Drew Hanlen is a 25-year-old St. Louis native who has built a business training some of the best young basketball players in the country.
His enterprise had the most inconspicuous roots, but he has developed it into a company with 28 part-time employees and eight full-time employees. And he doesn’t even advertise. It’s all word of mouth.
And it started with an offer of $20 to coach a sixth-grader.
During a break from running a concession stand during a youth basketball tournament, Hanlen – then a junior in high school – was putting himself through a personal workout on an unused court in the gym.
A parent of one of the sixth-graders who were playing offered $20 per hour to “toughen up” his son by “kicking his butt.”
“He said, ‘My kid is soft and I wish he worked as hard as you do,'” Hanlen recalled. “Obviously, as a junior in high school, someone offering me money to be on a basketball court was a no-brainer.”
Hanlen eventually coached the boy’s team and helped Matt Baker go from a soft and overweight sixth-grader to a starting point guard on the Eureka (Mo.) High School varsity basketball team.
“Matt ended up trimming down a lot of weight and becoming a successful high school point guard,” Hanlen said. “He was undersized, but was one of the best ball handlers in the area.
“He was a guy who, had he not put in all the work he did, might have been cut from his JV team. Instead, he was not only able to play, but start on his high school basketball team.”
Baker was Hanlen’s first success story, but he soon added other St. Louis natives like Bradley Beal, David Lee, Anthony Booker and Cameron Biedscheid.
Beal, the two-time Missouri state player of the year, played one season at Florida before the Washington Wizards selected him with the third overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. Booker played at Iowa State while Biedscheid went to Notre Dame and then Missouri before winding up at Jacksonville State.
Lee, who also went to Florida before playing for the Golden State Warriors, is close with Beal and heard of Hanlen’s work so the two-time NBA All-Star reached out to Hanlen.
“Fortunately a lot of those guys found success, so other players around St. Louis sought out my services and I turned it into a full-time venture,” said Hanlen, who has three younger sisters – the oldest of whom, Ashley, played college basketball at Saint Louis University.
Hanlen’s company is Pure Sweat Basketball, which he runs out of a training center in Santa Barbara, Calif., while maintaining a residence in St. Louis and traveling to at least 50 NBA games per season to visit with his clients.
Hanlen has worked with at least one lottery pick in each of the last five NBA drafts and has another potential lottery pick in Kansas forward Kelly Oubre.
Hanlen also trains former Kansas star Andrew Wiggins, last year’s No. 1 overall pick and the NBA Rookie of the Year, and several of Wiggins’ Minnesota Timberwolves teammates in Zach LaVine and 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett. He also worked with T-Wolves swingman Shabazz Muhammad during his pre-draft training in 2013.
Following Oubre’s workout with the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday, Oubre gushed about Hanlen’s attention to detail.
“Drew is great, man,” Oubre told me. “How he breaks down film, it’s awesome. He has helped me so much to become a better player and he’s going to be in my life for a long time.”
Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson is impressed by Hanlen’s coaching technique and his ability to connect with his clients on a personal level.
“He’s helped me grow as a player and a point guard,” said Clarkson, who was an NBA all-rookie team selection this season. “He’s close to the same age as most of us and it’s easy for him to talk to us and get his point across.
“He’s so detailed. He’ll show us stuff on film and then take it to the court and show us exactly what we just saw on film.”
Hanlen is a film junkie and it’s the main component of his business. His film study began with tapes of Michael Jordan, Hanlen’s favorite player growing up. He watched what Jordan did and then tried to emulate that on the court. It’s also what he does with his clients. Day after day, game after game, he breaks down film and tries to point out areas in which they can improve.
“I’ve always been a guy who loves watching a game and then learning from it,” Hanlen said. “I never really had a trainer. It was just my parents pushing me to work hard.”
While his business was still blossoming, the 5-foot-11 Hanlen led Webster Groves to a Missouri state title in 2008, defeating a loaded Gateway Tech team along the way in the state quarterfinals.
Gateway had future Division I basketball players Jesse Perry (Arizona), Kenneth Harris (Evansville) and Derron Hobbs (Missouri State) on that team. Perry, Harris and Hobbs were all seniors, but Jets Pro Bowl defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was a junior at Gateway in 2008 and former Kansas running back Tony Pierson was a freshman playing varsity basketball.
But Hanlen was the best player on the court, scoring 34 points with nine rebounds and eight assists in his team’s 85-65 win.
“That was honestly the best game of my life,” Hanlen said of the March 2, 2008 game. “I think the greatest skill any player can have is helping his team win and, up until my senior year, we constantly fell short of reaching (state). For us to come together and, not only win the game, but dominate the game against a team that, on paper, was probably better than us, that was one of my better performances because we finally got over the hump. That was my third time in four years at (the state quarterfinals), but we got to state and were fortunate enough to win.”
From there it was onto Belmont, which Hanlen chose because of its strong entrepreneurship program, but his burgeoning basketball business nearly cost him his NCAA eligibility. Belmont coach Rick Byrd said Hanlen’s love of the game made it easier to deal with the headaches of NCAA compliance. Hanlen was actually ruled ineligible several times, but immediately reinstated, and never missed a game in four years.
“It has to be complex, or things can just totally open up and people can do whatever they want to do,” Byrd told me. “Every time something else comes along, you’ve got to write a new rule about it.”
Hanlen spent Memorial Day weekend working with Zach Lavine. That workout ended with the creation of a video of LaVine dunking footballs.
“I saw a video of a high school player who did a backflip and caught the ball with one hand and kind of called out Odell Beckham,” Hanlen explained. “It was going viral on Twitter.
“I said, ‘Hey Zach, you want to go viral?'”
Despite being exhausted from his workout, the 6-5 LaVine agreed to do a football dunking video – the first being a 360 dunk. Then they decided to “really have fun with it.”
For Hanlen, work is fun. It’s basketball and he loves it.