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Locked In: The Vision Behind Snell’s Unbreakable Eye Contact

Tony Snell’s unbreakable eye contact began as a life lesson and has become a way for him to feel more comfortable.

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Tony Snell glanced up – and never looked back down.

Snell’s unbreakable eye contact is hard to miss in the Chicago Bulls’ locker room. Once he engages in a conversation, he stays zoned in on the person he is speaking with and gives his undivided attention. In a space full of distractions — chattering teammates, film on the screen, the bustle of pregame routines — he heeds a lesson he has embraced for most of his life.

‘Look me in the eye when you talk to me,’ Snell’s grandfather, Cedric Brown, emphasized to him.

“It showed you respect the other person,” Snell explained to Basketball Insiders.

Brown, a Vietnam War veteran, helped raise Snell with a strong set of values and manners. When Snell was six years old, Brown spoke to him about the importance of eye contact. The conversation resonated, but the interaction was challenging at first for Snell, who says he was born a quiet person.

For two straight weeks, Snell made the conscious effort to look others in the eye. It became easier over time and soon became a habit he has never abandoned.

“Instead of being shy, I felt a little more confident talking to people,” Snell said.

As Snell began to excel in basketball, he garnered more media attention. He admits he is a “definitely not” a camera person, but this tactic helped him feel more relaxed addressing an audience.

This behavior also made an impression as he made his way to the NBA. Snell played college basketball at the University of New Mexico and was drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the 20th pick in 2013.

“I looked everybody in the eye during recruiting and draft process,” Snell said. “They say they really liked the way I approach people and acknowledge them instead of ignoring them with my head down.”

Snell’s line of vision on the court is a different story. When it comes to playing defense, his eyes are locked in on another part of the body. Back in college, Snell looked at the ball. After getting crossed over in practices by teammate Kendall Williams, he adjusted where he focused. He noticed a change in his defensive abilities and found himself staying in front of his opponent more successfully.

“I’m actually looking at their (core),” Snell said. “You can see which direction the player is going. That’s how you get crossed over, if you look at their hands.”

Snell only broke eye contact once during a seven-minute conversation, briefly glancing to the right for a matter of seconds as he recounted the toughest defensive assignment he has managed in the NBA.

“Playing against Cleveland and LeBron James, our second game this season,” Snell said. “With a player like him, one defensive stop is a really big deal. (I defended him) a couple possessions. I’m satisfied with the job I (did).”

Snell continues to work on his shyness and wants to be better at approaching others. By maintaining eye contact away from the game and keeping his sights locked in on defense, he looks to improve both on and off the court.

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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