Coaching a European Club – Week 15

Nothing demonstrates a seriousness about improving quite like having a starter miss your Monday practice without a call or a text because, according to what I was told later, he overslept (we practice at 8:30 P.M.). Not to be outdone, the same player skipped Friday’s practice and Saturday’s game to take a course in another town. We had to forfeit a 3rd Division game on Sunday because only four players could play – now that several of the u20s are playing a lot of minutes on the 1st Division team, only two of them want to play the 3rd Division games. The others seem to feel that they are better than the 3rd Division, even though our 3rd Division team lost by 20 on Thursday. The 3rd Division games are an opportunity for the role players to expand their roles and take on more responsibility, but they skip a Sunday afternoon game because of homework. The club manager said it was a weak excuse, but one that we have to accept. I just don’t understand. I cannot fathom being 18 years-old and turning down the opportunity to play in games.

We suffered a rash of injuries in addition to the missing player. This was the week our top post player was supposed to return, but he could not finish Monday’s practice, so it did not look promising. On Monday, our back-up point guard suffered his second concussion. I ended practice early when three guys ended up on the ground on a drive to the basket. One hurt his wrist, one suffered a concussion, and one was holding his leg; this was after our post stopped practicing because of his knee. I stopped practice before we could hurt anyone else. The wrist turned out to be nothing, but the leg plagued the player all week. He went down at the end of Wednesday’s practice, and said that he could not walk on Thursday without pain. Finally, before Friday’s practice, he said a physiotherapist who said it was just a bruise, and he was fine to play. When I planned my practice on Friday, he had said he could not play, and I thought we were down to seven players for the Saturday game.

Because of the injuries, and our probable need to have our two guards play all 40 minutes, I finally put in a zone defense in practice on Friday. Certainly far from ideal to install a new defense in 30 minutes the day before a game, but sometimes health and absences create a necessity that is not ideal. We worked at three-quarter speed to learn the rotations in the zone, and to get through practice without any more injuries or bumps and bruises. We also had to go through all of our plays again for our post, as his knee improved enough that he planned to play for the first time in five weeks. However, in his departure, we had added several specials out of our normal offenses to try and create some easier shots for the role players who had to take on more responsibility in his absence.

With everything that happened, it was from an ideal week of practice. We only practiced three times because of the 3rd Division game on Thursday, and Monday’s practice ended early with the injuries, and Friday’s was more of a walk-through to keep everyone healthy and review our stuff.

I had mixed feelings about playing our post. He has been cleared by the doctors based on how he feels. He wanted to play. I obviously wanted him to play, but worried more about the long-term consequences. All week, I did not expect him to play. He never had an MRI because his doctor said his injury was not serious enough to warrant one, which worried me. Monday, he took himself out of practice because he thought that he hurt it again, but the doctor said it was fine on Tuesday, and he said that it felt better. When returning from an injury like this, it is hard to know how much of the injury is mental as opposed to physical. If you are worried about your knee being injured, you are more acutely aware of every feeling of discomfort. The hardest part about returning from an injury is the mental part – you have to get over the fear of re-injury and allow yourself to play. I worked with two players returning from ACL surgeries last season, and this was by far the hardest part of their rehabilitation. Trusting your knee to allow yourself to train the movements and put yourself in positions that could hurt the knee again (after all, basketball players constantly are compromised due to the frequent cutting, jumps, landing, contact, etc). The fact that he wanted to play again was encouraging. I watched him through warm-ups. He moved fine, though he was protecting the knee. He was careful rebounding shots around other players. He ran fine and completed the dynamic warm-up with no signs of weakness or limping. We decided to play the first 3 minutes to see how he felt and keep his total minutes under 20.

We played at home against a team toward the bottom of the standings. A game that we should win on paper. We led most of the game. I experimented with different line-ups and different defenses. They ran the triangle offense and were led by two bigs who shot threes and played around three guards who penetrated to the basket. We did just enough to win. We got some huge plays from unexpected sources. Our post played about 14 minutes and felt okay after the game. We executed something new out of the timeout. Our zone had mixed results. They hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to make it an 88-80 final. They cut our lead to one with back to back three-pointers with roughly four minutes remaining, so we executed very well down the stretch, and we got two huge offensive rebounds in the last minute when they had to foul. It was not the prettiest game, but considering we were missing our third-leading scorer and our back-up point guard, and our post was hobbled, it was a good win.

This week, the gym is closed on Friday, so we have three practices again before an away game against one of the best teams in the league.

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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