Ask any NBA player and he'll tell you that while stars shine during the season, it’s over the summer when the real work is done.

Over the past few offseasons I've been fortunate enough to work with some of the NBA's best players as they hone their games. For them, the summer is a crucial period, a make-or-break stretch when they can either take the next step or stay put. It's a lesson I learned very early in my career.

Shortly after arriving on campus at the University of Houston, I heard that all of the top players from the city spent their summers playing pickup games at the Fonde Recreation Center. Fonde was Houston's version of New York's Rucker Park, Chicago's Jackson Park and the other top pickup courts in the country.

It may have been summer, but class was in session whenever I played at Fonde. Not only were the top players there, but the games would attract a sizable and knowledgeable crowd. It took an impressive and unique display of athleticism to draw applause from the onlookers. The pressure was on.

At that time there was no better big man in the world than Moses Malone.

The 1979 NBA MVP (who would go on to win two more MVP awards), Malone was the best challenge I could have asked for. He didn't go easy on me, and those post battles were some of the most significant of my career. They didn't simply help me solidify my game, they instilled in me a certain mental toughness.

The quality of the competition at Fonde, which included top prep players and pros playing in the United States and Europe, was better than what I would be seeing at the University of Houston. So if I could hold my own against these guys, I was confident I could succeed at the collegiate level.

Sure, individual workouts are a crucial part of the game. These sessions can help a player cultivate a certain skill and get in the necessary repetition. But just as a pianist cannot better her ensemble skills by practicing alone, it is essential for a basketball player to accept the challenge of playing with and against others. I got that chance at Fonde, and for that I'm forever grateful.