It’s been said that frustration serves as the breeding ground for revolutionary ideas, but on this moderately chilly morning back in 2011, Thomas Fields was simply trying to get better. There at 5 a.m. under the pale moonlight on the cement sidewalk in front of the gym’s double doors at Reagan High School in Houston, roughly two hours before students were set to arrive to start the school day, Fields sat annoyed.
He’d just come off his second ACL tear, in dire need of reps on the school’s new shooting machine and his high school coach was a no-show after he’d promised to open the gym. To pass the time, Fields whipped out his iPhone and snapped pictures of his new Jordan Retro 7 “Love of the Game” edition sneakers and posted them to Instagram with the caption that read, “5 a.m. Waiting on coach.”
Ironically, it was there in the dark that he began to see the light. “What if I didn’t need a coach to open the gym?” Fields thought. “What if I could bring my own machine?”
Immediately, Fields began to jot an idea. “I just started sketching a design for a shooting machine that I could’ve used right there at the time,” Fields said. “I got more and more into it until it became an obsession. I knew I had something.”
GRIND, a shooting machine that folds into a large duffel bag. GRIND is also developing software for the machine so players can track their analytics and even challenge players from all over the world. GRIND also serves as a personal training device, which allows players to stream personal trainers and refine their shooting techniques real time.
Fields used his college refund check to build the prototype back in 2014. “Instead of buying clothes and shoes like the rest of my friends I built the machine,” Fields said. “Raising capital has been hard being in Houston. We’ve done this all by the bootstraps, but I knew then what I know now and that is that this product is mandatory for the basketball world. This was an idea that could help a lot of people on a lot of different levels, and the basketball gods have made it happen for us.”
Fields, 24, fell in love with the game when he was 7 but didn’t take basketball seriously until he was in middle school. His future looked promising, battling against other elite players in the area who would go on to play in the NBA like Justise Winslow (Miami Heat) and Justin Jackson (Sacramento Kings).
That promise turned tangible when he became the only freshman to make varsity at Reagan and even earned a Top 50 state ranking in his class.
“I was super competitive, and I played against some of the best,” Fields recalled. “I was the guy who would put in the work, waking up at 5 a.m. and grinding. Things were on track until the injuries started.”
Fields suffered his first ACL tear in his right knee during his sophomore season after working his way into the top 20 of the state rankings.
To say that he was devastated would be putting it mildly.
“I was really broken at that time,” Fields said. “The worst part was that I came back the next year and got to 100 percent and even started dunking. Then I landed on a dunk wrong and tore my left ACL.” It was during the recovery from that injury that Fields got a different high school coach who bought the school’s first shooting machine.
“I loved that thing,” Fields said. “Because I could see how it was making me better. Plus, I knew that all of the elite players were using shooting machines all the time. It became like an obsession for me. The problem was he would never let us get on it.”
Thus, prompting the 5 a.m. frustrated brainstorming sessions in front of the high school gym. Fields had two main goals in the initial design: Make it affordable and accessible.
“We didn’t have a lot of money and I wanted to be able to take it anywhere,” Fields said. “What better way than to be able to fold it into a duffel bag and be able to take it to the park with me.”
The mindset for GRIND was instilled by Fields’ first coach Thomas Henderson, who put a premium on hard work and preparation. “Our first practice was on the first day of school at 5 a.m.,” Fields said. “Who does that? He had an obsessive work ethic, and I loved it. That was the foundation for GRIND. I took it and ran with it.”
Over the past decade-plus, the game has become guard dominant with shooting being the most important skill. With that in mind, Fields designed the GRIND Machine with a 12-foot net around the rim, which forces players to put more of an arch on their shot. That translates into a higher percentage of made shots and muscle memory.
“All of the players in the conversation for the best on the planet can shoot the ball,” Fields said. “You practice 10 times more efficiently using the machine. It was important to design this for practical use. I wanted this to be loved by basketball players, trainers and coaches because they can use it whenever, wherever. This might be the most ideal shooting machine ever designed for athletes.”
Fields plans to have machines implemented for various sports plus apparel and other ventures in GRIND’s next phase. However, the company’s main mission is to push young inner-city kids to think outside the box, inspiring them to pursue careers in engineering and technology.
The hard truth is that fewer than two percent of NCAA student athletes go on to play professionally.
“I was fortunate because my dad taught me about the business side of things, and I think GRIND can be the inspiration to kids who don’t have dads to teach them,” Fields said. “I want to show kids that they can come from the inner city and be an engineer and build cool things like this and be really successful while still being involved in sports. We want to implement that Nipsey Hussle kind of attitude, making that cross into technology.”
To that end, Fields’ plan for the GRIND app is to ultimately make players’ shooting stats accessible to college coaches and recruiting experts.
“Now we’ll understand what they’re really doing behind the scenes and finding the hidden gems that work hard and produce but often go overlooked,” Fields said. “It’s just another level of exposure for the players and when that happens everyone wins. I really feel like GRIND will be around 100-plus years. It’s an honor to have started something that elevates the culture and just simply helps people.”