Friday, November 27, 2015

Phil Jackson's Bullseye Test

I am currently reading Phil Jackson's book, Eleven Rings. I'm really enjoying it, but I'm currently into a player centered, philosophical approach to coaching, so it's right up my alley. One gem I've pulled out in the first 100 pages is the "Bullseye Test" he uses with his players.

The Bullseye Test is simple, yet insightful. Give each player a three ring bullseye. Have them write where they feel that they are in terms of their connection to the rest of their teammates. Don't give them anymore than that.

You then look at their bullseyes and see how connected each person feels to our group. It also gives you a handle on how connected the team feels as a group. If they are very connected they are in the middle, if they feel kind of connected their name will be in the second ring, and if they don't feel connected they write their name on the last ring or outside the rings. A lot of times it comes down to playing time - the more they play the closer to the middle they write their name. So you have to account for that a little bit when looking at them.

Once you've done the exercise, you can use them to have individual talks with your players. Ask lots of questions about why they feel that way, and if they are outside the middle how can we move them closer (without adjusting playing time of course). It will also help you determine if how to proceed with team bonding activities during the season. It's something we will definitely use this season.

NCAA's Greatest Games to Practice Situations

This was a topic I THOUGHT I blogged about before, but when I looked back I hadn't.  So here it is.

As coaches we want our players to understand late game situations. It's a must in good coaching. But how do we do it? There are a lot of ways, but one way I like is having a "Greatest NCAA Tournament Games Day" to teach late game situations, and basketball history.

This is a really simple concept. On a bunch of notecards, write down situations from great NCAA games or great NCAA comebacks. One team picks a card (they are the team that is behind). They play out the last 30s-3 min of the game. The length of time depends on the game that you are playing out. The players go on the floor and play the game as the two teams. After they play it out, you show them the video clip (if available), or tell them really happened. Below is an example of one we've used.

UNC vs. Georgetown 1982

  • Gerogetown Up 62-61
  • Georgetown playing a packed in 1-3-1
  • 35 seconds left.

Have the players play the game out. Then after they are done, show them what really happened. Then use it to address some specific late game situations.

  • Opponent is playing zone - what shots and how to attack it to get a shot. 
  • How to handle the other team scoring to go ahead late. 
  • How to handle us scoring a basket to go up late. 

Last year when I did this it was the BEST thing we did all year. The players loved it and BEGGED to do it again. It was well worth the half of practice we invested. This year I might do one every day over a few weeks, to keep the excitement. Either way I hope you can use it to add value and excitement to your practices.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Modern Pressure Defense

Photo courtesy of
This blog post is inspired by a post I made on the X's and O's of Basketball message board. It also may inspire me to write a more in depth booklet on the subject of modern pressure man defense. As most people know I LOVE offense. Unfortunately I also know that defense is what defines every single high school and college program that is successful long term. So I do spend a lot of time studying successful defensive teams.

With that said, there is no one defense that's the magic bullet. Teams win with everything from aggressive full court systems to passive half court ones. Coaches win with man, zone, SWARM, etc. So there isn't a magic defense - you just need to be committed to it and really good at teaching your system to your team. Each type of defense has it's strengths and weaknesses. In this blog I'm going to address the common criticism of pressure man defense - not having elite athletes.

Whenever I talk to coaches about pressure man, a common refrain is that "you'd better have athletes". While I do agree 100% that having great athletes is helpful (I've benefitted from that the last 3 years now), I believe that ANY team can pressure, if it's done right. You'll always be more successful at pressure man with better athletes, but I don't think there's a defensive system out there that you can't say that for. But how do you pressure with lesser athletes and still be disruptive to your opponent? Below are 9 things that I think will help any team "modernize" their pressure defense philosophy.

1. Guard Your Tunnel is Priority #1

  • If you can contain the dribble you eliminate the need for help and allow teammates to pressure. 
  • "Guard your tunnel" is an expression I got talking to Coach LaPlante from Rochester Community College (MN). The idea is that players are responsible for their area. 
  • Players are responsible for the area 3ft or so to the right and left of them. 
  • We don't help outside of the tunnel - there is no need to!

2. Use the bounce and reach step. 

  • The bounce means that as the offense goes to drive your first move is straight back a few inches. 
  • This is followed by what Brian McCormick calls a kick or reach step. Instead of stepping and sliding you push off hard with your back foot and lunge into position in front of the ball. 
  • The key is to beat the offense to the next spot, force them to go around you again and repeat until you've "bounced" them away from the basket. 
  • If you do this, you don't need help.

3. Understand How Much to Pressure the Ball

  • This varies for each player and for each match up they have. 
  • Must give enough space so you don't get beat in a straight line. 
  • You can use stunts to pressure from a little farther away. 
  • Must know your limitations. 
  • Allows your wings to deny harder because they don't have help responsibility.

4. Square Your Stance

  • I'm not against pushing middle or baseline per se. The advantage is that the entire team knows where the drive should go. But there are two problems. Problem one the offense doesn't care about your plan and the ball will be dribbled the wrong way at times. Problem two is that I found many times it allows too many straight line drives. 
  • Squaring your stance allows you to better anticipate the offense (because you are ready for whatever). 
  • Squaring up allows you to better guard your tunnel. 

5. Let Pressure Come from Denial

  • If you have an athletic team, turn the heat up on the ball. But if not, simply contain the ball and let your one pass away defenders do the work by denying the passes. 
  • Use jabs and stunts to fake pressure. 
  • Containing the ball let's your one pass away defenders really deny hard without worrying about help. 

6. Don't Help One Pass Away - Help from the Middle

  • Helping one pass away leads to open jump shots. BBall Breakdown points it out on a regular basis. Also, it's a reason dribble drive works. Drive, force the help, kick to a shooter. No more. Leave the help to the help defenders, one pass away defenders should stick with denial. 
  • Coach Wayne Walters, who developed the SWARM defense has always said you can't deny, help, and recover effectively. Coach Dick Bennett did too, which is why he went to the PACK. I agree with them, so we take help and recover responsibility away from the one pass away and give it to the players 2+ passes away. 

7. Don't Overhelp 

  • I believe players today help too much. You need to be taught when and where to help. Help creates closeouts and opportunities to get beat. You need to minimize it in pressure man. 
  • Only help when there is a clear danger of the ball being scored at the rim. If the ball is being dribbled east-west don't help. If the ball is being dribbled north south from top to baseline (outside the paint), don't help. There is no need. 

8. Lightly Deny Downward Passes

  • Bob Huggins said it once "I finally realized - why am I denying the passes that I WANT to happen?". I agree with Coach Huggins on this. We WANT the ball to get to a side so don't make it too hard for the offense to make that happen. 
  • Also, pressure teams get beat back door when the cut happens from a wing. When that happens we can deliver a pass without help. If the back door comes from the top we should have help defenders to steal that pass or at least clog the lane.
  • Still look to take one against a poor ball handler. 

9. Hard Deny any Pick UP
  • When the ball gets picked up, every defender one pass away should lock in and deny hard. The on ball is now chest to chest pressure. 

As you can see, these all kind of fit together. If you can guard your tunnel, helping one pass away isn't needed. Using a square stance with the bounce and reach step, while applying the right amount of on ball pressure will allow you to do this. Also if you deny the wings hard you don't need as much on ball pressure (if you can't pressure well). And if you do need help, the denial players can't get there anyway, so it's going to come from the middle. Having the ball more contained will allow you to have your one pass away defenders focus more on pressure. Also having them back off a little on the guard to wing pass will help them not get beat for back door cuts. Modern pressure defense needs to be more focused on pressuring the passes than it is the ball - this will disrupt the offense greatly - especially against pattern and set teams. This is because you can do it (pressure off the ball) with the lesser athletes. You can still disrupt an offense while not getting gashed for layups on the drive if your pressure comes more from denial than on the ball. Of course if you have the athletes then you go wild and pressure the ball and the pass!

And let's be clear, none of these ideas are my own (as usual on this blog). They are great ideas I've pirated from others and put together. They are also not new ideas, but ideas that I believe need to be rediscovered to be successful at pressure man defense. These are the ideas that will lead to more successful pressure defense for teams across the board - regardless of the type of athletes they have.

Thanks to Ttowntiger of the Xs and Os board for putting me onto Jim Huber. I just ordered his DVD and am looking forward to watching it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Great Nuggets from the 2015 MBCA Clinic

Last weekend was our annual coaches association clinic. It's always a fun time to see the other coaches across the state, refresh some relationships, and make some new ones. We had a solid group of presenters this year and I picked up some really good stuff. As with most clinics I'm not going to get a new offense or defense, I know my philosophy and believe in it. I'm really looking for two things. The first is "non basketball" stuff: strategies for motivation, teaching the game, team building, and teaching more than the game. The second thing I am looking for is nuggets for my system - how can I teach the Xs and Os better or add a wrinkle or two to what we do? I definitely got both of them out of this clinic. Below are some of the highlights I pulled out. 

Richard Pitino - University of Minnesota - Pressure Defense
The one thing I got from Richard Pitino was his use of tennis balls on defense. I've always struggled with finding the line between being aggressive and fouling too much. What he will do is force his defenders to hold tennis balls so they can't reach. I'm adopting that practice this year.

Tom Critchley - MBCA Executive Secretary - BLOBs and SLOBs
Coach Critchley did a great job going over some of his favorite inbounds sets. This was my favorite one.

L starts with the players in a line. Your 5 is your inbounder. The 3 is the first player in line, followed by your point guard, shooter, and 4 man. The set starts with the first player stepping out and cutting in. The point guard stepping in, cutting out, and getting it on the wing. The 4 steps out and gets the reversal from the point guard. As the 4 catches the shooter pins down for the inbounder. The 3 fills corner as the inbounder curls.

As the post (5) comes off the curl the point screens in for the shooter who set the screen. The 4 passes to the shooter. The point continues across the lane and sets a cross screen for the 5. The 4 then down screens for the 1 in a screen the screener action. 

A counter that coach threw out was to have the first player take a step out and the point take a step in. The point back screens the 3 to the basket and we run the same play.

John Tauer - St. Thomas University - Motivation
Coach Tauer did a great job talking about motivation, I really enjoyed listening to him.  I touched on the dangers of using only extrinsic motivation (Carrot and the stick/reward and punishment) and how players need to have intrinsic motivation. One of the many good things he touched on was what gives people intrinsic motivation. People are mostly motivated by three things:

  1. Autonomy
    • Choice in life. 
    • Give players choices in what drills you do (within reason). 
    • Even one or two choices per practice can be powerful. 
  2.  Togetherness
    • Players need to belong to something bigger than themselves and have a more powerful purpose. 
    • Keep your finger on the pulse
    • Team building
  3. Competence
    • Being good at things. 
    • How can you put your players in positions to find success?

TJ Rosene - Emmanuel College/PGC - Building a Culture
Coach Rosene was my favorite presenter in the clinic. He was dynamic and his stuff was excellent. There is WAY to much to put here, so I'm going to hit the highlights!

Greatest Teammate Exercise
   -Have players close their eyes and imagine the greatest teammate they ever had.
   -Call on players to share the characteristics of that teammate.
   -Make a team list of the traits of great teammates.
   -Turn it around on them - why can't EVERYONE on this team be a
     great teammate?
   -Make the list into a "commitment list" that everyone is going to
    commit to (coaches included) and everyone will be held accountable
    to for the year.

Rocking Chair Statement
   -As a coach, write a statement about what you want players to remember about
     you when you are old in a rocking chair on your front porch!

The Best At What They Know
   -Everyone is the best at what they know.
   -If you've got a problem player, they are likely exhibiting that behavior because
    that's what they know.

Communication Must Haves
   -Truth, Love, Transparency
       +Name, Information, Tone, Eye Contact
       +Simple but effective

Open Mic Monday
   -Do this as a team
   -Players can stand up and say ANYTHING that is on their mind, especially things
    they are frustrated with.
   -They can also ASK ANYTHING of teammates and coaches and will receive an
     honest answer.
   -You must speak it in love and not anger.
   *This is a GREAT WAY to make sure that issues stay in house and don't ever
      boil over.

Lion vs. Sparrow
  -Lion is content and confident. He doesn't worry about anything he can't control.
  -The sparrow is always frantic.
  -Lions play through bad calls, band bounces, etc without emotion.
  -Sparrows constantly wine and complain
  *Might change it to wolf and squirrel to fit Minnesota.

Scott Anderson - SPASH HS (WI) - Drills
Coach Anderson went over a lot of 2 on 0 motion drills and did a nice job of breaking it down. Below were some other things he did that I thought were great.

When the wing drives, the opposite guard can cut if open. This is an read action we're going to add this year.

3 on 4 Trap Ten Pass Drill
  -I've always done 2 on 2 ten pass, but this ramps it up
   a notch once we get 2 on 2 down.

Steve Brown - MN Timberwolves - Skills
Coach Brown runs the MN Timberwolves development academies and coaches an AAU team in the spring. He's one of the AAU guys who "does it right" and teaches skills - and his guys are SKILLED! He did a nice job showing a bunch of different development stuff. But what I really got out of it was how he used his footwork teaching as a dynamic warm up. I'm going to incorporate that into our dynamic warm up instead of the traditional stuff. We are going to use a lot more stops, starts, turns and learning how to plant, change direction, jump stop, pivot etc as our dynamic.

Mike Roysland - MN Crookston - 4 Out Motion
Being a 4 out fanatic I was excited to see Coach Roysland's presentation and I walked away with a few really good things.

Cutter on the Skip Rule
  -One of the things I was never sure about was what to do with the
    cutters on the skip pass.
  -He has the player who was skipped cut to the basket.
  -The one thing I would add is cut early or late. So you cut either
   while the ball is in the air or after the receiver has it for a 2
   count. I would add that rule because I don't want to clog up
   the drive with the cut.

Four Corners
  -He kept telling the players that the ball should "touch the four
    corners" and I loved that visual. It's one I will use.

Post as Facilitator
   -He did a lot more than I've normally seen with the post as
    the facilitator.
   -It's hard to guard when you put the ball
    inside and run purposeful cuts and screens.

Zach Goring - Apple Valley HS - Ball Screen Continuity and Program Building
It's easy to see why Zach Goring wins - outside of having more talent than he knows what to do with. He's organized, explains concepts very well, and runs a system where his players have freedom to be players. I'm not a huge ball screen guy, but I really enjoyed listening to his presentation. He gave a very detailed presentation on the ball screen continuity that Florida and Team USA run. That offense is well documented, so I won't put it in here, but I will put in some gems that he talked about with the organization of his program.

Eagle Update
   -This may have been the most important thing he talked about.
   -He writes a weekly newsletter in season that gets sent to players, parents,
     alumni, school staff, and friends of the program. 1800 people in all!
   -It was upcoming events, highlights the previous week, etc.
   -Great way to communicate with people and keep everyone feeling
    connected to the program.

Travel Teams
  -Each team gets a night to come in the locker room, get introduced, etc.
  -Each player adopts a team and must visit them 2x a year.
  -Eagle Hotshot Program

There you go! It was a great clinic and as always I am grateful to the MN Basketball Coaches Association for putting it on. I know a lot of work and effort goes into putting something like this on.

Lastly - it's almost that time of year! I know we start on Monday. I wanted to wish everyone that reads this (the brave few) good luck this season. Enjoy the ride because it goes fast. We've got a great opportunity to work with young people, let's not  waste it!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Gameify Your Open Gyms

Image Courtesy of
I was at an open gym recently and saw something different. I've been to a lot of open gyms. Many of them start with a good game or two of 5 on 5 and quickly dissolve into cherry picking and jogging up and down. After the first 30 minutes or so no one is getting much out of the experience. So why don't we do open gym differently? The open gym that I was at did it differently and I thought it came with outstanding results.                                                                                                               Instead of a typical 5 on 5 open gym, the players at the one I attended decided to play 3 on 2 with a chaser instead and I thought it went really well. It involved more players, kept the tempo up, and had kids playing hard. Everyone handled the ball, everyone got to take shots, etc. I found it far more effective than typical open gym. They did play some 5 on 5 after and that went well also.

This got me thinking - instead of 5 on 5 why not run open gyms with small sided games? Why not give your players a list of different 1 on 1 to 4 on 4 games and let them pick what games they want to play during that time. Players would get a lot more out of it and would really improve on their skills during the times you can't work with them. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Seal Zone Offense

This offense comes from Karl Salscheider, who was the former head coach of Bemidji State University. I got the notes from this video that Coach Salscheider did.  I've had the video in my collection for a while and hadn't watched it. Today I finally did and am glad that I did. It's a great offense that I think I'm going to run this year.

It's a simple, yet deadly, zone offense that is predicated on sealing the middle of the zone and trying to get the ball inside. It might be one of the better zone offenses I've seen, especially because of it's simplicity and the emphasis on inside play.

Basic Action
The offense is run from a basic 3 out 2 in look.

The point should attack and try to engage both the top defenders. The easiest way is to attack one and then attack the gap forcing the other one to commit to a pseudo trap. It will force the defensive wing to guard the first pass. The guard is looking to try and get to the rim here.

The point guard then fakes a pass and makes a pass out of the double. The guard can pass either way. If he's only being guarded by one of the top defenders, then he should go to the side that is guarding him.

As the ball is on the way to the wing, the ball side post steps in and seals the middle of the zone. The opposite post then comes across UNDER the sealing player and looks for the ball.

The wing can pass to the sealer, the cutter, or skip to the backside if X4 were to come across to take the cutting 5.

If there is no play there, The 1 steps out and gets the ball, the posts separate out. The ball is reversed to 1 who attacks the opposite way.

The ball gets swung to the backside wing. The action repeats.

If the wing drives, the ball side still seals and the backside seals on the backside.

This is a GREAT counter to the offense, called "Twist". The offense starts the same way. The guard attacks the top and forces the double. He then pitches to the wing. The ball side player runs at the middle hard like he's going to seal, but he runs by. He then runs and seals the opposite wing. As this happens the backside post cuts up to the mid-post and gets the ball. He can score or dump it in.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The ONLY Two Things That Matter

Photo courtesy of
I've been thinking a lot lately about what "coaching" is really about. When you Google the definition of "Coach" all the definitions are about modes of transportation. And for me that's what coaching is - getting a group of people from one place to another place. It might not be from one physical place to another but more from one place to another as a group of people working together.

Along with that, I've been thinking a lot about "great coaches" and the common threads that bind them. Honestly when you look at great basketball coaches at any level, and coaches at any sport, there are two consistent threads. These two common threads are relationships and high expectations, in that order. If you don't have relationships with your players, especially today's players, you are going to struggle to do what needs to be done.

Great coaches come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and philosophies. There are great coaches who were great players, terrible players and everything in between. There are great coaches who are player centered and coach centered. There are great coaches who are stern disciplinarians and some who are loosey-goosey. Some great coaches love defense and some love offense. Some play fast and some play slow.

All the different coaching philosophies listed above, to me, are not important. You could be a disciplinarian who plays fast or a "players coach" who plays slow. You could be a defensive minded coach who was a former NBA player or an offensive genius who got cut from the JV team in high school. What's truly important is what I mentioned above. Do your players know you care about them and have you built a culture of high standards? If you do those two things, that's where the magic is.