What Is "Athleticism?"

  • What is “athleticism?”

    You would think I should know that answer. Sometimes I think I know. Often times, I don’t think I know and I don’t think we all think of athleticism in the same way.

    This subject came to mind this morning after I read this link -


    The statement that caught me… “It’s worth pointing out, however, Cunliffe may have unseated Lagerald Vick as the best athlete on the team.” This statement is linked to the following video:

    Wow! Sam has some moves!

    As pertaining to basketball… is “athleticism” only relative to vertical leaping height and foot speed?

    Based on those two areas, is Sam “more athletic” than Lagerald?

    What I experienced from the video footage related more to basketball skill levels… mostly ball handling.

    How relative is basketball skill levels in determining a player’s athleticism?

    So if a player is a dead-eye shooter from trey… does that factor feed into his perceived athleticism level? If so… wouldn’t a player’s ability to shoot free throws also be a part of that? I think most of us experienced Wilt and tagged him as being “freakishly athletic” even though Wilt couldn’t shoot free throws worth a darn! So… players can have big weaknesses in their games and still be defined as being uber athletic?

    This thread may seem naive to many. I get that. But I wonder how we all define athleticism. It seems like it would do us all some good if we can come up with a unified definition if for no other purpose than preventing arguments based on comparing apples to oranges.

  • Personally, I’ve always thought of “athleticism” as God-given ability. The more speed, strength, stamina, agility, etc. that one possesses, the higher the level of athleticism. That doesn’t guarantee success or suggest there aren’t areas of weakness. It just means someone has all the natural tools to become elite. There are plenty of examples of freakishly athletic individuals who simply didn’t have the work ethic, the motivation or the smarts to succeed. But that’s an entirely different topic.

  • @tis4tim I agree

  • @tis4tim

    Interesting post.

    Not sure I totally understand “God-given abilities?”

    I think Hudy does a great job of setting up our guys to get in better condition. And the results are often speed, strength and stamina. Isn’t a big chunk of that just based on hard work instead of God-given ability? I do think you can take two players and put them through the exact same workout regiment from Hudy and the results will be different between the two.

    Genetics must be a consideration in all of this… and I’m willing to label genetics with “God-given” as a person of faith. Everyone has their own unique genetic code. A high percentage of fast-twitch muscle seems to help athleticism when relating to playing basketball. If we are talking about long distance running… it might be best to have more slow-twitch muscle and a higher lung capacity.

    As far as an overall connection between “athleticism” and “God-given abilities”… I’m just not sure. I’m pretty sure we can go back over the years of Kansas basketball and we can pull out players that can show remarkable athleticism without having to work excessively at it while others had to work extremely hard for every inch of athleticism. The point is… we’ve always had a mix of both kinds of players. I’m not saying we’ve had gifted athletes that were lazy. I’m just saying we’ve had some gifted athletes that would still be gifted athletes even if they didn’t work hard playing ball every single day.

  • I’m thinking “athleticism” may best be defined as a description only to be used in context to a general comparison against the masses of other players.

    Beyond that… this topic becomes foggy in short fashion. For example… we can state that stamina is an aspect of athleticism. The more stamina a player is, the more athletic. Perhaps? Yet… doesn’t basketball IQ play a role in a player’s stamina? Don’t smart players know where to shave exertion without losing competitiveness in order to maintain a higher energy level?

    In order for us to grade athleticism, we must experience it. Players like Lagerald are tagged with great athleticism after we see him perform in motion. There is so much involved in his performance, including self-esteem. We have witnessed his performance improvements each year as he gains more confidence.

    I think most of us are willing to say that Jeff Withey improved his athleticism over his stay in Lawrence. His conditioning increased; stronger, thicker body, improved stamina. But would we have really recognized Jeff’s improved athleticism if he hadn’t also improved his timing and technique for blocking shots? Once Jeff started blocking more shots, everyone started mentioning Hudy and her great skills. No doubt… she helped thicken and strengthen Jeff, so he could fight harder in the paint for position. I doubt any of this would have been recognized without Jeff increasing his basketball IQ relating to technique and timing.

  • @drgnslayr god given talent means most high level athletes could work like crazy and still not be where Wigs and JJ are athletically. It means being able to out run, jump, finesse and be faster without having to work as much. I had the highest vertical jump on my high school basketball team and I wore ankle weights for years building up to that. The guy that was second wasn’t a lifter or really a guy that worked out a ton. He just had natural given talent, the same kid who had no muscle tone and was a joke in weight room was the QB at my school and could throw the ball football 50 plus yards on a 120 lbs frame and biceps the size of my forearms. You can’t teach surtain stuff, a coach can make you faster but a good coach won’t make you as fast as Tyrek Hill.

  • I see it in really 3 categories of players in all sports.

    • Motor Skills: How coordinated are you. E.I. Dribbling and shooting

    • Athleticism: Jumping, running, lateral quickness, flexibility

    • Build: Arm length, Weight, height.\

    Takes all 3 to be amazing. Takes 2 to be good. Takes 1 to be able to play the game.

  • It would be great if we could define and bring together all the key elements to the game. Put it in a list, in a graph, and develop a perceived grading of our guys. Point to each player’s strengths and weaknesses. I know I always whine the most about players lacking many learned skills… like how to seal the boards, all the levels of hedging and knowing and using all the different fakes.

  • Athleticism is running, jumping, quickness, agility, strength.

    However, there’s also a term in the scouting world referring to “usable athleticism” or “in-game athleticism.” Some guys are workout warriors that can lift and jump and run and everything in the gym, but get them on the court and they can only tap into 70% of that.

    For instance, did you know that Reggie Jackson, PG for the Detroit Pistons, when he was with the OKC Thunder, had a higher vertical leap than Russell Westbrook? Most people are shocked to find that out. But Westbrook can tap into all of his speed, strength, agility, leaping ability, etc. on the floor and use that for basketball skills. Jackson cannot. So while Jackson may technically be more athletic, in game, he can’t touch Westbrook’s athleticism.

    The same may be the case for Cunliffe (I need to watch him play). He has a lot of physical skills, but can he tap into all of that while playing basketball? That’s a question that still has to be answered. We know Vick can tap into his athleticism on the court.

  • Good question on Cunliffe. He seems like the guy on the short end of minutes. Garrett looks a decent bit better in my opinion. Really like what I saw with Garrett.

    Of course athleticism is nice, and at times can be overwhelming, but I generally want the skilled player first. Guys who are athletic and can’t control it are not long for this game, particularly when their peers are close to as athletic. Cunliffe might not be ready to be a player until next season.

  • @Kcmatt7

    You missed a very important one, perhaps even the most important…mental skills/acuity, sports/game IQ.

    I see HOF players such as John Stockton, Steve Nash and even Larry Bird that had the first category you mentioned but were average athletes with average build but whose knowledge/awareness of the game or what we commonly call basketball IQ made them superior players.

  • When we start talking athleticism, this is an image that just makes me smile. Makes me remember the days when shorts were short, when wrist bands were a fashion statement, when Converse all-stars ruled the day, and when the afro was an art form. I have nothing against Jerry West and Michael Jordan, but this should be the NBA’s logo. We can overlook the ABA on the jersey – pretty sweet, though. The doctor makin’ a house call.

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  • To me “athleticism” describes a person who could play ANY sport and be damn good. (Jordan, Thorpe, Chamberlain, Jim Brown, John Elway, Tony Gonzalez, Sanders… and a lot of our friends we all knew growing up who were pretty good at everything.

    Unfortunately now it means something else.

  • Athleticism and skills are two different things. There are great athletes that are terrible players and vice versa. Athleticism is a good way to determine if someone’s ceiling can be raised, but that’s by increasing their skills to match the athleticism.

    Vince Young is one of the most athletic freaks on the planet, but he lacks the decision making process to succeed in spite of overwhelming athleticism. I loved the John Stockton example- he was a perennial NBA allstar. So he’s an athlete of the highest caliber, but he was not very athletic. He was good due to incredible vision and ball handling skills. But that doesn’t make him athletic, just a wonderful player.

    Embiid is a rare, great combination of both. His extreme athleticism allows him to execute new moves nearly flawlessly. One of his extreme basketball skills is to be a sponge able to absorb and replicate moves he has studied for relatively short periods of time. Due to his amazing athleticism he is able to replicate any move tried before him…when will he start dropping new mind bending moves???

    Another great athlete was Kenny Gregory, but he lacked the skills needed to be successful at the next level.

  • @JayHawkFanToo

    Funny you mention Larry Bird because I was thinking about him while starting this thread.

    I was fortunate enough to see Bird play many times, including at courtside. I was amazed by his play and all I can do to describe his athleticism is to say it was “Bird’s athleticism.”

    Years after that, I had kind of an argument with a former NBA player who told me that Bird was “extremely athletic.” This was an argument I quickly lost.

    It definitely makes me judge athleticism while considering the player’s body. When thinking that way… Bird was an amazingly athletic! Man… I watched him create shooting space on some extremely gifted defenders. I know we can all say it was just technique and execution… but I still doubt many other players could do what Bird did because if they could have they would have.

    There is no way Bird did all of what he did strictly through technique. If that was the case, others would have countered with defensive technique to stop him and had the advantage with “athleticism.”

  • Skills are certainly a different category of thing than athleticism, but part of it is also being put in a position to achieve the maximum output.

    I think @dylans brought up a good example in Kenny Gregory. Gregory was not a good perimeter shooter. He was a career 32% shooter from three in college. Because he was also only an average ball handler, there was no way for him to tap into his athleticism at the NBA level because he wasn’t a good enough shooter to keep a defense honest to allow his quickness and explosive leaping ability to come to the forefront. He had tons of athletic gifts, but jumping high and being fast wasn’t enough because he was too poor a shooter to have an impact.

    Larry Bird was a tremendous athlete. He wasn’t the fastest player, but for a guy his size, he was pretty mobile (pre-back injury). His body control was second to none. Same for balance. Watch Bird coming off screens. His athletic ability to have the balance and body control to create shots in tight spaces is remarkable. Bird wasn’t Lebron as an athlete, but he was far more than an average athlete. Watch him going up against guys like Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman (elite NBA athletes by any measure). He more than holds his own against them, something that wouldn’t have happened if he were a poor athlete.

    John Stockton was another guy that, while not fast in straight line speed, had great quickness, hand eye coordination and balance. He wasn’t as athletic as some of today’s PGs (you can see that when he went toe to toe with guys like Gary Payton in the 90s), but he was not a poor athlete by any means.

    Let’s remember, almost anyone looks like a poor athlete compared to Lebron James (quite possibly the most athletic human being in history). It’s hard to look athletic next to Russell Westbrook or Blake Griffin or others because their athletic abilities are mind altering.

    We got a taste of that up close last year watching Josh Jackson. Having seen Jackson and Andrew Wiggins up close, I can tell you two things - 1. Wiggins is the slightly superior athlete - he’s faster, jumps higher, quicker, etc. 2. Jackson is likely going to be the better player because, for all of Wiggins flashy athleticism, Jackson has the better overall strength and body control.

    Some guys don’t have body contol. They can run fast and jump high, but they can’t change direction quickly, hold position when bumped off course, etc. Wiggins struggles with that. Jackson doesn’t. And that is the largest difference between the two of them. Two tremendous athletes, but one able to tap into more skills because he has better strength and body control (provided his shooting improves).

  • I’ve cringed for years as commentators have described Wisconsin as being not very athletic. They won’t be able to keep up with their opponents athleticism. A team that nearly won a title not being very athletic? I’m sorry to say, but there was some stereotyping going on there as commentators were making this statement based on skin color and the Badgers normally played as many if not more white kids as opposed to African American kids.

  • @wissox Big kudos to Bo for not cheating. Dude had a hell of a developmental program.

  • @justanotherfan I think JJ was the best freshman for KU since Wilt. Wigs is a close 2nd, though. I just love his intensity, and I think he’ll be quite a star in the NBA.

  • @wissox I want a cross between Wisky and Kentucky…a smart team that is athletic…

  • @KUSTEVE I didn’t think Freshmen were eligible to play during Wilt’s tenure? But any season he played was amazing at KU, the globe trotters, and the nba.

  • @dylans Correct no freshmen in Wilt’s time.

  • KUSTEVE said:

    @wissox I want a cross between Wisky and Kentucky…a smart team that is athletic…

    So put you in the camp of Wiscy isn’t athletic?

  • Thought these links were interesting reads on all of this -



    This was fun to watch and had good points -

  • Wisconsin was very athletic. Kaminsky, at 7-0, as mobile as most SF. Dekker, a pretty athletic wing guy. Now, none of these guys were blow the charts away athletic like a Wiggins or Jackson, but they weren’t slouches. Koenen was a pretty solid wing for them as well. Hayes wasn’t a high flyer, but he was a decent athlete, too.

    Wisconsin lacked an eye popping athlete, but they had a team full of above average athletes at the D1 level. You weren’t going to blow them off the floor the way you could some of the low and mid majors because of a lack of athleticism. Wisconsin could hold their own at the highest level. They just didn’t have that one or two guys that would drop your jaw with pure athleticism.

  • @wissox For a long time, “athletic” (or some other physical attribute) was used almost as a code for black athletes, while whites were “gritty” or “cerebral”. There are lots of interesting articles discussing racial code words, or the prominence of each type of word used by commentators over the years.

  • @justanotherfan I think anyone playing at a DI level is elite athletic. When I was a KU student in the 80’s our football team won about 2 games a year, which almost qualifies for the glory years of KU football! Anyways, those guys during the off season would play a lot of pick up basketball in Robinson Gym, as did I. We’d go shirts and skins. While I definitely was NOT athletic, the football players amazed me. They all looked like hercules. They’d beat everyone down the court, they’d dunk. I was out of my league in a game with too many football players.

    My point is, even the “worst” football players in the country were elite athletes. I’d say any team including Wisconsin is elite athletically.

  • Isn’t Wisconsin currently pretty bad and unathletic? I remembered that team that beat Kentucky as being sneaky good. Full of atheletic dudes, but not as spectacularly so as Kentucky. (Who was?) Too bad they didn’t win it all.

  • @wissox

    I agree. That’s why I qualified the statement with at the D1 level. Compared to the population at large, those guys are a whole different species. But compared to D1 athletes, they were above average.

    @dylans is right about the use of coded language. African American players are always portrayed as being physically skilled in part because it diminishes their smarts and work ethic, giving rise to a line of thinking that African Americans are unintelligent and lazy, despite the fact that LeBron James may be the smartest player ever, and both Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan were among the hardest workers in the history of the game.

    People say Bird and McHale weren’t athletic, but they kept up with Worthy and Johnson just fine. I’ve watched the old video. Bird and McHale were ridiculous. Same goes for Pistol Pete and Jerry West and many others. They were exceptional. Its just that, even in sports, sometimes its easy to fall back on stereotypes, even if that stereotype doesn’t fit.

  • @dylans Wisconsin has a streak going, while not as impressive as our conference title streak, is still impressive. No finishes worse than 4th in the Big1G since Bo became coach which was like 16 years ago. They have the longest current streak of getting to the sweet 16. Ethan Happ is appearing on preseason lists of 2nd team AA. I wouldn’t ever count them out! So bad and unathletic? Not UW.

  • wissox said:

    @justanotherfan I think anyone playing at a DI level is elite athletic.

    I can agree with that. I played ball for decades at a certain level. Then I jumped to some euroball and was pushed into condition that I never knew I had in me. I thought I knew training before… but obviously I didn’t.

    I always had a high vertical. But after being pushed, I brought it up another 3 inches or so. That is 3 extra inches of “athleticism.” God didn’t just grant that to me, I went out and fought for it.

    The level of ball I played is nothing compared to D1, especially at Kansas. I’m thinking our guys must work themselves into incredible condition. Their athleticism increases while at Kansas. I’m sure it works the same in other D1 programs.

    Back in my college days, I dated a track star. We would train together and she would have me jump on her back while she would do 100 calf raises with each leg on a stair stepper. That’s 210 lbs on her back!

    I don’t know about walk-ons… but I’m willing to say all D1 athletes are “elite” to some level. It just matters who you want to compare them to. I trained hard my whole life but not at their level of training. So in my comparison, all these athletes are elite!

  • @drgnslayr

    Cool - what team in Europe did you play for ?

  • Also where did you play college ball? Definitely pretty cool, didn’t know we had former players here. 👍

  • @Bosthawk

    My longest stint was with a small team in The Netherlands. At the second level. I think it matches up well in comparison to a decent D2 team. This was back in the 90s. I was very well paid (lol). I’d often receive free transportation, hotels and meals!

    I’m sure there are others in here that have at least this level of competitive basketball in their past.

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