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Monday, April 30, 2018

Five Basketball Backdoor Quick Hitters: Nickelback?

The "offseason" begs us to apply offensive concepts. If mentally constipated, research more. 

Adapt your offense to the defense. Aggressive defense exposes itself against aggressive screening and misdirection (back cuts). Savvy players make multiple actions (cutting and passing) to create chaos. The best teams become offensive juggernauts. 

Defensively, we teach players that offenses that 'clear' the paint often look for cutters via the backdoor, including spread sets and 1-4 high or 'horns' variants that may pass directly from the top or run actions through the high post (see below). 

I don't expect middle schoolers to execute an encyclopedia of sets. Run the same concept from different formations. Run the same action from 'horns', 1-4 high, 1-3-1, or even 2-3 (two guard front) from the post to the wing. That expands the playbook without brain strain.

Twin post action translates into 1-3-1 formation. If we 'sell' DHO then it becomes a slip for a possible layup. If it doesn't happen, it sets up an isolation for 5, or maybe high-low with 4, or something for one on a delayed cut. That's up to the players, as it should be. 

Here are a quintet of diagrams of well-constructed and executed actions from the video. Not all are classically backdoor, which I define as a cut toward the ball, then away from the ball. 

In a developmental program, introduce a variety of educational actions like these.  

Be eclectic. Embrace the concepts, then apply what fits. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Basketball Solutions: Beat the Obstacles

"Well done is better than well said." - Benjamin Franklin 

Why isn't it working? Blindspots limit our performance. 

Commit to doing more. When Michael Jordan went to UNC, he told assistant coach Roy Williams that he would work as hard as an player at Carolina ever had. Williams told him that if he wanted to be great, he had to work HARDER. Kevin Eastman says a key to rising in the coaching profession is "saying yes" to requests. 

Overcome barriers. We defeat obstacles by looking within - working longer, watching more film, reading, studying, and reflecting on inputs to success and adversity.   
A sign at The Washington Post reads FAA...FOCUS, ACT AGGRESSIVELY 

Solve the right problems in the right way. Serious problems like turnovers, poor free throw shooting, ball sticking, and weak defensive rebounding don't fix themselves. Bob Woodward cautions, "we can't fix real problems in a tweet."  

Get the facts right. Players must convert immediately to defense and identify their assignments. Offensively, they need to recognize the defense and understand how and where to attack. 

Process not words leads to results. 

Know where we are. Game film not the score informs our progress. Becoming our best defines the challenge. Defense is multiple efforts; analyze the effort. One letdown separates winning and losing. Offense is multiple actions; scrutinize the details. 

Keep going. Publisher Katharine Graham asked Bob Woodward when they'd know what really happened during the Watergate investigation. He replied, "Never." She countered, "Keep going after the story." 

Matt Haig wrote, "the plot of every book ever can be boiled down to ‘someone is looking for something'." Keep looking and grinding for answers and excellence. 


Radius Athletics shares the Utah Jazz break flowing into ball screen offense. 

Coach Glenn Wilkes Post Entry Tandem brush screen

Coach Randy Brown shares what 'good shooters' do (Highly recommended). Do our players work on form, warming up their shots, pre-shot preparation, and study both what they and excellent shooters do? 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Basketball: Morality and Vulgarity

Morality and vulgarity inform character, substance, and style. Model excellence and demand high character. Morality includes teaching respect for the game, officials, and opponents. 

Teach sportsmanship and avoid unsportsmanlike 'tricks of the trade' used to gain advantage in the trenches. "Pulling the chair" to defend in the post is moral. Pulling an opponent down on you to draw an offense foul is not. Selling your program is moral. Buying players is not. 

Where do we draw the line? Some coaches recruit a player as a backup, while creating other expectations for the player. I've seen a coach tell a player that an injury or illness won't cost the player his job, then cut him the next day. Moral or immoral? 

Should gender matter in how we treat players? Allegations of abuse abound in women's basketball. "In the NCAA’s 2010 GOALS Report. That survey of almost 20,000 college athletes reported that only 39% of women’s basketball players “strongly agreed” that “my head coach can be trusted.

Some coaches communicate with liberally sprinkle profanity. Coach John Wooden didn't curse, but famously got players attention with "goodness gracious sakes alive." The Midwestern oath warned players of the coming storm. 

Coaching middle school girls, I see no place for vulgarity. Mom cautioned, "vulgarity is no substitute for vocabulary." Real displeasure gets expressed as "what was THAT?

What some see as sarcasm others see as profanity. Would we want our children called hopeless, useless, or worthless? Separate correcting a bad play from labeling a child a bad player. Del Harris used five levels of communication - conversation, teaching, correction, disciplinary, and "go nuts". But he coached adults. 

Coaching can frustrate us all. But do we message semantics or some antics?  

What passed for acceptable once is "that dog don't hunt" today. Times change. Standards change. What offends depends on the recipient, not the messenger. 

In the early 1970s, we shared pregame prayer. Spirituality has a place in society, but where it belongs amidst religious diversity is up for grabs. We don't cross that ground. What works in a private academy may not in other settings. 

We don't need vulgarity to coach. Most parents would agree. Ask "how does it feel to be coached by me?" 


Chris Oliver shares GSW using a Flexish action to get a shot in the paint. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Folder of Ideas

Ideas are the currency of the future. Author James Patterson keeps a folder of ideas. He argues that great ideas (e.g. the Women's Murder Club) stick with you. 

Great ideas surround us. Remember Buffett sidekick Charlie Munger's question, "Is there anything I can do to make my whole life and my whole mental process work better?"

When we watch television, during the commercials, the volume spikes. Pretty annoying. Why don't we have a device to keep the volume relatively constant? Players can resemble that, as during key moments, they 'lose control' by gambling on defense or struggling with shot selection. Coaches modulate player 'software', keeping them level-headed. 

Idea storage options:

1) Commonplace book...keep a small notebook in your pocket
2) Notepad on your cell phone
3) Google drive...spreadsheet (link to various videos)
4) Standard notebooks 
5) Blog 
6) Voice recorder

Commonplace book. The Commonplace book serves as a resource for ideas, quotes, analogies, stories, witticisms, and information. Great thinkers throughout history like Napoleon, Jefferson, Montaigne, and Bill Gates all kept one. Leonardo da Vinci had volumes of notes. Gates shares notes on his blog, GatesNotes

After the Bruins defeated the Maple Leafs in the first round, announcer Jack Edwards dropped this line, "In spring, the Leafs fall." Oh, well. 

I worked (briefly) with the National Institutes of Health physician (Jack Bennett) who literally wrote the book on Infectious Diseases. He kept a notecard on EVERY patient upon whom he consulted. I've heard that some politicians keep a card on every acquaintance they meet. WORK lives within networking. 

The Commonplace book stores our thoughts, emotions, and TIPS. Ben Franklin's process included ftip frugality, truth, industry, and practicality. 

History tells us that striving for virtue and achieving it can leave gaps. 

Cell phones. Cell phones access and store vast repositories of information. Use Notepad or the Evernote app, or any voice recording app to store 'clinical pearls'. 

Google Drive. Spreadsheet and writing applications on Google Drive permit storage of vast treasure troves. GD stores practice plans, drill book, offensive and defensive concept and planning, links to video lessons, and so much more. Access GD from your computer, phone, or tablet for maximum portability. 

Standard Notebooks. Legendary coach Don Meyer kept three sets of notes. Coach Meyer generously shared information with anyone who sought it. He used notebooks for basketball, general information, and personal information. Each year he compiled reasons why he prized his spouse and gifted her that notebook annually. What more personal and valued present could we give? 

Blogs. The term blog originated as a contraction of weblog. "There's a blog for everything." The Psychology Today blog discusses the InCel Movement, highlighted after the Toronto van massacre. InCel abbreviates "Involuntary Celibacy" a movement where some young men on the fringes of society gather to lambaste "Chads" and "Stacys" and bemoan their 'beta male' status. Conversely, the Dalai Lama Center blog informs more spiritual pursuits. 

Ramp up productivity and innovation with better tools. 


Many teams scuffle with early offense. 
Radius Athletics shares Wing Option from the SBS Offense.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

"Tell Me More" : Coaching Communication

"Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead." - Red Smith (via James Patterson)

I've never met a great leader who communicated poorly. But great communication alone doesn't guarantee effective leadership. 

"Tell me more." Three little words mean so much. 

Tell me more says "I'm listening." 

Tell me more leans in.

Tell me more invests both parties. 

Tell me more respects others, "I value and want your thoughts."

Tell me more can dampen conflict. 

Tell me more keeps the conversation moving. 

Tell me more reflects "I don't understand."

Tell me more balances participation. 

Tell me more shares power. 

Tell me more invites deeper explanation, good entry into the Socratic Method. "Tell me more about cutting..."


Create a dilemma for the defense (via Chris Oliver)

The basics won't always get the separation you want. Rescreen. 

The initial screen may not connect or the defensive adjustment doesn't yield the look you want. This video goes into my 'short video lessons' file. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Fast Five: Excuses in Basketball

"Don't whine, don't complain, don't make excuses." - John Wooden 

Excuses travel with 'attribution bias'. When life goes well, we take credit. When plans go south, we blame outside forces.

"The referees changed the game." (How often do the officials care about the outcome?)

"Our best two players had the flu." (Injuries and illness are part of the game.)

"The lighting in that gym is disgraceful." (Both teams face the same conditions.)

"This is a rebuilding year." (Set low expectations?) 

"Everyone does it." (Justify recruiting violations by consensus behavior.) 

Urban Meyer discusses excuses in Above the Line. He includes 'blame, complain, defend' as below the line behaviors. He describes "above the line" behavior as intentional and the inverse as DEFAULT actions. Good process is purposeful. 

Student-athletes tend to take easier courses than their college peers. Most still care about academics. The time burden places them at a competitive disadvantage. 

The NCAA 20 hour rule excludes critical training (above). 

The result...legitimate excuses for academic underachievement... 

Badgering in Wisconsin? A common coaching excuse condemns lack of institutional support. "As sure as tulips popping up from the ground or robins flying into bird feeders, basketball coaches are annually falling by the wayside once the calendar turns to April and May." Programs change coaches as easily as changing shirts. "This spring, like so many others before it, the petty bickering of disgruntled parents and the lack of support from administrators, has cost some truly stellar coaches their jobs." The coaching carousel spawned a book on getting and surviving the experience, "The Best-Laid Plans of a High School Basketball CEO." 

Got clay feet? I do. In a developmental program, equalizing playing time affects the bottom line. Playing exclusively man-to-man defense bother some observers. Devote practice to fundamentals or zone offense? We choose the former. Maybe excusable, but still excuses. 


1) Don't turn over the ball on handoffs...platter 

2) Wide focus...see the whole floor

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Anatomy of a Basketball Blog Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lagniappe- Hat tip: Chris Oliver

Lessons from the Tournament 

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

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

Inbounding. Cut and leave. Overload the ball side. 

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

Monday, April 23, 2018

3 on 3 Building Blocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But wait, there's more. 

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

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


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

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Be So Good They Can't Ignore You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Model excellence. What works? What fails? 

Be different. Be better than we were yesterday. 

Be a Learning Machine

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

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

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

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


Beat the zone with overload. (From John Kresse)

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Winning Close Games

Hat tip:

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

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


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

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

"Catch the ball first." 

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

22) 7 Second Play - from UNC/Dean Smith 

Thanks for visiting. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Gargantua's Bedroom (Basketball)*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*This is entirely fiction. 

Fast Five: Wait, the Basketball Value of Wait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Plays take time and space to develop

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

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

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


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

Thursday, April 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

First, here is a quote from IN THESE GIRLS:

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

1. What convinced you that Hope deserved sharing? 

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

2. How do you usually find topics? 

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

3. Were subjects enthusiastic to share their narrative? 

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

4. What barriers did you encounter? 

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

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

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

In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle

Twitter Feeds for Basketball Junkies

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

















I'm @rsen01