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Monday, February 29, 2016

Simple High Ball Screen Set

The Chicago Bulls used to run this exceedingly simple high ball screen set. The key was Derrick Rose's ability to read defensive reaction and a 'stretch 4' who could make mid-range shots. What we often see is the 4 deployed outside the 3-point line on the spread pick-and-roll. The Bulls did something different to get the 4 shots. 

Rose's ability to get to the basket often drew help and that's the key. 

Best Basketball Twitter Feeds

"Basketball is sharing." - Phil Jackson

Nick Saban's admonition, "invest your time, don't spend it" certainly applies to social media. I can use my social media time more productively. Twitter can become a "time suck" but adds value when used the right way. Here are some basketball Twitter feed "keepers". Apologies to the many not listed...

Feel free to add your own:




















@marshawright (inspiration)


@ManagersDiary (leadership)






There are many more, but this list will certainly keep you busy.

Ron @rsen01

On Fouling

I never chased a chicken in high school, but I did the equivalent. As a junior, I spent a lot of practice time chasing Frank MacDougall, a senior who was lightning quick with the dribble. My coach was grooming me for the role of 'on-ball defender' for the opposition's top scoring guard. The point was to be able to pressure the ball without fouling. 

When we apply enough pressure, we take the player out of his comfort zone and often take away their customary high quality passing, shots, or both. We combine "know your nos" to get BALL PRESSURE and NO PAINT. 

You need to be close enough to touch the player, but disciplined enough not to.  AT&T used to have a slogan, "reach out and touch someone." Mine is "Be there and don't touch someone."

What's worse is fouling bad shots. Last night somebody fouled a right-handed girl taking a left-handed hook from outside the paint. "That's never going in! Why are we fouling that?" 
Similarly, we fouled a three-point shot. "Never foul a jump shot" and "Never, ever foul a jump shot." 

Similarly bad is what I call "compound mistakes." Often after a bad shot or a turnover, a player compounds the error by making a stupid foul, usually a "reach in" or undisciplined "body contact". I've heard them called "frustration fouls", "dumb fouls", "stupid fouls", and "EXPLETIVE DELETED fouls." It gets back to playing in the moment and not overreacting to a previous bad play. 

Many times a player comes out of the game wondering why the officials called a foul. I generally explain that "if it looks like a foul (non-vertical block, hacking or chopping arm action, or not definitively set position), then it will get called. Poor "hand discipline" leads to foul calls. "Don't let the zebras decide the game." Mirror the ball with your hand or "poke up" from underneath and you're less likely to get called for fouls. 

Players need to see how the game is being officiated. If the officials are calling the game "tight", then you need to be aware of that, recognizing that "marginal" fouls are being called. 

Kevin Sivils has an expression I steal, "foul for profit." Foul a weak foul shooter, take away a layup, to get into the bonus if needed, or to stop time. Alert players know when fouls add value. 

Most officials are genuinely trying to do their job. Don't make it 'easy' on them by playing poor or lazy defense. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

"Go To" Websites and Resources, A Quick Dirty Dozen

Periodically, we all need to update sites that we regularly visit for information, education, controversy, inspiration, or relief. I appreciate that some of you regularly visit here. 

We completed our regular season 21-3, 12-2 in our league (first), and 10-1 against teams describing themselves as "A" teams. I'm really proud of my team, that I'd call "tiny" as we have absolutely no height but have practiced and played hard all season. To quote my high school coach, "I'm pleased but not satisfied." 

"Make the big time where you are." Every post can add value. Every practice can be a clinic. Every player deserves our best, every day. 

The websites are not listed in any particular order:

Hoop Thoughts from Coach Bob Starkey.

Hoops Chalk Talk from Wes Kosel (Xs and Os often with video)

Hoop Coach (Blog, drills, plays, quotes, and more)

Coach Giesbrecht's Blog  (Many varied features)

Coach Pintar Blog (General information, play of the day)  International basketball website...World Association of Basketball Coaches

HoopsU Comprehensive site 

Kevin Eastman Blog (Not often updated but always worthwhile)

Nylon Calculus, Analytics Blog (Did you know the Magic play more games close than any other team?) 

Zak Boisvert YouTube Channel  What's working, what isn't, and why...from Coach Nick

CoachDaniel YouTube Channel Another excellent site with film breakdown

It's worth your while to subscribe to regular online newsletters. Mike Neighbors (@CoachNeighbors) at the University of Washington and Brook Kohlheim (@CoachKohlheim) at Florida Atlantic are two excellent sources. 

On Facebook, the 'open' group, Herb on Hoops (Herb Welling) has a wealth of newsy basketball information. 

More Izzo Zone Offense Pressuring the Middle

I'm including some FastModel diagrams for clarity. 

Misdirection initiates the play. The goal is to get lane entry which creates inside and outside options. 

3 and 2 are shooters and 5 has inside position. 4 is not a high priority look. It is pivotal for 2 and 1 to find passing lanes. 

Simplifying the Servant Leader

These two videos share some important leadership concepts, most importantly that being a leader is far different than being a manager. 

- What business are you in?
- Where are you going?
- What guides your journey?
- What are your goals? 

Many of you know the term "servant leader". Although Robert Greenleaf coined the phrase, I associate it most with the late Don Meyer and with former Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett. They emphasized what I use as an acronym PUSH - T (passion, unity, servant leadership, humility, and thankfulness). 

When I think about servant leadership, the word that comes to mind first is COMMUNITY. How do we build a better community? We need vision (how should the 'end state' look?), process (what's the path?), and clarity, but the key is ultimately followers who see ADDED VALUE and BUY-IN. We can envision buy-in without value (e.g. fascism, hate campaigns), adding value without enough buy-in (David Blatt's Cleveland Cavaliers), and lots of partial combinations. 

As coaches, we have a lot of responsibility to our 'community'. We can effect powerful changes in our followers...helping them to better themselves and their broader community. 

This article discusses 6 ways to be a servant leader. You can distill it down to connecting, communicating, caring, and inspiring. Here are a few excerpts:

Robert Greenleaf coined the word and has a simple test to determine if you’re a servant leader: “Do those served grow as persons?  Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

He (John Stockton) cherishes every possession, knowing that each play is an opportunity for a great screen, cut and pass.  Since he plays like it’s the NBA finals in every pick-up game, you’re forced to either match his level of intensity or go home.

Leadership is not theory, it’s the culmination of all the little things you say and do for others. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Preparing for the Playoffs - Zone Offense

We play in a league that is dominated by zone defense. Coaches play zone because they want to win. Zone defenses can limit penetration, force some teams into outside shots, limit the star player, discourage the pick-and-roll, protect players in foul trouble, and facilitate transition. 

We have a pair of games this weekend that have no bearing on our playoff seeding and I hope that we face a lot of zone defense. 

What principles must players know about zone offense? 

  • The first way to beat the zone is in transition. Because we play extended (end-to-end) defense, we always look for offense from defense. 
  • Distort (deform) the zone. Shot fakes move the zone up (north and south) and pass fakes move the zone east and west. 
  • Understand the weak areas of the zone. For example, against the 1-2-2 (3-2), the middle is vulnerable. 
  • Zone defenses can have rebounding weakness. Aggressive offensive rebounding can work. 
  • Position low players below the zone, making them 'invisible'. That facilitates flashing into open areas. 
  • Move the ball quickly. Think '2 second rule'. 
  • Dribble into gaps with the idea of drawing to defenders and opening up a pass. 
  • Reverse the ball. 
  • Attack weak defenders. You get to choose where to attack. 
  • Screen. Screens can open up areas both ball side and help side (if you can throw over the top or reverse the ball quickly). 
  • Be aware that post up are still available when you have the dominant bigs. 


At the end of the day, you gotta finish. 

Compounding Your Life or a Donkey Can Do It

Do you know how the casinos make so much money in Vegas? Because they track every table, every winner, every hour. Why do Olympic trainers get paid top dollar? Because they track every workout, every calorie, and every micronutrient for their athletes. All winners are trackers. - Darren Hardy, The Compound Effect

We improve ourselves by building upon pre-existing resources. We compound that in a variety of ways - developing better habits, tracking (time usage, progress, activity, money), and by working on 'neuroplasticity', improving both brain structure and function. 

We all have good and bad habits. I know that I drink too much coffee, get too little sleep, and can get more exercise. If you have a Fitbit, have you wondered what would happen if you wrapped it up in a soft towel and threw it in an unheated dryer? I'm still wondering. That would be a lot easier on my knees than getting the steps I'm getting. 

How committed to learning are we? Steve Forbes writes that he reads more than fifty pages a day. Kevin Eastman of the Clippers reads for at least two hours a day. In How Champions Think, Dr. Bob Rotella shares the story of Paul Runyan, a ninety-year-old golfer who once beat Sam Snead. He returned to a Canadian golf meeting to discuss commitment. He confessed that he was unable to fulfill his promise to work on his short game for at least two hours a day the preceding year. He admitted that on three days he couldn't get it done. He told his stunned audience that he hoped that they had done better!

Tracking is commitment. As a teenager, I used to record how many free throws I made each day (out of a hundred) on graph paper. Why did I stop at a hundred? That was partial commitment, at least in retrospect. I distribute playbooks at the beginning of the season and encourage players to take notes and record (for each practice or game) three things they did well, one area for improvement, and specifics on how they will improve that. But it's voluntary and I don't check their 'work'. I've heard that some players actually 'do the work'. And I can probably guess which ones...

I've written one book about basketball (The Simple Guide to Girls' Basketball: The Game Is for the Players) and have another to which I've not dedicated enough time, despite having over sixty typed pages of notes. How hard would it be to write a book with one hundred plays or one hundred drills, if I just committed to completing one each day? Procrastination has its root in the Latin word, 'cras', meaning tomorrow. Tomorrow is guaranteed to nobody. 

If a player or coach wants excellence, what characteristics would they have? Surely by now we'd cite passion, confidence, engagement, good judgment, and a desire for improvement. But we could separate those with the former from those with persistence "Persist" comes from the Latin per (through) and sistere (to stand). So one who persists, stands through some endeavor. Maybe the story of the donkey in the well will remind us of the value of persistence. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Basketball Words: A to Z

"Share something great." Well, share something different. Not everyone will agree on the most important word for basketball A to Z. So be it.

A = accountability.  Accountability means holding yourself to a standard. For Bill Walsh in The Score Takes Care of Itself, it was the 49er Standard of Performance.

B = buy-in. Chuck Daly opined, "I'm a salesman." We have to convince players that we have something worthwhile for them to believe in.

C = communication. Basketball is about relationships. Del Harris had different levels of communication - conversation, teaching, correction, discipline, and 'go nuts'.

D = discipline. Discipline is doing what must be done, doing it right, and doing it now. Don Meyer said, "do the next right thing right."

E = engagement. Engagement means being "all in", fired up and ready to go. The biblical adage concerning engagement, "So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

F = footwork. Legendary coach Pete Newell reminded players that they play 100 percent of the game on their feet. When I think footwork, I first think, Hakeem Olajuwon.

G = goals. Focus on "process" goals to achieve the results you want.

H = honesty. Kevin Eastman says you have to be able to "tell the truth, hear the truth, and take the truth." Some players and coaches don't want to hear the truth.

I = intelligence. Because the game is eighty-percent mental, the unfocused or less knowledgeable player won't achieve their best results.

J = journey. Cervantes wrote, "the journey is better than the inn." Excellence is a process not a destination.

K = knowledge. Curiosity and a willingness to study and learn is essential.

L = limits. To grow, you must leave your comfort zone. A young girl told an excellent mogul skier, "I love to watch you ski. You never fall." The skier realized that she wasn't extending herself beyond her limits and became a champion. An Olympic gold medal skater is "someone who is willing to fall down 20,000 times and get back up."

M = mistakes. "Basketball is a game of mistakes." The top two teams in the NBA (Golden State and San Antonio) have the highest assist to turnover ratios. Better passing, better shots. Fewer turnovers, more shots.

N = NOs. Another Kevin Eastman pearl is to "know your NOs." For example, we all preach NO easy baskets, NO paint, NO uncontested shots, NO stupid fouls. If it were so easy...

O = optimism. My last two words going out the door are always, "positive dog."

P = passion. "Nothing great is ever achieved without enthusiasm." Passion means not just enthusiasm but doing the hard work to achieve.

Q = quality. Our philosophy and performance statement this season is "we play fast." Our culture is "teamwork, quality, and accountability."

R = respect. Respect the game, respect your teammates, respect your opponents, respect the officials. The best way to get respect is to give respect.

S = sacrifice. The best players understand sacrifice to make the players around them better.

T = toughness. Jay Bilas' book, Toughness, is a must-read for every coach and ideally every player. I distribute a laminated sheet with the Toughness qualities on it. My favorite is, "it's not your shot, it's our shot."

U = unity. Don Meyer's big five values are PUSH-T(hrough), including passion, unity, servant leadership, humility, and thankfulness. The African proverb says, "we can go faster alone, but we can go farther together."

V = value. Our job is to add value to our players every day. At the end of the season, I want every parent to see a better child, a better student, and a better player.

X - xample. Okay, I cheated. We have to 'model excellence' every day. We can't expect commitment, discipline, sacrifice, and toughness without demonstrating it.

Y = "better you." Focus on becoming a little better every day. If we could grow ourselves one-percent a day, imagine what we could become. Self-awareness molds habits that effect change. We can impact our subconscious routines (Daniel Kahneman's x-system, reflexive) to alter our conscious actions (c-system, reflective).

Z = zebras. Don't put the officials in the position where they decide the game. When we lose discipline and commit selfish fouls or thoughtless violations (three-seconds, catching the ball out of bounds), we surrender control of what we can control. That's "inside our boat."


Do you have some aces up your sleeve? 

Alphabet Soup - PQRST

How can an ordinary observer project who will be successful? Can we spot the subtle differences between athlete A and athlete B or can we see prominent clues? 

Damon Runyon wrote, "the race is not always to the swiftest or the battle to the strongest, but it pays to bet that way." The most important five inches in basketball, the true separator, is the space between your ears. 

Yes, we value the following:

Physicality - imposing strength
Quickness - beat your opponent to the ball or the basket
Reflexes - reaction 
Size - all things not being equal, size matters

But, above all tenacity differentiates those who care the most, practice the hardest, prepare the longest, and thirst for success. They are willing to do more to become more. They suffer Jim Rohn's pain of discipline to avoid the pain of regret. 

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig extensively discusses 'quality'. “Care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who’s bound to have some characteristic of quality.” 

We wonder about the nature of quality but seldom marvel at the quality of nature. The work of success is the success of work. Knowledge without philosophy and perspective has no more value than an unopened book. 

The competitors we want to coach have the will to push through no matter what the cost. They have the curiosity and patience to test and grow their limits. They are the artists among us. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Stolen Treasures - Shooting

There's no perfect in basketball, even when it comes to shooting the basketball. How we "feel" about shooting technique can change.

Here are some contradictions. Even as an 'old guy', I enjoy warming up a shot, but it's annoying to have very limited range. But as I age, I realize more and more how vital the "lower half" involvement is in the shot as well as keeping the shot compact.

Brian McCormick discusses the role of the lower body in shooting to integrate balance, coordination, and rhythm. 

Conversely, I respect the thoughts Don Sicko shares here. I've seen the shooters that some of these drills produce (especially the turning the arm over technique). 

Generally, in a two-hour practice, we spend at least forty percent on shooting and it's not enough. If I were counting, I'd want every player to get at least 125 shots per practice, ideally more. 

"You're doing it wrong." I don't say that, but everyone should be hearing: 

  • Feet too close together hurts balance
  • Elbows in. When your shooting elbow points out, you are more likely to miss short and to that side. 
  • Is that shot in your range? 
  • Don't bail out (avoid contact) going to the basket. 
  • Shooting hand shoots; guide hand doesn't push. 
  • "It's not your shot, it's our shot."
I wish that I had a picture from last night's scrimmage. Our smallest player made about a 17-foot jump shot from the corner and had a look on her face, "that went in" of something between delight and astonishment. I'll know we're getting there when the excitement fades. Confidence dims surprise. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Passing and Finishing Drill

From HoopCoach 

The drill incorporates passing, cutting, receiving, and finishing. 

On Confidence

"People tend to become what they think of themselves." - William James

"Confidence comes from proven success." - Bill Parcells

We help build players along many dimensions - athleticism, skill, psychology, emotional control, and spirituality (possibly higher order and definitely team). What we say and how we say it can impact a player forever.

We must help a player determine "how she plays." I don't think a player sets out to be a relentless gunner who occasionally passes and pays lip service to defense. But if she gets rewarded (playing time, compliments) for scoring and indifference about other aspects of her game, why should she change? 

I believe Brett Ledbetter's "character first" approach has meaning. When "this is who I am" is central (committed, disciplined, motivated, sacrificing, selfless) underlies "how I play", the player will probably outwork her competition and grow her all-around game. 

The work lifts skills which gradually increases confidence. Tiger Woods used to conclude every practice by making a hundred consecutive eight-foot putts. One season on the PGA Tour, he did not miss a single putt inside of four feet. He combined a high skill level with an almost invincible confidence. 

I've discussed Amy Cuddy's work on the role of body positioning on hormone levels, confidence, and performance. It makes teleological sense that we would have integrated physical, mental, and hormonal performance. 

How you look and take care of business affects performance. Military bearing and inspections have a role in maintaining order and discipline. Exercise releases endorphins, hormones that help suppress pain. 

In Kingsman, Eggsy (right) transforms along the lines of Eddie Murphy in Trading Places, Bridget Fonda in The Point of No Return, or Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. To transform, you need a target or 'end state', and coaches, mentors, and modeling have vital facilitating roles. 

We constantly engage in self-talk. Our inner voice (subconscious) helps guide our conscious actions. As coaches, we can help players develop a more productive and powerful inner voice. We can "sell" our players a vision where we will rally, dominate, or simply outlast our opponent. In one hard-fought game this season, we trailed early but during every stoppage I emphasize the prizefight analogy. "We will keep punching the body and near the end, their hands will come down, and we will knock them out." The team believed that and we pulled away at the end. 

Construct a powerful narrative that players can embrace to their advantage. Why have it any other way? 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Thoughts on Better Practice

"If you let any day go by that you don't try to affect your success, you've missed a day. You can never get it back." - Colleen Moorehead, President E*TRADE Canada

Practice is the crucible where our teams become molded into better units. Practice presents an opportunity to build connections, develop skills, encourage creativity, correct bad habits, and instill better ones. 

Last night we were running "3 pass transition, everyone shoots" and I had the chance to give a message to girls waiting in line to go, including two of my scorers. "Every repetition has to be meaningful to you. You have to care about everything you do. By the time you're seniors, you should each be scoring a lot." And to my best defender (also in the line), I said, "And you will find a way to stop players like them from getting 'theirs'.  There are a lot of ways to help a team." 

There's nothing more valuable than time. We never get time back. There's no do-over for time. "Tomorrow is promised to no man." 

  1. The coach never gets an off day. We have to bring energy every second of every practice. We must constantly add value. 
  2. Run practice at as high a tempo as possible. I'm sure that I get at least fifty percent more done just by pushing the pace. 
  3. Control the message. "We have to play fast and hard to be successful." 
  4. Prepare thoroughly. Last night's practice schedule. 
  5. Make as much as you can competitive. 
  6. Keep it moving. Don't give them time for attention to wander. 
  7. More quick teaching, don't overcoach. 
  8. Take them out of their comfort zone. Forcing them to score off the window shows them it's a better way and expands their game. 
  9. Include time and score-based situations. 
  10. Something old, something new. During these 'situations', show them something different. 
Ask them what they see. What do they expect? If you have "the big girl", then 1 hits 5 and it's tough for X5 to get at her. It's often a short bank shot or a foul. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Winner

You write your narrative. In large part, you determine whether your story is heroic and inspiring, ordinary, or forgettable. Don't let others, especially nonbelievers, control the conversation.

You have powerful tools available - consistency of attitude, decision-making, effort, and performance. You have the opportunity to define your destiny. When you combine it with like-minded teammates, you create a powerful synergy.

Attitude. Show up on time and ready to go. Yesterday before the game, I discussed the difference between "nervous" and "excited." Top competitors are excited for the competition. They have 'done the work' of preparation and practice vital to success. Attitude includes your willingness to learn and especially your enthusiasm to support your teammates. Attitude means listening attentively and having curiosity. Attitude can include having positive "body language".

Regardless of your politics, you have to be "Fired up! Ready to go."

Decision-making. Decisions define you. Decisions determine destiny. You choose to spend your time or to invest it. In class, are you dialed in and learning or distracted? At practice, are you committed to making good decisions and profiting from mistakes, erasing those from your future? Are you expanding your basketball IQ daily?

Effort. Effort is more than the sum of its parts. It involves engagement, awareness (know what's happening), alertness (react), and toughness. As youngsters, we heard the term "false hustle." Vacuous running down the court is fool's gold. Are you seeing ball and man, playing in a stance, pressuring the ball, denying penetration and cutters or are you just 'out there'? You can see a loose ball and react, but if you lack the desire to possess the ball more than your opponent, that's "false hustle". You can never be an "energy vampire." Effort means having energy, energizing your teammates, and the intangible "edge" that you see from some players.

Performance. Performance bridges the gap between "know that" and "know how." Performance implies 'making a difference'. Making a difference doesn't always show up in the scorebook. Pressuring the ball forcing a turnover, getting a deflection, dropping into a passing lane to stop penetration, blocking out, setting a good trap, drawing a charge, screening effectively, moving without the ball, getting a "hockey assist", moving a defender with a cut, and tieing up an opponent show up where it matters...on the scoreboard.

That doesn't diminish the value of assists, rebounds, and points. But because you play ninety percent of the game (on average) without the ball, how are you impacting the game each possession?

Winners know what's "inside our boat." During the 1987 World Women's Rowing Championship, the US team was about three inches shorter, twenty pounds lighter, and competing in the battering waves of lane six in Copenhagen versus a heavily favored Russian eight. But with a heroic effort, the women defeated the Russians and captured a silver medal. Winners leave their mark, regardless of the score.

AAR (After Action Review)

A coach's conundrum centers on "what does my team need now?" That requires curiosity, data, self-regulation, and implies a willingness to effect change where needed. 

The first question I ask is "what went well?" Positive reinforcement helps build confidence. I've mentioned that I want to develop AWES (ability, work ethic, and selflessness) which appears as playing well, playing hard, and playing together. 

What went well tonight was exceptional energy and effort. That showed up with relentless defensive presence. It produced shutdown defense on one of the best players in the league. Generally, the decision-making was solid as we had only 18 turnovers, not extreme for high tempo offense. Overall, that reflected good decision-making by our primary ballhandlers. 

The diagnostic question is "what needs improvement?" Coach Don Meyer reminds us "what is unacceptable in defeat is unacceptable in victory." Our shooting percentage was under thirty percent. Did that reflect rust (one practice in two weeks) or shot quality? I don't have shot charts but I suspect a combination of both. On several occasions, players turned down open direct drives for perimeter shots that missed. That didn't reflect selfishness (because they had a scoring chance either way) but flawed decision-making. On many other occasions, players didn't make 'look ahead' passes to free runners. Most were failed vision, neither selfishness nor "my turn" shots, but not all. 

At its core, successful offensive basketball informs quality cutting and passing. Spacing creates driving and passing lanes. Cutting develops easier passes. Better passes create higher quality shots. We didn't pass well. The best teams have a high assist to turnover ratio. We had very few assists, although one outstanding pick-and-roll late in the game.

Yesterday's game should remind us that success is not monomorphic. Good teams learn how to succeed in different ways. One day a team might administer an offensive beating, another excellent individual defense, team defense, or ideally combinations of air superiority (shooting), mobile forces (transition), or infantry (power game). 

Quality teams always show competitiveness, toughness, and resilience. Competitive teams figuratively bring fight to each possession. We have competitors who make each other better in subtle ways, through individual and help defense, setting timely screens, and alert transition defense. Don't confuse scorebook numbers with scoreboard results. 

Jay Bilas writes about toughness, "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.Eric Greitens describes resilience in his eponymous book, "You cannot bounce back from hardship. You can only move through it. There is a path through pain to wisdom, through suffering to strength, and through fear to courage if we have the virtue of resilience."

Congratulations on a quality performance. The "end state" matters. Our greater challenge is to maintain the discipline, effort, and sacrifice necessary to become better versions of ourselves. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Shot Fake

A shot fake should resemble a shot not taken. In my opinion, slower is better, lower is better, and eyes have to be looking at the rim/target. Supposedly, the higher (above the head), the greater the statistical likelihood of a traveling call after the fake. 

Kelly Olynyk has a dynamite shot fake. 

Amnesia* SLOB Options

We have a game today after a week without practice. I have concerns that we will have forgotten everything. 

Whatever. When we have 'core' plays, I would like players to 'figure out' the myriad of possibilities. I would also like world peace and a home soft serve ice cream maker...

Left, core action. Zipper cut into high ball screen with 3 being a left-handed scorer/shooter. 
Right, option with 'blind pig-like action'. 

Left, option with 5 pop out and staggered screen for 4. 
Right, backscreen for possible lob.

*I'm so old I actually saw Pousette-Dart Band live. 

Basketball IQ - Can We Build It?

Basketball IQ is a player's ability to read events and situations in real time and make good decisions, especially under pressure. In chess, expert players process information by 'chunking', assembling pieces into a framework based on their vast experience.

In basketball, consider the triangle offense. 

The ballside triangle 'conventionally' sets up twin cuts, offering quick passes, weakside screening action, and post isolation just to name a few options. 

Conversely, you could just as easily vary it with scissors action setting up dribble pitch to the 1 or a quick mid-range shot. Experienced players and coaches 'chunk' the opportunity sets. A myriad of other options quickly come to mind.

High basketball IQ players learn to see and play 'situational basketball'. Here are just a few examples that players 'instinctively' learn:

How and why to adjust game tempo
How to space the floor - "Spacing is offense and offense is spacing."
When to shoot - "Bad shooters are always open."
When to pass and to whom (depending on situation)
How and where to cut - "Set up your cut"
How to receive the ball - "shorten the pass"
How to improve rebounding position
When to screen (e.g. underrated drag screens in transition) - headhunt (screen the body) or area
How the game is being officiated
How to use the shot clock properly (2 for 1, last shot situations, I seldom see any high school teams execute this in a way that suggests players care)
When and how to attack a player already in foul trouble
When to foul (strategic fouling to set up potential 1 and 1 situations can be important)
How to draw fouls and charges
How to use offensive and defensive fakes

They also avoid bad decisions.

Know when not to foul. (Watching players foul terrible shots flyaways and runners from the corner is yet another pet peeve)
Avoid fouling jump shots and especially three point shots. (Celtics' "star" guard Avery Bradley does this repeatedly)
Know whom to foul and whom not to foul.
Don't turn one bad play into another (reaction/frustration foul).
Learn how to play with fouls.
Know when not to shoot by time and score.
Avoid high-risk, low-reward passes.
Avoid passing or dribbling into traffic.
Avoid passing to poorer ball-handlers in space.
Avoid defensive gambles that will lead to easy baskets when unsuccessful.
Maintain floor balance defensively.
Know that 'the ball scores' and containing your player means nothing when another scores.

All of us can go on and on about this.

Can we do anything about this?

Film review matters. I've discussed how much grainy 8 mm film we used to watch in high school. But players need to internalize that and learn how to see opportunities and mistakes. Remind players when they watch games to see how good teams get and prevent separation. 

Can you teach vision? The Israeli Air Force commissioned development of "awareness software" and improved pilot performance over 60 percent. Elite programs use a modification of this "video game" to improve their visualization. I've told some players to try using "Asteroids"...the poor man's visualization tool. 

Can we teach concentration? Maybe it's just coincidence, but we're shooting free throws better. Because we only have three baskets at practice, we have four shooters at each during free throw practice. I instituted "One or run" practice. If you don't make at least one of two, then you take a lap (instead of standing around) while you wait. 

Share your ideas for raising basketball IQ. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Art of Living - Being Yourself

We learn from others who have gone before us - mentors, models, and poor examples as well. Wilferd Peterson's The Art of Living shares advice on being better and living better. 

Here are quotes from his chapter on "Being Yourself."

"The art of being yourself at your best is the art of unfolding your personality into the man you want to be."

"A good place to begin is by having faith in yourself and your destiny."

"Don't stand in your own shadow; get your little self out of the way so your big self can stride forward." 

"Follow the advice of Socrates: Know Thyself; know your strengths and your weaknesses;"

"Create the kind of self you will be happy to live with all your life." 

"...follow the wise axiom of Shakespeare, "To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."       

Peterson's message is to create a life of which you can be proud, with self-regulation, and work to become your best version. 

SLOB Game Winners (3)

Studying success and failure adds value to your operation. Sometimes that just means giving yourself a low percentage shot for big rewards. 

Of course, execution is everything. 

Defensively, you would worry about a lob to tie and expect a 'big man' on the inbounder to try to take away that pass toward the basket. You would probably 'least' expect a pass to the far corner for a three, the way the Celtics ran it with Jeff Green at Miami. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Three Shooting Drills to Improve Technique

All of us develop drills to improve player shooting. Here are three that I've used to work on shooting form, targeting, and quickness.

1) Form (two options)

a. Chair shooting. Place a folding chair at the low block and have player shoot from a seated position. Players who "shoot from the chest" will struggle to elevate their shot.

b. Kneeling shooting. Player kneels at the block and shoots five from each side. This similarly discourages shooting out of the chest.

2) Targeting. Player stands facing the side of the basket and visually finds a spot on the side and shoots repeatedly at that target. When you miss, you usually end up chasing the basketball.

3) Lateral quickness. There are a number of drills used, including a pound dribble from a standing position into a shot. I prefer to have the player in a 'dynamic' position (e.g. off the catch), who must close their eyes after the catch, make a 'rip' move (laterally) with crossover step with eyes closed and then open eyes after the move to shoot as quickly as possible. The players must be able to complete the move WITHOUT looking at the ball.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Simple MSU Horns Action

MSU with some very simple Horns action with high ball screen and down screen into a trey on the weak side. 

Adjust the personnel to maximize your skills. 

The Art of Living - Achievement

Wilferd Peterson's The Art of Living expresses life perspective. I share some of his thoughts.

"You hold in your hand the camel's-hair brush of a painter of Life. You stand before the vast white canvas of Time. The paints are your thoughts, emotions and acts."

"You select the colors of your acts; cold or warm, fearful or daring, small or big."

"You visualize yourself as the man you want to be."

"Each moment of your life is a brush stroke in the painting of your growing career."

"These are the lights and shadows that make your life deep and strong."

"The art of achievement is the art of making life - your life - a masterpiece."

I suspect this latter passage was Coach Wooden's inspiration for his quote, "make every day your masterpiece."

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Of Basketball Paradigms and Paradoxes


a typical example or pattern of something; a model.
"there is a new paradigm for public art in this country"

synonyms:model, pattern, example, exemplar, template, standard, prototype, archetype
"why should your sets of values be the paradigm for the rest of us?"

While the highest levels of basketball undergo a "paradigm shift" to "PACE and SPACE" or "THREE and D" basketball, most of us face a pedestrian challenge, getting players to SEE THE GAME and EXECUTE THE GAME. We struggle against COMPLEXITY and the temptation to overfeed our players already sated from their last meal.
When specifically surveyed, many players simply think that athletic superiority outranks a more holistic approach. They don't appreciate the grand distinction between "KNOW THAT" and "KNOW HOW". Knowing rules of grammar doesn't per se create good writing.

I saw a player get a clean catch ten feet from the basket with a clear path for a layup. She shot and missed instead of making a strong unopposed move to the basket. In a twenty-point win, that passes as insignificant. Don Meyer would say, "what is unacceptable in defeat is unacceptable in victory."

Players need a model of high expectations with a framework of more teaching and avoidance of overcoaching.

Symmetry is underappreciated in basketball. Offense demands separation to get easy shots. Defense demands denial of separation to encourage 'hard 2s'. Basket attack gets rewarded with easier shots and free throws. Failing to protect the basket efficiently allows easy baskets and the twin scourge of free throws and foul trouble.

  1. a statement or proposition that, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory.
    "a potentially serious conflict between quantum mechanics and the general theory of relativity known as the information paradox"
    • a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.
      "in a paradox, he has discovered that stepping back from his job has increased the rewards he gleans from it"
      synonyms:contradiction, contradiction in terms, self-contradiction, inconsistency, incongruity;

Basketball is a simple game replete with paradox. Although many accept that the game is eighty percent mental, our teaching disproportionately emphasizes physical execution. Although the average player must spend ninety percent of the game without the ball, we focus on developing 'ball skills'. We all understand and emphasize defense, but must devote the lions' share of practice to offense because of the difference in skill demanded. Even the best players must at times subjugate their individual skills, sacrificing and sharing for the welfare of the greater good - the team. The designed growth of the individual (player development) ultimately has meaning only within team play.

It's harder than it looks. This parental comment (referenced elsewhere) defines that. “How hard is it to coach? All you do is come up with a drill or two, and sit there in your chair and watch games. Anyone could do it.”

The 'know that' versus 'know how' contradiction shows up with positives and negatives. Periodically, we see outstanding rebounders who simply "get the ball", unencumbered by block out concepts. Every game I see players 'see' a play (e.g. a free run to the basket) whose awareness is betrayed by failed alertness as they fail to rotate or rebound timidly.

Success requires the implementation of the big picture refined through the vitality of the small details. Putting the outcome cart before the "process" horse corrupts both the players and the process. Players want to win; the best players concentrate on giving their best mental and physical effort every practice, every repetition, and every possession.

I can literally bore the few readers left to tears ranting about the fools' gold of more games and fewer practices, system versus non-system coaching, analytics versus the 'eyeball test', psychology and visualization versus quantitative mental toughness (Carlstedt protocol). But my plea is to see that as 'all politics is local', so are all programs. Take the briefest step off the treadmill and ask the question, "can we do it better?"

The Art of Living - Mastering Fear

Many authors recognize the paralysis induced by fear. In Dune, Frank Herbert's hero said, "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Wilferd Peterson's 1961 masterpiece "The Art of Living" expresses his and others' thoughts on a variety of topics.

I plan to share some quotes from this work, a book that had a lot of meaning to Coach Wooden. One of the early chapters discusses fear. 

Players succumb to their fears against pressure defense, teams with 'reputations', and in situations where they abandon fundamentals and make poor decisions. We have to immunize them against fear through practice adversity. 

"Fear is a wild horse that needs a tight rein, for it is both friend and foe, both good and evil, and to live effectively a man must learn to master it..."

"By using the fear of insecurity, defeat and failure as a lash and spur to high achievement." 

"By accepting the fact that old age and death are natural and inevitable, that to fear them is futile, and that they can best be faced with a calm and quiet mind by ignoring them and gallantly living a day at a time."

"By facing fear boldly and practicing the precept of Emerson: "Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain." 

"By beholding the power of faith to work miracles, as expressed in these inspiring words: "Fear knocked at the door. Faith opened it. And lo, there was no one there!"

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Our Daily Struggle

Role Reversal

Last night I accompanied my long-time friend coaching partner, Ralph to a pair of his games as an assistant at a holiday tournament. When I got to the gym, I spent some time with some of the parents trying to get a sense of how they were feeling. Ralph is very experienced and demanding and always plays his team against the best competition he can find, which is tough with a heterogeneous level of skill. 

Assisting also allows one to ponder, "what would I do?" which I generally keep to myself in this setting with a very experienced coach. 

Ralph's team is also very perimeter-oriented because the interior players are very much a work in progress and need a lot of work on finishing and interior defense. 

I thought I'd share some of the comments that I made generically to the kids during the two games (I wish I had written them down). 

"Don't make a simple game complicated. Space, cut, screen, and pass." 

"Shooting percentages are higher off passes than off dribbles. To get better quality shots, you need better passes."

"The best scoring teams are the best passing teams."

"Against the zone, you (shooters) need to space to the corners which will open up lanes for your penetrators as well as give you space."

To one player: "You cannot get beaten four times to the strong side in one half off the dribble. Don't run with the player; beat her to a spot." 

To another player, "As a coach, it's easier to live with a bad pass that has a high reward (a layup) on the other end. I see what you saw." 

"If you want to be a scorer, then you need four ways to score. Some of you are only looking at one (three-point shooting), and when that's not there, what do you have?"

"You're a good shooter, but there's no need to force lesser quality shots when you're turning down some good ones." 

"We're getting in foul trouble because we only start defending the post after ball entry. You make your life easier when you deny ball entry, then you don't pick up as many fouls." 

To one player, "don't bail out on the drive. Draw the contact and get to the line." 

To another, "I like what you're doing, really getting after it."

"We need more energy. No matter what, do not quit." 

To a ballhandler, "Get to the middle on the fast break. You open up your options."

Constantly, "run wide in transition" (to improve spacing and passing angles). 

What were the results? The first game was a rout, something like 47-22 that just reflect a mismatch against a weaker team. The second game was something between a nightmare and a revelation. The team played erratically, trailing 25-20 at the half and fouling in the backcourt with 1.7 seconds left in the half to yield a pair of free throws. The girls trailed by 18 with about ten minutes left, and then got really hot (6-13 overall on threes) to lead 53-50 with about 90 seconds left. An opponent then hit a three from over 25 feet to even the score after a turnover and our team got outplayed inside, leading to fouls and lost 60-56. 

I go (I'm crazy?) because there's always something to learn and when I'm assisting, I can 'see the game' better because I'm less distracted by primary decision-making and substitution. Assisting allows me to give more individual time to players on the bench and I also get to track the development of players that I have coached in the past. Does it add any value? That's really not for me to say.