Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Anatomy of a Basketball Blog Post

Tell the story. Craft your process, target audience, and respect the reader. 

Find an idea. Do the research. Outline the piece. Introduce and buttress the main idea early. Have clear primary and secondary goals.

Serve readers both Entree and Dessert (Lagniappe). Garnish with references and images. Season with rules of rhetoric.

Put the piece aside (rest the meat). Return the following day or week. Review for simplicity, clarity, utility.  

Trim the fat - adverbs, cliches, filler, passive voice, and two-dollar words.

Cook an enduring message. Persist and refine. Be better. 

Lagniappe- Hat tip: Chris Oliver

Lessons from the Tournament 

Spacing starts everything. Create gaps. Attack on the catch. Drive and kick. Drive to score. 

Help! Tag the cutters/rollers. Close out to protect. Find the shooters AND the non-shooters. Helpside "I" was in place. Wall up under control. Know how you're covering screens (over, under, through). Switch small on small. 

Inbounding. Cut and leave. Overload the ball side. 

Offensive concepts. Serial ball screens...high ball screen setup off DHO (LUC)...with a back door option (below)...keep plays alive with player and ball movement

Monday, April 23, 2018

3 on 3 Building Blocks

Simplify offense by changing constraints...the number of players and the space involved. Spacing, cutting, screening, and passing are their primary actions. Young players have NO idea of the possibilities. We help them see the game and become worthy opponents

How we use personnel to develop offense depends not on our preference but their capabilities. For example, 5 could be a primary scorer (PnR, iso), facilitator (passer with various actions), or screener. "Become more to do more; do more to become more." 

Simplest is the high ball screen with PnR options or pass to 3 if x3 helps. We could call that FIST SERIES.

Next we have post entry with 1-5 actions like handoff or give-and-go. We could call that FIVE SERIES. 

5 has additional options, like passing to 3 or isolation herself. 53 ACTIONS. 

Instead of post entry, start with wing entry. 5 may be a better screener than finisher. 5 can screen for the passer or the receiver and 3 can get her isolation. Of course, 1 could screen for 5, too. 13 SERIES or HAMMER? 

1 can pass to 3 and cut to the corner (bury). That can initiate the sideline triangle (note 3 and 5 along the "line of deployment" to the basket...or can initiate 'scissors' action with 1 and 3 cutting off the 5 (by convention, the passer cuts first). TRIPLE.

Better yet, 1 can basket cut and veer to screen for 3. Another option would be to initiate Flex from this action. FLORIDA. 

But wait, there's more. 

1 could DHO with 3 with additional trickery. Or we could even have 5 screen 1 in a modified Spain pick-and-roll. HOMER (Simpson, DOH = DHO?)

But, of course, "technique beats tactics." Learn to finish. We play 3-on-3 in constrained space every practice as part of that process. 


Gordon Ramsay finishes his MasterClass. "It's really satisfying to teach others what we've got, garnered, understood...after you've watched and learned...go and cook." 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Be So Good They Can't Ignore You

"Be So Good They Can't Ignore You." - Steve Martin

Grandma Moses began painting in earnest at age 78. We have a big head start on her! 

Believe in yourself. Steven King had published nothing substantial by age twenty-six when he asked a middle school custodian about privacy in the girls locker room. He had an idea about bullying and came up with the novel Carrie. A few months later, he got a check for $200,000. He knew, "I'm going to make it in this business." 

You have an idea. What if? What if we tried this? Give it a go. 

How can we "be so good?" Begin with a few core values. 

Control what you can control. 
Grow meaningful relationships. 
Make others feel valued. 
Radiate positive energy. 
Teach the game from both the big picture and the fine details. 

The first informs our attitude. Take care of business. The others test how we serve others. 

What's this? Name five traits on the front. What's different about Lincoln than images of Jefferson, Roosevelt, Washington, and Kennedy? That's attention to precision and detail...the qualities that create and deny separation, see the wide focus and the narrow 'target'. 

Model excellence. What works? What fails? 

Be different. Be better than we were yesterday. 

Be a Learning Machine

Write. Take a picture. Refine our method. Make it indelibly ours. 

Sell it. Chuck Daly reminds us, "I'm a salesman." We're performers as we sell our brand.  

Find questions. What goes in our Jar of Awesome today? 

Persist. James Patterson had his first novel rejected by thirty-one publishers. The rest is history. Define your legacy. 


Beat the zone with overload. (From John Kresse)

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Winning Close Games

Hat tip: TeachHoops.com

"Good artists borrow; great artists steal." - Picasso

Doug Schakel shares experiencing winning close games, reporting an 80 percent win rate in close games. The video speaks for itself. 


1) Practice every day.
2) Creates a confidence mindset.
3) Winning close games separates excellent teams from mediocre ones. 
4) He believes confidence from winning close games spills into other games. 
5) "80 percent of close games are LOST not won." This corresponds to Warren Buffett's partner Charlie Munger who says it's more important to avoid making dumb mistakes than to making great choices.
6) Performing in special situations gives you a chance at winning. 
7) Execution is more important than genius. 
8) "Make all the mistakes you want (in practice)." 
9) Learn from opponent's mistakes. Opponent goes to dunk and seal the win and turns the ball over with 2 seconds (instead of running out the clock). 
10) "Time and score" sheet for every practice 

11) This puts substitutes in late game situations (top players may have fouled out).
12) Puts background crowd noise on during practice of situations (communication)
13) Enduring lessons emerge during IN-GAME NOTES. (Ask players what happened.)
14) Categorize scenarios (e.g. 94 feet, less than 5 seconds, with or w/o timeouts).
15) Have specific plan for use of timeouts. 
16) Must have capacity to function without timeouts.
17) Know who to foul and how to foul (had a foul call...want foul w/o intentional foul)
18) Lead protection strategy (including delay game)
19) Do you have a specific team for specific situations (offense/defense)?
20) Last second plays
21) "94 Foot play" (inspired from USSR 1972)

"Catch the ball first." 

Adjustment of "wings" after the ball is thrown (critical). "It never works in practice."

22) 7 Second Play - from UNC/Dean Smith 

Thanks for visiting. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Gargantua's Bedroom (Basketball)*

It was overcast in LA. The office sent me to fix a leaky faucet. Everyone needs a "guy"...someone to unclog the drain, replace the muffler, install a new outlet. I did drains and stuff. What could be more ordinary? 

Someone buzzed me and the unmarked white van into the driveway. An older woman greeted me at the door. When she saw my toolbox, she pointed me to the spiral staircase, "Thanks for coming, it's upstairs on the right, through the master."

I took the long walk across the parlor. On the mantle, there was a photograph of a print, an oil painting by Derek Russell. Jay Z played on the sound system. I smelled the sweet aroma of fried chicken from the kitchen. I saw an oversized bowl of oversized fruit. 

After I ascended the magnificent staircase, I banged a right. Went past an exercise room with a treadmill, a Peloton bike, and some weights. Everything had its place, a water dispenser, and some folded green and white towels.

The master bedroom seemed otherworldly, cathedral ceilings with a pair of skylights, and ivory painted walls. Modern art never did much for me. A silver frame on the mahogany dresser held a photo with a trophy and Bill Russell. A black and white still of a playground with a torn basketball net had a sign that read "Inglewood." Can a king-sized bed be oversized? On the nightstand there was an iPad and a tube of Aspercreme. An enormous pair of grey Nike slip-ons and some kicks neatly rested adjacent. 

I walked into the bathroom. I had a job to do. 

*This is entirely fiction. 

Fast Five: Wait, the Basketball Value of Wait

"Everyone is necessarily the hero of their own imagination." - Kafka

Goal: Expound upon the virtue of waiting
Secondary: Encourage readers to train themselves to wait. 
Entree: Waiting examples
Dessert: Curry flavored

"Be quick but don't hurry." - John Wooden

Waiting literally weighs on us. We need it now or even better yesterday. Can we train ourselves to wait? Meditation helps widen the space between stimulus "what do you think?" and response. During interviews, Malcolm Gladwell often says, "Wait. Can you explain that for me?" 

1. Ask better questions...think before acting. Simon Sinek commented that Nelson Mandela's father always waited to speak last. That allowed him to hear others' opinions and respond thoughtfully. What elements belong in our daily routine? Do they translate well to our life?  

2. Wait before disciplining. What is the likely impact of discipline? Will we effect behavioral change or counterproductive anger? We can lose a player. "I'm done with him." Easy answers are elusive. 

If we examine the emotionally charged situation of domestic violence, we know that more stable situations (higher education, employed couples) had lower recidivism with arrest than did less stable couples. In other words, harsher punishment (arrest) made no statistical difference (versus warnings) in individuals with a worse social situation. Don't expect uniform responses to discipline. 

3. "Haste makes waste." Sleeping on decisions helps us activate different brain systems to make a reflective versus a reflexive decision. We have processes to make reflex judgments ("duck") and another to forge complex decisions. With more serious concerns, don't fire off an email...use the 24 rules (hours) and reconsider. 

4. Wait for screens to be set. Better separation occurs by being late off the screen than by being early. Teach players to say to themselves, "wait, wait, wait" as the screen is coming. 

5. Plays take time and space to develop

Here's a good example. 3 has to clear through to move the x4 defender, allowing the middle screen to open 1 for the pass. It also necessitates plays starting on the inbounder receiving the ball, not after a ball slap. 

Player development takes time. Rome wasn't built in a day. 

Faith (belief) and Patience (time) flank the top of Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success. Sometimes your opportunity won't come immediately. Stay ready for when it does.


Curry favors three moves in combination - crossover, between-the-legs, behind the back...note how the ball returns rapidly to his shooting pocket, the pound dribble to minimize time out of his hands, and how the BALL moves around the body. It's the steak not the sizzle that matters. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle"...a Basketball Love Story

Madeleine Blais, journalism professor at the University of Massachusetts, authored In These Girls Hope Is a Muscle. Sports Illustrated ranked it amidst the top 100 sports books ever written. And probably, there's a good chance you've never heard of it. 

She tells the story of the Amherst High School girls basketball team, their environment in quirky western Massachusetts, classic rivalries, and the battles they waged and overcame. She succeeds because she has a magnificent story, fascinating characters, and best...brilliant prose. 

Reading In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle inspires me to write better. I asked her indulgence to answer a few questions and she generously responded. Enjoy her answers and perhaps the book, updated with an epilogue.

First, here is a quote from IN THESE GIRLS:

"They were a talented team with a near-perfect record. But for five straight years, when it came to the crunch of the playoffs, the Amherst Lady Hurricanes -- a "finesse" high school girls' basketball team of nice girls from a nice town -- somehow lacked the scrappy, hard-driving desire to go all the way."

1. What convinced you that Hope deserved sharing? 

MB: Toni Morrison once said something to the effect that you should write the book you want to read.  I loved the idea of writing ab look about a spirited band of young women who not only took over a town but took charge of their own destiny.  When I first met the Lady Hurricanes and I watched them play a game and I realized how moved I was by the experience, I felt challenged to try to find the words that would capture all this for people who didn’t get to meet the Hurricanes on person nor to watch them in the middle of a game. 

2. How do you usually find topics? 

MB: Topics are usually the long answer to simple questions.  “I hear Amherst has a strong girls basketball team this year.  What is that like?” Simple answer: “Oh, everyone is happy about it.”  Complicated answer: read the book.

3. Were subjects enthusiastic to share their narrative? 

MB: My subjects ere enthusiastic. I think it helped that I treated them like adults, we made bona fide appointments to get together, and I usually made sure that we met at a place where food was part of the picture (Bart’s Ice Cream. Amherst Chinese, Antonio’s Pizza.) Athletes are always hungry!

4. What barriers did you encounter? 

MB: Some of the girls were shy and some of their parents wanted to make sure that talking to me would not go against their own daughter’s best interests, so we all had to work to get to know each.

5. Did any enduring lessons emerge from the reader response? 

MB: Readers have been great over the years.  My favorite reaction was from a girl who was about fifteen who said she had underlined and dog-eared all her favorite parts and when she showed me the book it appeared to have been vandalized as a result of her enthusiasm.

In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle

Twitter Feeds for Basketball Junkies

Use social media to extend our basketball knowledge. Twitter has numerous productive posters that inform and educate us daily. Here are a few (in no particular order) that I regularly find productive and sample posts. Please add your recommendations in the comments. 

















I'm @rsen01

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Fast Five: Photography and Basketball Practice (Plus Lagniappe)

Goal: Reinforce big ideas...film, history, and transformation. 
Secondary: lead readers to a secondary destination
Entree: Photography terms relevance to basketball
Dessert: half-court sets into quality offense

John Filo won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his photograph of grief-stricken Mary Ann Vecchio standing over victim Jeffrey Miller at Kent State

A professional photography podcast inspired relationships to basketball. How can we transform 'snapshots' (practice events) into mindset and play? The speaker illuminates the power of capturing events on film. Practice should inform that force and never be tedious.

Focus. What specific domains are we teaching? For example, coaches teach specificity. Some coaches teach the roller to 'turn' the screener (physically pull) into the play as the second cutter. That hasn't worked well for us because the girls seem not to want to touch their teammates. 

Filter. Modify game dimensions to affect play. Change the space, time, rules (numbers of dribbles or passes), and number of players (e.g. advantage-disadvantage). 

Creativity. Simplify and clarify actions into meaningful structure. Only imagination (and safety) restricts us. For instance, MSU Coach Tom Izzo teaches rebounding with football helmets and shoulder pads.

Organization. We have limited practice time. Organization, tempo, and shortcuts (e.g. drill names) helps efficiency. For example, within a two-hour practice, we spend about 15 minutes on "specials." We start an O-D-O (offense-defense-offense) activity with a BOB, SLOB, or free throw. If a free throw, rebounders know to 'pinch' the best offensive rebounder. The sets reinforce special situations but test conversion, transition, and decision-making and double as scrimmage. Players remark that it's their favorite segment. 

Change. Change is the only constant as players mature. Coaches and players should challenge ourselves to daily improvement. How do I get better today? Can I inspire players and readers to up their improvement game? For example, Malcolm Gladwell does his research at the library, examining books in the neighborhood of his initial research interest. He wants to expand the narrative, not encapsulate it. 

Lagniappe: Devious actions from 4-out into Spain PnR (screen the roller) 

Double bonus:

We can use deception to get key players into the desired action. I think this came from Coach Pintar. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Basketball: Clinic Notes for Young Coaches

"There is nothing cheaper than free advice." 

We had a saying in the Navy, "if they want our opinion, they'll ask for it." Nobody asked. 

Blogging allows us to share our opinions (opinions are not facts), hoping that age produces more wisdom and not less wit. Seek and share practical, applicable information.  

If a young coach asked, "help me," what would you answer? "What is your philosophy?" We cannot change the world until we change ourselves. We do so through our attitude, choices, and effort. Become more positive and share that positive energy. Our choices define our organization - habits, preparation, and practices including player and team development. Our effort informs our self-investment and resource management

1. Learn how to listen, to your family, your peers, and your players. Leaders listen. 

2. Communicate better. Relationships make or break us. Honest communication creates trust; trust creates loyalty. 

3. Simplify. To get everyone on the same page, we need clarity. 

4. Read. Find superior content. Study and internalize the parts applicable for you. Reading gives us a 'software update' every day. 

5. Write it down. Have a commonplace book, notebook, or 'peripheral brain'. I regularly repeat Picasso, "good artists borrow; great artists steal." In medical school, we carried these "miniature" notebooks absorbing that firehose of information. 

6. Add value. Every player should leave every practice better and wanting more. They 'buy in' when we sell worthwhile goods. 

7. Model excellence. Make it clear that we chase our better version. Steady improvement beats unattainable perfection. 

8. Focus on solutions. Teams have to survive and apply pressure, literally and figuratively. Fill their toolboxes, because 'technique beats tactics'. 

9. Find mentors. "Be like Mike" wasn't just a slogan. John Calipari has a Personal Board of Directors with whom he convenes periodically for life advice. 

10.Be humble. Humility comes with great struggle. Ben Franklin wrote that if he achieved humility, then he would surely be proud of it. He understood that maybe 'the appearance of humility' would be as close as he could come.

If we succeed at a majority of these tasks, then we have a good chance of "doing well by doing good."  


Horns set into Stagger/Spain PnR

Monday, April 16, 2018

Basketball: Overcoming Pressure Points

Each of us has 'core beliefs' about effective process. "Good teams can apply and withstand defensive pressure." A team that wilts under pressure fails against quality teams. A handful of possessions defines destiny or disaster. 

Psychologist and trader Brett Steenbarger notes, "Here's a psychological principle you can count on:  As conditions become more challenging and dangerous, peak performers respond with increasing mental quiet and focus."

Tom Cruise gets advice to quiet his mind. This theme repeats in storytelling, "you are The Last Dragon", The Karate Kid, "focus power", and even in the comedy Caddyshack, "be the ball." Successful players quiet the mind. A sports psychologist advised Derek Jeter on how to deport himself to build confidence. His exaggerated erect walk to the plate informed quiet confidence. Yoda tells Luke Skywalker, "do or do not, there is no try." 

My two favorite pressure 'drills' are 'gauntlet' and five on seven 'disadvantage', the latter with additional defenders and no dribbling allowed. 

Two offensive players must navigate four sets of defenders in their areas. I usually allow one per touch. The drill demands cutting, passing, catching, and good decisions. The best players find a way to defeat the defense. 

Basketball Immersion recommends a variety of methods to mitigate pressure.

Avoiding "primary trap zones" (yellow) makes your life easier. 

In another post, BI counsels "Passing the ball inbound directly to the ball side corner creates a disadvantage for an offense." In the ball side corner, defenders use the "primary trap zone" (boundaries converge) to limit passer options. 

Good coaching eschews haphazard selection of inbounders. Allowing turnovers near our basket not only loses of possession and usual creates an easy score and potential momentum shifts. 


Bad spacing or crafty offense? 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Where Is Your Basketball Offense Arising?

"The job of the writer is not to supply the ideas. It is to find the ideas." - Malcolm Gladwell

Basketball offense doesn't grow on trees. As Pasteur reminds us, "chance favors the prepared mind." 

NBA.com tracks frequency of these actions and results, measuring them by points and points per possessionDo well what you do a lotDo more of what works and less of what doesn't.

It's not rocket science. The rocket scientist in my family is on the right.

UCONN under Geno Auriemma plans to score a third in transition, a third on threes, and a third on set plays. Do we have a plan for our offense. 

Our middle school girls lack the experience to score via freelance consistently. Sets give us a fighting chance. In the postseason a few years ago, we faced one of the tallest teams we'd ever played. 

We ran this action five consecutive plays and scored seven points (3 hoops and a free throw), 1.4 points per possession, far above our norm. The opposition took a time out and switched to zone defense. A heavy underdog, we won by three. 

We beat the top team in our league by a point this year; they couldn't handle our basic PnR out of a horns set...not rocket science. 

I'd call this play, "Swordfish" after the movie, where John Travolta emphasizes misdirection. The key is the sequential screens by 2, creating either a layup or usually a mismatch. GSW runs something similar out of a SLOB.

What elements belong in our offense? Have we examined their efficiency (e.g. points per possession)? I believe that in a developmental setting, we should teach offensive principles, starting (above) with "spread offense." Concepts, unpredictability, and execution should flow logically. 

Using full court man-to-man defense (later to teach run-and-jump), we seek to turn defense into offense with turnovers and transition. 

Half-court sets, a few quick hitters, and zone offense become secondary goals. Three point shooting will evolve as the girls become more physical and older. 

Base SLOB action. Zipper cut into ball screen. Second option, entry to 5 with one-on-one. Third option, entry to 3 with basket cut by inbounder. Fourth option, entry to 5 with back cut by 3. 

Specials (BOBs, SLOBs) get implementation with the goal of scoring at least three baskets per game and having "go to" actions either ATO or during 'crunch time'. But every action relies on players' ability to separate, finish, and make free throws. We have far to go before we can go far, but we have a plan.