Sunday, December 30, 2012

Two Eastern Kentucky Backdoor Sets

Now I'm re-watching West Virginia vs. Eastern Kentucky from earlier today. Eastern Kentucky scored a  couple of baskets early off of these two backdoor set plays. The first one is complicated and takes a lot of time to develop, the second is more of a quick hitter, however. Personally, I wouldn't run the first one on a high school level, as it's pretty complicated and takes too long to develop. The second one, on the other hand, would make for a perfect quick hitter to get into our motion offense.

Set #1
Set one starts in a 1-3-1 type set with the point guard (1) at the top of the key, the post (5) in the high post and other perimeters (2,3,4) on the wings and low block. The bigger perimeter player (4) is the one who is on the low block.

The set starts with the player on the block (4) and the wing (2) on his side interchanging with the wing going to the short corner. The point (1) passes to the player coming up from the block on the interchange (4) and cuts through to the backside block. Once the point is through the high post (5) steps out and receives the pass from the wing (4). The backside wing (3) down screens for the point (1) who comes to the wing. The player who set the down screen (3) fills to the deep corner.

After the point (1) gets out to the wing, the player who passed the ball to 5 (4) sets a down screen for the player on the block (2) and then sets a backscreen for the player on the opposite wing (1).  Once the backscreen is set for 1, the post (5) makes a pass to the left wing (2) and cuts to the ballside block. As soon as the pass is made, the 4 comes over and sets a ballscreen. The ballhandler on the wing (2) comes off the ballscreen hard across the top. The deep corner player (3) raises up as if he's going to get the ball then goes backdoor for a layup.

Set #2

In set #2, which I like better, it started in an odd looking set. The point (1) and off guard (2) start high with the point (1) at the top of the key and the off guard (2) starts high and off the laneline. One wing (3) starts in the deep corner opposite the off guard (2). The other wing (4) starts free throw line extended on the off guard's (2) side. The post (5) starts at the high post again.

To start the play the off guard (2) cuts and stacks with the post at the middle of the free throw line. The wing on the guard's side (4) raises up and receives the ball. The point (1) corner cuts after he makes the pass.

The player with the ball on the wing (4) starts to dribble to the top. The post (5) sets a backscreen for the off guard (2) who cuts to the block. He fills the ballside corner and the point (1) moves from he corner up to the wing replacing the wing (4) who's dribbling.  After setting the screen, the post (5) immediately cuts up like he wants the ball and then backcuts to the rim. The player with the ball (4) keeps dribbling across the key. The backside deep corner player (3) raises up like he's going to get the pass and then goes backdoor for a layup.

Great BLOB by Wichita State

Currently watching Wichita State Play Northern Iowa on ESPN3. ESPN3 is my saving grace as I don't have cable!

Anyway, Wichita State ran this BLOB play and I thought it was pretty slick. It's not fancy or complicated, but it gets the job done and I bet it'll fool at least a few opponents this year. The announcers on ESPN even talked about how UNI covered this play during their walk-through today and it still worked!

The play starts with two players stacked at and just below the free throw line. A scorer (3) starts in the three spot, just below the stack. A shooter (2) stands on the ballside corner to occupy a defender. The scorer (3) comes off the double screen by circling around the first and squeezing between the screeners back to the spot he came. Might get an easy lay up here, but chances are that 3s guy will sag.

As the scorer (3) clears the screen he continues to head to the backside of the rim. The second guy in the stack (5) screens the first guy in the stack (4). The first guy in the stack (4) cuts to the ball and recieves the pass for a shot. If the player coming off the screen (4) is denied by the corner player's (2) defender, then the shooter (2) is wide open for a three.

Possible Counters
If the defense starts to sag off of 4 and blow up the play, then 5 can pin down 4's guy. 4 pops out to the free throw line extended for an easy three.
The stud (3) can start to come off the screen bu instead backscreen for 5.

Put the shooter in the 5 spot if they sag off you and have him pop to the free throw line extended after setting the three, or the corner spot (2) can flair for him.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Where Have I Been? And being Blessed at 0-5.

Well, I have not posted for an embarassingly long time! What have I been doing you ask? Nope, not on a secret mission to save America, didn't take a mission trip, and definitely wasn't on a trip around the world.

What I was doing, however was trying my best to be a great teacher for St. Paul Humboldt, a great husband to my wife Desiree, a great coach for St. Thomas Academy, along with buying a house, moving,  and being a first time homebuyer with no internet.

With that said, I am going to try to update this more often, as well as start a free basketball website where I can post all of my handouts, videos, thoughts, materials, links, etc. Coming soon - but not up and running yet.

At St. Thomas we've had a rough start to the year on the scoreboard - we've started out 0-5, but could easily be 4-1. Lost a game in triple overtime, lost a game by 5 (and had 25 turnovers), lost by 8 (had a lead), and lost, and lost by 5 and had a lead.

Some would be down about this - how are we losing? But there are are a couple of reasons that we are blessed:
1. We are blessed with a great head coach who is going to get us pointed in the right direction/
2. We are blessed with great player who are going to work hard and get better each day.
3. We are blessed with the knowledge of  what we need to improve on.
4. We are blessed that everyone is on board.

Because of this, we are going to turn it around. With the exception of the first game where John Marshall kicked our butts, we've competed in every game and given ourselves chances to win. Honestly, I would rather be 0-5 than 4-1 because our practices are more focused.

Happy holidays to everyone, whatever you celebrate, and remember to give thanks for the important things in life - family, friends, and the abilities you do have!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Rubishko Files: Greece 2008 Olympic Horns Sets

Editors Note: Several weeks ago I was helping my head coach move and aquired several boxes of scouting reports, game film, and scouting tapes. The Rubishko Files are information from there. As a courtesy to the coaches I am not going to list the school and also out of respect I am not going to share any information from coaches who have helped me in the past.
These sets come from a breakdown of the 2008 Greek Olympic Team's Horn Sets. These clips were actually put together by DeLaSalle's Coach Thorson who watches obscene amounts of tape each year! And I'm not a horns fan by any means, but I am impressed with what they do out of these sets. Simple, yet effective.

Set 1 - Swing and Slip
This is an interesting set, and a great compliment to the horns set published below. Also, in these sets Greece starts their posts higher than the other team did, which I like better - more room to operate.

The point guard (1) comes off the 4's side. The other post (5) slips to the rim and then the block. Look to get him the ball. The 4 who set the screen flairs to the opposite slot off the screen.
 The ball gets throw back across to the 4. The 4 then looks to drive. The ball side corner (3) comes up and gets the ball if the drive is not there.
 The 4 dives off the pass out and the 5 pops to the elbow and gets the ball. He can shoot it, dump into the 4, or kick across to the other wing (2) who came up.

Set 2 - Flair
This is another great counter to the bread and butter post entry horns set a few posts back.
In this set, the point (1) again comes off the 4's side of the ball screen.
 The backside post (5) sets a flair screen for the 4 who flairs to the opposite slot. We throw the ball back across to the 4 who can immediately go.

If the 4 doesn't immediately go to the rack the 5 pseudo rolls and then sets a ball screen for the 4 to go baseline.

**Obviously you can't run this with an unskilled 4, but if you've got a 4 who can play, and run a 4 guard system, this would be a great set for you to run. I would say you even could run it with your stud wing at the 4.
Set 3 - Switch and Slip
A dirt simple play, but it's the simplicity I fell in love with. So the 1 comes off the 4s side again. The 5 works his way out between the slot and the wing.
 This time the 4 turns and rescreens, the 1 comes back across the top and the 5 backcuts for a layup.
Closing Thoughts
The simplicity of these Greek sets is what's beautiful about them.  If you are into the high pick and roll game, or you've got a good post and need creative ways to involve him in the offense, these could work very well for you.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Rubishko Files: Simple, but Great, Horns Set

Editors Note: Several weeks ago I was helping my head coach move and aquired several boxes of scouting reports, game film, and scouting tapes. The Rubishko Files are information from there. As a courtesy to the coaches I am not going to list the school and also out of respect I am not going to share any information from coaches who have helped me in the past.

This was a horns set that was on a scouting tape. This team has a nice post and ran this set for him OVER AND OVER with success. It's simple, but every coach should add it to their tool belt - I know I have! It's pretty similar to what Spain was doing during the Olympics - although this film was from 2008.

This starts as a basic horns set with the point guard (1) coming off the high screen on the side of the stud post. The point (1) bounces out to the wing, stud post rolls (look inside), and the opposite post (4) pops high.

Throw the ball back to the high post (4) and go right into the stud post (5) who sealed off the roll if he didn't get it.

So again, it's a super simple set, but 

The Rubishko Files: Killer 1-4 High Set

Editors Note: Several weeks ago I was helping my head coach move and aquired several boxes of scouting reports, game film, and scouting tapes. The Rubishko Files are information from there. As a courtesy to the coaches I am not going to list the school and also out of respect I am not going to share any information from coaches who have helped me in the past.

The first thing I am going to share is a great 1-4 high set. It's got everything you'd want in a 1-4 high, backdoors, post ups, and backscreens. It's a really slick set to get the ball into your post.

The set starts with the 1-4 high, having the wings higher than free throw line extended. The play started in the clip out of the break and a full cour situation, but could be run in your regular half court set.

The guard (1) passes to the wing (2) and cuts through off the elevator screen with the posts at the elbows (4, 5). The pass should go to the opposite side of your better post (5). The point (1) cuts to the rim and then the block on his way out to the ballside corner.

As the point (1) fills to the corner, the backside post (5) pops up and recieves the pass from the wing (2).

The wing (2) cuts off a screen by the remining post (4) at the elbow to the rim. The backside wing (3) also runs a backcut as the post (5) catches the pass. If not going to get a layup breaks off and ends up in the corner.

The wing who came off the screen (2) fills out to the wing on the opposite side that he came from. The point fills up, and the high post (4) works his way to the block.

The post at the top (5) screens down for the other post (4) on the block. The low post (4) pops up and recieves the pass.

As the post (5) set the downscreen he seals and the post who popped (4) looks to go right inside for the post up and score.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Coaching Hard and Soft Skills

Image from
After months of anticipation and waiting, I finally got my hands on The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle. Coyle is also the author of one of my favorite books, The Talent Code. As I suspected, the book did not disappoint and it was well worth the wait! If you haven't yet, you need to get it. It is a must for every coach and player!

I'm not going to print all 52 tips on here, but one of the things that struck a chord with me was the idea of hard vs. soft skill and how different they are from each other. A hard skill is a skill that must be done right every time, in every situation. A soft skill, on the other hand, is the skill of being able to read and adapt to a situation on the go.

What does this have to do with coaching basketball you ask? Well basketball is a game that constantly combines hard and soft skill. Successful players have both. As a coach you need to understand how each is developed in order to properly coach it - and it's evident that some coaches do not understand the difference.

Many times coaches confuse hard skills with soft skills. Passing is a prime example. I understand the need for form passing drills at a young age, but is that really how you get better at passing? Of course not. Passing must be done against pressure, to a moving target, with defense. How many times in a game are you going to come down the floor, stop unpressured, and make a perfect pass to a guy standing wide open? If you do play a team that allows you to do that, let me know who it is so we can schedule them! Most teams you play are going to pressure the passer and maybe the cutter. Players are going to have to learn angles, leading their target, when a player is open, the type of pass to use,  how fast to throw it, etc. These are all soft skills that can't be taught properly in a structured drill.

How about fast break skills? We often hear coaches complain that players that are great in practice but struggle making the right decision in transition during a game. Why is that? Well many times players are told to take the ball to spot A, pass to player B, and then move to spot C. Well that may work in practice, but doesn't really apply to a real game when the situation is constantly changing. They might be great at a normal 3 on 2 situation but what happens when it's 3 on 3? 1 on 1? 3 on 2 and the defenders sag in the lane? 3 on 2 when the third defender is sprinting in behind? All of a sudden it isn't as easy as it was in practice - the skill has shifted to a soft skill.

Half court offense is another prime example of hard vs. soft skills. Yes shooting, passing skills, dribbling are important. Players need to know how to react to a given situation to take advantage of the defense - when to backcut, the angle to basket cut, etc. Even in set offenses such as SWING or Flex the teams that run it best have players who read the defense and make the right play. They still backcut pressure, attack the rim on the drive and read the defense, relocate on the pass inside for a better passing angle out,  etc. They see the patterns in the game and understand how to react and take advantage of the defense, instead of running around like robots.

Closeouts are yet another skill we all struggle getting our players to do correctly in a game. Why? Well, many times we practice closeouts 1 on 0 or with a dummy offense. It's great for the technique but translates poorly to game situations. How do they know how to use the skill in a game? How do they know what angle to take when closing out when the offense is in a variety of positions? How do they know how to read the offensive player's body language to see that he's going to drive? The answer is they do not have the knowledge, unless they've acquired the soft skills as well.

And how about 1 on 1 skills? How many players can do a move that is textbook on a chair and then get to the game and they seem lost on when to do the move, or they cross over right into the defender? The issue is that they have the hard skill down but they don't have the soft skill - the knowledge of when to use the crossover, the angle to take, etc.

I guess the labored point I am trying to make is that basketball is a lot of soft skills. But as a coach are you teaching it a soft skill setting? As you all know by now, I am a HUGE fan of the work that Brian McCormick does. Mainly because he teaches the game in a soft skill setting. He develops those kinds of skills in players, which are very important skills.

The question we as coaches have to ask ourselves is are we giving our players the correct teaching environment for the required skill? You want to teach the backcut, that's great! But running a drill with a passer at the point, a wing, and a defender where the defender dummies it isn't going to really help. It's a good way to start to learn the skill and build the technique (hard skill), but in order for the player to truly learn the concept they need to see it over and over again in a game type setting (soft skill).

As I've talked about in other posts, this year I spent a lot of time experimenting with teaching the game using small sided games. What we found was that small sided games of  3 on 3, 2 on 2, and 1 on 1 where the ultimate way to build skills, habits, and the ability to adapt to and read situations. Reading this book now solidifies my theory on the topic - you have to spend a lot of time on the soft skills. You want players to really learn how to play and how to use a skill during the game then you need to teach in an environment that develops soft skill learning. Other wise you are going to be frustrated. 

Now don't get me wrong, we still need drills to teach the hard skills. Players need to know the technical aspects of closing out, making a crossover dribble, or making a push pass. But many times we as coaches, myself included, spend too much time teaching the hard skill and not enough on the soft skill aspect and it's evident that the soft skill aspect is far more important. It doesn't matter if a player has picture perfect passing form if he's throwing it to the other team every time. Teaching soft skills is the missing piece to basketball development in my opinion and why not enough players "know how to play".

Friday, August 24, 2012

It's All About Trust

Today I made the two hour drive to Upsala, Minnesota to meet with Coach Vern Capelle to talk coaching and it was well worth it! Coach Capelle has a great wealth of knowledge about the game. One of the things I really wanted to talk to him about was his 4 Out Drive Motion, which he has a video on. Along with the 4 out stuff, which was great, he shared a great insight on what makes him a successful head coach. He kept talking about trusting his players. He talked about trusting players to shoot even when they are having a bad night (and letting them know you trust them), trusting players to make the right reads/plays even when they've screwed up, and trusting players to do what you are asking. He discussed how that makes players play harder and more aggressive - because they know you trust them and have their back no matter the outcome. The faith is a motivator for players.

Coincidentally, today I started reading The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner. One of the first chapters talked about when Turner Broadcasting (TBS) wanted to launch The Cartoon Network. They needed immediate programming so they bought Hanna-Barbera Cartoons (Flintstones, Scooby Doo, etc) because they had all the classic cartoons. Hanna-Barbera also had a studio, but the studio had struggled in recent years coming up with any hip, new, creative programs. Ted Turner gave the studio 2 years to turn it around or it would be shut down. The man he appointed to help with the turn around, Alan Keith, devoted all his time to switching the mindset of the animation team. When it was acquired, the Hanna-Barbera philosophy centered around churning out product as cheaply and quickly as possible. So Keith made the effort to change that mindset. Designers were given the freedom to be creative and take more time, explore more options, try different things, and come up with innovative, quality work. The managers were there to help the designers in the creative process not drive them. The process was long but what do you know, Cartoon Network eventually took off because of it!

What do these two stories have in common? As Coach Capelle does with his players, Cartoon Network's Keith TRUSTED his employees to do their best. Both men gave their people the freedom to be themselves and do what they were supposed to do, and do it well. It ended up with Capelle's team's being successful and Keith's TV network taking off. Same principle in both.

This whole thing also directly ties in with one of my favorite blogs of the last few weeks from Coach Sefu Bernard. In his blog, coach talks about great coaches being "guides in the side" and not a "Sage on the Stage". There are a lot of great Minnesota high school coaches who I have been privileged to watch them practice; coaches such as Coach Novak, Coach McKenzie, Coach Thorson, Coach Miller, Coach Klingsporn, Coach Liesener, Coach Fore, Coach Linton, etc. None of these coaches are a "Sage on the Stage" all the time, constantly doing a lot of talking and repeating. They are all the "guides on the side" for the most part, giving a little advice and then moving on and letting the players go. They are moving through the communication levels. They are teaching in bullets, not paragraphs. They are facilitators not lecturers. And they coach like this, again, because they trust their players. I would assume that Coach Capelle and TBS's Alan Keith are cut from that mold as well.

The last few days have really reinforced the importance of having trust in players. As coach Capelle said, it makes them player harder, and better. As people we all want to be trusted. I think it's one of the world's best feelings. I love that my wife trusts me and I trust her, it's why our marriage works. But I now wonder if I trust the players I coach enough? Do they know I trust them? I'm going to go back and ask some former players over the next week and see what they have to say on the subject. Should make for some interesting conversations.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

In More Depth: Three Things on a Note Card

I got a comment on my first "Three Things on a Note Card"  post asking to go a little bit more in depth with what we would put on the note cards. So what I am going to do below is give different player types and what we would put on the note card. I will then put some "team" concepts we might put on a note card for everyone for a given game.

Individual Players

Player Who Drives Out of Control and Takes Bad Shots or Makes Bad Decisions
For the player who loves to get to the lane and throw garbage up at the rim I would write the following things:

1. Find the open teammates on the drive.
2. Use the jump stop when you get to the lane.
3. Pressure on defense

-As you can see, we are trying to use the note card to help guide our player. If he has a talent for getting to the lane we need  him to utilize that skill, but we do want him to take it in a different direction. So this will serve as a reminder (along with some conversations) for what we need him to do. If he isn't doing it, we talk about what was on his card.

Untalented Offensive Player
This is your defensive stopper. This is the player who plays hard, does it the right way, but just isn't offensively skilled. We all love this type of player and know they can get frustrated when they are not scoring. I would go with something such as the following (depending on skill set):

1. Move the ball on offense
2. Be in great help position on defense
3. Pursue every rebound

-Here we are giving the player roles that he can accomplish without having to shoot the ball. We hope that this takes the pressure to score off of him. Doesn't mean that he doesn't shoot (never put that on a card) and if he's open in his range he shoots it, but it's giving him other things to do. If he can do those things then hopefully he feels more successful even if he isn't scoring.

Best Player By Far
When your best player is by far your best player you need to walk that fine line between him being a ball hog and scoring for the good of the team.

1. Find your shot
2. Get other's involved on offense when the defense keys on you
3. Be a leader by being the hardest worker on defense and the boards

With this we are trying to let him know that it's OK to score, but don't force it. We are also conveying the importance of worrying about the defensive end of the floor as well.

Player Who Doesn't Want to Shoot
We all have seen that player who's good but doesn't want to shoot the ball. When that happens it hurts the team. So what we would put is the following:

1. Shoot the ball
2. Shoot the ball
3. Shoot the ball

We would get a chuckle out of it, but it also makes the point that we want the player to shoot!

Bench Player
The worst one to fill out many times is the player who you know probably won't play. I've tried a lot of different things, but I think giving them realistic goals is better. If you give them all game things and if they don't get in the game it becomes a sore spot for them. They need to understand their role and feel important with what they are doing. So what we would put on the card is:

1. Be a great teammate
2. Coach your teammates on the floor
3. When you get your opportunity work hard and take advantage of it

It might sting the ego a little bit, but I think they deserve your honesty. You aren't completely shutting them out either though. I would also put more game situations in there if it's a game you know they have a good chance of playing.

Including Team Goals

There are times when I will use one of the parts of the note card (or add one) to address a team issue. It might have to do with a specific opponent or something that we are not doing well enough. For instance, if we are not rebounding well I'll add that to the card. Or if we are playing a pressure team I'll add in there "backcut against pressure" to remind them to backcut.

What to NOT Put on the Card

In my opinion I don't put stats on the card. There is nothing worse than putting get 10 rebounds and your guy gets 9 and is pissed because he didn't get the goal. You can put team goals such as "win the rebounding battle" but it's hard to put a quantity on there. I would also caution against phrases such as "be a scorer" unless the player won't shoot. If you are telling a player to be a scorer who doesn't need a push it gives the green light to be a ball hog. Also, don't tell player what they can't do, tell them what they can do. As an example, you don't want them to shoot use something such as "move the ball" or "find open teammates". Telling players what to do is far more helpful.

In Closing

Hopefully that helps to better illustrate what I was talking about. I just think that note cards are a great way to reinforce the roles that you have talked about with players and can be a valuable asset to your players.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Teaching Players to Use Imagination

I've always hated practicing offense without defense, unless you are teaching the offense for the first time. I've thought that it's a waste of time because players are not reading a defense, they are just going through the motions of the offense. They are not getting anything out of it.

Today however, I was having a conversation with Paul Richardson that made me take another look at 5 on 0. Coach Richardson is the girls coach at St. Paul Humboldt where I teach and does an outstanding job.  Coach Richardson shared a story about a coach he played for who his who practiced his motion 5 on 0 motion. It wasn't the typical 5 on 0 however, his coach demanded that the players use their imagination while running the offense. They needed to know where the defense was, where the other player's defender's were, etc and react to it. The coach then called them on mistakes and sloppy play every, single, time. He was constantly questioning why they chose to go where they did, why they'd go where someone else was, etc. Coach Richardson said it would drive him and his teammates nuts but helped them to understand the movements on a deeper level.

After hearing how 5 on 0 was used; I have moved from strong hate to slight dislike for it. Its still not something I would do for long periods, or on a daily basis, but when first teaching the offense as a whole I think it's a great addition to the teaching process. The idea of having players imagine and conceptualize not just what they are doing, but what everyone else on the floor is doing! Along with that, the idea that the coach is there holding their feet to the fire his huge. This is something that I will definitely use in the future and appreciate the tip from Coach Richardson.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Emphasis Alone is Not Enough

Photo courtesy of
I was reading some Kevin Eastman notes from the 2012 Coaching U Live clinic that where posted on Coach Peterman's Hoop Scoop Blog (great resource). As always Coach Eastman has great insights into the game and into coaching, the one that stuck out with me was the following:
"Emphasis alone is not enough, you must enforce it."

At times that can seem like kind of a "no duh!" type of statement but it goes deeper than you think. What things in your program do you enforce? You might emphasize the jump stop on a drive, but do you pull a player out for it during a game? Do you call a player out on it every time in practice? If not you may be emphasizing a jump stop, and talk about it, but you are not truly enforcing it.

The tricky part is, what do you enforce? If you enforce everything you enforce nothing. Enforcing everything sounds great in theory, but may be impossible in practice. So my project for the next week is to come up with some things that would be good for us to enforce this year. What do you enforce and how?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Being "Intentional"

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Last week I was doing some teaching related professional development. The training focused on "being intentional" in the classroom. Lesson plans, instructions,  addressing students, labs you pick, etc. Of course this got me thinking about coaching: how intentional am I in my coaching an dhow could I use this idea to improve? Below I will cover the two most important ways that you need to be intentional as a coach.

1. Practice Planning
In our group of science teachers we talked about intentionality in lesson planning. Many science teachers make the mistake of finding a "great lab" and then trying to shoehorn that great lab into the curriculum. They do it not because the students need it, not because the curriculum calls for it, but because they feel it's a great lab. They may also run a lab that looks great, but really doesn't challenge the students or inspire mental growth. When you look at it from the outside you can see the obvious flaws in the logic, we need great labs that fit our teaching goals and challenge our students, not just run great labs for the sake of great labs. Often times however, when you are in the heat of the year, you miss the forest for the trees. The same thing can happen to basketball coaches.

We as coaches fall into this very same trap with drills that we run. We will have a "great drill" that doesn't really fit with what they are trying to accomplish in that practice. We run it anyway because it's a "great drill" and they just want to run it. Many times we also run drills that "look good" but are too remedial for our players, but they look good so we run them.

You need to be intentional and make sure the drill fits your practice goals and also give the players what they require for their current skill level. For instance, why spend 10 minutes every day in the middle of the season on defensive stance if your players have it down (if they don't different story)? Why not spend that time having them work on guarding a live dribbler and playing defense 3 on 3? It's a drill that fits the need (defense) but also challenges the current defensive level of the players. 

You need to be intentional about how you use build ups in practice as well. It drives me nuts when I see a coach do defensive stance, go right into some offensive concept, and then come back and do on the ball defense 20 minutes later. That's like showing a student how to do a math problem, doing 10 minutes of socials studies, then giving the student a practice worksheet from the math they did 20 minutes ago. Does that make any sense? The drill becomes abstract and the players aren't getting what they should out of it. Instead, do a few minutes of stance, few minutes of on the ball defense, and then move into a 1 on 1, 2 on 2, or 3 on 3 situation with an emphasis on guarding the ball. That way they are building up the skill and using it in a game situation.

When you are intentional about your practice build up you are going to get far more out of it. I've been blessed enough to attend some great practices of Minnesota high school coaches. All of these coaches, who are successful year in and year out, go to great lengths to be intentional about their practices. It shows in their practice and when the ball goes up on Friday nights. 

2. Communication
Communication with athletes and parents is huge, we all know that. If you can communicate intentionally you will solve a lot of problems and everyone will be on the same page. But are we always intentional in our communication?

This spring I sat down with a coach who is transitioning from being the head coach to athletic director this year. One of the things that struck me with him was how intentional he was with his communication with parents. He would send out an e-mail every week giving updates, and spreading the message. He was intentional with communicating, and with the message he gave out. Anytime you are talking with people about your program (whether a head coach, assistant, player, or parent) you are conveying a message. So with that said everyone in the program needs to be intentional about the message.

It's also important to be intentional with how you communicate with players. The great coaches I have been around are all very intentional about how they communicate with players. It often appears as if every word they say to the team and the individual is carefully planned. They are not going out there in practices and games and simply shooting from the hip when they speak. It's very measured, calculated speech that lends itself to giving the information and getting the result they want.

A long time ago psychology students at UCLA went in and studied John Wooden's practices. They were keeping track of what he said to his players. They imagined they would hear a lot of positive and negative talk from the legendary coach. Instead, what they found was that the vast majority (over 85%) of Coach Wooden's comments were giving instruction. The Wizard of Westwood was intentional with his speak and his coaching record reflected it (and yes, having talented helped too).

Closing Thoughts
There are a lot of things that you can be intentional about as a coach, but the two areas mentioned above are the most important. When you think of every great coach they share two common areas of greatness - practice and communication. Because of that, this year I am really going to focus my efforts on being more intentional in our practices and communication. I hope you will as well. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Defining Roles with Three Things on a Notecard

There are many times when players are unsure of their role(s) on the team, especially early in the year while the team is still forming. The "Three Things on a Notecard" technique is a good way to quickly clarify roles for our players. The Three Things on a Notecard technique is quite simple - write three things on the notecard that you really want the player to concentrate on. These should be different for each player and tailored to their abilities and skills. These notes can be as simple as rebounding or something more complex such as where you want them to get their shots from.

Now, the three things you write are not the only three things the player should do, it should just give some direction to the player. Also, make sure your roles are written in positive, instructive talk - the instructions should be what you want the player to do, not what you don't want them to do.  

They are quick to make, and I have felt that they've made a difference when helping players to realize their roles. Hopefully they can work for you!

Great Majerus Set Pick and Roll Play

A number of years ago I attended a clinic with Rick Majerus on the pick and roll. It wasn't the best clinic that I had been to, but I did get a gem. This pick and roll set is great because if it's simplicity. You can draw it up as an end game set or put it in during 5 minutes of practice. Lastly, it gives you the slip look which is hard to guard when teams are aggressive.

The set works best when you have a post (or player) who can shoot it and a bigger post who is normally your screener. It also helps if you have one more shooter to be the wing that fills to the top. It is also a great set if your point guard is your best player

The set starts with a point, two wings, and a stack on the left block. The point guard (1) dribbles away from the stack. The wing being dribbled at (3) on that side circles under and comes back to the point. The backside wing (2) cuts down, off the stack (double screen) and across to the opposite corner. 

Both backside block players (4,5) start to come up to the ball with the big post (5) coming first and the shooter (4) trailing. The first player to the ball, the big post (5) slips the screen to the rim and the guard (1) looks for him.

As the big post (5) slips the shooting post (4) sets the ball screen. The player at the point (3) fades to the opposite wing. The guard (1) comes over the pick and roll and the screener (4) pops. Look to kick across to the opposite wing (3) for a shot, hit the player on the block, or hit the screener for a three.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cutting Down on Ankle Injuries

If you were to ask any coach what the most common injury is, it's the ankle. For many coaches, the answer is ankle braces. I used to be an ankle braces guy, but then I started reading Alan Stein's articles on ankle injuries. In his articles he says that ankle braces are not the answer, the answer is properly stretching and strengthening the ankle.

Last year at Como Park we decided to try it on the JV. No ankle braces, just strength and flexibility exercies. Low and behold we only had one ankle issue all year. We had a few minor rolls, but they didn't affect the players and were a lot less frequent than previous years. Below is a video by Alan Stein's Stronger Team.Com with some of the exercises we used. Hopefully they help you out as well.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Players and the Test

Photo courtesy of
Last week I was attending an AVID conference in Philadelphia for school and I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to sit down with Coach Phil Martelli of St. Joe's University. I respect Coach Martelli a lot for his knowledge and passion for the game. He's old school in his willingness to share his thoughts and ideas with other coaches. We talked for almost two hours and he was very open with his answers - he wasn't hiding anything and was very honest.

One of the best pieces of knowledge he shared was his approach to game time. I've heard him say it before in articles and videos, but it was great to hear it again. He made the analogy of a teacher and a coach. The teacher works hard to prepare the students for the test, but when the test comes how do they act? Are teaching running up and down the aisles screaming at the players "REMEMBER YOUR TIMES TABLES!!!!" or are they quiet and relaxed? Coach Martelli went on to explain how so many coaches are crazy on the sideline but are they really doing any good? Is all the yelling and screaming sinking in or simply floating out the opposite ear? He went onto explain how great coaches prepare their team all week for the game - even having to yell and scream at times, but when it's game time they relax and let the players play. Great coaches make a few, calm, adjustments as the game goes on as opposed to stalking the sidelines in a rage.

For me this really hit home. I used to be a huge yeller and a screamer on the bench. I would have hated to play for me - although I felt like the guys played hard.  Over the last few years I have mellowed, but not enough. Every game I go in saying I am going to be calm and laid back, however that usually isn't the case. So this year I am going to make an even greater effort to relax during the games and be a true teacher during the "tests".

Friday, August 3, 2012

Quick Pin: Set for a Secondary Shooter

When looking at set plays, there are two powerful ideas: mis-direction and combo actions. The play below encompasses both of these. It's a 2-3 high set where your shooter is actually the five man. We use the five man to screen and then get him open when the defense is preoccupied with defending the first action. The set includes some interesting counters you can use to play with the defense.

Note: I wouldn't run this with your best player at the five, but I would run it with a secondary shooter at the five that the defense isn't going to key on right away.

Quick Pin
The set is a 23 high with the post on the ball side at the first hash mark, just below the FT line. On the guard to guard pass the post (5) sets a curl screen for the backside wing (4) who cuts over the top of the screen. If they really cheat it, the wing (4) can reject the screen and backcut in a Princeton or Dana Altman 2-3 High fashion. That look because very effective against an aggressive team.

As the wing (4) comes off the screen the guard who passed the ball (2) sets a quick downscreen for the screening player (5) in a flex like action. The inside man (5) pops up for the shot. Again, this screening action makes it look as if we are looking for the curl. The defense is going to help on the curl and become an easier target for the downscreen.

 Backscreen Counter
An easy counter to this set is having the shooter/post (5) backscreen the passing guard (2) after setting the curl screen for the wing (4). After setting the screen backscreen the shooter (5) pops back for the shot.

Back and Screen Counter
This counter is similar to the counter above, except the guard (1) swing it to the wing (3) on his side and then screens the screener for the shooter (5) who is setting the backscreen. 

Flair Counter
Another simple counter is to have your guard pass the ball, V cut and get it back. As that happens the wing (4) pins the shooter (5) who pops to the wing for a shot.

As usual, nothing new or revolutionary here, but  this set is an interesting way to get a secondary shooter some looks without drawing immediate attention to them. This would be a helpful set if you ran Princeton, a 2-3 High, or even a 4 Out Motion offense as it starts that way and you can run it right into the offense. Either way, I like the idea of using the shooter as a screener first, then getting them open for a shot. It puts their defender in a tough spot - help on the first action or stay with the shooter.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Stretching and Fixing Relationships

Photo courtesy of UWGB Website
Got the chance to watch Getting Players to Play Hard: Revised Edition by Coach Divilbiss and loved it. The most outstanding point of the entire video was when Coach Divilbiss talked about the idea of constantly "stretching and fixing" your relationships with players. "Stretching and fixing" is the process by which you stretch your players comfort level on discipline and playing hard and then build the relationship back up after the stretching is over. You push them farther than they want to go, they get mad at you, you build the relationship back up within that stretched comfort zone, and then you proceed to stretch it even farther. It's a great concept and one that I think all master teacher's use. They maintain the delicate balance between pushing players forward and building them up.

 I've never heard it put this way, but it's a great way to explain how to coach! It's why I constantly remind our players that I'm doing this (pushing them) because I care about them and want to make them better, not because I am trying to be a jerk. This process is something that I want to improve upon this year as I think it's the one single key to getting players to play hard out of motivation not fear.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Power Flex Continuity

Photo from


This is a continuity that I discovered while writing more sets for my first HoopsU Insider post. It started out as a set play, but ended up being able to be run as kind of a slick continuity. Some of the ideas come from watching a lot of Princeton Offense lately as well as watching some of the concepts that were employed by high school coaches this winter. This isn't something that you would use as your primary offense, but is something you could definitely use as a secondary offense. **I have never used the offense but it does look like it could be successful in theory.**

The offense is designed to be run if you have a stud post player and at least one shooter. There is a constant stream of cross screens for your big to try and get him open, the best part is that your smaller players are doing the screening, so that makes it tough for switching defenses. It also gives you down screens for your shooter(s). Lastly there are many back cut options for your perimeter players which makes it hard for players to pressure your team. Lastly it gives you an option to isolate a second post player (or good driver) in the high post if you pass the ball into the high post.

Entry: Getting Into the Offense

The offense starts out in a 1-4 high look. The point guard (1) dribbles at a wing (2) and away from the stud post (5). The wing (2) backcuts to the rim and then sets a back/cross screen for the stud post (5) on the backside elbow. The back/cross screen is one of the best looks that you have to get a post the ball in an offense, so we want to take advantage of that in the entry. We always look for a post up right off the bat. If they are fronting the post we go right to the high post and look high-low or run our high-low action (shown farther below).

The backside wing (3) sets a flair screen for the player who set the back/cross screen for the post (2). The cutter (2) fills the wing and the flair screener (3) pops to the top of the key and gets the ball. If the player coming off the flair (2) is a shooter we can skip to him (2). If a skip happens the post (5) and high post (4) just come across and we are still in the offense. If we don't skip the ball, we pass to the separating screener (3) at the top of the key.

The Continuity 

When the ball is swung to the top the player at the top, that player (3) catches the ball and dribbles to the wing opposite the pass (2). The player at that wing (2) backcuts and we look for the backdoor pass. If it's not there, the cutter (2) continues across the lane and sets a cross screen for the stud post (5) on the backside. The stud post (5) comes across the lane and looks for the post up. If he doesn't get the ball right away (there needs to be an emphasis on entering the ball early), the high post (4) sets a down screen in a screen the screener action.
 The cutter (2) comes off the down screen in the screen the screener action and the screener (4) pops back to the elbow. We can again look to enter it to him and look for a high low again if the post is fronted. If we don't get the ball into either post we swing to the top and we continue with the continuity.
 The player at the top of the key (2) again receives the pass and again dribbles at the opposite wing (1) player. The wing player (1) backcuts, looks for the ball, and then continues across the lane and sets the cross screen for the post (4) who comes to the ball.
 The high post (4) sets the down screen. The player who set the cross screen (1) comes up to the top of the key. The player setting the downscreen (4) pops back to the high post and we swing the ball to the top to start the continuity again.

Other Options

High Post Entry

The ball can be entered to the high post (4). If that happens we have two immediate quick looks. These should take 1-2 seconds at the max. The first look is for the high post player (4) to dump the ball into the low post (5). Then high post (4) can look to take his defender one on one to the basket away from the stud post's (5) side.

If none of those looks are there, we go into our high post action. The wing player who passed the ball in (2) gets a backscreen from the post (5) and cuts to the basket. The stud post (5) stays on the wing and pretends like he's watching the play.  If the back cut isn't there, the backside wing player (3) sets a flair screen for the player at the point (1) who flairs to the backside wing. The screener (3) pops to the point. We look to get the ball to the player coming off the flair (1) by either skipping the ball or swinging it through the top. Either way the ball needs to end up on the opposite wing.
 After the pass is made the high post (4) sets a curl screen for the post who cuts to the rim and block. The player who came off the backscreen (2) fills the backside wing.
 The high post (4) fills across and we look for another high-low or we swing the ball to the top and get back into the offense. The player with the ball at the wing (1) passes up to the point (3), point dribbles at the opposite wing (2), who backcuts, etc. If they are denying the wing/point pass, the point (3) can screen away for the backside wing (2).

Low Post Entry

The whole idea of the offense is that we want to get the ball into the low post, right?! Well what do we do when it's there??
As the ball is passed to the low post, the high post (4), sets a curl screen for the entering wing (1). The entering wing (1) cuts off the elbow screen, to the backside block, and out to the opposite corner. If his man doubles we give him the ball and he gets a layup on the cut.

If the post doesn't score, and we don't get anything off the elbow screen, the player at the point (3), starts to cut to the rim and cuts to the wing off a flair screen. The other two perimeter players (1,2) fill to the ball.

Cheating the Dribble Over

Some teams will try to cheat the dribble over and by sagging off. If this happens we can run a Euro Screen to attack the defense. You can also do this action if the player at the wing is a stud that you want to drive. You could have a rule that you run the euro screen action anytime player X is dribbled at.

In this call/look, the player that has the ball at the point (3) dribbles at the player on the wing (1) as we normally do in our continuity. Instead of backcutting however, the player on the wing (1) cuts at the dribble and we perform a dribble handoff. The wing coming off the dribble handoff (1) gets a ball screen from the high post (4). The driver (1) can attack the rim and then dumps to the post (5) or kicks out. if the drive is not there, the driver (1) can dribble across, at the opposite wing (2) and we are into our offense again. A nice addition would be your stud post (5) backscreening the ballscreening post (4) but is not shown.


As I said in the beginning this is not something I have ever used, and am not sure how well it will work. I am more of a motion coach anyway, but it appears that it could be useful, especially if you have a stud post you want to get the ball to. Hopefully if you are a continuity coach you will give it a try and have some success with it!