stick his nose into the hornet’s nest and make things happen. Every coach wants a player not afraid to set a tough pick or guard the opposing team’s best player. When the chips are down and the team needs the ball back who will get it? In football, toughness is what gets players to the pros, but in basketball it is what keeps some guys in the league. Reggie Evans is one of the best rebounders in the league but he couldn’t average 10 points in a city rec game. He will fight you every step of the way and he knows his role well.
At the high school level and college level the players who show toughness will get time on the court and are often the difference between winning and losing programs. It is something that can be developed if you don’t think you have it. Watch games and try to pick out the player who shows the trait and copy him.