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Monday, August 31, 2015

Intro to Transition Defense

The first defensive priority is taking away easy baskets. And transition baskets qualify as among the easiest. During their championship run, the Boston Celtics made transition defense an emphasis to the point of limiting offensive rebounding rate. This was particularly critical to overcome the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James in the Conference semifinals.

Transition starts with the release of the shot. Specific assignments (e.g. 1 and 2 as primary defenders) determine defensive consistency.

  • The defenders should be at top speed within three steps. 
  • Beat your assignment to half court. 
  • One goal is to prevent the ball from passing midcourt uncontested. 
  • Sprint don't run. 
  • Strategically make choices about bothering the outlet pass or defending the outlet receiver to slow transition. 
  • Protect the basket as a primary concern. 
  • "The ball scores." Stop the score, not your man as your primary concern. 
  • Communicate who is stopping the ball. 
  • Don't concern yourselves with officials, your missed shot, or fans as you convert to defense. 
  • Shape up 'geometrically' in tandem, triangle, or square to form up the defense. 
  • Be aware of the shooters. 
  • When 'shaping up' in the paint (e.g. triangle) have one foot in the lane but prepare to react to the three-point line perimeter shooters. 
  • No "buddy running," mindlessly running with an assignment. 
  • Getting back is not enough. Get bank and defend with purpose. 
  • Next to denying layups, the defense should prevent uncontested threes. 

Starts with 3 on 2 attack. When the ball crosses midcourt, the "sideline" defender comes into play. When the defense controls the rebound (or the offense scores), defense goes to offense, and the shooter goes to become the sideline defender at midcourt. New defenders (X4, X5) step in after the initial run. 

Coach (C) enters the ball and calls out two numbers (e.g. 4, 5) who must retreat to baseline and then hustle back to defend. Offense attacks 5 on 3 with urgency. 


Thorny issues arise with youth sports from the youngest ages through high school. One of the biggest is "playing time" or "minutes."

First, let's consider some background. Experimentally, if you hand out ceramic mugs to a group of people, they mentally assign some value to them, let's say five dollars. If you ask a group of non-owners how much those mugs are worth, they assign a different, lower value, perhaps three dollars. Ownership confers value in and of itself. Psychologists call this ENDOWMENT BIAS. This is fundamental and universal among people; it's how we're wired.

Jump back to youth sports and you make the're not talking about some cheap mug, you're talking about MY CHILD. I call this the PRIME DIRECTIVE, i.e. nobody cares about MY CHILD as much as we, the parents do. We see our children through a different lens and understandably advocate for them. Legendary coach Don Meyer said it differently, every parent would rather see their child be ALL-STATE than have their team win the STATE CHAMPIONSHIP.

The late Al Maguire, former Marquette coach and broadcaster told a story about a parent who was lobbying for playing time for his son. Maguire said, "you're an insurance salesman, right? You don't know anything about basketball, so don't tell me how to coach." A Middlesex League coach whom I know told me he got a cell call during the FIRST quarter of the FIRST game asking why the parent's child wasn't playing. Really.

In high school, parents pay user fees or "participation fees." Participation fees help defray but don't completely pay for travel, uniforms, custodian and other costs. But user fees don't "buy" playing time. Still, I suspect that most coaches feel pressure to play everyone. Whether they acknowledge that, I don't know.

Former Celtics' coach Kevin Eastman says, "you are responsible for your paycheck." Translation, 'minutes' and all the perquisites that accompany them are not equal. That's true in the NBA and to a lesser degree in Little League. Coaches should explain their philosophy and parents should have the opportunity for feedback. That doesn't mean they will always agree.

Substituting players is the part of coaching I like least. If you substitute in groups (full substitution), you disrupt the flow and players also don't necessarily play with other 'stronger' players. If you have 12 players and 32 x 5 (160 minutes), then you can average only 13 minutes. That's not a lot. Should you have fewer (on average 'better') players or more players to facilitate development?

Two critical points:
  • If a player is unhappy with her 'minutes' then she can ask 'what can I do to increase my role?'
  • No player or parent can ever say, "I (or my child) is better than "Mary Jones." That discussion just can't happen. Coaches can't discuss other players relative to your child.
When players and families know your commitment to their improvement as people, students, and players - it shows. At the end of the season, it's not about "minutes," it's about lifetimes.


Baseline out of bounds plays (BOB or BLOB) create repeatable scoring opportunities. Good teams look not just to inbound the ball but create high quality shots.

Players' first priority is inbound safely. Like a quarterback, the inbounder needs to make good decisions and pass accurately.

Coaches can run a variety of formations and a variety of tactics against either man-to-man or zone defense. The best plays create multiple scoring opportunities.

This can be run from multiple formations - box, four across, or a line parallel to the baseline. It pressures the low defenders who must first protect the basket. Alternatively, you can have 4 and 5 cut directly to the blocks or have one screen the middle defender (X5).

This is what I call the "generic" inbounds play against the zone. On the ball side, the idea is to create a perimeter shot for the inbounder. The 'option' is if X3 goes out hard to have 1 screen for 3 instead of vice versa. Another option I see a lot is the inbounds to 3, who dribbles out as 4 and 5 set an "elevator screen" for 1 cutting to the top of the key for a return pass.

This is just a wrinkle that creates weak side (help side) action.

Another type of action I see a lot is multiple screens (multiple action) on the ball side with entry for either a perimeter shot or ball reversal with a skip pass.

Obviously, coaches will design plays to get their best shooters/scorers the ball. A previous post, "Breaking Brad" shows a lot of the concepts that Celtics' coach Brad Stevens likes against man-to-man (NBA) defenses.

Defensively, we teach players the importance of physicality (screens closer to the basket are generally more physical) and the dangerousness of the inbounder.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Saban Lecture

HoopThoughts shares this Nick Saban camp lecture.  Coach Saban separates ability from other critical factors such as 1) effort, 2) perseverance, 3) doing your job, 4) conditioning, 5) mental toughness, and 6) mindset.

Coach Saban is a complex guy, with a complex background. He's a four-time national champion but it's not from sunshine and roses. I'm finishing up the new eponymous biography.

Early Offense

Coaches are responsible for teaching the game, to help players "see" the game. We have always been a transition-based offense, but all too often that has led to stagnation, confusion, and indecision in the half court.

In the best of all possible worlds, transition flows into cutting, screening, and passing or a dribble-drive type of offense, depending on your personnel. That could be a rules-oriented approach like Dean Smith's "Passing Game" or something very different.

With young players and limited practice time, I need to remember "simple is better" and recognize that we have a lot to learn regarding instinctive play. When we have implemented 'set plays' (the most basic of the 'Horns' series), we generate much better scoring chances. We have some skill and quickness, but very little size.

I'm sure that using a two guard front with either the 4-out, 1-in approach or modifications of the two guard front "Hinkle system" (beware of dinosaurs), we would also generate better quality shots. Without size, I prefer to operate offense away from the basket and get cutters or drivers into space.

FastModelSports shares some ideas for drilling in the half court.

The article expands the drilling to 4 on 2 to offer pass and screen options.

What I should do better is clarify expectations about the options for players to attack before the defense is fully established. It makes sense to have the 2 and 3 at the wings and the 4 or 5 as trailer but ready to get into the attack off the pass. Ideally, filming practice (losing my mind here) to illustrate failure to pass and cut or pass and screen makes the most (unreasonable) sense.

Some teams emphasize attack with the first big downcourt cutting to the ball side block. If you have a dominant post player that makes great sense.

Breaking (Down) Brad

Coach Nick breaks down Brad Stevens' impact.


  • Startling impact on player development. 
  • Major changes in BLOB success
  • Precision of motion and timing
  • Commonly begins with "flat" set
  • Inbounder is often underestimated
  • Decoy screens to create slips
  • Sleeping defenses on the baseline weakside
  • ATO success
  • Nice Flex Action off the SLOB
  • Aligning players to inform their strong hand
  • Note great Bradley cut at the 5:00 mark
  • Simplicity of execution gets critical "buy-in"
  • Player confidence growth
  • Fundamentally sound process critical

Power of Negative Thinking

Bob Knight wrote a terrific book called "The Power of Negative Thinking." He emphasized the importance of reducing mistakes, both physical and mental. Sometimes leadership means not only finding solutions but exorcising problems.

First, here are a few quotes from Knight's book:

“You can always turn no into yes, and usually make people happy, but it's a lot harder – sometimes too late - to change yes to no.” 

“What vulnerabilities do we have and what can we do to minimize them, to get around them, to survive them—and give ourselves a better chance to win?” 

“Before you can inspire your players to “win,” you have to show them how not to lose.” 

Knight makes the point that players want to know how to win, while coaches agonize over the thousands of ways to lose. Crushing those ways matters beyond belief. 

Here are ten important NOs and DON'Ts that directly impact results:

  1. NO bad shots. Doc Rivers calls them "shot turnovers." Every player needs to know what a good shot is for her teammate. 
  2. NO easy shots. Surrendering easy baskets is the road to perdition. Good teams stop transition, layups, putbacks, and bad fouling leading to free throws. NEVER foul a perimeter shot, especially three point shots. 
  3. DON'T compound a mistake. What you see EVERY game at EVERY level is a player making a poor play (e.g. turnover), then immediately doubling down on it with a foul. STOP! 
  4. NO paint. Penetration leads to layups, dump downs, fouls, and perimeter dishes for uncontested threes. 
  5. DON'T lose your assignment. Head turning, switching without switching, poor communication, and "WHO ME?" play allows open players to get open shots. 
  6. DON'T run at the shooter* (when closing out). Shooters salivate at the running closeout. A quick fake and it's Penetration City. *However, late in the shot clock or period, we may tell defenders to deny the three and run at the shooter (without fouling). 
  7. DON'T play in the traffic. Dribbling or passing into traffic causes steals, deflections, and misery. The best players want space. 
  8. DON'T immediately put the ball on the floor after the catch. When you do, you empty your basketball armory. And when you do, "make the dribble take you somewhere." 
  9. DON'T stand around. Pass and cut, pass and screen, move to open spaces. STAND around and SIT next to me. 
  10. NEVER criticize a teammate. We want to eliminate the negatives, build up our positive self-talk and visualization and use practice to SIMULATE game success. 

You Don't Know Jack (Clark)

One approach to develop winners is to study winners, the examples from their sport - Eric Heiden in speed skating, Dan Gable in wrestling, Jack Clark in rugby. 

Clark has been at the top of his game for a long time, a demanding coach who churns out athletes for the national team. Wikipedia reports, "Jack Clark has served as the University of California’s varsity rugby head coach since 1984 (assistant coach 1982-83), compiling an overall Cal record of 680-90-5 (.877), a career that includes both 15s and 7s, and has yielded 22 National Collegiate Championships in 15s, including 12 in a row from 1991-2002 and five straight from 2004-2008, and three national titles in 7s at the 2013, 2014 and 2015 Collegiate Rugby Championships." What makes him and his program tick? 

Former Cal staffer and Providence AD Bob Driscoll gushed, “There is an unconditional belief in him. When he says something, it is absolutely authentic and believable.”

In an interview with California magazine Clark noted something more amazing, "we’re a non-scholarship team. Actually we pay into the University just under one million dollars in fees and tuition; that is, the parents of my players do."

His players say he excels at motivation "to get every ounce of potential from every player." Coach Clark says, "I think they leave with a Ph.D. in team...they understand those type of values that high performance teams carry with them."

Jen Sinkler discussed Clark and Cal values. Here are some highlights and comments. 

We develop players. You come in and we get you from where you are to where you want to be.”

We have a performance culture where the byproduct is winning, versus ‘We’re all about winning.’

1. LOVE CONDITIONALLY. Clark says family means unconditional love. He relies on people and execution. He adds a quote from Bo Schembechler,  “On the other hand, if you get the wrong guy on your team, he’ll beat you every day.”

2. BE THOROUGHLY ACCOUNTABLE. After games he and his team make a granular review of what went well and what didn't. "Spend so much more time on your strengths." That's a key component of Cal's 'performance culture.' Clark also emphasizes transparency. That makes sense when analyzing the type of gifted students present at Cal. 

3. SHARE A VOCABULARY. Clark keeps it simple and emphasizes what players must know and do. 

4. PRACTICE RESILIENCY. "We say our mindset is “entitled to nothing, grateful for everything.” Note that in another post recently, LA Clippers' VP of Basketball Operations Kevin Eastman described being "resolute" as being able to do the same thing over and over again. It's more than consistency, it's about persistence within performance. He also described, "The ability to focus on the next most important thing all the time."

"We say that the definition of leadership is the ability to make those around you better and more productive." Even at our level, players should want shared leadership. I remind them that they're not playing for the city, the school, their parents, or me, you're here for each other. It's your team. 
Clark believes that leadership as a skill can be developed, shared, and embraced by everyone on their club. But it's about team. “You’re going to ask me what’s best for the team, aren’t you?” And I say, “Of course.” That’s the first lens that comes down on every decision we make...on a day-to-day operational basis, what are we doing and why are we doing it and who’s doing it and who’s being asked to do what?"
Clark says, "It turns out there are two kinds of teams. There are teams that are getting better and there are teams that are getting worse. There really isn’t that much in between. We kid ourselves that there are plateaus somewhere, but really, if you’re not getting better you’re most likely getting worse."
Clark opines "There’s a term in coaching called fence-posting. If you can imagine building a fence, you dig a hole and you put the post in there and you walk about 10 feet and you dig another hole, you walk another 10 feet and dig another hole. That’s kind of what you do in coaching. You’ve got to consistently talk about checkpoints in a collaborative fashion with the team."  
What he's talking about is benchmarking, performance metrics, trending, and demanding players and the team to hold themselves to a high standard. Great coaching takes players to where they can't get by themselves. Too often we allow politics to interfere with progress. 
Clark bubbles over with the appreciation of team within the rugby program. He believes it to be distinct within the university. 
Princeton's Pete Carril shares, "How do you know if your team has camaraderie? I can tell by the way they walk off the floor at the end of practice. You can feel their happiness vibrating; you can see how they work out together; you can watch it in the shower room — what they’re talking about, the level of excitement. There are many ways you can feel it, and it’s better to feel it than to hear it. The camaraderie practically comes out of their bodies."
Our middle school culture last season was about TEAMWORK, IMPROVEMENT, and ACCOUNTABILITY. The players really owned that, played to that. Winning isn't part of that definition because winning isn't the process mandate. But as you elevate your process, results improve and 'the score takes care of itself' as Bill Walsh used to say. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Carril - The Peter Principle

Pete Carril wrote a terrific book, "The Smart Take from the The Strong" and coached Princeton to over 500 wins. He is the only coach to have ever achieved that without having athletic scholarships. Carril knew that he wouldn't have the type of athletes that could dominate physically. So he developed an offensive style requiring discipline and timing that relied on back door cuts and perimeter shooting. 

John Wilson reviews his book here

Here are some memorable Carril quotes:

  • I can check the level of your honesty and commitment by the quality of your effort on the court. You cannot separate sports from your life, no matter how hard you try. Your personality shows up on the court: greed, indifference, whatever, it all shows up. You cannot hide it.
  • There is a difference between teaching and coaching. When you are instructing your team about the actual game, you are teaching them, transmitting knowledge and information to them.
  • When closely guarded, do not go toward the ball.  Go back-door. (remember, movement to the ball sets up the back cut away from the ball)
  • The quality of work habits can overcome anything: praise, criticism, good or bad coaching.
  • Bad shooters are always open. 
  • The basics remain the key to success on every level of the game, and you can teach them.
  • Defensive pressure on the ball makes it harder for the team to run an offense and gives your team a better chance to defend.
  • You want to be good at those things that happen a lot.
  • Defense involves three things: courage, energy, intelligence.
  • In trying to learn to do a specific thing, the specific thing is what you must practice. 
  • Whatever you are doing is the most important thing that you’re doing while you are doing it.

On Rebounding

Using the theme "possession and possessions," we recognize the importance of rebounding. Defensive rebounding reestablishes possession and offensive rebounding correlates strongly with scoring. The first offensive rebound has about fifty percent chance of generating points and the second rises to about eighty percent. 

Among Dean Oliver's critical analytics, rebounding differential is one of the four critical elements correlating with winning. Coach Tom Izzo of Michigan State sometimes practices with players outfitted with football helmets and shoulder pads to emphasize the physicality of rebounding. Michigan State is usually one of the top teams in college basketball rebounding. Some coaches will scrimmage with live rebounding even after MADE BASKETS, demanding aggressiveness. 

Some have argued that defensive rebounding correlates with 'position and toughness' and offensive rebounding relates to quickness and aggressiveness

One of the 'classic' rebounding drills is having a coach or manager shoot and having five players block out around the perimeter. I remember one time in high school where an opponent missed a shot and each of us blocked out perfectly. The ball landed in the middle of the paint and a player just retrieved it. 

Here are some additional points about rebounding: 

  • About three-quarters of rebounds go the opposite side from the shot.
  • Rebounds tend to go about a quarter the distance of the shot. 
  • Sylvia Hatchell of UNC taught players to "hit and get." 
  • I believe that should be extended to HIT, GET, PROTECT, OUTLET
  • If a rebounder isn't rebounding enough, examine why. Some players fare better with blocking out and others succeed by just getting the ball.
  • I teach that a defensive rebound is not counted until it is safely distributed. 
  • Coach Wooden taught the "jumping frog" position to rebound (hands up). 
  • Offensive rebounders can sometimes "block defenders under" to get longer rebounds. 
  • On free throws, we teach "pinching" the best rebounder between the low and high defenders.
  • Ideally the outlet pass should be made to above the free throw line with the goal of making at most two passes to half court 
  • Princeton Coach Pete Carril had a saying that "“The ability to rebound is in inverse proportion to the distance your house is from the nearest railroad tracks.”
Here are some points imported directly from Coach George Raveling via Coach Hoyt:

Rebounding Stance 

1. Feet – spaced apart
2. Knees - flexibility
3. Trunk – slight lean towards the basket
4. Hips – lowered into semi-crouch position
5. Elbows – out and away from the body
6. Hands – spread apart, upward, open
7. Eyes and Head – eyes on flight of shot; head up and straight
8. Body Balance – allow for easy movement in any direction
9. Toes – push off as the body leaves the floor


Quick and aggressive movement toward the ball
Arms fully extended
Grasp the ball tightly with two hands
Bring ball down in a quick jerking motion with elbows out, away from the body
“Spread eagle” with a firm base

Conversion – “outlet” a sharp or direct pass; use of dribble only used as a last resort

All that being said, I believe great rebounders are born not made. Great rebounders combine anticipation, positioning, toughness, and desire in their craft. 

What Do You Know?

We sometimes hear about a player being a "sponge". To me, that means a combination of interest, attentiveness, concentration, and attention to detail. How much do we know about a subject and how 'granular' can we get?

Can we create an assessment tool? It's the Internet. Impossible becomes I'm Possible.

Make learning THE GAME a game. You can create your own Socratic method tool. Drill down within an area (individual defense) and create subheadings like STANCE, OFF BALL DEFENSE, HELP, COMMUNICATION, and so forth.

Go to "Wheel Decide." Preparing for a job interview, a media session, a performance review? You can create your own uncertainty or training opportunity.


I've watched Kevin Eastman's eight video DVD set from CoachingU. Why? I'm invested in becoming the best coach I can be. "Make the big time where you are." That doesn't mean winning championships in middle school. It means helping young people develop a great process that is sustainable during their lives. That's the WHY.

Notes from Eastman's presentation:

You need to add value.

  • Character - "we want character, not characters"
  • Commitment - what do you do when you don't feel like it? Commitment has no expiration date.
  • Discipline - "discipline yourself to be disciplined"
  • Focus - "attention to detail"
  • Loyalty - do you want to play on the team or for the team
  • Buy-in - are you 'all in' with the program
  • Sacrifice - success is a choice, price is what you must do to achieve
  • Resolve - 'the ability to come back and do it again' 

The Compound Effect

We all have areas to work on. Darren Hardy examines this in The Compound Effect. 

Book Review: The Compound Effect from Jose Paul Martin

What does this have to do with basketball? How do you grow your team or your game? You need a plan, a process, and relentless commitment to improving it.

Here are a few quotes from Hardy's book:

The truth is, complacency has impacted all great empires including, but not limited to, the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Spanish, Portuguese, France, and English. Why? Because nothing fails like success. Once-dominant empires have failed for this very reason. People get to a certain level of success and get too comfortable.

To help you become aware of your choices, I want you to track every action that relates to the area of your life you want to improve.

One thing Jim Rohn taught me is: “If you want to have more, you have to become more. Success is not something you pursue. What you pursue will elude you; it can be like trying to chase butterflies. Success is something you attract by the person you become."


  • Want to lose weight? You need to change your net difference between calories consumed and burned. Trackers (apps) like MyFitnessPal (or online allow you to set goals and track them. 
  • Need to improve your free throws? Shooting a hundred and tracking them might help, but when do you shoot a hundred in a game. Take three, sprint to half-court and back; take three more...repeat and track your performance. 
  • Want better practices? Do you have a practice plan? 

Here's a sample practice plan from a summer workout. Some of this won't make any sense to you "e.g." the Indiana drill, but that's not important. I can review need areas and progress, and track how effective our team is growing offensively and defensively. In season, I add more defense. 

The overarching point is, if you want growth (within a growth mindset), then you have to have a repeatable process, measure results, reassess, and refine. Studying other players' process (e.g. Kevin Durant or Kobe Bryant) and coaches (including other sports like Nick Saban in football and Jack Clark in rugby) can also help. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

OODA Loops

First, basketball is a game where execution dominates strategy, where technique rules tactics. But if all else equal, strategy adds value.

Within the military exists a decision-analysis concept OODA Loops. Developed by Colonel John Boyd, OODA stands for the combat operations acronym Observe - Orient - Decide - Act. In basketball, the CARE concept of Concentrate - Anticipate - React - Execute are the corollary.

Wikipedia OODA Loop.

Wikipedia describes the OODA loop in terms of disrupting the opponent's plan to create chaos and potentially foster mistakes.

Consider the advantage-disadvantage of the 3 on 2 break. The defensive tandem wants to deny both layup or open perimeter shot. Conventional defense informs stopping the ball, forcing the play to one side, effectively zoning away from the ball, and promoting delay to allow defensive help to recover.

Offense wants to force the action, penetrate when possible, usually dribbling slightly AWAY from the best shooter to allow for the best shot opportunity on the first pass. Defensive overcommitment to the wing encourages 1 to drive. The first recipient (wing) has the primary option to shoot, secondary to 'touch pass' away, and third to fake shot and drive. The more rapid the ball advances with attacking pressure, the more disruptive the attack.

The analogous offense sequence is SEE-PROCESS-DECIDE-EXECUTE reading the defense and attacking appropriately.

Defensively, some teams use OODA like-activity via setting up in a zone and playing man-to-man, playing combination defenses (e.g. matchup zones), doubling key players, or employing 'shifting' defensive concepts like the Freak, where the initial ball entry dictates the type of defense played.


Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”  Aristotle

Most of us say "we seek excellence." What does that mean? What does that require?

AreteHoops shares an article about the pursuit of excellence. 


Excellence describes your process not necessarily your results. Regarding my 'trading' process, I have this taped on the top of my laptop.

It only has meaning if and when I adhere to the process of preparation, discipline, and risk management. 

Establishing positive habits takes time. Charles Duhigg writes about the 'habit cycle' of cue-action-reward in The Power of Habit. It takes about three weeks to build a habit but even longer to reinforce it. 

Darren Hardy wrote an excellent book, The Compound Effect describing the value of making steady, incremental change, but also of decreasing waste. Do you need to buy that coffee each day? Can you reduce time wastage of watching television or surfing the Net? Can you substitute investing in yourself (reading, writing, study) instead? 

We all have both positive and negative habits. Part of that results from the way our brains function. Daniel Kahneman discussed the c-system (reflective) and the x-system (reflexive) that we use in Thinking: Fast and Slow. Automatic function works wonderfully as a timesaving device, but can be detrimental when situations demand critical decision-making. Shifting from one system to another requires work and is fatiguable. 

If we want to make meaningful change, then we have to contemplate, refine, and remodel our day-to-day processes and thinking. Each of us must weigh the need and value to do so. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Basketball Websites

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

"Basketball is sharing." - Phil Jackson

The Internet has created a wealth of outstanding educational resources for basketball players and basketball coaches.

There is no sine qua non of basketball websites, but here are some that I've found useful and regularly visit. Although some have in-site purchases available, they are not predominantly designed as sales vehicles. Obviously, I'm interested in websites that share basketball information that help me and the players I've coached. The list is not an excellence ranking per se.

Regrettably, during an upgrade, my basketball blog (hosted on another site) lost over 2400 posts. I'm gradually reestablishing it on blogger. If you happen to drop by, I hope you'll find it educational and informative. 

Compendium of Coaching Quotes

Great stuff from Coaching Toolbox. Dean Smith used to have a "Quote for the Day" that he expected players to learn.


Bannister, Roger “The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.”

Bryant, Paul “Bear” “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then they did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games.”

Coolidge, Calvin “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Franklin, Benjamin “Well done is better than well said.”

Hopper, Grace “You manage things, you lead people.”

More on Cutting

Some describe 'five offensive skills' of basketball - shooting, passing, dribbling, rebounding, and pivoting. That leaves cutting as an orphan skill, a vital one in the context of "movement kills defenses."

We regularly discuss the importance of playing without the ball. By definition, cutting is an 'off-ball' skill. You all know how to cut, right? But how many times do we see players unable to separate in key moments?

  • Cutting is one of Jay Bilas' Toughness skills ("set up your cut.") 
  • Cutting requires players to play in space and time. 
  • Cutting is both an individual skill and a team skill, because many important cuts occur using another player.  
  • Cutting requires both the ability to change direction and pace. 
  • Often, you can walk into a cut and burst out. 
  • Cutting demands the ability to read defenses, and read individual defenders. 
  • If the defender plays high, go higher and cut low. When the defender plays low, take her lower and go high. 
  • You have to see what the ball handler is doing. If she isn't looking in your direction, cutting at the wrong time accomplishes nothing. 
  • When your defender turns her head, you can basket cut freely. 
  • If the defender plays off and up, attack at her to separate from her. 
  • Front cuts go away from the ball and then to the ball.
  • Back cuts go to the ball and then away from the ball. 
  • When getting a screen, you must WAIT, WAIT, WAIT and time your cut.
  • You must read the defender to come off screens intelligently. 
  • You can also cut with cut fakes (e.g. upfake (receiving) into a cut) 
  • You can use your backside to ward off defenders (butt cut)
  • Spin cuts create great separation by placing your inside foot (to the ball) between the defender's feet, and then reverse pivoting to the ball. 
Cutting is an art requiring balance, conditioning, footwork, and mental skills. Cutting well reinforces Phil Jackson's mantra, "basketball is sharing." 

"Rational Thinking"

How do we stay focused, "locked in", on top of our game? I remind players I coach that professionals 'get after it' even when they don't feel their best. They do that through the primacy of ACE...attitude, choices, and effort. They control what they can control.

Whether you are a student, an athlete, a business owner, manager, or employee, you control not what happens to you, but how you respond to it.

I have a saying about the "Ration" sisters and how important they are. I have a custom wristband that I got long ago at a "Minyanville" function from the Ruby Peck Foundation. It reads, "aspire to inspire." The "little" Ration sister are Aspi and Inspi. The big sisters, the one to look up to are Prepa and Perspi.

  • AspiRation
  • InspiRation
Some of you will be going back to school, but ALL of us have continuing education in our jobs, our avocations. As you return to school, have you completed your summer reading, grown your study habits, committed to time management in the fall, including reducing "wasted time?" 

I'm writing this while I take a break from reading Greg Harmon's "Trading Options: Using Technical Analysis to Design Winning Trades." The other books sitting adjacent to me are "Maximize Your Potential" edited by Jocelyn Glei, "What Drives Winning" by Brett Ledbetter, and Patrick Lencioni's "Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team." Reading drives learning, learning drives action, and results drive motivation. 

If you haven't enjoyed as much success as you want academically or athletically, what is holding you back? 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Toughness: A Love Story

Jay Bilas wrote a landmark article "Toughness" and then an eponymous book. To me "Toughness" has a lot in common with 'professionalism,' a willingness to "get after it," even when you're tired or not at your best. 

Toughness means knowing what to do, how to do it, when, and why you do it. Tough players block out, take charges, fight through screens, move without the ball, set great screens, get the 50-50 balls, and constantly work to improve. 

Tough players appear on time, mentally, and physically ready to play. 

Coaches can help players develop a degree of toughness, but ultimately the player determines her toughness level. As youngsters, my twin girls played every day with a pair of brothers...rough play. A random fan approached me once and said, "I love how your daughters play, just like boys." I'm convinced those pre-school play sessions did that. 

Being called a tough player by a coach or teammate is one of the highest compliments you can get. Conversely, the "S - word" (soft) stands as a major indictment of your play

Toughness translates passion and love for the game into action, playing the game smart and hard and unselfishly. Tough teams communicate on the floor but can share silence in the team room before the game. 

Here's a brief excerpt from Bilas' article: I often wonder: Do people really understand what coaches and experienced players mean when they emphasize "toughness" in basketball?

Toughness has nothing to do with size, physical strength or athleticism. Some players may be born tough, but I believe that toughness is a skill, and it is a skill that can be developed and improved. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo always says, "Players play, but tough players win."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Etorre Messina on Individual Defense

Annotated (hard to understand at times):

  • Must develop your individual system 
  • Must understand your system 
  • Must challenge players but not overwhelm them ("so you lose the player") 
  • Goal: player recognition and reaction (we call this CARE system - concentration/anticipation/reaction/execution)
  • "Fundamentals are the most important part of our game."
  • Three part program - knowledge, progression, correction
  • Young coaches' most common mistake: big picture failure
  • First responsibility, take away transition (usually results from players' failure to recognize where both the ball and offensive players are)
  • Second responsibility, no open threes (usually come from penetration to pass)
  • Defense cannot always be in reactive mode
  • Third, "no offensive rebounds" 
  • Doesn't want defense based on rotations 
  • Force teams to play one-on-one and two-on-two
  • He wants individual defenders to have responsibility not always looking for help
  • Stance should be comfortable
  • Minimally 'open' with dominant foot forward 
  • Feet 'more or less' shoulder width
  • He advocates nose on chest (some coaches favor head on the ball)
  • He argues for moving nose on dominant shoulder in 'force' position
  • He favors more of hop back and slide to defend crossover, not "opening the gate"
  • He wants pressure on the ball with only one hand.
  • The goal is preventing penetration and disturbing shot. 
  • Bad defenders are often caught out of balance. 
  • With 'dead dribble', hands up, legs down and deny pivoting.
  • He feels coaches don't always push defenders to use their head on defense. 
  • Can't tolerate players who won't think. 
  • One pass away, understands that coaches want to vary aggressiveness - full denial or less
  • He teaches the head snap method because must see ball. He doesn't like the 'open' (pivot on back cut) because he feels too vulnerable to screens. He continues the argument by saying that he can rotate better from that 'closed' versus 'open' position. 
  • Without the ball, defense must choose between being back to basket or between ball and defender (more pressure but maybe higher risk). Argues that being between ball and offensive player (jump to the ball) eliminates any give-and-go possibility. 
  • Discusses difficulty of defending "line of deployment" post player (that means ball-post-basket straight line). He makes the point that forcing initial (wing) pass higher changes that dynamic. 
  • Discusses personality of great player, willingness to "fight for position" defensively and offensively. 
  • Individual battle victories determine team outcomes. 


When attending a lecture or clinic, reading a book, or evaluating an educational post:
  • What is the teacher's main point? "The main thing is the main thing."
  • Is that point accurate? Are there biases?
  • Does it inspire?
  • Does it provide clarity?
  • Can the concepts be simplified?
  • Does it translate to your game (area of interest)?
  • Does it ADD VALUE?
These questions apply equally to an academic class, operating a business, learning a trade, or making a life decision. But specific to basketball, consider "defending the pick-and-roll." We'll ignore the fact that different teams may run the PnR from different sites and focus on general concepts in a 'Socratic' style.
  • Why run the PnR? Do you face a guard with superior penetration skills or a post player facile with screening and rolling or screening and popping?
  • Do the players understand the need for crystal clear communication?
  • What "main" options do you have in defending the PnR (e.g. fight over, show/hedge/fake trap, trap, jam, switch, etc.) Often by limiting the content, players absorb the essentials. 
  • What does your coach specifically want you to do? "This is how we do it."
  • What techniques will you use to do that? (E.g. attack the dribbler, sprint to the screener, footwork parallel to the screener, etc.)
  • If your main technique doesn't work, what's the plan? (Do it better, do it harder, change personnel, change technique)
The point isn't to be comprehensive but with many possible situations, coaches and players need clarity, unity (buy-in), and feedback (coach teaches, player demonstrates competence and ideally mastery). None of this happens automatically; serious coaches and serious players have to work the process to inform better results.

In the Learning Zone

No, I'm not talking about "the zone." In David Cottrell's last chapter of Monday Morning Leadership, he advocates leaving the comfort zone and entering the learning zone.

He describes three rooms in the learning zone:

  • The Reading Zone
  • The Listening Zone
  • The Giving Zone
I can't always achieve this, but I try to read a book every week. For my players, I ask them to read for at least thirty minutes a day. It never hurts to ask. 

For those who struggle to find reading time, consider using the Internet to find "executive book summaries." You can often abstract the key points using these tools. 

Many leaders can't find the Listening Zone because of arrogance, ego, or insensitivity. We need to focus on becoming servant leaders. This article summarizes servant leadership and the controversies surrounding it. Service, community, and collaboration are at its core. 

Teaching and responsibility for the material taught belong to the giving zone. 

Cottrell emphasizes the importance of goal setting. The legendary Don Meyer wasn't big on goals. Like many coaches, he emphasized process, with the expectation that a growth mindset combined with teaching and effective repetitions would produce the best game play. When you produce the best game play, the results usually speak for themselves. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

R as in Rondo Is not Equal to Respect

In this ESPN article, Tom Haberstroh breaks down the 'breakdown' of Rajon Rondo.  Most of us, when things go south, hesitate to look in the mirror. Rondo, a basketball savant, has to be chafing at both the lack of respect and the analytics.

Haberstroh breaks down Rondo's "Moreyball" statistics, those valued by Houston Rockets' GM Daryl Morey - three point goals, free throws, and scores at the rim. He labels them 'threes, freebies, and bunnies.' Rondo stands at rock bottom, compared with leaders Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook.

Rondo's not a good perimeter shooter, is an abysmal free throw shooter, and isn't going to score at the rim as rim protectors won't hesitate to foul a non-shooter.

Rondo likes to fatten his stats with flashy assists, but teams have caught on, sagging off Rondo and playing him strictly for the pass. That has resulted in poorer scoring results for his teams (points per 100 possessions) with him than without him on the floor.

Bottom line is that the rapidly evolving NBA, placing a premium on both three point shooting attempts and effective field goal percentage has rendered the former World Champion a dinosaur not a dynasty builder. It could be a long year in Sacramento as Rondo seeks to revive his career.

John Wooden's TED Talk

John Wooden TED talk...on the difference between winning and succeeding...
  • "We had a number of years at UCLA where we didn't lose a game...but didn't win each individual game by the margin that some of our alumni had predicted..."
  • "Success is peace of mind attained through self-satisfaction in knowing that you did the best that you were capable."
  • "Control what you could control."
  • "Reputation is what you are perceived to be and character is what you really are."
  • "...nor all the books on all the shelves, it's what the teachers are themselves."
  • "Never be late. Be neat and clean. (Not one word of profanity.) Never criticize a teammate."
  • "There is no progress without change, but not all change is progress."
  • "It's bearing down that wins the cup..." (a reference to grit)
  • "Don't whine, don't complain, don't make excuses."
  • "You can lose when you outscore somebody in a game and you can win when you are outscored."
  • Discusses results as less important than process.
  • Cervantes, "The journey is better than the end." (Practices are the journey.)
  • "Make the perfect player...get an education, good student, can play, know defense usually wins, play offense, be unselfish and pass, could pass and would pass, shoot outside but be good inside, rebound at both ends..."
  • Discussed overachieving players, who made the most of their ability, quality shots although not great talents, good positional rebounders, had good balance

Cuts - Old and Newer Ways to Separate

BBallBreakDown with common and important cuts.

Individual cuts (v-cut, front cut, back cuts, circle cuts, and others) are important but combination cuts (those involving multiple players) are vital to create separation and quality shots against stronger defenses.

Coach Nick reviews:

  • UCLA cuts (and critical setup of the cut) 
  • Shuffle cut (run by Bruce Drake and Dean Smith at Air Force back in the day)
  • Flex cut (set one, get one)
  • Zipper cut (often into screen-and-roll)
We use many of these during both practice and games, although players don't always 'get' the names yet. Our players are going to hear a lot more about these cuts. 

The Voice

Fifty years ago, Frank Herbert began the Dune series with the eponymous first novel.

In the novel, the Reverend Mothers are the elite of the Bene Gesserit, a sisterhood with a profound influence over the Dune universe. They have special training in using the Voice to control others.

Why is this important?

The coach's VOICE is our greatest asset. Content and tone matter. We can destroy a player, lose the team, or change a player forever by what we say. At the extreme, Del Harris says one form of communication is "Go nuts," in the rare circumstances that extreme measures are called for.

I've mentioned the Wooden "Sandwich technique," sandwiching specific criticism in between praise. I believe that the most powerful four words in English, not just coaching, are I BELIEVE IN YOU. Confidence is self-trust and promoting self-trust is a vital element of coaching. Kevin Eastman says you can't fool kids, dogs, and basketball players. We can't hand out consistent unearned praise and remain credible.

Silence can make a point, but hearing Coach John Killilea at camp forty plus years ago would wake the dead. If you did it wrong, you knew it.

Everyone wants to feel appreciated. Coach Dean Smith made it a point to praise contributors who weren't recognized for "box score" contributions. He believed in recognizing the important roles of everyone on his teams. That Voice earned both trust and loyalty.

One coach says that every player should hear her name in the first ten minutes of practice. Nothing is closer to us than our name, and players need to know we see them and care.

Some players are sensitive about being criticized. My coach used to say, "if I'm not yelling at you, then I've given up on you (because you can't play)." That clarity meant correction equalled caring.

What we say matters. How we say it matters. But how the players hear it may matter most.