Monday, May 28, 2012

Thinking Beyond the Box and 1: The Stick and Three Defense

Story Behind the Stick & Three

During my one year at South Tama County High School we had to be a little bit creative in order to compete. We had to do some outside the box thinking in order to give us a chance. We had a great group of guys, but we were not tall and did not have great foot speed. To top it off we were a small AAA school (second biggest class) playing in a big AAA conference where at one point four the the eight teams were ranked in the Top Ten in Iowa!

One night we had to go against the number one rated team at the time, Norwalk. Norwalk was 6-8, 6-6, 6-3, 6-3, and had a 6-2 point guard. Our tallest starter was only 6-2!! They were big, fast, strong, and just plain good, but relied heavily on their three studs. The point guard scored 20+ a game, the 6-6 player was a D2 player, the 6-8 kid ended up at division 1 Drake. How were we going to compete against those guys?! Well we knew their point guard was kind of the key, he could score and get others points when he drove the ball. We also knew they played a lot of high low and wanted to go into their bigs. Another key piece of information was their other players were not scorers, they defended and passed to their big three. With that information there was only one defense that really fit what we were looking for - the stick and three.

I had picked up the Stick and Three when talking with Marshalltown Community College Coach Brynjar Brynjarsson. He talked about using it against some of the local community college teams that had 3 great studs and a bunch of guys who didn't want to score. The strategy seemed perfect for Norwalk.

Although we didn't beat Norwalk, and ended up losing by about 15, the Stick and Three actually kept us competitive in the game. We were down six points with the ball in the fourth quarter. We played well offensively, but it was the defense that gave them the most fits. It disrupted what they wanted to do, as a matter of fact, one of their role players traveled on the first play because he caught  the ball, looked to pass right away, realized NO ONE was close to him and tried to stop passing. Having two players in the lane at all times, and fronting both of their bigs allowed us to keep the ball out of the high and low post - which was a big part of their game. It also allowed us to deny their point guard all over the floor with several of our players - holding him to six points for the game. Without the defense I think the score may have been even farther apart than what it was.

Basics of the Defense

The defense is actually very simple. You match up on three players and you leave the other two guys in the lane - usually high and low post. The guys in the lane prevent post entries, drives, back cuts, basket cuts, etc.

If a player you are guarding  1 on 1 is a post player, you front him at all times. You don't have to worry about the lob because you have two guys in the lane.

If a player is a perimeter you go belly to belly and deny him all over the floor. Forget help, forget anything else, you lock onto your man and don't let him touch the ball.

The diagram below shows the basic set up of the Stick and Three. As you can see, three guys are locked onto their man while the other two are zoned up on the inside.

The players defending the studs man to man are locked in, post is being fronted and the perimeters are being denied. Notice that the players who are not the three studs are not being guarded at all.

The guys on the inside do NOT leave the lane to cover the other 2 unless you instruct them to do so. They do shade to that side in case the player not being guarded wants to drive. That way they don't have to rotate, don't have to shift, just sit. On a middle drive the top takes it. On a baseline drive the bottom steps up and the top drops down - fairly easy rotation.

As a change up you could have one of your stick players trap the ball if a star gets a hold of it.

Downfalls of the Defense

Some of the downfalls when playing this defense are:
1. Can't play it if they have a fourth shooter.
      *If they have another guy who comes in and can pull you'll have to make a decision to either  
        switch off  of a post player and let the two in the middle take him, or get out of the defense.
        Because of the nature of leaving the other guys WIDE open a shooter will kill you.

2. Easy passes are always available to the guys you don't guard are always open for a pass out. If you play this defense you are not trying to force the tempo. It does give the offense time to work.

3. Rebounding can be hard at first. We struggled a little bit because we fronted the bigs and they just turned and had easy layups on the offensive rebound. The key is to make your two find a big and box them out.

In Conclusion

 This defense isn't something that should be your base, but I do think it's a great one to have in special occasions where it fits. It is something not a lot of teams see, or are ready for. It's more of a defense that you use to surprise your opponent and keep them out of their flow as we did. I was also blessed with guys who worked really hard and made the defense look good. Our undersized players battled to front their bigs and deny their point guard - without players who are willing to work the defense will be terrible because the studs will get their catches. Anyway, hopefully it's something you can put in your back pocket to help you win a game or two down the road.

Using the Stack to Add a Dimension to the 1-4 High

As you know, I am a huge fan of things that are simple yet effective. As a high school program we don't have unlimited time to teach fifty different sets and counters. So when there is something that gives the few sets we run an added dimension I jump at it!

The 1-4 high look is popular to run sets out of because you open up the inside of the defense and it allows you to get some great looks. At times though, the number of things you can do are limited, especially if you don't run sets that involve many steps. Today I was reading about the stack offense and it hit me - why not use the stack as an entry into 1-4 high sets? It's  a simple way to add another wrinkle to what you are doing. It's also something simple that can confuse the defense. It is good for getting you a few simple looks before you get into your main offense. If it were me, I would use 2-4 quick hitting stacks and have them be a part of the play call. If your 1-4 high set is called 14, then give the stack a color. So you could run Blue 14 or Red 14 and it would give you a little bit different look.

Even more effective would be using the stack as a starting look to get into all offensive formations if you run sets or base offense out of several different formations. You could use the stack as a disguise to camouflage the set you are getting into because you could run the same stack action into a 1-4 set one time and a box set the next. These types of quick changes also make you a little bit harder to scout.

Below I have drawn up several different ideas on how to use the stack look to get into your 1-4 high sets. Hopefully it gets you thinking and inspires you to come up with your own entries.

Quick is just a simple way to get you into your 1-4 high. Start with your  posts on the bottom, wings on top. Wings L cut up and the posts flash up. You are right into your offense.
 Quick Dribble
This is kind of a counter to the quick look. Defenses will start to overplay the L-cut out. So the counter is to dribble at the cutter and have them back cut to the rim. If you don't get the back cut, the backcutter (3) replaces the point (1) and we swing the ball to him and are into our 1-4 offense.

If you wanted to get really creative with it, you could even add an "America's Play" type look where the posts elevator screen the cutter back to the top. 

Quick Cross
If teams start to really overplay the wing to the point of beating them to the spot you could run a look like quick cross. On the cross, both wings come up to the elbow appearing that they are going to cut out as normal. Instead of cutting out however, they cross to opposite sides with one of the wings (coaches decision) receiving a double screen from the other wing and the post. The screening wing then flairs to the open wing and we are into our 1-4.

 Quick Backscreen
Again, another counter for the aggressive teams. Do the dribble over but instead of just backcutting, the wing gets a backscreen from the post on that side. The other post and wing clear and it should be an easy lay up. Can run this right into a sideline PnR too and clearn the cutting wing to the backside corner.

Quick Iso
If you are blessed with a stud and want to iso him, easy way to do it out of this is to have him start at the point, dribble to the wing, and look for the iso as players fill in. If he can't drive to the rim then he reverses to the filling point and we are in the offense. Works great if your stud is your wing because he gets an early iso and is in position.

Beat the Sag
It's always frustrating to play a PACK team because they sag off so much and clog the lane. We all know a great way to beat the sag is with the skip. So this could be a counter against the sagging team. Run what appears to be your iso play, but the backside post stays home. The PG skips the ball forcing a fast close out which we can drive to the middle on. At the same time the backside post has stepped in, sealed his man who was over sagging, and now has excellent position for a quick dump down.

Shooter One
This is a simple set play you could run for your shooter. Make it look like you are running your iso look dribbling to the shooter's side. The shooter runs out to the corner through an elevator screen and looks for the skip. If not there the backside wing fills the post, the shooter fills the backside wing, posts fill up, and we are into our offense. 

 Wing Cross Downscreen
To get the traditional stack downscreen out of this look you could cross your wings, have them duck under the bigs (easier if the bigs step up a little bit), and come off a pin down screen to the wings. Then the bigs pop off the screens and you are into it.
 Shooter Two
Simple look for your shooter. The shooter (3) cuts across, through the stack and up to the wing off the elevator screen. Everyone separates and we are into our 1-4 look.

 Post Iso
As coaches we are always looking for ways to get paint touches. This is a very simple way to accomplish that. Again, you are running your Iso look but instead of everyone popping, the ballside post cross screens and flashes high post for a high-low look.
 If nothing is there, swing to the top, post pops, and we are in our 1-4 look.

In Conclusion
As I wrote this article I realized that it might be even better to use the stack to start your offense if you ran offense out of multiple looks. Run these looks into your 4 out motion as well as your 1-4 high offense. That way it really works to conceal what you are doing - are you going motion or sets? Are you going to your box sets or your Princeton offense?

Either way you look at it, I think starting in something like the stack allows you to better conceal what you are doing because to the opponent (maybe not so much coaches but players for sure) it all looks and starts the same. It's going to make you harder to scout and harder to prepare for. Hopefully this gets you thinking about how you can use the stack to conceal your offense.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Using Social Media to Enhance Your Program

At times social media can be a thorn in the side of coaches. It is a forum for people to question the program, the team, and you personally. It can provide more fuel for problems between teammates to boil over and it can be yet another way for players to insert their foot into their mouth. So many coaches hate social media and with good reason.

The problem is that social media is not going anywhere and we can't stop it. As much as we would like to we cannot ban players from Facebook and Twitter, it just isn't feasible or realistic for us to try. You can bury your head in the sand to escape but it's not going to help. So why not embrace it as a tool? In the right hands Facebook and Twitter can be a great asset for your program. It can help to brand your program as well as communicate effectively with your parents and players.

Using Twitter
More and more coaches and programs are jumping on Twitter and for good reason. With Twitter you can really brand your program by what you put out there.You have the ability to control the perception of your program through what you post. Chances are your parents, players, fans, opposing coaches, and community members will follow you to keep up on what you are doing. The information you put out there is going to make a huge difference in how the world views you - for better or worse.

Twitter also allows you to communicate directly with your players and parents. You can post open gym dates and times, changes to schedules, camps, articles, motivational quotes/stories/thoughts, websites,  basically any information you want your players to see. It also allows you to promote the achievements of your players in season and in the offseason. You can also use it to show your personality as a coach. Many coaches with strong program communication use twitter as an additional resource.

Twitter can also help you to link past to present. Any good program acknowledges it's traditions. Having a twitter account allows your alumni to see what and how you are doing, comment on your season (positives hopefully), comment on their positive experiences with your program, as well as share updates on their lives - from scoring 20 in a college game to having their first child. It's a great way to make your program the kind of program that spans the generations. 

If you have some questions about using twitter for your program, I would recommend following these Minnesota coaches to see how they utilize it. There are a bunch more I could list, just pulled the first number I saw.

Having a team Facebook page can be a great way to keep in contact with your players. It's important to keep the team page private and only accessible to the players. That way you can keep it all in house. We did this at St. Croix Prep and it works really well for them. Coach Liesener posts videos, notes, scouting reports, game keys, schedules, schedule changes, bus times, motivational readings, workouts, etc on the site. It also allows the players to communicate with the coaches and with each other. The benefit is that most kids live on Facebook so they know immediately when something is posted. It also gives them a venue to talk about the team and even vent at times. But it's better to talk about frustrations where only the team can see it.  
Along with twitter, blogs are a great way to keep families up to date. I used one the summer I was at South Tama and it was a great way to keep everyone posted on what was going on with the program. There is a limit to what you can put up there, but for posting schedules, notices, and such it is great. It's also a great place to put your game reports, newspaper reports, motivational pieces, etc for your players to read.  If you can get them to check it daily it becomes a great way to send a message to them!

Social Media Cautions
Of course, with all the good you have the bad, below are a few quick things to avoid. You might laugh, but I've seen these things happen and it's not pretty.
1. Don't let your frustrations with your team, a player, or a parent out on social media.
2. Don't get into an argument with a player, fan, or parent.
3. Keep team issues in house and not on social media.
4. Don't gloat and give others bulletin board material. 

These are three easy things to do, but at times we do forget.

Hopefully you've all already embraced social media and don't need this article. But for those of you that haven't started yet - you need to get on the bus!