One of the fiercest competitions at Jets training camp this week did not happen on a football field.
It came in the team auditorium on Tuesday, near the end of the team meeting, and it involved a basketball, not a football.
Rookies Max Mitchell and Micheal Clemons squared off in a free-throw shooting contest with Mitchell, a tackle, representing the offense, and Clemons, a defensive end, representing the defense, trying to outshoot one another.
Shortly after he was hired last year, head coach Robert Saleh had a regulation-size basketball hoop brought into the auditorium where the Jets conduct their team meetings, for shooting contests just like the one held on Tuesday. It is an idea he borrowed from Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who has had a hoop around his teams dating back to 1994 when he was the coach of the Jets and had one next to the fields at Hofstra.
“You’ve got to lighten things up and have a little fun,” Saleh told The Post this week. “It’s something I learned from Pete a long time ago. They’ve got to want to come to team meetings. It can’t be a drag. It can’t be, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ You try to keep it light but at the same time you’re making sure we’re holding each other accountable to the highest standard. You can achieve both and I think Pete has proven that.”
The basketball shooting contest is used as a way to break ties from practice the previous day. For example, the Jets had a competition period Monday, in which the offense got the ball at the 40-yard line and then tried to put together a drive to score. There were four series. The offense scored on two and the defense stopped them on two.
That tie had to be broken, and the coaches selected Mitchell and Clemons to break it. During training camp, rookies do the shooting. The veterans will get involved during the regular season. Each shooter is allowed to select his own rebounder.
“Very underrated the decision when picking your own rebounder,” Saleh said. “He has to get the ball to you quickly. He has to be an athlete.”
The shooters each get 30 seconds to make as many shots as they can. A countdown clock is displayed on the giant video screen at the front of the room and there is a countdown when it gets to 10 seconds. As the players shoot, their teammates cheer and jeer.
“It’s loud,” Mitchell said. “Guys are hollering at you. It’s all fun and games. But you’re also shooting for the offense. You’re trying to win for them.”
Clemons went first on Tuesday and made three shots. Mitchell made a key decision by picking fellow tackle George Fant as his rebounder. Fant played college basketball at Western Kentucky before becoming a football player and is widely considered to be the best hoopster on the team. Mitchell edged out Clemons by making a fourth shot as time expired to give the offense a win, setting off a celebration around Mitchell.
Jets players appreciate Saleh’s effort to bring some fun to what the grind of a football season can be.
“I think it’s just kind of a way to break up the monotony of a normal team meeting where you know what to expect,” defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. “You expect to watch these clips or go over this or go over that. It’s a way to kind of take that same competitive element you have [on the field] and bring it in there in a way that’s not as physical but you still get guys chanting and hooting and hollering. It’s a way to breed that same competitive element and breed that camaraderie on each side of the ball that always forces guys to compete and get better.”
Has Mitchell, who played at Louisiana, ever seen anything like this in a team meeting before?
“Heck no. That’s a first,” Mitchell said. “Even walking in and seeing the basketball goal when I first got here, I thought, ‘Hmm, that’s kind of interesting in the team meeting room.’”
Now, he sees the benefit.
“It eases the tension,” he said. “It’s nice.”
The basketball hoop at One Jets Drive speaks to Saleh’s approach as a head coach. He is not a taskmaster and he wants to make football fun. He and general manager Joe Douglas also want competitors on the football field and at the foul line.
“I think the one thing that he’s kind of harped on even before I signed and talking to those guys is that they want competitors,” Rankins said. “They want guys who want to compete in football, but also chess, checkers, badminton. It doesn’t matter what it is. That’s a way to kind of bring that out. At the same time, you’re continuing to bring your guys closer together. Guys root for one another and he finds ways to make the team closer.”