Coaching a European Club – Week 12

Another frustrating week. We had one practice canceled due to Bingo having the gym, and never had 10 players at any of the other three practices, meaning I had to play. I had wanted to put in some new things, but with the lack of players, and the changes in the line-up, I only added a new defense. I primarily wanted to teach the defense to the u20s, but we didn’t have any practice time this week either, so I taught it to everyone. Our first division team for the weekend was our u20 team plus 2 players anyway. 

After watching the tape of our previous game, I had some specific things that I wanted to address. Our opponent made 12/27 three-pointers. As I watched, no fewer than 7 of the 12 makes were due to lazy defense. We allowed their best shooter to walk into a three-pointer in transition on consecutive possessions in the 4th quarter! That had nothing to do with scheme or strategy; it’s a lack of awareness, a lack of hustle, and a lack of communication. These types of plays are the reason that we cannot bury teams when we have a double-digit lead.

We also allowed the ball to be passed into the post too easily. I worked with the posts, and then the entire team, on defending cuts into the paint, bumping cutters on a baseline screen, and fighting for position on the block. We played our defend the paint drill in each practice to emphasize this. It is probably the best drill that we do, but whether or not it transfers to the game is debatable.

We really did not get through much else during the week due to the practice changes and lack of players (concussion, knee injury, military service). The major focus was trying to correct a couple things defensively, being more physical, and practicing our rotations in the event that we had to double team the post in our game because we were down our two true post players.

We had our second new starting line-up in two weeks because of injuries and military service. Our back-up small forward who had played minimally in the first  five games was inserted into the starting line-up as our center. Our 17-year-old point guard was actually our tallest starter. We started unbelievably poorly gifting them a 6-0 lead in the first 90 seconds and not even being able to line-up correctly for the season out-of-bounds play three consecutive times. After a timeout, we got a basket, settled down, and worked our way to an 8-point lead at the end of the quarter.

The gym was so small that there really was no way to shoot a corner three-pointer, which condensed the court considerably. Their defense was designed for the narrow court, and we had to make some changes. We did get a lay-up on a sideline out-of-bounds play, the first time that we ran a SLOB play correctly all season!

We led for most of the game by 6-12 points. In the 4th quarter, we missed a number of free throws and then committed a couple bad turnovers, and the final score was 78-75. We’re now 5-1, but we have had a very generous schedule to start the season, as this game was against the last place team. Our schedule gets much more difficult in the coming weeks.

We have managed to win two games without our starting center and best player, and his absence makes us small and young. We still should have won both games, but our advantage was much smaller without him than it would be with him. In this game, we also were missing his back-up and our back-up point guard.

We have a full week of practices, as we don’t play until a week from Monday. If we have everyone present, we need to increase the intensity this week and fine tune some things. Our defense has to improve and we have to be more active to compensate for the loss of our size inside, and we have to play faster on offense to try and create some easier shots rather than relying on jump shots.

This week’s game will be much tougher. However, in the long run, the absences will make us a deeper team. The first-time scorer ended with 13 points, a great performance for his debut. As he gets more playing time and confidence, he will ultimately make our bench much stronger once everyone returns. Two other players came off the bench and had opportunities even though they may not have been on the bus with everyone healthy, so that will give us more options as the season progresses.

My goal when I arrived was to turn a team that played 6 players last season (and lost 3 of those players in the off-season) into a team that was 10 deep. Before the injuries and absences (and with only 8 able to travel to away games due to the size of the van), it was hard to go beyond 7-8 players. Now, once everyone returns, we should have a solid 10 with the possibility that we add a player to replace our European player who was let go by the club. It’s a learning and growing experience, however, as 6 of the 8 players who played yesterday are in high school.

We had a 3rd Division game on Sunday. Again, we take only 8 players. One of the usual players – a player who only plays for the 3rd Division team – missed the game because it was his birthday. I did not want to take another player who skipped Friday’s practice to “see his family”, so I asked a starter from my Division 1 team. He is eligible for the team because he is an u20 player too. I haven’t used him in the 3rd Division because he has been a starter, but he is playing less and less. I wanted him to play and get some confidence by being the best player on the team. He declined because he was going home (20 minutes away) to hang out with friends.

My hands are tied. There are players who I would cut from a high-school team in the U.S. because of their lack of commitment and missed practices, but we’re trying to add players, not subtract. Last season, for a freshman high school team, we had to cut 40 players to get down to a 15-man roster. Here, I use a 14 year-old on my 3rd Division team because we barely have enough players. In the States, if I needed to bench a player or cut a player because they stopped coming to practices, I would have a line of students waiting to take his spot. Not here. The club does not have a problem with players missing games or practices for school or family or vacation because that’s more important here, and they have to make allowances to keep players in the club. However, it undermines everything a coach would want to do to raise standards, teach commitment, improve performance, etc.

By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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