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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Basketball: Difference Makers, Lessons from Admiral Stockdale

Author Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code, Angels and Demons, Origin) says one difference between good writers and bad writers is good writers know when they're bad. Good coaches know when it's broken. Kevin Eastman says, "Do it better, do it harder, change personnel, $#&* it ain't working." Distinguish difference makers from posers. 

James Stockdale (1923-2005) was a Naval Aviator, prisoner of war, educator, President of the Citadel, Vice Presidential candidate, and Congressional Medal of Honor winner. His life defines discipline and character. 

Stockdale never wavered in leading, suffering with, and mentoring fellow POWs. He literally disfigured himself to avoid being used for propaganda. Stockdale credited Stoic philosophy ("control what you can control") as helping him survive prolonged captivity. 

Stockdale's discipline and toughness emerge as exemplars. "I think character is permanent and issues are transient." 

However, Stockdale could be perceived as inflexible, which shortened his stay at the Citadel. In his Vice Presidential debate, he had no preparation (had no time to prepare) and came through as confused and detached. Thrown into politics, he entered the wrong arena at the wrong time. His hearing aid was turned off. 

Stockdale endured torture and isolation for years in service to our country. He protected his values relentlessly at tremendous personal sacrifice. He never 'sold out' to expediency. 

He is known for the Stockdale Paradox: "You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."

Define and maintain our values. That doesn't mean that change is impossible, but if change means compromising our values, how do we respond? 


We're not consistently reacting on the off-ball screens. Defense demands communication and consistency. Do you switch, show, or go through? I don't believe that you can "lock and trail" from the weak side. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Basketball 101: 6th Grade Clinic, Visiting Professor for Youngsters

Our sixth grade program has enthusiastic leadership, solid athletes, and needs experience. If you had the opportunity to be "Visiting Professor" for a day, what would you  introduce and emphasize?

They have an hour practice. I outline ten areas they can work on while encouraging focus and a high tempo. 

1. Footwork. Basic offensive skills include cutting, passing, dribbling, shooting, rebounding, and pivoting. As Pete Newell said, "you play a hundred percent of the game with your feet. 

Review jump stops, front (chest leads), and back (back leads) pivoting. Foot work is universally poor with beginners. Footwork is central to separating and preventing separation. And "basketball is a game of separation." 

2. Play without the ball. Fifty percent of the game is defense. On offense, each person will have the ball twenty percent (on average, less). That means NINETY percent of the game, you play without the ball. Are you standing or moving? Are you spacing or corrupting space? Are you helping your teammates by getting open, creating openings for them (e.g. screening, emptying)? "Movement kills defenses." 

4 "empties" the block allowing driver (2) to penetrate AND provides opportunity for 4 to become the receiver in a scoring area (elbow). 

3. Defense begins with ball pressure. Your job is to attack your assignment, to make them uncomfortable. "Crawl up into them" or "nose on the chest." Play in a stance. Low player wins. "Basketball is a shoulders game." 

4. If you force the ballhandler to pick up the ball, limit them. Get a foot between their feet to take away their front pivot. "Put them in a box" while maintaining hand discipline not to foul. Communicate. Signal your teammates by calling "pinch" or "deny" as the opponent may make a bad pass, travel, or get a five-second violation. 

5. Attack the front hand/front foot. If you have your dribble and the defender is angled (e.g forcing you to your left), they must drop step (slower than sliding) if you attack the 'closed' side. 

6a. Read defenders. Defense ALWAYS give you something. The diagram above illustrates how to set up your cut. Find ways to make their job harder...when they overplay, they give you opportunities for screens and back cuts. 

6b. Read screens. The defender has to do something...

When they trail you, you curl.
When they cheat over the top, back cut. 
When they go under, bump to the corner. 

7. Spacing is offense. 

Spacing (left) opens driving and passing lanes and limits defenses from double-teaming. On defense (right), shrink the space (at a minimum) with the 'Helpside I" forcing the offense to play 3 and against 5. 

Spacing sets up the initial opportunity (e.g. give-and-go) and secondary passes as defense reacts. 

8. "The ball is a camera." If you want to be in the picture, the ball (camera) has to see you. Relocate (move) to be seen. 

When the ball goes to the middle, note how wings (2, 3) must find space to be seen by the passer (5).

9. Force the defense into harder to defend actions. Reverse the ball with the pass. I don't want to see a lot of 'east-west' dribbling, but paint touches and ball reversal set up open shots and force closeouts. 

10. Learn to play the game not to run plays. Small-sided games provide teaching experience and more "touches" analogous to soccer futsal

High ball screen out of 3-on-3 inside the split. 

UCLA cut from 3 on 3. 

Post entry wing back cut with "blind pig." 

Monday, December 10, 2018

Basketball: How Not to Earn a Scholarship

You have a million dreams about that pot of gold at the end of the basketball rainbow. But do you know that everything goes into the pot, not just boxscores? "Can you handle the truth?"

1. Academics rule. "There is no ability without eligibility." Great basketball talents get shut out as non-qualifiers. NCAA eligibility standards are clear. Grades aren't everything, but they matter. "Academic grades rarely assess qualities like creativity, leadership and teamwork skills, or social, emotional and political intelligence." But you won't make chicken soup from chicken feathers. "Become a learning machine." 

2. Teammates matter. Dean Smith said, "I would never recruit a player who yells at his teammates, disrespected his high school coach, or scores 33 points a game and his team goes 10-10."

3. Behavior counts. "Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say." Princeton coach Pete Carril said, "I don't recruit players who are nasty to their parents. I look for players who realize the world doesn't revolve around them." It even matters in the NBA, where Gregg Popovich says, "get over yourself." Be engaged on the bench; support your teammates. 

4. First impressions last. Be on time. Be presentable. Stand up or sit up straight. Look people in the eye; have a firm handshake. Speak thoughtfully. If you don't know, say that you don't know. Think about the five must answers for plebes at Annapolis, "yes,sir," "no,sir," "aye aye, sir," "right away, sir," and "I don't know but I'll find out sir." 

5. Be positive. Don't dismiss opponents, teammates, or coaches. 

6. Take pride in yourself. Coaches seek winners. Loyola of Chicago coach Porter Moser looks for players who lead their teams to state championships. Leaders make leaders. Winners make winners. Criminal records and failed drug tests kill dreams. 

7. Understand social proof. Social media fingerprints your character. Free speech doesn't allow us to yell "fire" in a crowded theater. "Don't let 140 characters take away a $140,000 scholarship." When your social media presence screams intolerance, racism, sexism, and abuse, no coach needs that headache (you). 

8. Body language is authentic. The majority of communication is non-verbal. Scowling and eye rolls at coaches and officials sends a clear message. Roy Williams discusses a player who fouled out and sprinted to the water cooler to get drinks for teammates. He got the job. 

9. Respect the game. Signal a teammate for a good pass. Raise your hand on a foul. Let the referees officiate. Hand the ball to the official. Don't taunt opponents or fans. 

10.Show energy and energize your teammates. Energy is contagious; lack of energy also is. 

We all project an image. Do everything to enhance yours. Do nothing to embarrass yourself or your team. Make your brand terrific. 

And coaches, coach up a million dreams. 

Lagniappe: via Chris Oliver (Horns into Spain PnR)
Lagniappe 2. Wing staggered screen into Spain PnR. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Basketball: Your Research Informs Your Story

"Just because you have the information doesn't mean that you have to use it...the most important editing, knowing what to leave out." - Dan Brown, MasterClass on Writing Thrillers

We write our narrative by applying research. Research brings results. Reading is research. Watching video is research. Cross-disciplinary study (e.g. is research. A world of lessons awaits us. Are we open to learning? 

Research sources material for Dan Brown's three C's - clock, crucible, contract. 

Clock research. Our big picture clock informs our legacy. Do people remember us as innovator, teacher, mentor, friend, schmuck? Intermediate-term time uses urgency to develop our players for the next level (whichever that is). A game management clock asks whether our teams and players understand using type to shorten or lengthen games, using pace as ally. And the shortest version of time defines situation, doing the right things at the right time - the end of clock, quarters, and games. Too many good players corrupt the game by abusing time. And ironically, how our players spend seconds and situations informs our legacy

We invest our time or we spend it. We build our world (real or fictional) through time, space, and relationships (or characters). 

Crucible. Crucible includes the stakes and the fire to which we subject our teams. Fire tempers steel; fire warms and cooks; fire destroys. UNC soccer coach Anson Dorrance describes the competitive cauldron that tempers champions. Dorrance measures everything. Twenty-two NCAA championships validate his process. The best players ignite the fire when teams need fire. 

Stakes matter. Golf legend Lee Trevino said, "pressure is playing a five dollar Nassau with two dollars in your pocket." Pressure means jobs and minutes for professionals. Rising in the crucible describes the arc of a career and outcome of a game. Coach Lane reminded us, "it's not who starts the game, it's who finishes." Earning a coach's trust ups the ante. 

Contract. Our contract is our word, our bond. "I give you my best." Our contract implies reciprocation..."I demand your promise to give me your best." When we demean a player or physically or mentally check out, we violate our contract with them and the game. We have an implied contract with our boss, players' families, and our community. 

Today's research informs tomorrows outcomes. Get after it. 

Lagniappe: via Chris Oliver

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Basketball: In Search of Character, Focus on George C. Marshall

"Does character matter" in sports? Sometimes. The Kareem Hunt video exposed the consequences of bad publicity, undetected by "thorough" examination of the incident by the Chiefs and the NFL. The "bum's rush" to show Hunt the door overtook rushing yards. 

This isn't news. It isn't even shocking, as NFL players may have less tendency to criminal behavior than men the same age

We're all flawed. We might succeed anyway. Dennis Rodman helped win five NBA titles and etched a Hall of Fame career. He also was charged with spousal misdemeanor for striking a girlfriend, tax evasion, failure to pay child and spousal support, and driving while intoxicated and without a valid license. 

How do you measure a person's character? It's tough. Recently, I spoke with the North American Director of Scouting for an NHL team. He said character is one of the most difficult areas to judge in a prospect. I told him that it's so tough that former Patriots' consultant Mike Lombardi enlisted sorority sisters at SEC schools for inside information about SEC football players. 

I believe that we elevate player character through study, modeling, and stories. David Brooks' Road to Character shares great examples of character through history. 

George Marshall had an illustrious career, despite origins as an academic weakling. He became a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, advisor to presidents, esteemed logistician, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and Ambassador to China. 

Brooks wrote of Marshall's alma mater, "VMI had a moral culture that brought together several ancient traditions: a chivalric devotion to service and courtesy, a stoic commitment to emotional self-control, and a classical devotion to honor."

As a senior, Marshall achieved the position of First Captain, the highest ranking student position. 

Brooks added, "Character, therefore, resists expedience; it defies hasty acquisition. This is undoubtedly why Søren Kierkegaard spoke of character as ‘engraved,’ deeply etched.”"

Later, Marshall oversaw infantry officer training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He changed the teaching model, emphasizing decisions based upon limited information. "He told them the crucial issue is usually when a decision should be made as much as what the decision should be."

During the planning for World War II, he achieved unique trust in Washington. "Marshall explained in detail the situation of the war, addressing the larger visions, strategic goals, and technical details, shifting his eyes deliberately to a different face every few sentences." When Roosevelt decided between Marshall and Eisenhower as European Theatre Commander, Marshall refused to ask for the position. His character disallowed him to put ego before country. It was not until after the war with the European Recovery Plan, that Marshall got broad recognition. He never called it the "Marshall Plan" as it is known today. 

As coaches, we change generations of players. Stories craft the character of players. Take advantage. 


We're teachers, not victims. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Basketball: Coaches and Parents

"There's only you and me and we just disagree." - Dave Mason

I do NOT have all the answers...not by a long shot. During my life, parents have become far more involved in many aspects of children's development, particularly sports. As a youth basketball coach, I can't make everyone happy. Add the balancing act between development and winning and problems are certain. But I'm fortunate to have worked with terrific families over a long time, developing enduring relationships. 

It's not all sunshine and roses. In 1991, the Texas Cheerleader Mom hired a hit man to assassinate her daughter's rival's mother. The plot was revealed. She was ultimately convicted (in a second trial) and sentenced to ten years but was released in six months

I presume the Prime Directive. Every parent wants what is best for their child. Don Meyer said, "a parent wants their child to be All-State rather than their team to win a state championship." Can we fault parents for wanting what's best for their child? 

This imposes a natural conflict between coach (what is best for the team?) and parents (what is best for our child?). 

Years ago, Steve Harrington, a multi-state championship winning basketball coach at Watertown High (MA), confided that he received a cellphone call FIVE minutes into the season from a parent asking why his son wasn't playing. He doesn't keep the phone on during games anymore. 

Elite coaches like Braintree's Kristen McDonnell are not immune from parent criticism. “Some of them just aren’t happy unless their daughter is playing a central role on the court. There was discontent with the girls playing time, attention one would get as the star of the team, and awards that were given.” Ego is the enemy

Each coach sets guidelines, borrows good ideas, and builds policy. I offer these:

1. Be transparent. Explain your philosophy (goals, playing time, role of development versus winning), desired culture and identity. I coach girls and invite parents to watch practice (almost nobody does) and attend pre- and post-game reviews. If Susie says she learns nothing, Susie's folks are welcome to watch practice and judge for themselves. 

2. "It's YOUR team." Be accountable to your teammates. Everyone won't become a great player, but everyone can be a great teammate. If a program doesn't win, but has a great culture that kids enjoy, what's wrong with that? 

3. Clarify priorities. Family, school, basketball. This isn't professional basketball. 

4. Teach. If our child isn't a great basketball player or violinist, we haven't failed parenting. I want young girls to hear stories of successful women and men - Frances Perkins (first woman cabinet secretary), Ida B. Wells-Barnett (anti-lynching journalist), Malala (girls' education advocate), Arlene Blum (mountaineer adventurer), Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Bowdoin professor turned Civil War hero), Richard Feynman (physicist, teacher, Nobel prize winner). 

Young players need to learn how to play, not just to run plays. 

5. Set clear boundaries. Encourage players to ask how they can help the team succeed. But have a Chinese Wall about discussing teammates' status or playing time.  

6. Respect the game. Respect the officials, coaches, opponents, and teammates. We won't agree on everything, but disagree without being disagreeable

7. Sportsmanship matters. Be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. We can play poorly and win or play well and lose. We cannot always control the outcome, but we control the 'response window' in how we react. 

8. Communicate. I email (and occasionally text) with parents. Only rarely do I get an email from a player, "I'll be late for practice because of chorus." My reply is, "No worries." Listening attentively won't fix every issue, but it won't hurt. 

Dan Brown Teaches Thriller Writing,

9. "Invest time don't spend it." Respect the time and energy of others. Be punctual, prepared, and operate at an efficient, purposeful tempo. Leave out drills that don't teach or simulate the game. Condition within drills. Advance your story. "Make the big time where you are." When we model a thorough process, players will create their own. 

10.Never be a child's last coach. Be demanding without being demeaning. There's no reason to have a crabs in a bucket mentality. If the top players like us and the reserves can't stand us, there's a problem. 

Respect the players, bring energy, and be consistent. 

Lagniappe 1. (see The Ringer) "And in a versatile league that leans on pace-and-space, there’s no better way to accomplish rim penetration and find open 3-point shooters than to run the pick-and-roll." 

Lou Williams:
- big drops, look for shot
- blitz, looks to split
- shooting big, take laterally and reverse

Lagniappe 2. Horns Revisited, Celtics' Triple

High post entry with ball screen into a lob. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Basketball: The Idea Factory

Where do ideas arise? Our minds swirl, generating thousands of thoughts daily. Be open to extracting good ideas and receiving better ideas by reading and watching the world. Ask more and better questions. 

Young adult literature author R.L. Stine says that our experience, memory, and imagination craft our ideas. Our experiences shape us, for better or worse. But Pete Newell cautioned that attempts to copy your play from your previous coach usually ends up being a "poor reproduction of the original." 

Someone told Michelangelo that it was incredible that he crafted the Pieta at age 24. He answered that it wasn't a miracle. He learned his trade working ten hours daily for almost twenty years (he began at age six). "Experience is the best teacher, but sometimes the tuition is high." 

Writer Judy Bloom encourages us to observe the world. See the characters. Comedian Steve Martin says learn as much as you can about the world and see the humor everywhere. Last night, I reminded the girls about getting their spots during free throws, because a player had cost us a point by running in after the shooter had the ball. A player raised her hand. "Do you have a question?" "It was me." That's a Charlie Brown moment. 

James Patterson suggests that we keep an idea folder. I keep a small notebook in my pocket. I see young people take a picture with their smartphone. Find what works for you.

Players need structure, lines on the page. 

We spent about 15 minutes last night on "developmental offense" teaching concepts not plays. Encourage freedom of expression to foster creativity. For example, when I overplayed 5, getting my front shoulder ahead of hers, she recognized immediately and slipped to score. 

We used the 1-4 high framework as an example. 

The set defines initial spacing. The players' willingness to read defenders, cut, pass, and screen inform the action. On wing entry, if I overplay the wing ball screen, the wing must recognize and reject the screen and drive directly. They have to acquire knowledge to create. 

Why does the Idea Factory often fail?
- Sometimes players have illness or injury. We had three players absent yesterday. 
- New concepts don't transfer immediately.
- Players have different rates of learning, aptitude, and skill. 
- Practice time is limited. 
 -Not every player is fully engaged with optimal focusing at this age. 

Find material suiting your taste. It won't resonate with everyone. Coach the way you want to coach. We either coach what we know or expand our horizons to coach at a level above what we know. 

Lagniappe: Do your players need to shoot layups better? We do. Steal from Chris Oliver. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Basketball: Attacking the Pack Line Defense

Basketball coaches and fans know the power of the Pack Line defense, championed by Tony Bennett at UVA, but also used by other elite programs like Xavier and Arizona. The primary goals include to force perimeter shots, deny direct drives, and give help on dribble or pass penetration. An NBC Sports article shared, "As one coach that runs the Pack-Line put it, “We do not get beat to the outside.” — as the help is in the middle of the lane."

We struggled in our last game against the Pack Line. Credit belongs to our opponents. We got little from pick-and-roll or direct drives. We had offensive rebounding but inefficient interior scoring. 

Virginia leads the NCAA in opponent points per game. 

Virginia still ranks among the leaders when accounting for pace (points per possession). 

How do you solve the Pack Line? There isn't an abundance of information. 

When UMBC upset the Cavaliers last March, they shot the lights out, shooting 50 percent from three and had sixteen assists. UVA also shot poorly and outrebounded in the perfect storm. 

Reviewing the game, we see a few key factors:

1) Elite shotmaking
2) Drive and kick scoring
3) Transition
4) Athletic finishes on drives

None of these indict Virginia's defense as much as crediting the Retrievers' performance. Watch the highlights and note excellent spacing by UMBC and players relocating to open spots. 

What didn't show up was much pick-and-roll or post play.

James Gels shares his thoughts on attacking the Pack here. The Dauster NBC Sports article simplifies the difficult, "The biggest key to breaking down Virginia’s defense is to have ball-handlers that can create off the dribble and shooters that can knock down contested running shooters off of screening actions on the weak-side of the floor, it limits the ability of the help defenders to create that Pack-Line." The dual mandate of occupying weak side defenders and setting up ball reversal threes is worth remembering. 

Lagniappe: Via Radius Athletics

  • Penetrate looking to pass 
  • Relocate to be seen ("the ball is a camera")
  • Swing the ball 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Basketball: Steal Hard-to-Defend Actions

I'm always looking for new or recycled, hard to defend actions. I know you are. Recently, I saw these in a high school scrimmage. I take liberties with personnel alignment. 

1-4 high set with wing clearing through and an unorthodox give-and-go in an almost pinch post fashion. 

Double diagonal screens on a BOB. The "there" there was that the defense struggled to defend it. The 5 is a potential future elite player. 

Horns turns into a possible give-and-go using a screen (5) or an inside PnR with bigs with size and mobility. Coaches could adjust the personnel as needed. 

As coaches, we look for clarity and simplicity, yet realize that we often get neither. Hard-to-defend actions (e.g. pick-and-roll), well-executed off-ball screens, screen-the-screener, and backdoor cuts against overplay never become unfashionable. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Basketball: Hot or Cold? Game Management, ATO and Other Actions

"Where are the customers' yachts?" parallels "if you're so smart, why did you lose?"

We got shots we wanted but we couldn't make them. We trailed by eight with about four minutes left. Our opponents played a pack-line style defense and did a good job jamming the middle. I decide to use my last three timeouts to try to get higher quality shots. 

The best groups I've coached had the ability to execute and improvise, understanding defensive tendencies and weaknesses. There's an argument saying don't ask young players to execute new stuff without practice. Some groups have better time and space ability. 

We couldn't connect on the pass. It was there but a tough play. The 'best decision' was probably the 5 isolating without enough space, as the 3 cuts through. 

About 3:30 left, timeout to run "Golden State." Cross-screen for 2 to enter the ball, with sequential screen to get 5 a layup. Bingo. Down 6. We score, down 4 but they make a free throw to go up 5. 

We score on an inside BOB handoff PnR and are down 3. We steal the ball and get a layup to go down 1 inside of a minute. We get the ball back and have a chance to run an ATO SLOB. We know they will switch everything.

About 30 seconds left, we run a Diamond set with 'screen-the-screener' action. They haven't seen this but run it well, but the shot rolls around and out. 

They advance the ball and score two free throws. We haven't fouled early enough. 

We have a final opportunity...they've backed off up 3 and the ball gets rolled up and we spend our last timeout with 1.5 seconds left in the backcourt. 

We execute the 'sandwich screen' correctly but get a zero percentage shot which falls a little short (although on line). 

We buried ourselves early, trailing by seven after two minutes, thirteen in the first half, and nine at halftime. I told the girls I was pleased at their resilience...they wanted to know when we play this team again...

I thought we found some identity this weekend as a team willing to stay in the fight. After losing, their first question was, "when do we play them again." Some say revenge is a dish best served cold. I've heard it say, "no it's like lobster. It tastes great hot or cold." 


It's full on layup practice tonight.