Coaching a European Club – Week 9

After trying to get the team to come up with their own solutions to create more movement within our basic set, I decided to simplify and give them a couple options. Based on the PG’s movement, the basic set has four initial options with further options based on what happens. We spent considerable time during the week trying to create more of a motion offense out of the set. 

I also focused on rebounding, which has plagued us all season. We did box out drills, scored a point in scrimmages for offensive rebounds, and ran sprints for offensive rebounds. I am out of ideas. I focus on protecting our backboard before every game and emphasize it through scoring in almost every drill, and we still lost our game on the weekend primarily because of rebounding.

We lost 76-73 against the team that through two games was the highest scoring team in the league. We had possession of the ball with 6 seconds left down by 3. I called timeout to advance the ball into the front court. We did not execute the play exactly as drawn up, but got a reasonable look for our intended shooter, but it was short.

We out-shot our opponents from 2-point range, 3-point range, and the free-throw line; however, they attempted 20 more shots and 1 more free throw for the game. Whereas we probably had more turnovers, which contributed to the fewer shots, we also gave up far too many offensive rebounds. I put one player into the game with the instructions not to do anything else but box out their top rebounder, and he immediately gave up an offensive rebound because he did not even attempt to box out. Our defensive numbers were the best of the season in terms of FG% defense, 3FG% defense, and preventing FTs, and our offense was almost as good in terms of shooting as our first game when we won easily and nearly scored 100 points. We were fairly efficient too, especially considering that we had hardly any offensive rebounds of our own.

Against the better teams, we are small. Consequently, we do not get as many inside shots, and we do not break down the defense as well to create better offensive rebounding opportunities. We have too many guys toeing the three-point line, and not enough crashing the glass.

Our opponent played an extended 2-3 zone. We call it the Swish zone, because the Cal Swish girls AAU team runs it, as does U.C. Davis women’s team. Essentially, the top two players in the zone pick up the ball near half court. On a pass to the wing, they trap on the sideline. Our movement was too slow, and we held the ball too long on the sideline. Because the defense picks up so high, a quick attack should create a 4v3. Instead, we continually held the ball and waited for the pressure.

In some ways, whether through my doing or their development, I am realizing we are adapted players, not adaptable. We had one possession where our post stepped out and caught the ball at the high post, and the other post had his man sealed under the rim, but he was so intent on giving the ball back to the PG and running a play that he never even looked at the wide open player, who was whistled for 3 seconds. I think we waited on the wing because we were more intent to run a play (we only have one zone offense, and we only ran it twice, and we missed the desired target wide open under the rim on one of the two) than to make a play. Again, for a lot of the newer players, I think we still are adjusting to the size and speed of the game, as we have only 3 returners who saw a lot of minutes last season.

The game was good and bad. At one point, I thought we had given up, as we were sulking and barking at each other. I called a timeout and yelled at them about giving up. After that, we fought back. We were down 12 in the 4th quarter and had two chances to tie in the last 30 seconds (called for a moving screen on one possession). So, we fought back and got a number of big stops in a row when we we needed them, but we never should have put our head’s down and fell behind by double digits. Hopefully we learn from it.

The timeouts are the biggest difference in games here and in the U.S. Regardless of the level, the rules as they are make the game management much more like coaching in the NBA than coaching in high school or college. I’m still not 100% comfortable with the substitution rules, and in retrospect, I think I could have made some possession by possession changes that would have helped. It does make you think about things differently, especially coming from a high school/college background.

I have not been consistent with substitutions, which was a goal. My team is young, and youth and inexperience tends to bring inconsistency. My bench is also small, so it is more difficult to make substitutions against teams that are bigger at all five positions against my starters. I gave a young player his first real chance as the 6th man in this game, as one of my starters hurt his arm the day before the game and  did not play like himself, but he committed two fouls almost immediately. I also could not find a match-up that I liked for the young guard who played so well in the previous game. I also went with my back-up 4 too long; when I went bigger with my back-up center in the game with my starting center, our defense improved. Probably a little too little, too late. In the car, I had thought about using them together if we needed a better defensive line-up to see if going bigger helped, but I hesitated in the game. In the heat of the moment, our offense looked bad, and it seemed like that was our problem, so I kept more offensive players in the game. However, if I had gone big earlier, we may have won, as it was not so much our offense that was the problem, but turnovers and rebounding, and the back-up center at least seemed to fix one of the two problems. I think I need to show more trust in the bench, and I am thinking of scripting my substitutions for the first half, at least, so it is more like an NBA rotation where players know roughly when they are going in and coming out. After all, few of my substitutions are based on taking out a player for a mistake – more about players looking tired or needing something specific (size, shooter) on the court.

The frustration now is not knowing how else to emphasize boxing out and pursuing rebounds. I’ve used most of the ways that I have tried in previous situations. Last week, in addition to rebounds, I emphasized defense, especially protecting the paint. We played a game that I used last season with my freshmen, and it worked well. We played it 4v4 and 5v5, with the stipulation that for every time the offense gets the ball into the paint, whether by pass or dribble, they get a point. However, they only get the points if they score on the possession. Our defense was noticeably more aggressive with these rules in place, and I thought it transferred over to the game. Our defense was actually very good, until the shot went up.

This week’s battle is to finish every possession, as we play another tough team who can score on the weekend. If we continue our defensive improvements, protect the ball a little better, and rebound, we should be tough. Now, it’s just a matter of doing those things!

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

8 thoughts on “Coaching a European Club – Week 9

  • “The frustration now is not knowing how else to emphasize boxing out and pursuing rebounds.” Coach McCormick, the irony, of course, is this was written by an expert in basketball practice transference into games. Let’s start at the beginning…

    I follow your writings closely and consider you an expert in teaching young athletes skill development as well as physiology. Your volumous writings are excellent and on my top shelf. Your obvious advanced knowledge and strong work ethic would make you an excellent addition to any coaching staff.

    Pat Summit to prospective coaches: “Major in psychology.”

    Prior to conducting my first basketball practice, I visited with my decorated high school basketball coach. With well prepared notes, I intended to pick his brain so I could hit the ground running. He has a boys and girls state title. I was about to start with a list of questions. “About defense…” Coach stopped me right there. “Back up. The most important idea is your relationship with the kids. You must have mutual respect with the kids.” Mutual respect. Bar none, the most important idea in coaching. Mutual respect is the catalyst allowing the coach to lead.

    Coach McCormick, I’ve scene your laments. Not understanding why you don’t get the prestigious coaching job, the frustration with your kids drinking soda after you instruct them otherwise. Reading between the lines suggests a fall into blaming the kids for not following the clear instruction. What’s taught is not important; what is learned is what matters. And the kids only learn what the coach emphasizes.

    Rebounding is only a part of something bigger: Courage and toughness. And courage and toughness are a function of the relationship of mutual respect.

    Perhaps too, you teach rebounding incorrectly. Consider the Tom Izzo school: 1) Assume the miss, 2) hit the defender (only a brief box out), and 3) most importantly, go get the ball! But this essay wasn’t about rebounding. It’s about your relationship with the kids. Leadership. Mutual respect. Psychology.

    Good luck. JMO

    Jeff B

  • Jeff:

    Fair points. First, with regards to rebounding, I’m really not a big box out guy. I’m a check, chuck the cutter, and go get it. However, we’re really small compared to most teams that we play, so creating space is more important. In the two offensive rebounds that stick in my head from last week’s game, we had perfect position on both, and we were out-jumped. If we had more body contact, or created a foot more space, we get both rebounds and save five points. FWIW, the emphasis this week seemed to work, at least for a week, as we out-rebounded a much bigger team this week in games with my u20s and my first team.

    Second, as for psychology, point taken. There are a lot of factors. I would say, however, over my years of coaching that connecting with players is my strength, not my weakness.

  • Jeff:

    Sorry for the confusion. I have two teams. I generally write about my 1st team, as my second team is the end of the bench for the 1st team + 2-3 other players. We only practice once per week as a team, and never have more than 6 at a practice, so it’s basically skill work and an occasional scrimmage against the women’s team. The 14 year-old plays with the 2nd team, and practices with us once a week, but otherwise practices with the u16s. He’s one of two players under 18 years old who I coach, as one of the starters on the 1st team is only 17 (of course, the 17 year-old is also the 14 year-old’s assistant coach with his u16 team!).

    My first team has 14 players (plus one injured). However, only 8 travel to away games and only 12 can dress for home games. There was no sense cutting 2-3 players from the 1st team because they’d only practice 1-2 times per week. They’re 18 years old, so they need more court time, and they don’t take away from 1st team practices too much.

    It’s a weird set up because the club lacks numbers. Technically, I have 3 teams. I don’t even know who will play on the 3rd team. It will be the 2nd team players who don’t suit up for 1st team games, but I don’t even know if we will have enough players for the 3rd team, and we don’t have any 3rd team practices.

  • One team I coached suffered from similar rebound problems as yours. I had them play 3 man 21. No fouls, you rebound or you get killed every game. We used to call it American 21. Every man for himself. It helped my players learn to chase rebounds down. Very rough game though.

  • I played a similar game with my high-school players last season, but they could not leave the key. Our problem is different – it’s not a lack of toughness, it’s more a lack of reaction to the shot, anticipation of where the ball will go, and for some players, not making contact.

    In fact, one big issue is when players have nobody to box out. Let’s say they are in help defense with one foot in the key and their man does not crash. Our tendency is to take a step toward the basket on the shot attempt. On a long shot with a long rebound, the ball bounces over his head and leads to a scramble or sprint for the ball.

    That’s not the only issue, but it’s one that I’ve seen several times.

    That’s also a reason that I don’t like artificial rebounding drills, as the anticipation of where the ball will go is a huge part of rebounding, and you cannot learn that picking up a ball off the floor or by watching a coach intentionally miss shots.

    We did make a more conscious effort to box out bigger players last week, so hopefully that is a trend that continues.

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