Monday, January 22, 2018

Good Reasons Not to Pass

"Only the penitent man shall pass." 

"Basketball is a game of cutting and passing with player and ball movement." But situations arise when players shouldn't pass. When might that occur?

Maintaining possession

Away from the offensive end, in the final seconds of a quarter or game (with the lead), doing nothing and allowing time to expire can be better than taking chances on surrendering possession.

Playing without a shot clock, situations arise when skilled dribbling can run out the clock.   
Maintaining advantage/Avoiding disadvantage.

Sometimes young, interior players have 'scoring' possession under the basket (literally their wheelhouse), and pass instead of shooting and/or taking contact.

When driving to the basket with a favorable angle for a layup, keep your edge. 

Know whom should receive and where. In transition, some players have catching ("bad hands") or ball handling deficiencies and shouldn't get the ball where they're likely to turn it over. Avoid putting players in bad positions for them. 

When having a choice, avoid primary trap zones (yellow). Good defenses use boundaries to their advantage. Sometimes players can't avoid passing into primary trap zones 

Avoiding turnovers

Good passers limit turnovers. Many games, we see forecourt players "flirt" with passing to players established in the backcourt (violation). Turnovers are more like when a receiver is not open or if a receiver is in traffic ("don't play in the traffic").

Choosing better options. 

Limit passes to nonshooters (shot turnover) or in a "foul situations" when better free throw shooters dictate who shoots. 

Don't count your possessions; make every possession count. When an action reduces your chance of quality possession or increases risk of losing possession, keep it in the bag. 


Keep the ball out of the paint. Kevin Eastman's "Force to Tape" drill teaches that.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Fast Five: Basketball and "Opposite George"

The "Opposite George" Seinfeld episode illustrates, "do more of what works and less of what isn't." 

We see basketball teams and players that can learn from Opposite George. What opportunities lead the Opposite George parade?

Not looking. You didn't look ahead, catch and survey, drive when you had the angle, or pass when you had an open man. VDE. Vision, decision, execution.  

Just watching. You came, you saw, you stood. If you're aware and alert and do nothing, you're not helping. Coach Wooden reminds us, "Never confuse activity with achievement."  

Dot B means, "take a breath" not stop everything. 

"No, No." Shot selection. "What was THAT?" Take quality shots not quantity shots

Conversion. You're unaware and unalert. The team is playing four on the floor while you're lost in space. WE are not amused. Find your player immediately on D and get moving offensively. "There's drill for that." 

Drill: Coach blows the whistle and the ballhandler must immediately drop the ball and defense converts to offense and vice versa. 

Transition. Basketball is a sprinting game. You're not sprinting. Or you're running back but mentally on vacation. Or you're buddy running. Sprint back fully engaged. 


When teams trap out of the 2-3 defense, overloading quickly to the ballside block and elbow pressures the middle of the defense. If 3 moves the ball quickly to either, then the other usually has a basket cut pressuring the interior (x5). 

Klay Thompson Shooting Form

Klay Thompson lives in the shadow of Steph Curry and Kevin Durant but maintains an impressive resume'. 

His consistency and accuracy (career 3 point percentage over 42%), defensive skill, and winning play make him a perennial all-star.

What shooting analysts notice about Thompson is his variable DIP (see bottom video). Coach Castellaw reviews how Thompson loads his shot and his follow-through. I am not anti-dip, but I teach inside shooting off "Bradleys", the higher catch and release technique helping players finish near the basket.  

In this Jay Wright video (about 3:52), he reviews the Bradley Drill, which we use every practice, along with flips..."high release, off two feet, under control." Players need some dip away from the basket. 

BBallBreakdown shares pre-shot footwork that Thompson uses to accelerate to the basket or get his shot off. Young players may neglect "pre-shot preparation" and suffer less separation and slower release. 

Here's the most extensive Thompson breakdown I've seen. 

Key points: 

1. Chooses a wider stance than many 
2. Hops most of the time
3. Plants right foot seamlessly going right
4. Catches with wide, flexed stance gathering momentum
5. Sets the ball prior to his leaving the ground
6. Targets through "open window" visually (no obstructed view)
7. Keeps elbow in
8. "Turns" right shoulder forward only modestly 

9. Turns more pronounced with longer distance for power
10.Relaxes wrist (note thumb is not far spread, keeping wrist relaxed)

Thompson's form definitely deserves study. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Aristotle and The Sacred and Profane Origins of Shooting

Ideas are the currency of the future. Encourage players to give more, their personal best. Explain the Aristotelian essential nature of an item or activity. The discussion about the "fundamental nature" of things, whether flutes or golf, relates to basketball. 

"We too rarely articulate and defend and argue about those big moral questions." We can apply the sacred to the profane, the day-to-day fundamentals. Aristotle said we sometimes have to reason about and sometimes argue about the purpose of the thing. Last night I heard parents calmly discussing distribution of shots, not selection but distribution. The "big moral question" is the justice of who shoots, how often, and when. For me, the argument centers on what is best for the team not the individual. 

Focus the idea. “Excellent shooters develop proper and consistent form.”

Explain the importance. “Making shots is vital to team success.”

Construct the idea with familiar concepts and tools. “Shooting percentage difference is the first and highest correlation to success. That demands better technique, skill, and shot selection - and Jay Bilas’s ‘It’s not your shot, it’s our shot.’”

Add value. Kevin Eastman says, “you own your paycheck.” If you want more shots, create more separation, get more option shots, and make them. 

If you were sharing your basketball philosophy in a TED talk, what ideas would emerge? Steve Kerr might begin with mindset, mentors, and culture. I’d argue for philosophy, culture, and identity.

“How you play or coach is how you live your life. How you connect with teammates defines who you are." How do you play? How do you relate? 

BOBs and a Halfcourt Set from Last Night

I broadcast high school games (cable delay) and see the good, the bad, and the ugly. It's hard to judge the efficacy of plays because often the design is good and execution lacking. 

The first time through, the team just "got it in" to 4. But later, they had opportunities for 1, 2, and 5. 

Variation on a common theme, screening the middle of a zone with pressure on x4 to decide whom to cover. 

Half court set. Stack Iso Curl

Opportunity for isolation (right), followed by curl around double screen. This was consistently available and yielded a couple of hoops. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Fast Five: Failure Words (and Lagniappe)

1. You can never be any better than you believe you are. What we write and what we say matters.

Few people choose failure when given reasonable alternatives. But when we empower failure, we won't succeed. 

2. Don't enable failure. 

A lifetime ago (1973), we lost a home, regular season game to Lexington High (three time consecutive State Champion) by two in overtime. Coach Sonny Lane held an emotional forty-five minute post-game meeting, locker banging and door slamming. "They are not better than we are. They won because they had LEXINGTON on their shirts. We will not lose to them again." 

Later that season, we traveled to Lexington and blew them out, 70-52, during a thirteen game winning streak. This culminated by beating them in overtime in Boston Garden to win the school's only basketball Division 1 sectional title. Peter Gammons wrote the article as a 'cub' reporter.  

That rancorous, painful meeting made believers. Coach didn't accept mediocrity when excellence was the alternative. Challenge yourself to achieve on the court and in the classroom. 

3. TRY is a failure word

If it happens, so be it. TRY isn't a word for us; it's banned from our lexicon. Just as Urban Meyer refers to "that school up north," we don't TRY. We DO.

Last night, I relocated the "QB layups" to the corner. Offense straddles the three point line and defense has both feet outside. Defense loosely holds the ball with one hand atop and below. Offense snatches and scores and defense chases aggressively. The second player (covered by a bigger player) took a second dribble and made a perfect reverse layup with her right hand off her left foot. Leave your comfort zone.

4. Level Five Leadership blends ambition and humility.

Ambition doesn't guarantee success, but lack of ambition guarantees less than your best. Ambition doesn't accept CAN'T. When we worked on reverse layups, my assistant remarked, "that's pretty ambitious for sixth graders." If not today, then when? We have to find ways to finish. That doesn't mean spending a lot of time on low usage play, but young players need exposure to the breadth of the game. 

5. Set varsity goals. 

Design practice to allow players to contribute at the varsity level as freshmen. Most will not. This season our high school's leading scorer, rebounder, and shot blocker is a freshman. A different freshman has the highest free throw percentage. Both worked hard and earned early success. Compete. Work. Succeed. Failure is not an option. 


Manitoba rebounding drill. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

I'll Be Watching You and Three Horns Actions

You matter. How do you know? Because "I'll be watching you." How you treat your parents, how you interact with your teammates, how you run drills, how you communicate, how you use nonverbal language, coaches see everything.  

If you create separation with hesitation or crossover dribbles, we made a mental note of it. When we keep an offense out of the paint or struggle to make breakaway layups, we've cataloged it. 

Sting shares the coaches' promise via a periodic sentence, holding the reader until completion, "I'll be watching you." 

When Urban Meyer's players "cross the red line" onto the field, he expects them physically and mentally engaged. If they're not, he won't allow them onto the field. 

Make "basketball actions" that demand focus and repetition. 

What you say matters and whether you're saying it at all. 

Lagniappe: Horns

Flex like action. 

Horns high ball screen and roll with pressure on low defenders. (B. Suhr)

Horns middle entry. (B. Suhr)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Delay Game

Sports provide the highest emotional highs and the lowest lows. These extremes often follow "situational basketball" where teams identify and execute (or not) key strategies. Success in close games demands personnel and strategy implementing offensive and defensive 'delay' strategy. Today, I focus on offensive delay. 

Astronomical differences separate "know that" and "know how." 

1. Play to win, not to lose. Game theory informs that players having a "dominant" strategy should use it. Why choose your second, third, or fourth option if you have Michael Jordan?

2. Use cardinal principles - play hard, play together, play smart

3. Simplify. Get everyone on the same page. This is easier than it sounds. Team A leads team B by eight with fifty-five seconds on the clock (30-second shot clock) and has possession out of bounds at mid court. Warm up the bus, right? Team A throws the ball in to the team captain who misses a three pointer FIVE seconds into the shot clock. The Latin expression is res ipsa loquitur, the thing speaks for itself.

4. Clarify. Players must understand the why and the how, the intent and operations. The best delay games put the ball in the hands of your playmakers. Protect the ball, create opportunities for easy baskets (via defensive overplay), and make free throws. 

5. Options

A. When I think of delay offense (it could be used as standalone offense), I think Four Corners with the inimitable Phil Ford at the controls. After Dean Smith's death, Roy Williams ran "four" in tribute to Coach Smith. 

B. This 1-4 'shallow cut' offense offers simplicity IF you have the ball handlers to operate it. Every good offense starts with adequate spacing. This also offers pick-and-roll alternatives. 

C. Continuity downscreens. 

We ran this "continuity downscreens" forty-five years ago in high school. We had five capable scorers (everyone averaged at least 10 ppg) who could make free throws. Practically speaking, any player could function at any spot. The 5 was available to cut and release to the ball when needed. I can't recall losing a game that we had the opportunity to use this offense. If overplayed severely, you can back cut.

Good teams execute close and late. Find a program and personnel that work for you. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Coaching Profile: Tom Crean

Everyone needs mentors. Coaches have tons to share, and we do. Develop teaching points.

Background: Former Indiana coach Tom Crean works as an ESPN analyst. "Crean won two conference titles during his nine seasons with the (Indiana) program, posting a 166-135 record while bringing the Hoosiers back from crippling NCAA sanctions".

Philosophy: Get better. This is detailed in a program manifesto. 

"Mistakes such as misspelling of names is unforgivable." 

Application: summarized in the next section...

Team identity: 

Coaching Notes: 

1. From

"As a head coach, you can’t allow yourself to get away from getting your team better every single day."

"Most important part of cutting: finishing your cut."

"Your first step is only as good/quick as your ability to push the dribble out."

"Get away from the ball ("give it room to breathe")." 

"Put big giant traffic cones in the corners so your players can visually see a target there."

2. From MensBasketballHoopScoop via CoachingULive 2013

"Your 1st dribble is your scoring dribble - don’t waste it."

"On your 1st dribble your eyes must be up in order to read the defenders as well as your teammates actions."

"Don’t dribble - Drive the ball."

Video: All of us need competence in many areas, like X's and O's. But Crean shares what separates excellence from good. 

Words: Academics, competitiveness, detail, energy, focus, fundamentals, intensity, love the game, passion, respect, work. "What is your brand?" "You have to figure out what matters." Coach Saban would say, "clear the clutter." 

This is old shell drill, post defense video. Watching the first couple of minutes sets the tone. He may have modified his philosophy with the evolution of perimeter shooting dominance. But he emphasizes communication. Yesterday, I reminded my players at halftime that talk "energizes, engages, and intimidates."
Excellent players want to be coached hard. "When we realize what we don't know, that's when we get better." 

Tom Crean summarizes as a outstanding communicator, ethical, detail-oriented, focused on doing the right thing. After a tough start cleaning up IU, he succeeded in a tough conference at a university demanding more than success. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Better Today (and Lagniappe)

You say that you want to be better today. Do you mean it? Enhance your individual and team contribution now. 

1. Take better shots. "It's not your shot, it's our shot." Know what your quality shots are and those of your teammates. Do not force shots or take "shot turnovers." Remember Pete Newell's "get more and better shots than your opponent."  There is no "my turn." We've all seen players with clocks in their head that 'go off' and pressure a shot. 

2. Take care of the ball. Stop throwing it away, traveling, catching the ball out of bounds, and so much more. "The ball is gold." 

3. Know your assignments. You can't do your job if you don't know what it is. $Study. 

4. Pound the boards. If everyone gets #OneMoreRebound, then our success multiplies. The game is about POSSESSION and POSSESSIONS

5. Make layups and free throws. Yes, your friends and family love to watch you tricky dribble And1 style. You get no points for dribbling. Klay Thompson scored SIXTY points with eleven dribbles. 11. 

6. Talk. Call the screens, call the cutters, call the ball. Talk energizes and intimidates. "Early, loud, and often..."

7. Win this possession. Emily Dickinson wrote, "Forever is composed of nows." Embrace that. 

8. Attack. Attack the basket, attack the defense, attack the ball. The meek will inherit the earth, but not the basketball court. 

9. CARE. Concentrate - anticipate - react - execute. It's not enough to sprint up and down the court. Alertness and awareness define you. "The ball scores." You cannot* defend without seeing the ball (okay, there is full denial, chest-to-chest defense for another time).

10.Share the ball. "Movement kills defense." Move yourself and the ball. Don't be a "ball sticker." 

Lagniappe: Spain Pick and Roll (and more)

Better terminology brings clarity. Coach K calls "hedge" or "show" the fake trap PnR defense.

We can rename "Spain Pick-and-roll" screen the roller. Tough action to defend, analogous to dribble handoff action with a sequential screen (below). 


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Fast Five: Tell Me a Story

Basketball is a series of stories, a long series of nows that become forever. 

It might start with a rickety hoop on a dirt court in far off places or a plywood backboard nailed to a tree in your backyard. 

But it's about people. "The difference between who you are now and whom you become in five years are the people you meet and the books you read." 

You learn and teach living "Above the Line" (via Urban Meyer). 

The cornerstones to success are industriousness (willing work) and enthusiasm. 

Wilt would rush to block his shot; Sam would launch it just over his outstretched fingertips and hear Sam say, "Too late." 

A coach can change your life. "Never be a child's last coach." 

Ellis "Sonny" Lane, New England Basketball Hall of Fame

Effort is what matters most. Recognize the person in the arena. 

Sometimes the game rewards you with exhilarating success. 

Other times it hurts so bad. 
But we write our narrative. Make it special. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Message to Players. How Can Sixth Graders Be Professional?

“Extreme Ownership. Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.” - Jocko Willink and Leif Babin in Extreme Ownership

Can sixth graders learn professionalism? Professionalism means energy, focus, and commitment to improving your craft, with "extreme ownership." Professionals serve and sacrifice. 

Learn to "take care of business." Middle schoolers can't control what time their parents bring them to practice. But they control when they are ready to go and whether they arrive physically and mentally engaged. They control completion and excellence of school assignments. 

Design your life or your life will have no design. Taking care of business means adequate rest, proper diet, and training.

"Pack your chute". Is your parachute ready to deploy? Have your gear ready. Your parents aren't responsible for your inhaler, sneakers, extra socks, contact lens solution, a couple of adhesive bandages and tape. Parents have many responsibilities. Become self-reliant. 

Develop a mindset of character not entitlement. Success is a choice. Character represents your core values, your ethos, who you are. You make your habits and your habits make you. Develop a worthy identity. Become reliable.

Attention is the first price we pay. We enhance our memory and grasp of the world consciously. What foot hits the floor first when we get out of bed (my left)? How do we increase our memory and attention? Mindfulness training, scheduled study, and thinking about thinking (metacognition) present three valued tools. Read more and read better. Use the Feynman technique. Learn it, teach it, simplify it, challenge it. 

Preparation matters. "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail." - John Wooden   Are you ready for the expected and the unexpected? Success at the free throw line in crunch time manifests from hundreds of hours practicing. 

Self-awareness. "Know thyself." Know personal strengths and weaknesses. Do more of what is working and less of what isn't. 

"The magic is in the work."  Basketball and life are about skill and will. Let your work and effort define you. 

Morse code, TTP (trust the process). 

Trust the process. To trust you must know first. During medical training, we say, "see one, do one, teach one." When you don't know your assignment, you'll never complete it on time or on target. 

Share something great. Communicate with teammates. Be a sharer. When you see something they're struggling with, support and suggest. "Have you thought about doing it this way?" If they're 'off' ask whether you can help them. Brad Stevens said of former player Ronald Nored, "He's so good at building relationships, being genuine, wanting to get to know you, wanting what's best for you that you really have no choice but to trust him and play as hard as you possibly can for him." 

Become a legacy builder. How will people remember you? "Become more to do more; do more to become more." We remember first impressions. We remember a firm handshake. We remember eye contact. We remember people who care about each other. Rod Olson describes "speaking greatness." 

None of these guidelines require you to be the biggest, the fastest, or the smartest tool in the toolbox. But their sum will help you to become your best. That's what professionals do. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Education of a Player (and Lagniappe)

Coaching mostly twelve year-olds this year, I don't know what they know or don't. I sometimes get a chance to learn before practice. One shared that they have English and Math tests this week. 

I asked if they knew the term alliteration...choosing (and explaining) a Shakespearean  example, "Full fathom five, thy father lies." 

And I extended the discussion with another example of rhetoric, tricolon, the use of three words or phrases in speech, like Caesar's, "I came, I saw, I conquered," and General Douglas MacArthur's West Point speech, "Duty, honor, country."

This led to a segue (transition) to brief reference to the largest military academies - West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy...and a former middle school player who is a student at Annapolis. 

I asked them "how do you get what you want?" Some suggested, "work." Good answer. I asked, "if you want something from your parents what do you do?" They understood. "Ask." None knew the term networking, which means to use the knowledge and influence of those around you to advance your career. "If you need a letter of recommendation for a school or help to get a job, ask people to help you." 

The education of a player means more than form shooting, pick-and-roll, and shell drill. We have the opportunity to make a never know when. 

"When is the most important time?" Now. It's what we do in the moment.
"Who are the most important people?" Your teammates at practice or those you are with right now. 
"What is the most important thing?" Serve the people around you. 

Lagniappe: US Women versus Senegal (Auriemma sets)

Horns middle entry into inside-outside action for a three. 

Horns double ball screen with roll and pop. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Basketball Coaching Lenses, More than Meets the Eye

We see the same player different ways. I view an athletic, high energy, inexperienced player as a potential diamond in the rough. Another person sees the same skill set as unfocused, wild, or unproductive. 

I saw half a JV game of former players and cataloged some of the opportunities, mistakes, or errors while noting some good play, too. 

If there's any finger pointing to be done, I'm pointing it at myself, first. I had three years to get it right. My high school coach, Sonny Lane would say, "I'm pleased but I'm not satisfied." As coaches, we are never satisfied. That is our nature, our profession, our curse. 

Offensive issues:

- Too much dribbling
- Catch and immediate dribble 
- Dribbling east-west for ball reversal 
- Offense too often from the corner or side (creates 3 on 5 offense, below)

- Poor post position (3, below), not working hard for "home ownership" premium post position (terminology via Kevin Eastman)

- Not looking to pass ahead on the break
- Poor spacing 
- Passing or dribbling into traffic ("excellent players play in space")
- Standing 
- Poor pivoting allow defenders to take space, create held balls
- Weak "lollipop" passes
- Lack of alertness (missing catches) 

Defensive mistakes:

- Poor help side defense (above), distant from the paint, despite two passes away
- Inconsistent defensive stance
- No defensive block out
- Not seeing both ball and player (common) 
- Allowing the direct drive without any help ("the ball scores")
- Running back (transition) on defense seeing neither ball nor player

The results of these errors and omissions? My former players won 58-28. 

Don Meyer remarked, "what is unacceptable in defeat is unacceptable in victory." Coaches want players to do the next right thing right now. We've got our eyes on you. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Fast Five: Be the Change

"That's not right." Do something about it. What change do we wish to see? 

Like every young team (middle school), we have issues. But I wasn't expecting health to be one. We had eight girls at practice and four out with sickness. Control what you can control. Identify "what my team needs now." I share some actions from last night's practice. 

We need more skill, but we need more aggressiveness and toughness. 

1. "Basketball is a game meant to be played fast." - John Wooden

We need more energy, more focus, more intensity. We're going to play faster. That begins with defense. 

Play full court, full pressure, full denial defense. Change the process. 

2. We have to handle pressure better. 

Yes, it's hard. Gauntlet requires players to navigate the full court, two versus eight, with each pair of defenders responsible for a sector. Offensive players are allowed one dribble per touch and must learn to cut, pass, and pivot to succeed. The defense rotates up a sector after the offense plays. 

3. Layups, layups, layups. 

I call it the one-minute layup drill. Compete against your partner. You must score as many layups as possible in one minute. "Be quick but don't hurry." You're scoring, pulling the ball from the net and scoring again. Initially, it's dominant hand, right side of basket. The ball should never touch the floor. Eventually, players need to be able to score with either hand on either side of the hoop. Three repetitions of one minute per player. Players can get into the high thirties...eventually. We're nowhere close now.

4. Free throws. 

Charity stripe? More like it's charity for our opponents. "If charity means giving, I give it to you." - Camelot "Form begets function." We need more reps, better form, better targeting. I can't ask players to practice in their snow-soaked driveways. 

5. Conversion and outlet. Controlling the boards means command and control of the ball. We're rebounding and throwing the ball away, a net negative. 

Coach (C) shoots and misses (oh, the pain). Rebound is controlled and guards sprint to outlet above Free Throw Line Extended (FTLE). Rebounder pivots away from traffic (explain why) and looks to outlet with overhead pass. Guards must catch above FTLE with their back to the sideline so they can see the entire court. After first pass, guard looks for second pass to opposite guard cutting to the middle. Guard should fill wing and remaining rebounder fill opposite lane (in practice, they're more likely to be rim running). 

Our job is to find solutions not problems. Be the change.