The week started with a game, so there was no time to practice any of our issues from the weekend’s game. We started off in the lead, despite several missed lay-ups and free throws, so I thought we would eventually be okay. I took out one starter because he looked like he was sleep-walking, and after the first quarter, he was the only one who I felt was competing 100%. The game just got worse and worse, and we lost by 20. We largely played the same way as we did on the weekend, we just faced a better opponent.
After the game, I addressed the mentality and the complacency and explained that we played essentially the same. To me, winning is not enough; we need to play to our best every game. Now, I know that is not possible, as learning is not a linear process. However, the goal is to minimize the dips and shorten the plateaus. I do not want a season that is like a roller coaster with wild highs and lows. I want something that when you look at it over the season and smooth out the edges, it appears to be something like a straight line.
I worry that I have been too lax with the team and too accommodating. However, every time I try to push, I feel some resistance from somewhere. The young guys do not want to change their terrible eating habits. Older players will not come to every practice. The club manager says that we have to accommodate school and work schedules and not put too much pressure on the players.
I finally emailed the club manager to ask the overall goals for the club. This coming week, the week before our first regular season game, all of the young players are missing practice for school events. I regularly get texts from players saying that they will miss a practice or workout because of homework. I don’t understand this. Depending on the player and the day, we have between 90 and 180 minutes of practice. All of the players in school live within a 10-minute bicycle ride of school, and most live across the parking lot from the school in the back of the gym. Their commute is literally less than a 5-minute walk to school and to practice. To me, from an American background, there is no excuse to miss practice for homework. In the last two years, I had guys who commuted over an hour by subway and bus to get to and from school, and who played multiple sports, and most never missed a practice.
As an example of the dedication, we were supposed to have our first home game of the preseason, and our last preseason game, on Friday. All week, one guy asked if he was going to play, as I have not taken him to a road game yet (the roster works differently here. I have 12 players who comprise the majority of two teams with 4-5 additional players filling out the u20 roster. However, to road games, I can take only 8-9 players. It works, in some ways, like the varsity/junior varsity worked in Utah). I told him to plan on being in uniform. He asked the time of the game, and when it would be over, because he had a party that night. The next day, the game was cancelled. He again asked if he was going to play, and I said not to worry about it, as the game was cancelled. After practice, when I confirmed that we would practice instead of play the game, as we usually practice on Friday nights, he said that he could not make it because of his party. He tried to explain, and I cut him off. I told him that I did not need an explanation, but that it was good to see his priorities. I told him to stop coming to the 1st team practices and only to attend the u20s, as that is where he will get playing time anyway. No sense in him practicing with two teams if that is his level of commitment. He managed to make it to practice. The expectations here are just so different than in the U.S. even though many of the young players have the same aspirations: a scholarship or playing professionally.
After the game, I returned to the basics. We worked on defensive footwork. I’m trying to get them away from the step-and-drag footwork to a more explosive push-off, and to use a hip turn rather than a drop step to change directions. Their footwork, for many of them, is lazy and slow. We also spent a lot more time working on defending a pick and roll in all of our different defenses and added a fifth way to defend the side on-ball screen.
I also added some half-court sets this week. So far, we’ve only run transition sets, but we’re not getting the ball down the court quick enough to make the transition breaks easy. Our transition baskets typically come in 3v2 situations against a press. If we aren’t attacking a press, we are getting the ball down court too slowly, and the plays are not working quite as well because they are not designed to go against a set defense. Therefore, I added a series of plays to go against a set defense. Because we have so many young guys who struggle with remembering and executing plays because they are thinking too much on the court anyway, I have been keeping the plays as simple as possible. I put in a couple of my favorite plays that I have used since my time in Sweden over a decade ago, and added a new play to the series that has quickly become my favorite play. I think I found the play in the video below:
With my u20s, I have returned to the basics and incorporated some of the Blitz drills and concepts. We almost never have a full team a practice, and we only practice as a team twice per week, so I do not want to put in much with that team. I use those practices as more skill work for the u20s from the 1st team. We have a scrimmage this weekend, and our top 2 u20s are not playing, so we will see if anything sticks.
With all of the players missing, we have our first game in a week, but we will not have a full practice all week. I still do not have a feel for the league or what our opposition will be like. I am confident that of we play smart and can finish defensive possessions a little better, we should probably be okay, but at this point, I really don’t know.
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