Sunday, October 30, 2011

Using Cornell Notes at Clinics

This weekend was spent at the Minnesota Basketball Coach's Association Clinic. It was a very good clinic with a lot of great speakers such as Don Meyer, Alan Stein,Vance Walberg, Ken Novak (Hopkins HS, MN), Carl Pierson (Politics of Coaching Author), Dave Cresap (Perham HS, MN), and Lynn Frederick (Brookings HS, SD). Actually got to spend two hours with Coach Walberg after the clinic at the social, got a lots of ideas. Great stuff from all of these speakers and I really enjoyed my time. It's always nice to see the coaches from across the state that I've gotten to know over the years, we really have a solid group of high school coaches in Minnesota at all levels.

When listening to Coach Meyer, something he talked about was using Cornell Notes at clinics. Cornell Notes are a style of note taking where you have 2/3 of the page devoted to notes, 1/3 of the page devoted to your thoughts/ideas and the bottom of the page is devoted to your summary of the notes that you got. To the right is a simple example of Cornell notes.

Of course I started to use the technique after he mentioned it. I found it to be very helpful - especially after the clinic was over. It allows me to jot down thoughts that I might forget later. For example, if I find an idea I like I will note that in the column. I will also jot things I don't agree with as well as where/how I will incorporate that into our program. It made the clinic much better because I was engaged in the process. I was constantly thinking of how/when/where I was going to use the information and if it lined up with my philosophy or not. If I had or hadn't done this in the past and if I should be doing it. Below is an example of one page of notes that I took from Coach Meyer. As you can see I now have more of my thoughts and feelings on the page than I would have just taking the notes. Likely, I would have had the thoughts but would have quickly forgotten them.

I would highly encourage you to use Cornell Notes at your next clinic - I guarantee you that you'll get more out of it!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Classic Example of Real Life Moneyball

After writing the last post I started to think about some real life examples where production was overlooked and players were undervalued - real life Moneyball Players. The prime example of this is a player named Bryce Tesdahl who plays for Bemidji State University - he's one of the ultimate examples of a "Moneyball Player".

Bryce is from Crosby-Ironton High School and now plays at Bemidji State University. Coming out of high school these were some of his accomplishments:
  • Four year starter
  • Almost 2000 points for his career 
  • 17 ppg as a senior 
  • Almost double digit rebounds per game as a senior
  • 32-1 team record and a second place finish at the MN State Tournament
  • Set the Minnesota single season record for assists in a season as a senior
  • Set the Minnesota State Tournament record for assists as a senior
  • All-State Second Team 
  • MN State Tournament All Tournament team 
  • Area Player of the Year
Even with all of the above honors/accomplishments during his high school career (and being a high character player), he was not heavily recruited by a single NCAA Division II school. Bemidji State (Bemidji, MN) did give a chance to come and play after watching his team in the playoffs as a senior. The knock was that he was too slow and was not a good enough shooter to compete at the Division II level. His shot looked a little funny, but it did go in. Below is what Bryce has done in his three years at Bemidji State:
  • Three year starter
  • Three year leader in assists for BSU
  • Is already BSU's all-time leader in assists after his junior year
  • 9th nationally in assists as a junior. 
  • 28th nationally in free throw percentage with 86% (103/119)
  • Named Academic All-NSIC Team member and to the NABC Honors Court as a junior.
  • Junior Stats
    • 9.5ppg, 6.0apg, 3.8rpg, 41% three point percentage, 75% free throw percentage
    • 1.75 assist to turnover ratio
  • Sophomore Stats
    • 10.3ppg, 5apg, 5rpg, 86% free throw percentage, 37% three point percentage
  • Freshmen Stats
    • 6.8ppg, 3.7apg, 3.7rpg, 31% three point percentage, 74% free throw percentage
At this point, most NSIC teams that didn't recruit Bryce would love to have him on the roster.  Unfortunately Bemidji State got him and got a steal! They were the ones that overlooked the eye test and looked at the production they could get out of him - and it paid off!

Are there any Moneyball Players in your program??

Moneyball for Basketball?

My wife and I went to the movies on Thursday night and saw Moneyball. It's a really good baseball movie, but of course it also got me thinking about basketball. The movie highlights the story of Billy Beane and the Oakland A's in the early part of the decade. Oakland had been getting pilfered of all it's good players by the "big boys" from New York and Boston so it decided to use a different strategy to build a team. Instead of looking at the "players" they put on the field they looked at the "numbers" that the players brought. They used sabermetrics, a mathematical formula that rates players purely on production, not on the "eye test". They signed and played players that traditionally may not have played because they couldn't play their "normal" position or their mechanics were funny. It also then takes into account how many of these statistics (hits, runs, on base %) you will need to win X number of games. It then uses a formula to calculate, based on the production you have, about how may games you can win.  This formula comes from the writings of baseball stat man Bill James. James bucked the old system of scouting (using the eye test) and favored just looking at the cold, hard data. In the movie his system allowed the A's to target several baseball players that were severely underpaid/undervalued, but had high production.

So what does ANY of this have to do with basketball? Well, I am very intrigued by the concept of just putting production on the floor - even if it isn't pretty or doesn't fit the classic position it is playing.

After I made that statement, all of you out there likely rolled your eyes and said some form of "tell me something I don't know!" But how many times have you seen the following scenarios play out:

  • A team plays their 6-6 post because he's the tallest player, but they have a 5-10 kid on the bench who would actually get more rebounds and be more physical on defense? We play the big kid because he could produce more, not because he actually does. 

  • How many times have you heard a coach say a kid can't shoot because his shot is ugly even though he can make a high percentage of his 3s? We judge the player by the eye test, not by his production. 

  • How many coaches have played their most athletic kid even when he doesn't produce? We play him because of what he could do.  

  •  How many teams play one of their best players even when he's having a terrible night and tanking the team? We play him because he should  be doing better but isn't.

I can readily admit to being guilty of all of the above! As I've gotten more experience I've become better at playing production, but still get caught in these traps. I think we all do from time to time. Our thinking always says "that player should give us _______".  Instead we need to be thinking in terms of "that player actually gives us ______".

Now, I will say that there are a lot of coaches that do it right - play their most productive players - but I also think that sometimes we love to play players based on potential. I know that I do. For instance, and I've done this, a player has a really nice looking jump shot so I encourage him to keep shooting in a game because I feel that he's going to catch fire. In my experience this usually doesn't happen, if he was a shooter they'd be going in. Someday he'll probably develop into a great shooter, but not now. In this situation we need to play him based on his production - which is not as a three point shooter.

Moneyball is also about finding players who can be successful filling given roles, not just putting the best five on the floor (again, another "NO DUH!" statement).  Who's going to rebound for you, get the extra one or two 50/50 balls a game, who's going to be a defensive stopper, who's going to be your extra zone-busting shooter against a 2-3 zone? Finding the situations to maximize production of your players - and knowing which situations they will be productive - is the key. We all know this, but do we all do it every time? It's about looking at where you need the production and figuring out who can best fill that role on your team. Sometimes the answer is going to surprise you.

Jerry Tarkanian was a master of this during his run at UNLV. Many times his teams were made up of players who were great in one or two areas and terrible at the rest. He was able to put them in position to maximize their potential and maximize their production for the team in their given area. They spent the most time in situations where they could be great.

Phil Jackson is also great at using the most productive players. Do you think that Steve Kerr was the best athlete that Jackson could have put at the point for the Bulls? Of course not, but he was the most productive player with his ability to shoot when they doubled Jordan. He was the most productive point the Bulls could have had.

Basketball does differ from baseball in one big way - it's more of a team game than baseball is. In baseball if you hate your second basemen it doesn't affect your ability to hit and throw, but in basketball if you hate your center you might not pass him the ball. So chemistry does factor into the combinations you put on the floor.

The Moneyball theory doesn't amount to you totally shaking up your roster, 90% of the players on the floor are the ones who should be there. Unlocking the hidden or underutilized production on your roster is what the Moneyball theory about. Finding guys who can give you statistics that you need to win and playing the guys that give you the most production - not the most potential. I haven't told you anything you don't already know, but hopefully it has you re-examine your team and the production levels of your guys. It will have my looking just a little bit differently at our squad this year.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Four Most Important Words in Coaching

I was lucky enough to attend the coaching clinic in Thief River Falls (MN) that featured Kevin Eastman. As usually, he was absolutely amazing. I got over twenty pages of notes from Coach Eastman alone, but something that really stuck out with me was the following statement he made:
The four most important words in coaching are "Shit, this ain't working!".

Again, reflecting on my year in South Tama I think this phrase is one that I used quite often! It's also one that I think is important for any coach - you have to be able to admit to yourself that what you are doing isn't working. You need to be constantly analyzing what isn't working, and more importantly you have to figure out why. There are a lot of coaches who will stick with the same thing even if it's gone far south.

Now I'm not saying if your motion isn't working that you go to the flex! What I am saying is that you need to admit what you are doing isn't working and figure out how to tweak it to make it work. For example, in my year at South Tama, I tired to start teaching the motion by teaching the drive and kick aspect first. I quickly discovered that action was not what fit the players. So instead I started to teach pass and cut, backdoor, and screening actions. I didn't abandon the motion offense, but I did abandon the motion concepts I was trying to teach.

Outside the Box Ideas

It's been awhile since I posted last, just had one of those stretches. Saw a good clinic by Kevin Eastman up in Thief River Falls (MN) and been doing a lot of reading. Currently trying desperately to finish Tony Dungy's book "The Mentor Leader" which I got from Christmas last year from Coach Leisener. It's a great book, almost done, but just been slow to finish it.

I was watching some old tape of my year at South Tama County with my buddy Amis MacKenzie who's the JV coach at Little Fork High School. Reflecting back on the season (as painful as it still is), I did think about some of the outside the box ideas we used that year. They didn't result in a whole lot of wins obviously, but they were interesting none the less. Below I'll give you my two best outside the box ideas from my wild year with the STC Trojans.

Stick and Three
Got this idea from a junior college coach in Iowa. He would go man to man on the three best players on the team and leave the other two players on the blocks or high low to clog the lane.

We used this defense when we played Norwalk, who was ranked #1 in the state at the time. We ended up losing by 20+, but were down 6 in the fourth quarter if my memory serves me correctly. They had a super point guard and two big studs (6-5 kid and a 6-8 D1 kid) inside. So we denied the point all over and played man to man on the bigs fronting them wherever they went. The other two guys played in the lane and took away the drive for the point guard and the lobs to the post. Eventually we ended up taking the second person on the stick and doubling the point when he touched the ball and recovering to the lane after the pass. The other players on the team were so shocked to be open that they didn't hurt us for most of the game.

Not Jumping for the Jump Ball
We were very undersized and there were not a lot of jump balls we were going to win. So what we started doing was having our PG jump and instead of actually jumping for the ball he would try to read the tip and run out to grab it. If he didn't get it, we would trap the player who did get it. We played a defensive jump and forced them to tip it behind. Twice our point actually stole the ball and we got a layup out of the deal. Not a game changer, but something different and interesting to try and steal momentum.

Overall, I think when you are struggling you have to try some things that are a little outside the box to gain any advantage that you can. They might not always make a difference between wins and losses, but all it takes is that one close game for them to make the difference.