Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Notes from France vs. Spain First Half

Every day I wake up I count my blessings that I have ESPN 3. Got home today after setting up my classroom for the year and watched Spain vs. France in some National Team game. Riveting stuff, plus some of the Spaniards have great beards. Below are a three gems I got out of the first half. As a four out motion coach, both could be ran as entries, or just as looks if you are a set play coach.

Spain Iso For Stud
Spain, and a lot of pick and roll teams, run this for their 4 usually, but I think it's a great look to get your stud isolated in the high post. They ran it several times and got good results.

Play starts with a ball screen. Usually the 3 is a 4, but for the sake of the look we're putting an athletic wing in this spot and your 4 would have to be a wing who could shoot it a little. Anyway, the point looks to turn the corner off the ball screen, if not there the point bounces out, throws back across to the screener (3) who goes to the elbow after setting the ball screen. Post relocates and the stud (3) goes to the basket. If the stud goes middle, post stays.
I've seen this look with quite a few NBA teams, but haven't seen many high school coaches running this look. Trust me though, it's coming.

France Drive and Flair
In this set, 3 is Nicolas Batum to give you some context. Not sure if this was a designed set, although I think it was. Would be a very effective motion action or entry, great late clock play as well. The point (1) does a dribble hand off with the wing (3) who tries to turn the corner. As that is going on the backside wing (4) sets a flair for the backside guard (2) so that when 3 comes off the dribble hand off the 2 is setting up to shoot. Skip the ball over and get a shot.
France Post Step Out
France had their post step out, wing enter, wing cut and get it back. The difference is that it wasn't on the block. The post came out to about 10 feet to receive the ball and then hit the cutter for a layup.

Again, nothing out of this world, but how many motion coaches, or any coaches, teach this action? Not one I've seen a whole lot of - see it on the block, but not with the post stepping 10 feet out.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Pressure (and Panic) is Mental!

Two seasons ago, when I was the JV coach at St. Paul Como Park, I was reading through "Stuff Good Players Should Know" by Dick Devenzio. This was a few days before we were going to play St. Paul Johnson, whose bread and butter is pressure defense. In the book there was a line about how pressure is all in your head. And it really is true. It was a point of emphasis for the practices leading up to our game with Johnson and I think it's a big reason why we went from losing by 50 the first time to getting within 5 and losing by only 15. Losing by 15 still stinks, but a 35 point improvement says something. We handled their pressure much better, played with some poise, and didn't turn it over as much. When you don't turn it over, you don't give up easy point. Pretty simple, right!?

One of the best examples of pressure defense, and the kinds of turnovers it causes, are highlighted in this clip of VCU's pressure. This would be a great video to break down the VCU attack, but right now I want you to watch the video and focus on how the ball gets turned over.

What did you notice from the clip? Hopefully that most of the turnovers were "panic turnovers" where players simply made quick and bad decisions. They forced plays to happen and saw things that were not there because they panicked. How many turnovers were just great defensive plays? Not many. I'm not saying presses are bad, in fact I love them, but we as coaches need a better understanding of why the ball gets turned over.

Everything above is very much "No Duh" type stuff. But how are you as a coach training your players to handle this? Are you being pragmatic in your teaching of how to deal with pressure? Every team in America has a team or two on their schedule that wins by inflicting this type of mental warfare on their opponent. Many times it's this type of team that you'll need to defeat to win a conference title or a birth in the state tournament. So what are you doing about it?! Below are some things that I have found helpful in the past when having to play against teams that really pressured.

  • Make practice tougher and more physical than games.
    • In practice many times we don't call fouls unless it could cause injury. We encourage our players to play aggressively and physically. We create that culture of pressure so that it becomes the norm. Players just start to get used to playing in a crazy, high pressure environment so that when game time comes, any pressure and physicality becomes pedestrian. 
  • Play against 6,7, or even 8 defenders.
    • You'll never be able to simulate the pressure of a great pressing team unless you are already a great pressing team. Because a good pressing team makes it feel like there are extra players on the floor, we practice our offense against extra players. I've heard coaches say they don't like it because it doesn't help players look for the open guy on a double. I disagree totally. I think it forces the passer to be more careful and find a guy that really is open, it also puts a responsibility on all the other players to make sure they are actively working to get open instead of standing and watching. 
  • Play against older players.  
    • When you can't simulate the size, speed, aggressiveness, and quickness of your opponent with your players, farm the job out. Find some alumni or college guys to come in and help your team practice. That way they will get used to the game being a little bit faster.Even just purely athletic older guys who are not "great" players will do the job.
  • Be OK with a 5 or 10 second call. 
    • One of the best things you can convince a player is that a 5 second call is better than trying to force a pass. You force a pass and turn it over, the defense likely has a layup at the end. You give up a 5 second call because no one was open, we go down and play 5 on 5, much better odds than 1 on 0 or 2 on 1. This is a hard one to convince players, but once you do you will see them relax and stop worrying about the five second call as much. 
  • Emphasize the importance of ball security in every drill. 
    • No matter what the drill is, you need to always emphasize limiting your turnovers, limiting your panic, and protecting the basketball. Your players pick up on what you put a premium on and I think being strong with the ball is one of the most important. As Coach Meyer always says "It's not what you teach, it's what you emphasize".
Being that I am a big believer in TEACHING players to be great with the ball, I have a sickening amount drills that players can work on handling pressure here are three of the better ones. 
  • 3 on 3 No Dribble
    • This may be the BEST overall drill for teaching players how to pass, how to cut, how to get open, when to back cut, etc. Make sure you encourage the defense to all out pressure the offense because they can't dribble. Deny every pass. Players have to score without using the dribble, there are two exceptions however. The first is if they catch it on a cut TOWARD the basket they can dribble to finish the play. They can also dribble if they catch the ball on a post up. 
  • 2 on 2 10 Pass Drill
    • Pretty simple concept. Offense can't dribble and they have to make ten passes in a row, there are no shots. If they complete ten in a row the defense has 10 pushups, if they turn it over they have 10 pushups. If they get good increase it to 15, then 20. They can move around and use the entire half court, or if you need space you go multiple groups and give them 1/2 of the half court. I usually do this one right before 3 on 3 no dribble as it's a good lead in. Really teaches players how to cut and get open.You can also run it where they have to hold the ball for so many seconds, start with 30, work up to 45. 
  • 4 on 4 Trap Passing
    • Players spread out in a diamond shape. each player can move around in his area, but can't leave an area of about 8 feet. One player is designated a "trapper" and they have to follow and trap the ball. Offense has to hold the ball for 10 straight passes or 30 seconds without a turnover in order to win. 

 Just like monsters under the bed at night, the scary things on the court are completely in the heads of the players. Again, if you can convince your team that pressure is all mental, you've taken a big step.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Assistant Coaches: Find Your Niche

I've been an assistant coaches a lot of places for a lot of great coaches. Eight places, in eight years, for eight different coaches, to be exact. Never been fired or disliked my boss, just moved for a variety of reasons. One thing I've learned is that anytime you land in a new place it's all about finding your niche as an assistant. Every staff has different needs - how can you help fill them? For example, my first job at LaCrosse Central they needed someone to scout so I went and scouted over 40 games. As an assistant last year our coach loved what I did on offense so I was in charge of running our half court motion. This year I'm under a coach who would like to do more with video and stats so that's likely the niche I will fill.

That doesn't mean that the niche was the ONLY thing I did for our program. I still always do all the summer work, youth work, scouting, game day stuff, etc that goes with being an assistant. But every stop I've been on I've found one area that the head coach needed help on, and then proceeded to focus on that area.

Also, just because you are not on the varsity staff doesn't mean you shouldn't find a niche. I'm not on the varsity staff this year at Tartan, but I know I'm going to be doing film and statistic work for them along with coaching the sophomore team.

In closing, as an assistant it is your job to be as valuable of a commodity as you can be. That's why finding the niche is so important. It benefits the program and benefits you. Many times the niche isn't something you initially specialized in and may have to learn more about it. On the flip side something you think that you are "good at" may have to take a back seat because it's not needed. You might be a prolific man to man coach, but if that's already your head coach's bread and butter that's probably not your niche area. Also, you might have a great press, but coach under a guy who's a half court coach, so again that's not going to be your niche. It's all about finding out what role(s) you can do the most good for the program in and then being the best at that role you can be.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Why the Death of Pick Up Basketball is Hurting Our Game

Was talking with Coach Larry McKenzie (@coachmckenzie)  about pick up basketball, or the lack there of, the other night after our Round Table. He made a comment than when he drives around his neighborhood and sees young players actually playing pick up basketball he stops and takes a picture because it's so rare. For me, this represents a glaring problem with our basketball culture. Pick up has gone the way of the dinosaurs and passenger pigeons. Some would poo poo this and say that pick up is a waste of time. Before you do, let me run down the some of the main bullet points on the list of current complaints about our game: players don't play hard, players don't know how to play, players don't understand what wins, players are selfish and complain, and players lack leadership. Pick up basketball solves a lot of these issues, I'll explain below.

Players don't play hard....
When you play pick up basketball, you win you stay, if you lose you have to get off. This creates a culture of competitiveness. Also, you are not playing against a bunch of guys from a different city or state, your are playing for bragging rights in your neighborhood which, let me tell you, is worth more than any National Title. Players develop a culture of playing hard because their reputation is on the line, sounds weird, but think back and you'll realize it's true.

Players don't know how to play...
Of course they don't! They play in a structured environment all spring, summer, fall, and winter. When do they have time to experiment? They don't because they play high school ball where winning is important to an adult, transition straight to AAU where winning is important to an adult. Because winning is paramount to adults we structure it to win, so players don't experiment with different things. I grew up in a small town and we learned how to move after we got our butts kicked by the older guy who moved the ball, cut to the basket, etc. We learned first hand from more experienced players and actually there was a really special learning structure in place, the older guys took the younger guys under their wing.

Players don't understand what wins....
Similar to the top, they are always told what wins. You can tell someone what wins and that's great, but when the players are making the decisions and then examining if that helped them win or not, there is a higher level of learning that occurs. You also start to learn what traits to look for in other players when picking teams.

Players are selfish and complain....
Of course they do because they've got adults there to make sure it's "fair" on every foul, etc. Playing pick up takes the complaining right out because frankly no ones going to give a rip if you complain about foul calls. If you are a complainer you'll just get laughed at and left off the team for the next game. You'll learn quickly that no one wants to play with a primadonna. Pick up also accelerates the learning curve on selfish play. I remember playing with some selfish guys in our pick up games, we would just ice them out and not pass them the ball. When they complained we'd have a discussion, which leads me to my next point...

Players lack leadership...
Of course they do! They are now playing entirely supervised by adults. Where is the leadership development in that!? They don't have to pick teams, they don't have to call fouls, they don't have to call each other and get people together for a game, they don't have to call each other out on poor behavior (interpersonal and conflict resolution skills). They don't have to correct, teach, and coach their teammates. These are leadership skills that players a generation or two ago got.  Organizational skills and leadership skills are lost when kids don't have to do any leading in organized basketball because an adult does it all for them. The adult sets it up, coordinates it, coaches it, refs it, drives them there, picks the team, drives them home, etc. There is no reason or room to develop leadership skills.

The bottom line is that when PLAYERS are the driving force behind the sport, it's more pure, more fun for them, and much better experience. I believe many players lose their love for the game when the environment becomes too structured. No one starts playing to make the NBA or college, they play because they love the sport first. We end up killing the pure joy of the game by making everything so structured and not allowing time for pick up basketball. And I'm not saying that structure is all bad, but Brian McCormick (@brianmccormick) has said for years on his blog (developyourbballiq.com) that there is too much structure in American basketball he he's right. We need time set aside for guys to just play, unsupervised. Now the question is what do we do about it?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Great Euro Sets Breakdown from Euroleague Final

I am a big fan of the YouTube Channel "BBALL Break Down". They are doing something right over there with a variety of great topics. Below is a video breakdown that they did of a bunch of the sets and looks from the Euro League finals. Great stuff!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Playing Without Thinking

Thanks to Coach Paul Richardson (@p_t_richardson) for putting me onto this one.

Great article and video on Grantland about Kliff Kingsbury and Texas Tech Football. The gist of the article is that Coach Kingsbury wants his guys to start playing so fast that they stop thinking. Reading the story it sounds a lot like how I would like to coach. Have guys getting lots of quick reps, teaching in bullet points not paragraphs, and having guys learning how to just play instinctive basketball. It's something I thought I did well two years ago at St. Paul Como Park and something I am going to concentrate on this year while coaching our sophomores at Tartan.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Notes from the 2013 19U Bronze Medal Game

Today I was watching the Bronze Medal game of this years 2013 FIBA World Championships between Australia and Lithuania. I've gotten through the first quarter and hope to finish before ESPN 3 (the reason I have Comcast) takes it down! Might be pushing it though. Anyway, lots of good Xs and Os pieces from the game that I am going to share below. I'll indicate the team and try to give a little bit of an explanation of the play or action.

Lithuania Inbounds Play vs 2-3 Zone
I am assuming that the Lithuanian team ran something out of this look several times. But this one really was quite slick.

Started with a stack on the ball side just above the block, shooter on the opposite block, point guard at the free throw line. Because the 2-3 zone played outside the stack, the bottom of the stack pinned the middle of the zone. The second player in the stack slipped to the basket for a layup (which he missed).

Lithuania Transition Quick Attack
The Lithuanian team ran this in transition and it worked well catching the Australians off guard.

The set was almost a 2-3 high look. Point (1) brought the ball up the floor,  threw it to the wing (3), immediately came back, got the hand off, and went straight to the basket for an uncontested layup.

Lithuanian Motion Action or Motion Entry
The Lithuanians ran this a time or two and I think it would be a great entry into or action for the motion offense.

Started in an odd looking 5 out set. The point (1) passed to the post (5) at the top and then cut to the corner on the side he passed to. The wing on that side (2) set a down screen for the point who came up and took the dribble hand off from 5 and turned the corner.

Australia A Frame Flex Set and Counter
Australia has a kid by the name of Dante Exum who's their best player and has a good chance to turn into one hell of a ball player some day. They ran a lot of their stuff for him and he was the point guard in most of these sets.

The set starts in an A Frame look. A post (4) pops out and gets the ball. The point (1) runs off a back screen by the other post (5) to the back side block. The point (1) then sets a back screen for the corner player (3).

They run a counter, and in this counter, the point (1) comes off the back screen by the post (5) as in the first one. The post (5) then down screens the point who comes back up gets a pass and the passer follows into a pick and pop situation.

 In this set, they are trying to get the ball to their stud (1) on a hand off.

The set starts in a different 4 out look with 3 on the left side. The ball is thrown guard to guard. The corner comes off a flex cut across the lane and to the other side wing. The ball is swung from 2 to 4. When 4 catches the ball the guard who passed it (2) basket cuts. The post (5) pops to fill the empty guard spot and gets the ball. The point (1) goes to the backside corner.

When the post (5) catches the ball he dribbles at the opposite wing (3). The player on the wing opposite the dribble direction (4) fills behind. The guard who cut (2) fills the corner then the backside wing. The wing being dribbled at (3) back door cuts and fills the backside corner.

As the wing (3) is back cutting the point (1) comes up, takes the dribble hand off, and attacks the basket. The post (5) rolls and the point has 3 guys spotted up on the opposite side.