Coaching a European Club – Week 23

We had two games this week, and only two full practices. In our Monday practice, we prepared for our Wednesday game, as we had played our opponent 10 days earlier. We knew they would trap our point guard and force other guys to make plays. With two of our five post players injured, the post sessions failed to progress, as we did not have defense to work against. We maintained the status quo and worked on basic finishing. Our guard workouts focused on 2v2 starting with a closeout to the ball.

In our Wednesday game, we dominated inside with our post having his best game since his return from a knee injury that kept him out for 8 games. He had 39 points, and we won 89-78. We handled their pressure well, but a couple of our young guys looked like they were sleep-walking on the court. However, one of the other young guys stepped up and played a great fourth quarter, especially defensively with his ball pressure.

On Thursday, we had a short practice due to gym conflicts, and we only had 9 players. In the first drill, our starting point guard came down wrong, and sat out the rest of practice with a minor knee injury, and shortly thereafter, another player re-inured his ankle, leaving us with 7. Despite only having an hour of allotted time, we ended early before we could suffer another injury, having not accomplished anything.

On Friday, we prepared for our Saturday game. Our shooting was terrible, and we lacked energy. We played one 5v5 scrimmage that took forever. For our free-throw practice, I end many of our scrimmages with the winning team having to make two free throws in a row to consolidate the win. To me, this is the best mix of game-like situations, pressure, and shooting when tired. However, when one team misses its first five attempts to make two free throws, the game drags on and on.

In hindsight, I should have been more worried that the team with most of our usual starters lost nearly every drill to the team of primarily reserves, especially because some of those reserves didn’t travel. Our game was only two hours away, so one player drove himself as he lives about halfway between the two cities. That allowed me to bring 8 additional players because tour team van seats 9 people (8 players plus myself). Every away game, I have to cut players from the squad. For a while, it was not a problem, as injuries and other things meant that we only had 8 players. However, with everyone back, we have a roster of 14 again, although two players are injured currently, and another left for vacation.

We walked through their three basic sets and their one out of bounds play. We discussed exactly how to guard the actions. Prior to the game, we went over the actions again. Somehow, we managed to get beat by simple backdoor screens even when we knew they were coming, and the screener’s defender was yelling “Screen” loudly.

It was a miserable game; lack of energy, lack of focus. I was too complacent on the bench. I was confident that we would make a play and be fine. Losing never crossed my mind, even as we dug ourselves a 14-point hole at half time. I knew they could not score at the same pace in the second half, and I knew we could easily score much more than we had. In the first half, I expended both of my timeouts early in the half. I used them to try and settle the team down, as we were making mistakes and getting frustrated with each other, and to get a rest for my top players who do not come out of the game much. That meant that I did not have a timeout to use in the last two minutes of the half as we gave away 6-8 points on stupid plays. In the end, that hurt.

We played better in the second half, but we still pissed away too many opportunities, whether by throwing the ball out of bounds on simple post entry passes because we failed to take an extra dribble to create a better lane, missing lay-ups, or committing needless fouls. In the end, we had the ball with 20 seconds left, down by 3 points, and missed two good looks to tie the game. It never should have come to that, but that’s the way the ball bounces. The first half was the absolute worst half of the season, three days after we had played one of our best halves of the season to end the game against a much better team.

At this point, I feel like I spend as much time as an athletic trainer as I do a basketball coach. Before or after practice, I am showing players on the men’s and women’s teams different exercises to try and heal various lingering injuries or to strengthen their bodies to relieve pain or discomfort. The women’s team is as unlucky as our team, as it has lost two players to broken fingers in less than a week. I have never seen anything like it. My two injured players are out with sprained ligaments on the top of their foot, according to their translation of what their doctor told them. I have never dealt with so many injuries as this season, and just when we are close to full health, another player gets injured.

Despite the injuries, we should have won today. Lack of execution and lack of urgency killed us, and the lack of urgency was probably my fault. After the game, my best player pulled me outside of the locker room. He said that he didn’t have it today, and asked if I noticed. He didn’t have his best game, but he wasn’t the problem. He told me that I need to yell at him more. He said that if I see it, I need to yell at him, as it fires him up. It’s not my style to call out a player in the middle of the game, but maybe it would have helped today.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
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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