How Arizona's Vaughn Compton emerged as a top NBA player development coach

·7 min read

Vaughn Compton grew up in Mesa and attended Mountain View High School, where he played under legendary coach Gary Ernst, earning back-to-back state championships.

However, his dream of playing in college was cut short when he tore his ACL three times, forcing him to find his identity without the game of basketball.

But his obsession with the sport never faded.

“There was a point where I fell out of love playing basketball and fell in love with teaching basketball,” Compton said.

The training journey really ignited in 2013 when Compton and elite skills specialist Brandon Lavender founded Ventura Basketball Academy in Scottsdale. From 13-year-olds to pros, the academy became a hotspot.

Compton now is preparing to branch out with his own academy, Vaughn Compton Basketball.

For the past 10 years, Compton, 33, has worked to become one of the best NBA player development coaches in the business. He went from coaching youth basketball to becoming a much-coveted trainer for professional players.

Players from all over the country come to Arizona to train with him, but his career did not blossom overnight.

Compton's situation took a turn when he met Brett Hardt St., CEO and co-founder of Phoenix-based TheBest Claims Solutions, which provides insurance staffing and services for companies.

At the time, Compton was coaching Hardt's 9-year-old son, and he was impressed by the energy that Compton displayed. He met with Compton, listened to his story and decided to help Compton fulfill his dream of starting his own basketball training business.

“(Compton) was just a kid who was a basketball player, who wanted to be a coach and trainer,” Hardt said. “He helped out so many kids, for me it was a no-brainer to mentor him.”

At the time, Compton was a volunteer AAU youth basketball coach and was training elementary, middle school, high school and a few overseas players. Hardt began mentoring him and taught him how he could build a lasting brand for himself.

“He has been a huge reason for how I have gotten to where I am today,” Compton said. “He really helped me with the business side of things.”

“The thing that really attracted me to him was he really listened,” Hard said. “He didn’t act like he knew everything. He would come to a meeting, take notes, ask good questions and then I would see him implement them.”

Hardt helped Compton realize the importance of networking, to never turn down a business meeting and to never chew gum when you’re in one.

“I told him it was all about the long term,” Hardt said. “Take every client and then at some point (he) would be able to dictate price and who (he) wanted to have as a client.”

In July 2018, Compton was asked to train his first NBA player.

“I was in Atlanta and had a bus full of my players (when) I received a call from this agent asking if I could work out a NBA player,” Compton said.

By then, Compton was coaching on the Under Armor circuit, Adidas circuit and coaching high-level high school players. But he realized he was missing out on opportunities to fulfill his dream of training NBA players.

“After I was done coaching teams, I put everything into player development and haven’t looked back since.”

Excitement ignited

Gradually, Compton absorbed what the best trainers were teaching.

After tagging along with his players to a camp hosted by former professional basketball player and current skill development trainer Micah Lancaster, who played in the International Basketball League, sparked even more motivation.

“The way (Lancaster) was explaining everything – every little detail and the purpose – it was mind blowing,” Compton said. “I had never seen basketball like that. I was so inspired I couldn’t sleep for the next three days.”

Compton developed his own highly organized, detail-oriented way of training, and various players became attracted to his philosophy.

From international players to NBA G League players, Compton eventually started building his professional player clientele.

“He had to prove to people that he is good at this and in order to do that you have to get people to trust you,” Compton’s assistant, Hank Hibbler, said. “He has been able to do that through his ability to form relationships.”

Compton said, “What I lack in – in playing experience in the NBA – I have gained in connecting with individuals who have played in the NBA. Gaining intel, knowledge, stories, relationships and trust with people who have played at that level.”

Secret to success

So, what is Compton’s secret to building a brand players will buy into?

Before a client shows up, he will go through hours of film on the player. He would break down their offensive and defensive skills, looking at all the analytics. Instead of formulating a typical training session, he tailors the workout to the individual’s style.

The small details matter.

“"One thing I remember is how much he (Compton) knew about my game already," Indiana Pacers forward Oshae Brissett said. "I have worked out with a lot of people in my life, and a lot of them would stick to what they know and put guys through the same workout, even though they had a completely different skill set. But as soon as I saw that Compton had all that information, I knew he was different. He was really invested in me, which definitely helped with the trust.”

A.J. Hess, a Phoenix Country Day graduate who now plays for the Bulgarian team Rilski, said Compton wants to be a master at what he does and that kind of energy is infectious.

“By the time I was leaving to go play this year, I felt like I was playing some of the best basketball I have played in my entire life.”

Compton said he makes it a priority to constantly check in on each player outside of training to build a relationship beyond basketball.

“It does not matter what is going on outside of his life,” Chandler Hutchison, who spent time with the Phoenix Suns during last season, said. “When you are on the court with him one-on-one, he does it in a way that makes you feel like it is a relationship. He shows up for me.”

Although Compton is a basketball junkie, the only time he will watch a basketball game on TV is when one of his clients is playing. He will watch every minute, take notes and walk away satisfied when he sees the results of the work the player put in with him.

“I thought, when I first started with him, that he was doing a little too much,” Brissett said. “But now looking back on it, I just see that he really cares. He knows, he watches and pays attention.”

It's all about relationships

Compton is fueled by his clients' success, he said, but admits that if a player is not dedicated to working long long hours, the player-trainer relationship probably will not work out. Compton's workaholic tendencies cause him to fixate on every small detail.

“Anything that he feels is the most important thing at the time, that is what he gives everything to," Hutchinson said. "That is what separates him."

When a player steps onto the court with Compton, he challenges them. He pushes players to sharpen their strengths and strengthen their weaknesses. Compton reminds them to have “aggressive patience,'' whereby players aggressively pursue a goal but maintain patience as they work toward it.

For 10 years Compton has trusted the process, working hard in silence. When people doubted his ability, he worked diligently with one goal in mind – to impact the lives of others.

“(Compton) had my back and was working with me whenever I wanted to get in the gym,” Hutchinson said. “I came to Compton at a time when I really didn’t have a job in the NBA, but that didn’t change his dedication and the time he spent with me.”

With patience and his willingness to sacrifice, everything has come full circle and now Compton has a platform he can use to guide others and take a chance on someone when he sees talent.

"In order to change there has to be struggle and adversity," Compton said. "I have learned something from every player I work with, I just hope that I impact them in a positive way."

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: How Arizona's Vaughn Compton emerged as a top NBA player development coach