Just like that, it’s over. We had one practice and one game. We finally played a new team who I had never seen, so we did not have anything specific for which to prepare. Though we led for much of the game and though I felt we outplayed them, we lost. We should have been ahead by more early in the game but we were half a step late on several rotations, and they scored as a result. Throughout the second half, they punished nearly every defensive mistake with a three-pointer, whereas we missed a couple easy shots. That was the game. A missed boxout here, a missed rotation there, a missed lay-up here, and a dribble off our foot there. The basics. The fundamentals. Youth basketball is not about the plays or the schemes, the zone or man, the big or small: it comes down to making lay-ups, grabbing rebounds, and stopping the ball on defense.
In practice, we focused some more on finishing and free throws. I introduced another new game. We played 3v3 half-court within the volleyball-court lines. I constrained the court because we need to practice passing and finishing in tight spaces. Earlier in the year, I had spent time on another drill that attempted to work on passing off dribble penetration and finishing contested shots, but the constrained 3v3 worked better. We were not very good at it, which may explain some of our lack of success in the paint in games. I wish I had changed to this type of game earlier in the season.
I also altered the rules of the Tip Transition Drill. I believe that I got this idea from Joe Blog’s Madrid. The drill was executed in the same way, but the scoring changed. The teams started with 10 points on each possession; for every dribble or pass, they lost one point. If they scored, they were awarded whatever value remained. In the example above, I believe the shot would have been worth 2 points. I changed the rules because some of the teams tend to cherry pick with the top person in their 1-2-2 zone, and we had done a poor job adjusting and making sure nobody got behind us on defense. I wanted an incentive to make the long pass, and I wanted to work offensively on dribbling less and pushing the ball more. It worked well.
In the pre-game huddle with the team, I reminded them of the drill and told them to push in the same way. I heard one guy say, “Oh yeah, that worked well.” Early we did a better job, but then we settled into our normal style of play, which tends to be push off steals and slow down on rebounds or made baskets.
The season came to a disappointing conclusion. If we started over, I would emphasize rebounding more from day 1. I would spend more time on pivoting drills, especially with their right foot: we were left-foot dominant and often pivoted away from easier shots and into harder shots because of the reluctance to make a short front pivot on our right foot. I would spend more time on form shooting and free throws early in the season. I would simplify the press into a run-and-jump with 3-4 specific rules and rely more on our half-court defense.
I also would spend more time on 4v4. When we played 3v3, the players were good at figuring out schemes to exploit the constraints. For instance, when we played 3v3 and I forced the defense to trap the pick-and-roll, the offense schemed to punish good rotations. This is what I want; they figured out solutions to a problem. However, once we moved to 5v5, rather than using these solutions, we reverted into the plays. In 4v4, the solutions would be more like 5v5, especially with regards to the defensive rotation on a PnR, but there is not the reversion to running the play. That being said, in our last two games, we moved the ball pretty well without having to rely on plays, so maybe we were starting to get it.
I hate the end of the season. I want to be in the gym with practice tonight.
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