Our game schedule for the rest of the season is Monday and Wednesday due to the schedules of the other teams. It is far from an ideal schedule, but it is what it is. We do not have a league, but we play three other schools three times each, so it is like a mini-league. Monday was the first of the games in this mini-league.
We started on the road. I still cannot decide if we played well or played poorly. We won by 1. We executed well late in the game, and we made some late-game free throws. We took the lead by 3 with 8 seconds to go and effectively fouled at half court to prevent a three-point attempt. Throughout the game, I kept thinking that we were the better team, but they kept making shots. We could never put them away. It was a fairly well-played game for freshmen basketball. I think that means that are defense was subpar, but they made some good and tough shots. I was proud of our guys because I did not have to call a timeout late in the game to set up an offensive play. We handled the offensive possessions well and got good shots, even when we missed. They were well-coached and did not have to rely on timeouts; they had a really good point guard who got them into their stuff. It was a pretty enjoyable game to coach.
After a so-so practice on Tuesday where we focused on our press – especially setting up more quickly – we played again on Wednesday. We never really got into the game. We fell behind early as we missed some shots. Then we made some really uncharacteristic turnovers before the half an d fell behind by 14-16 at halftime. We never did get into our press; we are too slow to transition to defense after a made basket.
Initially, we did not struggle against their 1-2-2 zone. However, after we missed some baskets early, we struggled more against the zone. We made passes to where we thought our teammates should be, not realizing that the 1-2-2 zone took away the pass. Rather than adjusting to the defense and finding the open space, we made a couple passes right to the defense. I was stunned by our poor play for a couple minutes, and a little speechless.
In the 4th quarter, we finally played to our capabilities and cut the game to 6 with a shot to make it a 3-point game. It was a good effort, and we finally met their intensity level, but overall it was probably our worst performance of the season. Due to some practice absences, and my competitive cauldron, we started a very different line-up, and our substitution rotations were off. It hurt our continuity to an extent, but we should be used to different line-ups, as we start a different line-up almost every game. It may explain a slow start, but not a slow three quarters!
The biggest positive from the two games was seeing different guys step up. In the first game, one guy forgot his shoes, so I moved a different player into the starting line-up. He didn’t want to start. I think he scored 9 of our first 13 points and ended with a season-high 15 points. We knew from the beginning that he would be good, but it is fun to see him improve each and every game. He loves defense – he always starts the drill as a defensive player – and he is our best defensive player. At the beginning of the season, he missed lay-ups and free throws and got whistled for travels. Now, he is making shots, handling the ball against pressure, finishing, and more.
In the second game, we did not play well as a team, but we had some good individual performances. Another one of our big guys started the game really well; the third quarter was dominated by a back-up guard, and the fourth quarter was dominated by a different guard. Each had at least 10 points in the quarter. Now we just need more than one player playing well at a time!
We did not practice on Thursday due to gym conflicts. After a day off, and a loss, one would think that a team would be more focused. We had the gym to ourselves with no other team practicing, yet our concentration was poor. We were missing guys with some extenuating circumstances, and there was practically a blizzard outside, but the concentration was poor.
I wanted to focus on two things: (1) setting up into the press and (2) playing against a zone. I talked about attacking a zone and explained some simple ideas. I did not want to add more plays against a zone – I wanted them to understand how to move the defense and how to attack. In both games this week, we were fine when we attacked; when we stopped ourselves and started to pass the ball around the perimeter like a shell drill, we looked poor. I think we maybe worried too much about the defense, and not enough about simply attacking. At the beginning of the second half in our loss, one guy finally put his head down and took two dribbles to the key, collapsed the defense, and found a teammate for a wide open three. I looked at the bench and said that it really is that simple. However, for whatever reason, we were not inclined to attack.
I explained four basic tactics. I equated it to man-to-man defense where our goal is to disorganize the defense. Against a zone, that means moving one defender out of his zone or making two defenders defend one zone and then exploiting the advantage. After explaining the concepts, they become so focused on using a concept that it was as if they were running a play and they ignored all other ideas and options. It wasn’t very good, but it was the first day, and hopefully it gave them some ideas to use. As for the press, we still did a poor job of getting into the press, even when we changed the press to make it easier.
I was hoping to build on the same things on Saturday, but we only had 9 players show up for practice. I understand why guys are missing, but I also know there is no chance that I would have missed a practice for the same reasons (for the most part). The culture is different here, and things beyond sports tend to take precedence with families. When I was a child, I think sports dominated our family life. I don’t know which is better, but it is definitely different here. We concentrated more on shooting and individual defense. We’ll see if there was any improvement on some of our weaknesses when we play next week.
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