Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tallahassee's Escobar Adapting To Point At Elev8

Driven by a Godly way of life and plenty of older influences, Elev8 guard JT Escobar conducts himself with a maturity level beyond most 18-year-old student-athletes.

 Escobar understands the value of relentlessness, having routinely made the five-minute trek from his Tallahassee home to watch Florida State's long, daunting practices.

Training with former Florida State guard Adrien Crawford, who doubles as his life coach, Escobar has devoured a wealth of knowledge both on and off the floor.

He considers Crawford a brotherly presence and credits him for instilling balance and perspective into his life.

Crawford, a captain during the Steve Robinson era at FSU and currently a pastor, has nurtured Escobar's development since he was 10.

When Escobar started to thrive as a hard-driving, score-first underclassmen guard, Crawford began applying unique new methods to cultivate his prodigious young talent.

 He would frequently take him to work out with program greats such as Al Thornton, demanding Thornton not take the 6-foot-2 180-pound guard lightly in drills.

Escobar's beyond his years acumen continued to grow, as he jumped into pickup runs against former hot-shooting FSU guard Micheal Snaer and Ian Miller, a freakishly athletic point guard with a knack for attacking the rim.

"Since I've been in middle school I've been playing against (Florida State) guys," Escobar said.

"Adrien would take me to watch them practice and show me how hard they practice. Being exposed to that was great because I always knew I wanted to play in college."

Escobar's inconsistent 3-point shooting during his freshman year forced him to tear into the driving lanes more and slash a habit of settling.

Becoming more crafty off the dribble, Escobar's scoring engine blossomed.

Constantly in full throttle attack mode, Escobar shot 10 free throws per game while averaging 30 points at FAMU High.

 That 3-point shot became more dependable, as he morphed into one of the state's most explosive scoring threats.

His pull-up game and penchant for left handed floaters expanded his scoring package, as he eclipsed 2,000 career points.

Back to the future.

At Elev8, Escobar is not only the engineer of Chad Meyers' offense, he's a vocal presence on which the team feeds.

The 18-year-old post-grad is understanding the value of time management in sun-soaked Delray Beach, Fla., a barometer for life on the next level.

Though he's roughly two miles from the ocean and there are distractions abound, Escobar's focus has not faltered.

"It's awesome but it's also a sacrifice," said Escobar, an Ole Miss-commit bordered by an assortment of Division-I talent such as wing Kobe Eubanks, high-riser Jamaal Gregory, and man-child Rhode Island-commit LeRoy Butts.

"You're in the middle of paradise. People are asking me what I'm doing and how I'm spending my time, but you really don't have much time. You have to be smart with your time and spend it training. We're always ready to go. In the afternoons my teammates and I will lift and get shots up. We're only here for a certain amount of time. We have to take advantage of the tools and coaches we have here. I can't imagine myself being anywhere else in the country."

Among those coaches is NBA skill development guru Ganon Baker.

 One of the more well known basketball DVD personalities around, Baker's personal skill factory focus has helped mold Escobar into more of a creator.

 Those thirty minutes to an hour of practice devoted to skill work and dissecting different reads, Escobar says, has enhanced his basketball IQ.

"I've just learned to play the point primarily," said Escobar.

 "I know the spots where everyone feels comfortable. My job is to get them involved. Our goal from Day 1 is to win a national championship. It's a day-to-day commitment. You have to practice every day like you're playing the national championship that day."

The transition to sun-baked South Florida has allowed for Escobar to work with less weight on his shoulders.

 Having seized a monstrous green light the past two seasons, Escobar has adapted to taking less shots and putting more energy into spacing, timing, and understanding areas of the floor where his teammates operate best.

Though he's still capable of a 40+ explosion should he catch the hot hand, Escobar isn't required to average 35+ each tournament or account for 65-70 percent of his team's offense. Those gaudy numbers and weighty offensive burden rendered Escobar  a schoolboy prodigy on the other side of the state.

His top priority now, Escobar said, is sustaining the defensive aggression through two full halves of basketball.

"A lot of times we'll play great defense and then we'll just stop," Escobar said. "We like to play full court and uptempo. When you do that you have to make sure you don't gamble too much defensively."

It's certainly not a gamble Elev8 can afford.

With a 15-2 record, Escobar and teammates are cognizant that there's a price tag on their head.

 Escobar grew up enamored with the perennial mystique and national prominence of Oak Hill Academy (Va.), the basketball breeding house which has churned out the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Josh Smith, and Rajon Rondo.

And so a signature victory over Oak Hill last month has bolstered his team's confidence to a higher plateau.

"The biggest thing the Oak Hill game did for us is allowed us to see that we can really play with anyone. If we can play like we're supposed to play, we can beat everyone in the country."

Though Escobar envisions playing uptempo at Ole Miss, Crawford has helped him shred out of control tendencies.

Trading the adrenaline for know-how has helped pave Escobar's metamorphosis into a suddenly pass-happy guard.

One aspect Crawford constantly emphasized, Escobar recalls, was sidestepping lackluster competition and plying his trade on a grander scale.

Now a role player in a sea of mid to high-major talent, Escobar said the experience has prepared him for the grind next season.

"It's different from being a primary scorer to becoming a secondary scorer," said Escobar.

"It's definitely a different atmosphere and great for preparation, because the higher levels you go everyone is just going to keep getting better and better."