Posted On: 08/26/15 12:30 AM

It was one of my favorite pow-wows covering hoops last season.

A college basketball coach in Colorado was reminding me that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it’s why he used to stand in front of the mirror as a young player, practicing the moves of his favorite NBA player in the mirror over and over again.

He would work on these moves repeatedly, just like his idol, until he had mastered it. Then he went out and put it into action in a practice or a game.

Earlier this week, this interaction replayed in my mind as I watched a documentary about Kevin Durant and his intense preparation during last year’s offseason. Here he was, fresh off winning the MVP award, studying the games of others to get better. Durant had mentioned to a coach of his that he marveled at the way Steve Nash was always able, even at his small size, to shake loose from a defender to receive a pass.

So Durant got together with Nash, and had the future Hall of Fame go over with him again and again how to break loose of a defender for the split-second he needed to catch the basketball. This is one of the best basketball players on the planet continuing to soak up knowledge.

Sure, your chances of securing a workout with Steve Nash are probably relatively slim (after all, I hear he spends more time on the soccer pitch these days), but there is vast opportunity to study the games of others and find ways to incorporate their moves into your game. There is no such thing as copyright infringement on a crossover dribble. No one is getting sued for imitating a jab step.

If you want to be a great basketball player, you need to spend time watching – better yet, absorbing – great basketball players. Forget LeBron James’ runaway train dunks. You aren’t going to be 6-9, 260 with sprinter speed and freak athleticism. But you can watch how LeBron James always squares his shoulders to the basket, setting his feet up perfectly in line under his shoulders before putting up a shot. You don’t have to be a freak of nature to latch onto those fundamentals.

Study how a player like Kyrie Irving improves his handle. Did you know that Irving sometimes practices with a plastic bag wrapped around the basketball? Doing so gives the ball less bounce, less grip and causes it to move in unpredictable ways. By the time the bag comes off, the uncovered basketball becomes far easier to handle.

Watch how Andre Iguodala positions his feet as he closes out on a defender. Bigs, watch the way Pau Gasol controls the game in the post by using both hands with equal consistency, constantly keeping defenders off balance up close.

Point guards, go back and watch old tape of Nash, concentrating on how he keeps his dribble alive at all spaces on the court, refusing to give his defender a chance to rest.

We live in a highlight-reel world. But the next time you want to watch a mixtape, watch game tape instead. Truly study the details behind the games great players produce. Heck, keep notes. Practice in the mirror like that college coach did all those years ago.

I knew a high school football coach last year who tutored the offensive line. He gave his players homework. Watch J.J. Watt on Sunday, then come back and give me a detailed report at the little things he does that give him so much success.

With this tactic, you aren’t just watching. You are absorbing, soaking in the information to make you a better player.

You want to be great? Then you need to study the greats.