How to do the Mikan Drill for Basketball

Written by: Chris Hungerford



Time to read 6 min

The Mikan Drill

Before he entered DePaul University in 1942, George Mikan was clumsy and shy but his 6-foot-10-inch frame caught the eye of the school's first-year basketball coach Ray Meyer. By the time he left DePaul in 1946, Mikan would become the most dominant basketball player in the world. He went on to a Hall of Fame career in professional basketball and left an indelible mark on it.

The Illinois native was such an influence on the game that he is the namesake of a drill used by virtually every basketball program in the world. The Mikan Drill develops a player's ability to finish at the rim with either hand. It's simple, in essence, but it can turn an average player into a very good one.

In the 1930s and '40s, basketball was not a tall man's game. It was often thought that extremely tall players were simply too clumsy to play such an athletic game. Mikan himself was an awkward 6-10 until he began to work with the 28-year-old Meyer. The workout was developed by Meyer to take advantage of his young star's size while also working on his footwork, ball skills, and shooting technique.

As the future Hall of Famer became the dominant player in college and, eventually, professional basketball, his workout became more popular. Players in all positions could find benefits from performing similar training. With more "big" men playing the game, these exercises became a staple for the position.

George Mikan

How to Perform the Mikan Drill

The drill is simple to complete and requires just a basketball and a hoop. To begin, follow these instructions.

  1. With the basketball, a player starts by facing the baseline underneath the basket either on the right or left side of the rim.
  2. If starting on the right side, the player performs a right-handed layup by jumping off of the left leg.
  3. As soon as the right-handed shot is complete, the player immediately rebounds the ball and proceeds to perform a left-handed version of the same shot on the left side of the basket.
  4. This sequence is repeated until 20 layups have been made, ideally 10 on the right side and 10 on the left side.

Coaches and athletes can perform this for any number of repetitions. It can also be performed for time. Set a clock for a prescribed time - one minute, for example - and continue performing until sinking as many layups as possible within the time frame.

Variations of the Mikan Drill

The beauty of the Mikan drill is that it can be altered in a number of ways to work on the same skills - footwork, hand-eye coordination, and shooting skills. The most common way to perform the workout is using the conventional layup form and completing each shot with the outside hand while jumping off of the inside foot.

Coaches and athletes can change the format of the shot and perform the exercise with four different one-leg finishes. There is the aforementioned inside foot, outside hand layup. Athletes can also complete the exercise by jumping off of the inside foot and using the inside hand. Two more variations complete the shot by jumping off of the outside foot. One uses the outside hand and the other uses the inside hand.

The ability to finish at the rim is a skill that is invaluable to coaches and their teams. Working on one-leg reverse finishes at the basket can be beneficial. Instead of starting by facing the baseline, start with the back facing the baseline. An athlete then completes a series of four one-leg reverse layup finishes. Once again, the player can jump off of the inside foot and finish the shot with the outside hand first and then the inside hand. The final two moves in the series will require the player to jump off of the outside foot and use the outside hand first and then the inside hand.

The exercise can also be completed using a two-foot finish. It's a strong finish at the basket and it can be practiced two ways. Just like jumping off of one leg, a player faces the baseline on one side of the hoop. They complete the shot using the outside hand first, rebound the ball, and complete the same shot on the other side of the hoop. The other version of the two-foot finish is performed by shooting with the inside hand.

The reverse version of the same shot can also be performed off of two feet. It begins underneath the hoop with the back to the baseline. It is completed first by shooting with the outside hand followed up by a finish with the inside hand. Athletes can cycle through each of these variations rather quickly improving their performance near the rim.

Tips for the Mikan Drill

One of the keys to performing the George Mikan drill is to remember to stay light on your feet. Developing proper footwork is important not only to this exercise but to basketball as a whole.

It also helps to develop a touch on the shot. Shooters should work to find the "sweet spot" on the backboard when completing the shot. Finding that spot repeatedly helps to build the muscle memory needed to complete the shot in a live situation.

Athletes should learn to push themselves as they get better. Once a good rhythm has been established, an athlete can pick up the pace and attempt to beat records for consecutive shots made or a number of shots made in a certain time period.

Megan Gustafson Mikan Drill

Throughout the course of her career, Megan Gustafson used a number of drills to become the best player in all of NCAA women's college basketball. She was named the winner of the 2019 Naismith Award and was the AP's national player of the year. One of the big reasons why was that she spent time using the training described in this article.

Gustafson, who is 6 feet 3 inches tall, grew up doing the Mikan drill to improve her game. As she improved, she began adding some variations to the drill to take her to the next level. In a video that went viral, the former Iowa center is seen performing the exercise with two balls.

The exercise begins like any other Mikan drill basketball. She starts on the right side of the basket facing the baseline and completes a right-handed layup. The difference in Gustafson's version is that she completes that shot with a ball in her left hand.

As the right-handed shot is completed, Gustafson rebounds the ball with her right hand while immediately going into the left-handed version of the shot on the other side of the basket. That shot is rebounded with the left hand and again a right-handed version of the same shot is performed. This continues on right, left, right, left, and so on for 40 seconds. Gustafson sinks 40 layups, 20 with each hand in those 40 seconds.

Modern Basketball & the Mikan Drill

Yes, old No. 99 played basketball many years ago, but his drill has survived the years. It may be even more important in today's basketball, which is much more reliant upon dribble penetration. The dribbler may finish at the rim or pass the ball to a teammate who can also finish at the basket.

Regardless of who it is, today's athletes must have the ability to make layups. They must also be able to finish at the rim with both hands. The Mikan drill, as simple as it is, teaches the skills needed to finish at the rim with either hand. Those that can score at the rim with either hand are extremely valuable.

While it is true that more 3-point jump shots are attempted in today's basketball, athletes must still have the ability to perform one of the most basic of basketball fundamentals - the layup. Will performing this simple training exercise cure a player's affinity for missed layups? No, not all of them, but players who do practice the drill on a regular basis are much more likely to make a majority of their attempts close to the rim.

Coaches across the country continue to use one of basketball's most famous drills. John Thompson III, son of legendary Georgetown head coach John Thompson, ran the Princeton offense and variations of it while coaching at Georgetown himself. Those who know the Princeton offense know that it is designed to score primarily off of layups generated by all sorts of screens and backdoor cuts. The jump shot is secondary to the layup in the Princeton offense.

As a result of running the Princeton offense, Coach Thompson needed his players to be able to finish at the rim. What drill did his players compete on an almost daily basis? The Mikan drill. Coach Thompson, like many others at all different levels around the country, used one of the most basic fundamental drills to teach some of the most elite athletes in the sport of basketball.

For players looking to improve their ability to finish at the rim, there is one simple workout that stands above the rest.

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