Two more games this week. We practiced on Monday and Tuesday. I tried to do some more skill work on Monday and focus more on free throws, shooting, and finishing.
Here, players can play on multiple teams on the same day: freshmen play freshmen and sophomores, some play sophomores and junior varsity, and junior varsity players play some varsity. It is far different than what I experienced as a player or coaching anywhere else. We have two players who are on the sophomore team but play with the freshmen because they are freshmen and the program wants them to get more minutes. I’m not a huge fan of it, but it is what it is.
In our first game of the week, we played a pretty good team. One of the sophomore guys played with us, but the other played with the junior varsity which played at the same time as us. Our opponent had 5-6 freshmen who played in the sophomore game and then played freshmen. It’s weird to me.
Overall, we played okay. We lost by 5. We shot poorly from the free-throw line and missed some lay-ups. We were not well-organized on the court, and did not execute out of timeouts. However, our press was effective, as we gave up only one lay-up off the press, we got back on defense, and we got pretty good shots on offense. Unfortunately, we couldn’t finish and our communication was poor on defense. We gave up too many easy shots on a simple UCLA cut. Ultimately, their ability to make free throws (22/28) and our inability (10/22), and our inability to take away the UCLA cut were the deciding factors.
After the game, I got on them a little bit about concentration. A couple guys tend to think that they know better, and that led to a couple mistakes late in the game where we did not even get a shot up. It also impacted the ability to defend the UCLA cut, as I used every break in the game to talk about defending the cut – they ran the UCLA cut into a Flex cut, but the screener never looked at the basket on the reversal and they did not make a jump shot until the 4th quarter, so we were supposed to take away the basket cut at all costs and not worry about the reversal. Guard to guard was supposed to be a switch; post to guard was supposed to be a long hedge and recover, daring the screener to shoot on the ball reversal. We just didn’t pay attention on the cut and let him run by us over and over. It’s a play that we have seen before and were not bothered by, which was the frustration.
The following day, we played again. It was a home game, so we got a longer warm-up. we went over how to defend the UCLA cut and walked through it, going over our first big mistake: not jumping to the ball. We also walked through our plays so the guys from the sophomore team felt comfortable. We practiced some free throws and got up some shots.
We played much harder. We played the team that we beat by 3 in the first game of the season, and we won by 31. We made many of the same mistakes: late rotations in the press, lack of commitment by all five guys in the press, not having a safety on a shot, missed lay-ups, etc., but we played so much harder that we made up for our mistakes. When one guy was beaten, we rotated and took away the lane. In transition, we raced from behind to turn a 2v1 to a 2v2. When we gave up an offensive rebound, the guards helped down if the opponent brought the ball low and the posts bodied up and took away space for a shot. We made some shots too, which helps, but the biggest difference was the speed and aggressiveness with which we played.
Two guys who I did not play very much in the first game of the week absolutely killed it in the second game. One did not play because of match-ups and he did not seem himself. The other went in and made several mental mistakes in a row – not knowing where to be, not knowing who he was guarding, not blocking out on a free throw, showing off and missing a lay-up – so I benched him. In the second game, I told both before the game that I’d get them into the game early. The guard came of the bench and dominated. The post played fantastic, highlighted by a block on a fast break that he spiked out of bounds. He rebounded, hustled, etc. The biggest play – and the one that I pointed out to the team – was when he caught the ball at the top of the key on a ball reversal. He looked at the basket and I know he wanted to shoot. He’s a decent shooter and he actually had an amazing practice on the weekend shooting the ball. He made the next pass to our best shooter for a wide open three which he made and prompted a timeout by our opponent. From the beginning of the year, I’ve been preaching the willingness to pass up a good shot to get a great shot, and he gave us the perfect example.
After the game, a number of parents and the coaches from the other team commented about our aggressiveness and how hard the guys played, which was good. The intensity level was night and day from one day to the next. If we play that hard in every game, we will be tough to beat because we match up athletically with the other teams this season with half of the team having played football for a state semi-finalist football team.
On Saturday, we practiced again. One of the players that I wrote about here clearly dominated the practice in every way. He plays so much harder than everyone else. in 3v3, he was on the right wing and beat everyone else to a rebound in the left corner. He got beat on a cut and ended up making a pretty amazing, clean block on game point in 5v5. Plus, he finished a couple plays with really good finishes. I told him in the second game when I took him out of the game that he looked tired. He was hustling and sprinting all over the court. He looks tired all the time in between plays. My assistant coach said the same thing. He told me, “I’m never tired.” He certainly plays like it.
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