Grinding through individual workouts is a necessary and extremely productive process. Playing one on one is the ultimate competitive challenge and real ballers would rather play 3 on 3 or 4 on 4 at the park instead of watching television any day of the week!
While these are all great basketball events, there is just something about being on an actual team that is special beyond words.
Members of a team work together, play together, fight together, laugh and celebrate together, and occasionally cry together. The multitude of shared experiences often brings teammates closer together than even members of their own families.
There's absolutely nothing like being on a team and when our playing careers are over, we miss our coaches and our teammates and wish we could go back and do it all over again.
However, being a true member of a team carries with it enormous responsibilities as well. We have a saying on our team that we constantly repeat over and over that reminds everyone that "What happens to one of us happens to all of us." This means that everything and anything that one of us does, either positively or negatively, affects every other member of the team.
Every point scored or given up, every rebound, every 50-50 ball, and every pass whether good or bad affects all of our chances of winning the game. Likewise how hard we compete in practice, how seriously we approach our conditioning and how we act off the court effects the entire team from top to bottom. Players who say "I'm only hurting (or helping) myself" just don't get it!
The secret to being a great teammate is ridiculously simple - just do what you say/said you're going to do!
Every coach I know has some type of team meeting at the beginning of the season where all the team rules and expectations are laid out and explained in great detail. Many coaches distribute handouts or notebooks so the players can have these expectations in writing.
Some coaches even make a poster with everything listed on it. Put the team first. Be on time. Respect your teammates and coaches. Give your very best effort. Go to class. Stay away from drugs and alcohol, etc. Then the coach tells the entire group that if they make the team they will be expected to live up to these rules and standards. Often players are asked to sign the poster so everyone can see they have agreed and committed.
Unfortunately, some players don't do what they say they're going to do. They say what they have to say to make the team but soon start to ignore their responsibilities as a teammate and adopt a "What's in it for me?" attitude. This selfishness usually has the potential to hurt the individual player in some way and almost always has a negative effect on the team as a whole. If the selfish player is a team leader or has a very strong personality then he may drag others down with him and soon the entire group quits focusing on their original commitments and starts to fall apart.
Great teams are made up of great teammates who combine their individual strengths together. Coach K at Duke likes to use the analogy of a fist to illustrate this point. When the fingers are spread apart they are in a position of weakness and can be broken. However, when balled together in a fist, the fingers become much stronger and more easily protected from injury.
To be a great teammate and to be part of the fist you don't have to be "faster than a speeding bullet or leap tall buildings in a single bound" or perform any other superhuman feat. You just have to do what you said you're going to do!