“Let’s do 10am at our private gym.”
The text message from Vaughn Compton rings through on my phone. My first training session with Arizona’s most in-demand trainer is set. He sends through additional info with an address and gate code, and reminds me not to block the homeowner’s garage(s) when I park.
After a 25-minute drive up to North Scottsdale, I pull into the type of gated community reserved for the type of upper class out here I refer to as Desert Money. Palm trees and saguaro cacti line a private road of mansions set deep into multi-acre lots. The views are stunning and the neighborhood is pristine.
My final destination is a home protected by an iron gate with a giant H forged in the middle like a royal seal. Through that gate, it’s exactly what you’d expect. A large cobblestone motorcourt with a regal fountain planted in the middle. A sprawling home with modern architecture complimented perfectly by its desert surroundings. Vaughn’s earlier text instructs me to follow a stone path around the side of the home and into the gym.
After walking down two flights of stairs, I step onto a full-size court that represents the ultimate dream home of every basketball fan in the world. It has bar stools in the top level for a good spectator’s view. It has a mini locker room for players to change and shower. A separate one for coaches. It has a full kitchen and sitting area with a couch and multiple flat screen TVs.
Vaughn Compton is intently studying game film on his iPad when I walk through the door. He smiles and greets me. We lace up and he asks me what I want to work on. Within minutes he is running me through drills I’ve never seen, telling me metaphors I’ve never heard, and pointing out things in my game I’d never been told throughout my high school or junior college playing career. When the hour is up, I end our session by making 10 three pointers in a row––something I haven’t done in years, thanks to Vaughn’s unique tips on my form and follow-through. I can’t help but laugh out loud at how such a short training session could lead to such quick improvements. As I walk off the court to grab a drink of water, I can’t help but think to myself:
This guy is the real deal.
Long before Vaughn Compton became a trainer to Arizona’s top list of HS prospects such as Nico Mannion, Josh Green, and Jaelen House, and NBA players Marcus and Markieff Morris, he was just a high school kid with hoop dreams. Down in nearby Mesa, Vaughn was a member of Mountain View High School’s golden era of hoops. The Toros won three consecutive championships from 2005-2007, the first 5A team in Arizona to three-peat since 1961. Compton was a part of the 2005 and 2006 championship squads, where he played a supporting role to a starting five stacked with D1 talent such as former UNLV Rebel Kendall Wallace, Cal forward Harper Kamp, BYU forward Stephen Rogers, and University of Arizona guard Brendon Lavender.
Vaughn committed to a D2 school upon graduating high school, but a torn ACL in a summer pickup game derailed his collegiate career before it even began. Determined to make his hoop dreams a reality, he rehabbed and received an opportunity at another school… before tearing the same ACL again. Still dead set on his goals, he went through the healing process to give it one last shot. This time it was his other knee that blew out, marking the end of his hoop dreams for good. Or so it seemed.
Although his days of running up and down the court were over, Compton was still determined to turn his passion for the game into a career. He started Ventura Basketball Academy with his friend and former teammate Lavender, who had just finished a successful career for the Wildcats.
“I knew I still had so much to give,” Vaughn tells me after our training session. He offers me a water from the gym’s stainless steel refrigerator and then ices his knee methodically as we chat.
“I’d given my whole life to this game and knew I still had a lot to offer. You should never give up on something you love.”
Vaughn began his career as a trainer by hosting basketball camps in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area for local kids to hone their skills. At one camp he instructed young Brett Hardt Jr., a skinny 10-year-old with a pure shooting stroke, but in need of someone to help round out his game. Brett Hardt Sr., a wealthy self-made businessman from Chicago who had moved his family to Scottsdale after purchasing a local golf course, took notice of Vaughn’s passion for the game and asked if he would train his son exclusively. Brett Jr. became Vaughn’s first private client and the two went to work.
“What impresses me most about Vaughn is that he treats every player the same, from an eighth grade kid who can’t lace up his shoes to an elite NBA player,” Hardt Sr. tells me during our sit down in his private gym. He’s got silver hair and biceps like Sylvester Stallone. His watch and wedding ring sparkle with platinum and diamonds. He’s kind and personable, with an old Chicago toughness to his swagger. “He’s always completely locked in, and that makes everyone around him match that focus.”
After seeing his son’s game improve dramatically after working with Vaughn, Brett Sr. became Compton’s biggest fan and did whatever he could to ensure Vaughn and his new AAU team––the Ventura Vipers––had as much court time as they needed to be successful.
“It’s all about putting in the work,” Brett Sr. preaches in his gruff Midwest accent. “If you don’t have court time then you can’t build a team. At one point I was paying $100/hour for time at a local court. Eventually, I just decided to build my own.”
Hardt’s larger-than-life home court––along with his dedicated sneaker room that displays 300+ pairs of exclusive Jordans––has since earned its own feature in Modern Luxury magazine as a “Sport’s Fanatics 26,000 Square Foot” dream home. It also guaranteed that Brett Jr. and all of Vaughn’s other students would have their own basketball sanctuary to work on their game.
Brett Hardt’s home gym (via Modern Luxury)
The phrase “Attitude is Free”––Hardt’s personal brand he started in business and now applies to basketball––lines the walls of his home court. It’s the same slogan that now decorates the walls of Rancho Solano Preparatory School’s gym , which has since been renamed the Attitude is Free Center. Brett Jr. is now starting varsity as a sophomore for the Rancho Solano Mustangs, and the sharp shooting combo guard just received his first D1 offer from Idaho State.
“Before we met Vaughn, Brett was just a kid who could shoot the ball,” says Hardt Sr. “He has since improved every facet of his game: ball handling, defense, basketball IQ. And look, now he’s a D1 prospect as a sophomore. So much of that credit goes to Vaughn and his training methods.”
Brett Hardt Jr., Rancho Solano Prep, Class of 2021
“And it’s not just my kid he’s working wonders with,” Hardt Sr. continues. “I’ve seen Vaughn take average high school players and turn them into college athletes. If you look at the 2A, 4A, and 6A Arizona state championship teams last year, all their key players were trained by Vaughn. That’s no coincidence.”
With Hardt’s investment in Vaughn’s obvious talent as a coach and skills trainer, the Ventura Vipers began winning and Vaughn’s client list grew. This set in motion a journey that would lead to another chance encounter arranged by the Arizona basketball gods two years later.
Coach Vaughn showed up to the gym for practice one day and was informed his squad would be sharing the gym with the Vipers’ seventh grade team that afternoon. He set up his cones and began running the kids through his signature skill drills. It was then that he noticed a pale, redheaded seventh grader who had recently moved in from Salt Lake City.
That kid’s name was Nico Mannion.
“He had a swag to his game, even if he was all skin and bones,” Vaughn recalls. “He didn’t really look like a ball player, but he was nice. His game was smooth and you could tell he had a natural feel for it.”
Nico’s father, Pace Mannion, was watching from the bleachers that day. Pace had made the decision to move his family to sunny Scottsdale after retiring from his position as a pre and post-game announcer for the Utah Jazz. A former standout at the University of Utah and then a six-year NBA veteran (two of which were played in a Jazz jersey), Mannion Sr. then went on to enjoy a successful overseas career as a star in the Italian league. While there he met and eventually married a pretty, professional volleyball player named Gaia. It was in Siena, Italy in 2001 that the Mannions welcomed their newborn son into the world: Niccolò Mannion.
Just like Brett Hardt Sr. years prior, Pace Mannion noticed Coach Vaughn’s attention to detail, so he approached him after practice about personally training his young son.
“The game has changed so much since I played,” Pace tells me on the phone from his home in Scottsdale. “It’s so much more explosive and there’s so much 1-on-1 play in the game that you have to be creative in how you train these days. I liked that Vaughn was focused on that type of detailed skill work.”
As they say, the rest is history. In the past five years since Vaughn linked up with the Mannion family, that “cute little redhead” (as Vaughn jokingly describes young Nico) evolved into the Arizona Assassin. Nico’s junior season highlights went viral on social media due to his explosive skillset mixed with the novelty of seeing a white point guard with red hair playing above the rim. Today, Arizona’s top prospect sits comfortably at #8 on ESPN’s Top 100 players in the class of 2019, a ranking he believes should be even higher. The day we sit down to chat is the same day he’s been selected for the prestigious McDonald’s All-American game, a foregone conclusion but still a crown jewel in his explosive senior campaign.
“It feels good to see that all the hard work has paid off,” Nico tells me casually while putting on his shoes before an evening training session with Vaughn.
I sit and watch as the two work together for an hour. The chemistry is undeniable. They seemingly speak in their own language to one another, and even though not much is said, a lot is communicated. Nico’s signature red hair sits messy atop his head, his calf muscles bulge out of an otherwise thin frame. He’s humble and soft-spoken, but with an undeniable swagger. Most of his shots hit nothing but net with a satisfying thwip, and Vaughn preaches game speed while passionately rebounding and passing with precision.
“I honestly don’t know where I’d be without Vaughn,” Nico tells me after his session. “All I did before was just go to the gym with my dad and shoot around. I’d still just be doing that if I never met Vaughn. He’s kept me focused on days where I didn’t feel like training. He saw my potential long before I did.”
“He’s the best trainer on the West Coast, maybe even the country,” Nico says without flinching. “I wouldn’t be where I am without Vaughn. No doubt about it.”
Nico tells me he fully intends to keep working with Vaughn into college and beyond. It seems every pro player has a trainer that they came up with who helped them get to the next level, and Vaughn is “his guy.”
“He’s honestly like an older brother to me. I call him all the time to talk about everything, not just basketball.”
And while the effortless relationship between Vaughn and his star pupil is apparent, the magic of Arizona’s premier trainer seemingly extends to every player he comes in contact with.
Johnjay Van Es is well-known in the state of Arizona. He hosts the syndicated Johnjay and Rich radio show by iHeartRadio, and he’s an active pillar in the community. He is known for being a jokester, openly (and hilariously) posting on Instagram about his foot fetish, and filming his insane 3am ritual of ice-bathing each morning. But aside from the comedic persona, Van Es is a serious family man. So when his young son Kemp expressed an early interest and talent for the game of basketball, Johnjay sought out a personal trainer to work with him.
His search led him to Brendon Lavender, Vaughn’s partner at Ventura Basketball Academy.
“Coach Lav has been amazing for Kemp,” Van Es tells me, his voice bursting with enthusiasm. “And then Vaughn is like the Tony Robbins of basketball out here. When he speaks, these kids listen. Everyone listens.”
Johnjay speaks proudly of the results that have come from Kemp’s two years of work with Coach “Lav” and Coach Compton. Young Van Es is currently averaging 15 ppg for his freshman team at Arcadia High School and, as this article is being finished, was just called up to the JV team. Johnjay attributes the success to both Kemp’s hard work and the guidance of Ventura Basketball Academy. His son brings home Lavender’s and Compton’s teachings after each session and practices them nonstop.
Kemp Van Es shoots a three for the Arcadia High School Titans
Apart from their sons’ success on the court, Johnjay, Brett Hardt Sr., and Pace Mannion all speak volumes of Compton’s influence in the hoop community off the court as well.
“I felt like the coolest guy in the gym when he came and sat by me at Kemp’s game the other day,” Van Es says with a laugh. “He always comes to watch his kids play and when he does, the gym buzzes. All the kids know who he is around here.”
Brett Sr. echoes the sentiment.
“What Vaughn has done extends beyond the game of basketball. He’s taken all these kids in the area and connected them through his training. They all know each other, they all come to train at my house. Typically, this type of training is exclusive but Vaughn has made it so inclusive.”
While there’s clearly much to be said for Vaughn’s work on and off the court, the fact remains that his role in training the most hyped Arizona prospect since Jerryd Bayless has shined a spotlight on his talent as a trainer.
“Vaughn is the number one trainer in the West Coast in my opinion,” says Pace Mannion, unknowingly echoing his son’s earlier interview with me. It’s one thing for Nico to say it, it’s another from an NBA veteran who’s seen the best of the best at every level. “As Nico has been coming up the ranks the last several years, we just haven’t seen anyone do what Vaughn does.”
When asked exactly what he feels Vaughn has done for his five-star recruit son, Pace refers to Vaughn as a “godsend” for Nico and gives him the ultimate stamp of approval.
“Make no mistake, if you’re a parent and you want your son or daughter to be the best basketball player they can be, they need Vaughn Compton.”
With a resume of over 20 NCAA athletes and 19 professional basketball players on the trainer’s ever-growing list of clients, it appears the secret is out about Vaughn Compton.
Robbie Tripp is an author, speaker, entrepreneur, and social media influencer. He is the founder of Tripp Creative, author of Create Rebellion, and a TEDx speaker. He has been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, and Good Morning America. Tripp is a former college basketball player and lifelong student of the game of basketball. Follow him on Instagram @tripp.