Friday, May 22, 2009

Using Your Stud as the Decoy (The Phil Jackson Move)

Since it is the only basketball left on television, and by NBA standards it is great basketball, I watched the Lakers vs. Nuggets game last night on television. One thing that stood out to me at the end, although it didn't work, is how Phil Jackson used Kobe as the decoy to get Fisher a shot at the end to tie the game. This is something that Coach Jackson has done over the course of his career, and done it well. Whether it was using Jordan/Pippen as the decoy for guys like Paxson, Kerr, and Kukoc, or using guys like Kobe to get Roberty Horry open for threes, it seems to be a very present theme in his end game situations in important games. I like that he always has the confidence in his role guys and doesn't try to cram the last shot down the opponent's throat with the superstar, which is what you often see.

Now Coach Jackson is obviously not the only coach that does this, many do. It is a great strategy and one that can be very useful, as long as you have the other pieces. If you need a three and only have one kid that can shoot the three, it's going to be an exercise in futility to run a play to get anyone else a shot. But on the average team, you have a couple of guys that can take that last shot, and I like when it ends in the hands of a role player. Some coaches may argue that you always want your best player to take the last shot, and I see the logic, but at the same time I would rather have an open/good shot with a role player that can make it than take a rushed/forced/poor shot with my superstar.

In light of that thought, I prefer to have a last second set where the first look is for the superstar, but the superstar becomes the decoy if over defended and the set then frees the other player for the last second shot. One of my favorite looks is to have the "shooter" screen for the star and then screen the screener so that the shooter can free himself for that last jumper. Or simply have the screener (who is a good shooter) pop off the screen.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Having a Program Motto

I think that as the head coach of a program it is important to have some type of saying or motto that exemplifies what your program is about. It is not ALL that your program is about, but the big overriding idea of your program. It gives your program an identity and it gives your players a sense of purpose/direction. It shows everyone involved in the program and outside of the program exactly what direction you want to take the program. This motto could come in a wide variety of sayings that cover a bunch of different topics. Every coach is different, and there are a ton of different things you could go with, some I have seen before are as follows:

"The climb is hard, but the view from the top is awesome!"
-This motto shows that the program is about working hard to get to the "top of the mountain" whatever that mountain is for your program - state title, conference title, etc. I do like this one, it's common but was Coach Vix's (Rushford-Peterson Hall of Fame Coach) when his team made their last title run.

"Defense wins championships"
"Have you run your offense today?"
-These sayings tell people that we are all about defense in order to be successful.

"You may never be what you could have been"
-Saw this on a t-shirt once and loved it, says that we are going to work as hard as we can to be the best we can be. Kind of neat but depressing at the same time.

"Pain is weakness leaving the body"
-Typically a football team one, but I have seen some basketball teams use it. Says we are going to be mentally/physically tougher than everyone.

"Runnin, gunnin, and stunnin"
-This motto says we are going to out run and out score our opponent. Typically used if you run an up tempo offense.

-Another I love. Simple but says our program is a family.

"Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing"
-I have seen this one before, but do not like it. What happens when you have this as a program motto and don't have the talent to win? It sends a message you are not meeting your ultimate goal. Also, it sends a message that nothing else, not people - not effort - not excellence - not integrity, matters all that matters is the W and however we have to get it is fine.

But now that I have accepted the job as head coach at South Tama County HS, I have to decide what I need to have for our program motto here at STC. For me it is an important decision because it will impact the next 5, 10, 20, 40 years I am here at STC (until they kick me out anyway). So after much debate, I came up with the following: Be a Champion: every practice, every game, every play, every second, every minute, every day.

I borrowed and modified this saying from my biggest mentor, Coach Fergot from LaCrosse Central HS. I think it says to a T what I want our program to be about. I want our program to be about doing your best every single day in every single thing you do. That is what being a champion is about to me. And we are not going to just play like champions here, we are going to be champions. Not taking the easy way out, not daying a day off, but always doing things to the best of our ability all the time. So this motto sums that up, that we are going to always give our best effort in everything we do as individuals and a program, on and off the basketball court.

Below is something I put together for all the players in our program. They are printed off on 8.5x11 paper and laminated. Each player in the program will get one; I want them to hang it somewhere where they are going to see it every day and think about what it means.

Using Screens

I used to be a HUGE proponent of screening in my motion game. I used to love the pass and screen away look, and probably pass and screened away to death - far too much! As I've learned the game the last few years, I have gotten farther and farther away from setting a lot of screens in the half court setting. 

Now don't get me wrong, I use screens to get my shooter open off some sets, and it's a good and valuable look. But within our motion offense, I would rather focus on things like drive and kick, pass and cut, back cuts, flash cuts, etc. Actions to try to get the ball into the paint and score around the rim. I think these actions push the tempo more and are easier for players to master quickly and get good at. 

One of my biggest problems with having players "read" screens in a motion offense is that most players really struggle with it. They usually resort to using a "straight cut" to the ball because they have ball fixation and don't really know what else to run. It's a hard thing to do, read a defender and decide which of the four possible cuts (straight, curl, back, and flair) to run. 

When I do get to screening within the layers of my motion (varsity level), I teach it with the players having only TWO cut options: the curl cut and the flair cut. The reads become simplified. If you get to the top of the screen and the defender is behind you (trailing) you run a curl cut. If you get to the top of the screen and the defender is sagging in the lane (cheating) you run a flair cut. The screener separates hard accordingly. 

I feel that if the players have two choices it's going to be easier to make a decisive decision and not hesitate. Also, I like the two cuts because it eliminates a straight cut which to me is not the best cut to run. The other two are more aggressive, especially with the screener facing up. 

Anyway, those are my thoughts on using "read" or "motion" screens in your base offense.  I think players benefit highly from learning the other actions first and then being able to perform them. They also benefit from having more limited options on their "read" screens. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Great Coaching Quotes from Desmond Tutu

At a recent foray to Barnes and Noble I picked up a book on clearance about Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the cleric and activist from South Africa. You can always pick up some great coaching advice when you read about world leaders. This book happened to be mainly quotes from Desmond Tutu and it had a few beauties. I try to give my players a note card every day (or every game day) that has a little quote or saying on it to think about. Some of the ones he has I will definitely use and I would like to share them with everyone else.

"When you have a hand and you have only the separate fingers, it is easy for people to break the fingers. But when you put the fingers together it is difficult to break them."

"A time of crisis is not just a time of anxiety and worry. It gives a chance, an opportunity, to choose well or to choose badly."

"My father always used to say, 'Don't raise your voice. Improve your argument.' Good sense does not always lie with the loudest shouters, nor can we say that a large, unruly crowd is always the best arbiter of what is right."

"Differences are not intended to separate or alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another."

"We get most upset with those we love the most because they are close to us and we know that they are aware of our weaknesses... If only we could learn to live with our inadequacies, our frailties, our vulnerabilities, we would not need to try so hard to push away those who really know us."

"All of us experience fear, but when we confront and acknowledge it, we are able to turn it into courage. Being courageous does not mean never being scared; it means acting as you know you must even though you are undeniably afraid."

"Arrogance really comes from insecurity, and in the end our feeling that we are bigger than others is really the flip side of our feeling that we are smaller than others."

So there are a handful of my favorite quotes from the book. For three bucks, this book was well worth it as I am putting these quotes to good use this upcoming season!