Coaching a European Club – Week 16

After reading through some of my old blogs, I realized that I had gotten too far away from a skill development emphasis. One reason is the lack of an assistant coach – when I split up posts and guards to do some position-specific skill work, one group is by itself. Generally, this group does not go as hard as if I was watching them, so the skill work is less effective. I stopped the guard/post breakdown for a period of time for this reason, and because there were two weeks when we were missing all of our true post players. This week, I decided that it did not matter; we needed more of an emphasis on skill development. 

The guard work tends to be ball handling, shooting off the dribble, and 1v1. I use the perfect square drill a lot because it is a good group drill; they know how to do the drill, so they can be self-sufficient, and I can watch every now and then to give feedback or get them going harder.

The post works tends to be basic finishing and finishing with contact. Whereas we started as a post-oriented team, with our post out with a knee injury, none of the other posts is a scorer. It’s a mix of young players who are not strong enough for this level and still growing into their bodies (uncoordinated) and an older player who is primarily there for defense. This week, we added a new European player to replace the one who was cut after four games, and he adds a different dimension. However, he is coming off an injury and was not eligible to play this week as he waited to get his license. Therefore, the skill work focused on the players who would be playing, and we focused on basic finishing drills.

Due to injuries, we were never able to practice 5v5 this week. Our Friday practice was canceled. Our new player did not arrive until Wednesday. Our player with a concussion was unable to practice as his symptoms continued for most of the week. Our post and I decided that he should sit out until Christmas and focus on rehab rather than trying to return each week and re-injuring his knee. Our third-leading scorer apparently is on a spiritual quest and missed practices and the game to take a course on prayer (I found out this week that he is from a wealthy family, and he is going out of his way to shun his parents wealth, as he hitchhikes across the country, among other things. He is missing most of January to travel somewhere to learn about meditation). Another player was sick. Another player who sprained his ankle last week never showed up for practices all week (and missed school). Another player left practice early with stomach pains, and the next day another player dropped out of practice when he rolled an ankle. Finally, another starter was sick, and missed two practices, and played only briefly in the game. I scrimmaged during Thursday’s practice so we could practice our zone, and even with me, we had to go 4v5 until the women’s team showed up, and then I added a women’s player. Our preparation for the weekend, then, was playing against 3 of our own players – one who had arrived the day before – myself, and a 16-year-old girl.

As you can imagine, the game was a disaster. We played the league runner-up from last season, and they were big. Their import played at Cal. We played zone because I only had 6 players who had appeared in a game this season, and one of them was sick and hardly played. I knew we could not match up man-to-man for 40 minutes, and I knew their bigger posts would get our foul-prone posts in foul trouble if we tried to play man. My goal was to try and keep it close by forcing jump shots and hope that we could make enough 3s. We trailed early, though we managed to cut the lead to 9 at half time. I actually felt pretty good, as we missed a bunch of shots that we normally make, and made some uncharacteristic turnovers that gave them 8 points on lay-ups. We forced them to shoot 22 three-pointers, and they only made 5. Unfortunately, we did not make any, even though we shoot 38% from three-point range on the season, and only one of the missing players was an outside threat. At half, I was confident that if we could box out a little better and get the same shots, we’d be fine.

The third quarter was a disaster. They went big and kept three guys as big or bigger than my biggest guy on the court at all times. They were able to hedge hard on the ball because our posts could not punish them. Against the zone, they found the post diving from the top matched up against one of our guards. We usually have one small guard on the court, but he is usually my American who is our strongest player and does not hurt us from a size disadvantage point of view. However, due to sickness, injuries, and religion, we played much of the game with three small guards on the court, and all of the game with at least two. We had no answer for their big line-ups. we coupled our size disadvantage with bad decisions against their token pressure and suddenly the 9-point game was out of hand.

The bright spot was our back-up post for the game. This was the first time that he had made the roster for a game all season, and he ended up with four points and a couple rebounds. He was also the best of the baseline players in terms of talking on defense. He played as well in this game as he has in any of the 3rd Division games, despite missing two practices with an illness this week.

The disappointing thing, really, is that we spent a lot of time playing 3v3 working on our motion options. On Monday, especially, we looked really good. I do not want to make every single possible option into a play. I want the opposite wing to realize when he has an advantage to back cut into the post. I want my big point guard to realize when he has an advantage and cut to the block and post. I want to mix up the initial cut of a high-post entry. I don’t want these to be sets that I have to call every time down the court. In the 3v3, we did very well mixing up our cuts and actions to create different opportunities for different players in different positions. However, in the game, we tended to stick to our old style of play, with too much dribbling and not enough patience and creativity. This has been our primary issue offensively for the last several weeks, as we try to find good shots for players other than my American.

It leaves a lot of work to do this week, as we play the first-place team on Saturday. Fortunately, our new European player will be eligible, so we have more size and hopefully more scoring. Also, our back-up point guard should be back from his concussion by the game, and the others who were sick will be healthy hopefully. Whereas I want to continue to focus more on skill development, we definitely have to spend a great deal of time on defense, rebounding, and handling pressure when my American does not have the ball.

The bright spot of the week is that two of the younger guys have finally adopted the strength training plans that I wrote for them, and I have seen them in the weight room. One of the negatives of a club like this is the influence of new coaches every year. This club has had new coaches every year for 4-5 years, including three Americans (counting myself) and an Italian. Every coach has his ideas, so players hear new things every year. Couple this with new American players every season, who have their own ideas on how to train and what players should be doing, and the young guys are pushed and pulled in all types of directions. I have recommended that the club find someone who oversees the direction of the training and coaching – like a Technical Director – or at the very least develop a club philosophy. With a strong philosophy, the club could hire coaches who fit the philosophy and will maintain some consistency.

It took a while to get the players on board with my ideas because my strength training ideas are not as hard or as fun as others. I don’t care about their biceps or how much they can bench. I don’t want them doing carnival tricks on swiss balls. My program for them is very basic – the number one thing is to work on their mobility so they can do a body weight squat. More than half of the young guys would fail an FMS screen. The second concern is improving balance. Therefore, we do not lift a lot of weight. We do primarily single-leg exercises and a lot of mobility work. This is far different than what previous coaches and players have told them, as they have been told that they need to get bigger (they do) or to do a lot of ab work- i.e. crunches (no). Finally, I think, they are realizing that I am right when I talk about why they are injured or why they are off-balance when they shoot, and they have stopped the fun, beach-body workouts to focus on doing things that might affect their on-court performance.

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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