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Unconventional basketball training guru has lifted Gabe Madsen's game

Jan. 12—SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — With his throwback hippy tendencies, it's easy to picture Gabe Madsen making his way through a solo basketball workout minus shoes and socks.

That's how Madsen, who has a peace sign and a heart tattooed on his right thigh and hair flowing beyond his shoulders, does it. His bare feet are smacking on the hardwood gymnasium floor during these 20-minute shooting sessions.

This is the same Gabe Madsen who spent until mid-December of his freshman year at the University of Cincinnati getting around campus on a skateboard. And the same Gabe Madsen who abandoned that freshman year in late December and the Division I basketball scholarship that went with it in favor of a two-month road trip with fellow Rochester Mayo graduate and good friend Jake McCabe.

Madsen enjoys being his own drummer and he wasn't much enjoying the drumbeat of that Cincinnati basketball experience. So he moved on, he and McCabe loading up McCabe's car and then traveling the country, tenting it along the way.

That was then. Three years later, Madsen is now in a different place, figuratively and literally. And those bare-footed practice sessions, they're not just a hippy thing.

They have a purpose and they're devised and directed by that best friend of his, McCabe.

After their big trip, which took them all the way to Texas and then west before their return, Madsen put his name in the basketball transfer portal. He ended up choosing the University of Utah. And when he headed out to his new college home of Salt Lake City, McCabe went with him.

McCabe was there to work. He got himself a job as a pre-school teacher, and he also went to work on a developing passion of his — basketball training. His subject was Madsen and later a couple of Madsen's Utah teammates who'd become keen on his unconventional training approach.

It involves tapping into the body and the mind, and has Madsen doing such things as crawling on a floor, rock climbing and shooting sessions done while barefoot.

As for the latter, McCabe explains that barefoot shooting helps ground the athlete into the space that he is in and allows a player to use all of his energy, from the feet, up through the spine and into the hands during a shooter's follow through.

He admits it's a different approach, though it's one that Madsen swears by.

"Jake has a very creative mind and he's helped me get a better understanding of what works and what doesn't work," said Madsen, whose athleticism — including running and jumping — have grown immensely since high school.

Madsen's statistics are a nod to McCabe's work with him, which goes on all summer and early fall, and in the season is spliced in. That includes rock climbing together the morning of home games, just to get Madsen's mind right.

Madsen is in the midst of his best season ever, the 6-foot-6, 200-pound shooting guard averaging 14 points, 4 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game for the 11-4 Utes. Madsen has blistered offensively, shooting 50% from the field, including a rare 46% on 3-pointers.

Utah coaches initially scratched their heads over McCabe's training methods. But they've come around.

"The Utah coaches at first saw it as unorthodox and unnecessary," McCabe said. "But then they started to see the impact of what we do and how it impacted Gabe's success. A lot of it has to do with the mind/body connection. There are a lot of nuances in basketball and we talk about being a professional problem solver. The better you are at solving problems, the better you are at basketball.

"With Gabe, he's not thinking so much in a game because he's gone through all these random situations (in McCabe's workouts). He now has so many solutions to problems. If you see this, you do this."

McCabe has turned his basketball workouts into a science. He got his start by watching basketball training videos as a high schooler, then incorporated them into workouts he was conducting for middle-school and high school kids in Rochester.

He discerned what did and didn't work as he went, later began his work with Madsen and then this past summer took things to another level, working as an intern in Miami

at ByAnyMeansBasketball, run by 25-year-old training guru Coleman Ayers. McCabe had been studying Ayers' ideas for years via the internet.

"It was an amazing experience," said McCabe, who was surrounded there by basketball people from all around the world, and lived in an Airbnb during his stay, in charge of about 50 middle-school, high school and college kids who were attending the camp. "It really helped me develop my leadership and coaching skills, being with guys who'd been around the game a lot longer than me."

It also helped McCabe land a job. This spring, he'll be leaving Utah, moving to San Diego where he's agreed to work at one of Ayers' gyms.

McCabe will be its Director of Performance Movement. Expect to see some bare feet slapping the floor.