Under Review:
The Mental Handbook by Dre Baldwin
(49 pages, 2013, self-published e-book)

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True story: SLAM, a monthly basketball magazine, has an already months-old article on their website that lists America’s Top 10 basketball talents in the class of 2016. Class of 2016 doesn’t mean that’s when these players graduate college—that’s when they graduate high school.

Meaning there is already extensive research done about basketball players who are sophomores in high school, all of them equipped with a library of fan-created, meticulously edited highlight reels on YouTube, all of them armed with physiques cut out of a full-grown adult’s daydream. If these players don’t find themselves in the NBA in the fall of 2017, a few months after their prerequisite freshman year in college, it means something has gone terribly wrong.

So, ten-odd years ago in Eastern Pennsylvania, when Dre Baldwin didn’t even make his high school varsity team as a junior, the dream of playing professional basketball had been, for all intents and purposes, dead for years. There are thousands of high school basketball teams across America: only the most exclusive upper echelon of players on those teams continues to play in college, and only the most exclusive upper echelon of college players continues to play after graduation. The elite-of-the-elite get written up in SLAM and go on to the NBA, while most of that regular-elite will travel abroad, spanning the ends of the earth in search of a single precious open slot of basketball employment. Most countries ’round the globe have at least one professional basketball league, and the smaller franchises may or may not be organized enough to get the paychecks actually into the players’ hands every two weeks. Owner shenanigans notwithstanding, it is a real living wage, honestly earned, playing basketball and seeing the world.

The fact that Dre Baldwin vaulted from a scrub amongst his high school peers to a recipient of some of these real-live basketball paychecks approaches the miraculous.

Nothing about Baldwin’s professional career has been glamorous. During its apex, he was shuttling between cramped busses and sticky hotel rooms in distant corners of Montenegro, Lithuania, Mexico. The flotsam of video from his games abroad are shot from a grainy handheld. But make no mistake: these games are the summit atop a craggy and unforgiving mountain.

Fueled by a newfound maniacal work ethic throughout his college years, and then after college while working during the day at a Foot Locker, Baldwin sharpened his game in a self-imposed solitary confinement in the gym and weight room until he had made himself into a viable professional basketball player.

In his spare hours between practices, he’s also fashioned himself a social media—well, not quite an empire—but a rather large network nonetheless. DreAllDay is a one-man blog, YouTube channel, and e-publishing house that pumps out basketball tips from the technical to the inspirational on the daily. In addition to the HoopHandbook series (comprised of dozens of pamphlet-length titles like “Undersized Player Creating & Scoring #1” or “Left/Weak Hand”) Baldwin has put out three general self-help books over the last two years: Buy a Game, The Mirror of Motivation, and, hot of the press last month, The Mental Handbook.

Undeniably the heart of the DreAllDay operation is the YouTube channel. Any YouTube operation that consists of heavy uncut webcam footage, homemade T-shirts, and 3,500+ videos and counting would seem to be a vain and useless self-obsession. But this is not the case with DreAllDay: a few thousand people watch each of his quick, daily lessons and tutorials (“Weekly Motivation #172: Overdosing on Confidence”), and his most popular video, “How to NBA Crossover Step by Step Tutorial,” is creeping up on a million views. In most videos, Dre is either on the court—executing a certain move repeatedly, his voice-over narration painstakingly detailing the fulcrums and torques of the process—or in front of his computer, wearing a shirt or hat emblazoned with WOYG: Work On Your Game. It’s a catchphrase, motto, greeting, sign-off, way of being. Work On Your Game.

The overwhelmingly prolific pace with which Baldwin releases videos is actually the true beauty of the channel. As the videos have accumulated over the years, just about every conceivable topic the aspiring player would want to hear about can be searched for and found somewhere in the archives. A daily regimen of drills to improve your dribbling? Dre’s done that. Workouts that will build knee stability? Ways to deal with a coach you don’t get along with? Handling pre-game jitters? It’s all in there—a one-stop-shopping mentor always at the ready to answer any conceivable question from a fellow long-shot aspirant with a blunt but productive tough love.

The Mental Handbook leaves aside Baldwin’s technical tutorials in favor of delivering a series of pithy aphorisms about achieving the ideal mental mindset for playing basketball. At his peak, Baldwin leans towards the practically Buddhist:

When another person does or says something that hurts us it injures us twice—first from what they did/said and second, with the lingering thoughts in our minds of the situation. But understand that being great requires selfishness. Be selfish by forgetting stuff other people say or do so your mind can be occupied by more important matters.

It could be easy to decry this sort of attitude as exactly the sort of me-first cancer that is a leech sucking the life from locker rooms, driving the glory of a well-placed bounce-pass into extinction. But, for Baldwin and players like Baldwin, players who will only have a place in professional basketball if they fight for it, the teams they play for are fleeting constructions, banded and disbanded with great ease and little notice. At this somewhat bizarre level of basketball purgatory, maintenance and protection of the self is everything — the teams after all are paying, in effect, to reap the asset that is the product of the work that the player performed and honed entirely by themselves.

Steep yourself in Baldwin’s personal brand of self-positive visualization:

Picture yourself walking somewhere, and another person is coming from the other direction right towards you. As you get closer, this person looks familiar, and that’s because it’s you, five years from now. You observe the five-years-from-now You. How do you walk? How do you talk? What do you look like, how confident are you? What have you achieved? How do people perceive you? Where are you headed in life?

This is the practice of visualizing, and that visualizing I did back then, came to be. I like the feeling of “seeing” who and what I would become and I kept doing it—every day, every month, every year. Every single thing I have done and become since then, is the physical manifestation of a vision I created and “saw” myself becoming.

Shallow, you say? Naïvely focused on one-dimensional wishful thinking? Predictable in sentence structure and syntax?

Well what else do you need to hear? Dre Baldwin has focused harder on basketball than you’ve ever worked on anything in your life and here he is laying all his cards on the table for you. This stuff works, it worked for him, executives have purchased Dre Baldwin a ticket to Europe so he could go play basketball for their team; they did that because he did this, he lived this, hard, every day. What more do you need to read before you put the book down and Work On Your Game? Reading this book is probably just an excuse to avoid putting in the real work, the gritty work, the hundred consecutive free throws while focusing on keeping the shooting elbow from flaring outside the shoulder work. This book was written so you could forget the book. So you would put it down and go and Work On Your Game.