Started the week with another Monday game. Started slowly again. Fell behind 21-5. Trailed by one at half-time and had the lead in the 4th quarter. Lost by one, though our scorekeepers made a mistake, so the score should have been tied. We played without three starters because two missed Saturday’s practice and one missed grades. Two of the remaining top players did not play the first quarter because they were late to the game.
The game was everything great about our team, and everything that drives me crazy. We start the game and look like we are playing our first game of the season. We dribble into traps, trail cutters, miss boxouts, etc. Somehow, after about five minutes, we remember how to play the game. We held them scoreless for a nine-minute stretch. Amazing that within the span of two minutes we go from trailing cutters on a flex cut and surrendering lay-ups to taking away any good looks at the basket.
We never give up, and we flight to take the lead. However, we stagnated late because when we feel pressure, we try to do things ourselves. We take quick shots and dribble too much. We don’t reverse the ball against a zone but show our stubbornness trying to pound it through the zone on the strong side. We faced a 3-2 and both of our zone sets would create easy shots for our primary ball handlers if we make two quick passes, but instead our ball handlers try to create shots with the dribble with no movement.
We had two chances to win the game and missed shots. We should have gotten the ball back with three seconds to play (potentially on an intentional foul), but did not get the call. Instead, we stole the out-of-bounds pass, but the official would not grant me a timeout. Lots of chances and could not convert one last big play. It happens when you expend so much energy coming back from so far down.
I feel like we are finally to where we should have been at the beginning of the season. we are starting to see things and learn the basics, like moving to help position on a pass or switching out if someone is beaten at half court. Some of the guys think too much, which hurts their performance, but overall, we are starting to get there.
Since we are getting closer to where we should be, I instruct more. I expect more precision offensively and defensively. Early in the season, I wanted them to gain more game experience in practice scrimmages. I wanted the skill practice within the games. I wanted to prevent them from thinking too much or trying to do things one certain way. Now, I want them to see more things. We know how to run a pick and roll. Now, I want them to see the best option in the pick and roll. I want them to see the difference between a side PnR with two guys on the strong side versus a side PnR with three guys on the strong side. I want them to know when to cut to the ball side against a zone and when to cut to the opposite corner. I could run plays calling for one or the other, but then they would not necessarily learn to read the defense and make the right choice. I want them to learn to read the defense and make quick, accurate decisions. It leads to mistakes, but it also leads to greater understanding in the long run.
I watch one of the guys who nearly was cut on the first day of tryouts. On the first couple days, I watched tryouts. We didn’t think that I would be able to coach because of my school commitments. The sophomore coach ran the tryouts and did a lot of drills, like three-man weaves and three-on-two/two-on-one. This one guy looked terrible. He looked out of shape. However, he had decent height, so he made it through the initial cuts.
Is it the player’s fault that he is out of shape on the first day of tryouts? Isn’t that part of the coach’s responsibility – to get players into shape? There was no off-season program for the freshmen: Should a lack of conditioning disqualify a player?
He has transitioned to a competent post player and a surprising all-around player. He knocked down a three-pointer in the last game and stepped up and almost made another three late in the game that would have won the game. Some people watch our team play and cannot believe that I allow him to shoot threes. Why? Because he is the third tallest player on the team? He shoots as well as anyone else on the team; why yell at him when he misses? Some people cannot believe this.
They would be even more surprised if they watched our practices. He now handles as well as many of our guards. He isn’t perfect, but he can handle the ball. He puts forth the effort in each and every drill, so he really has improved. He has gone from afterthought to consistent starter; from taking up space to making post moves and knocking down threes. He is one of the three or four players who I would say really loves to play. It shows. Imagine if we had cut him because he was not in great shape.
Our best player knocked down 9/10 free throws last game, a big change from the beginning of the season when he was shooting about 40%. Seeing these type of changes are the most gratifying parts of the job.
Due to injuries to our top two post players, we are going to adjust our offense slightly for the last two games of the season, as we only have two post players left. We will spend the rest of the week working on a more traditional four-out offense, using some of the Blitz Basketball ideas. We also are shooting more.
We do not have a league championship or any game for which we need to peak. Therefore, I am taking advantage of every hour that we can be in the gym to continue working on skills and understanding. My goal is and always has been for next season, when they have to compete to make the team and the team can compete for a league championship. I want guys from this team to make the varsity, but that requires work. We’ll see who is ready to make that commitment in the off-season, but for now, I want to continue developing skills as much as possible.
By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League