A lifelong Lakers fan who grew up close to the old Forum in Inglewood, Devin Williams is now a filmmaker and basketball trainer making his name largely through his very popular YouTube channel 10000 Hours, which has almost 250,000 subscribers. He explained his story in a recent conversation with HoopsHype.
You’ve said 10000 Hours was an accident.
Devin Williams: I didn’t really try to start training. Some random kid asked me to train him. I was like ‘Why not?’ It ended up pretty good. The kid that I first trained was Chinese. He brought his brother and they started having a lot of success. I kept training them, and I ended making a video about it because it was a homework assignment. I didn’t have anywhere to save it, I didn’t have a hard drive or a computer, I did it at the Academy of Arts in San Francisco. So I uploaded the video on YouTube and it went viral. I got a call from a friend and he was like ‘Look dude, your video is on Reddit!’ Well, I didn’t even know what Reddit was back then. The video had like 10,000 views and I was like ‘Wow, that’s crazy.’ So I did another video, of course. Long story short, I got invited out to China with adidas, because the video went viral over there. Kids were so motivated by that video. Then the ‘In The Lab’ brand started when I did a video called just that: In The Lab. It was about me, how I was always in the lab working. Just work, work, work. Literally inside of a computer lab. So I connected that stuff with basketball, editing, photography… A lot of people started to say In The Lab, and I decided to create a company.
I remember in the late 90s when it was all about the And1 Mixtapes. Did you watch those?
DW: Of course I did! I grew up on it. Most of the videos that I make I kind to try to make And1-Mixtape-style videos. I could never copy the style because you can’t copy somebody’s style but I grew up on And1, big time. I try to model what I do after the And1 Mixtapes. I can name every player, I have every Mixtape…
Grayson The Professor Boucher.
DW: Yeah that’s my guy. I met a while back and he ended up running across my 10000 Hours video series. A really cool guy. He’s done great things and he is one of the best ballhandlers that I’ve ever seen.
Which film directors or movies have influenced you the most, the ones you go back to as a source for your documentaries?
DW: To be honest with you, it’s video games: Call Of Duty, Super Smash Brothers… I played a lot of video games growing up. I definitely watch a lot of movies. Christopher Nolan, the guy that did the Batman series…
Your approach to training, obviously, it’s about basketball, but you also focus on things off the court as well. Why?
DW: Because not everybody is going to be able to make it to the NBA, and even if you make it, there’s going to be life after that, and some people go broke after playing in the League. It’s important to manage your money but even better to be an intelligent person. I want to push kids to be better, to be smarter and to work hard on basketball. I love basketball, but I also learned how to edit video, how to tell stories, and while I’m no master at it, I’m getting better. I’m pushing to learn Chinese now. And a lot of lessons that I’ve learned in basketball, I apply them to my life, like teamwork.
Can you tell us about how many people are involved doing those videos?
DW: Right now I’m getting a lot more help to do it. At the beginning, it was just me and my DLSR camera. Then different types of cameras and people got on board. Sometimes we’re filming on our iPhones and people don’t even know it. New phones have very powerful cameras, 1080p quality. I’ve used GoPros, a lot of stuff. Right now I have a drone.
Maybe some virtual reality in the near future?
DW: I want to go in that direction. Especially for us video gamers it could be really great to do it.
Who’s the current NBA player you like to watch, the one you think is the most versatile, the one with the moves kids should learn about?
DW: I like Steph [Curry], but the way he’s been playing this year… The last two years I would teach people like ‘Look at him’, but right now, honestly [James] Harden and [Russell] Westbrook are great to watch because they are doing so many things right. Then there’s people like Kyrie [Irving], like Kawhi Leonard… It’s not all about scoring, sometimes it’s about effort, about defense. If the player has the same body type as Draymond Green, we’ll focus on Green because he does a lot of great things on the basketball court. Success leaves a trail and the Spurs, Warriors and Cavaliers are doing extremely well.
Now that In The Lab has grown so much, how do you manage to expose this young talent to the world?
DW: A lot of the kids that I train I don’t even post content of them. The only people I put on there are my experiments. They are like the average person. Most people you see on my videos are just kind of average people to the extent that they are not 6-foot-9 tall, they are not born athletic. So if I can make these young kids better, I know that I can easily help a 6-foot-5 player to get to the NBA. There are people who I know aren’t ready for that type of exposure because it’ll go to their heads and they may think they are better than they actually are, so I avoid putting them there. The older that I am, the more I see that.
How many of the kids you are training have a good chance to make it to the NBA in the future?
DW: Well, first of all, I’m also training a bunch of college players and a few current NBA players.
Which NBA players?
DW: I’ll leave it at that, sorry.
OK, let’s go back to the potential NBA players you’re training.
DW: It’s so tough to tell, but potentially there’s one guy in high school that could make it. But when it goes lower than that level I don’t even try to think about that. For me, it’s more about developing these guys as just human beings as much as I can because I don’t go home with them. Tell them to do the right thing. I’ve helped a lot of people get scholarships up to this point. At the end of the day, that’s my job.
Sometimes when you meet NBA stars you can be disappointed. You talked on the radio about the time you ran into Kobe Bryant… Can you give us the details about what happened between the two?
DW: Well, I think I was like eight years old and I got the chance to go to some of his summer camps. He was signing autographs and me and my friend asked him for one, but Kobe pretty much said he was done, using a curse word. Pretty much like ‘Go away, I’m not going to sign your autograph.’ But it didn’t bother me because I grew up on this guy. I have such a respect for him.
Have you met him again?
DW: No, but I’ve met a lot of people around him. They all have very similar stories… Everyone has a funny Kobe story. Regardless, you’ve got to respect him and what he has done. I’ve studied him since I was a kid. He may not know my name, but he’s actually changed my life for the better. Without Kobe, I’d probably be doing other things. I grew up down the street, 10 minutes away from the Forum and I watched him play at the arena 41 games every year, plus the playoffs. I got the chance to watch him grow until what he became. He came as a Laker at 18 years old and turned himself into one of the greatest players that ever played the game.
So you went to China with adidas, right? Tell us some of the things you learned over there.
DW: Man, I found out how long it takes to make a shoe. It takes a long time! A lot of planning, designing. We saw shoes that were five years away! They literally have a shoe lab. They gave us access to that stuff and that was really cool. The Damian Lillard shoes, the James Harden shoes.
And how about an exclusive In The Lab adidas model?
DW: While I was at adidas, they just told me that I get to give my ideas for a shoe, and they would come back to me soon and show me some of the stuff that they came up with. I had a really cool idea and I’m just hoping that it turns out well. I don’t know if it’s going to be sold but it doesn’t matter, what I’ve done so far thanks to basketball, I’m good with that. I want to keep going of course but if everything stopped right now, I would felt good about how my life is. I’ve helped a lot of people and met so really cool people. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, you shouldn’t be doing it. I don’t want to be 78 years old and look back and be like ‘man, I didn’t have fun’.
As a Lakers fan, what do you think about the young core: D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram?
DW: About Russell… I really liked him when he entered the NBA, but some of the things that happened last year with him and Nick Young, I didn’t really like that. Affected the way I was thinking about him. But it takes time. Randle needs to keep working on that jumper. He has such a gifted body, he’s strong and mobile, but teams back up to the free-throw line when he has the ball at the three-point line. That not only hurts him but the whole team. I believe that he’s working on it. He’s tough. And then you’ve got Ingram, who gives me the most concerns actually. I remember [Kevin] Durant when he was at Texas, Ingram was at Duke, and I was thinking ‘this isn’t Durant.’ And I believe Durant had a better rookie year. But he’s so young. Sometimes I see some things and I think ‘this dude could be good’, and other times he’s just not there. I’m hoping the best for him and I’m rooting for him.
Have you thought about maybe trying to work for an NBA club?
DW: Never say never, but that’s not my goal right now. I love doing the narration, I want my voice to be on adidas, NBA commercials… I’m trying to take classes to increase my skills on that. I love listening to Morgan Freeman. You know, I’m not going to be training forever.