We lost a close game. We fell behind early, as per usual. I attribute our early difficulties to two things: (1) our players are comfortable; none is willing to push beyond his comfort zone. Therefore, we practice at one tempo, but the game is at another tempo. We do not have a player who pushes the other players to increase the intensity, so it takes a while for us to adjust to the game tempo. (2) every team that we play runs dozens of set plays. In this game, the coach called out a play on every possession. For the entire first quarter, they ran a different play on almost every possession. The first time that we see the play, our opponent generally gets a good shot. After we see the play once or twice, we adjust and take away the first couple options. Our opponent needed a late fade-away three to hit double-digits in the second half.
In an effort to increase the intensity and improve our base defense, especially against penetration and on the glass, we spent most of the week after the game playing “three stops.” We started with 2v2, but played 3v3, 4v4, and 5v5. One team played defense while the other teams cycled through on offense. The defensive team stayed on defense until it got three straight stops. The day after the game, we played 2v2 and 3v3 and did a couple shooting drills, and it was the best practice of the season. Guys were talking, diving for loose balls, and playing with intensity and urgency. We finally started to help and recover and rotate to open players. It was great.
Almost as impressive, the guys started the practice on their own. I walked out to my car, and my battery was dead. By the time that I got my car jump-started, I was 10 minutes late for practice. I texted one of the players and told him to get the guys warmed up and into a drill. They did. The next day, they did the same thing, starting practice while I was getting the balls from the other gym. This was a great improvement, as I had gotten on them early in the week for not being ready to go when practice started. Hopefully these two events show an improvement that continues as they take more responsibility for their own performance and practice habits.
In our game, we outplayed our opponent for the most part. However, we don’t finish plays. Rebounds bounce off our fingers, we don’t grab loose balls, our shots bounce in and out while our opponent banks in a wild three, etc. A break here or there and we would have won. We executed our offense well, as we finally out-shot an opponent from the free-throw line and very nearly made more than our opponent attempted, which was one of our original goals at the beginning of the season. Our post works so hard, but he is a typically freshman who is growing into his body: he is not always on balance or in the best position to finish.
Our opponent started in a 1-2-2 three-quarter trap. We turned over the ball on our first possession. Afterward, without needing to call a timeout or yell out a play or anything, we destroyed the trap. We got five great shots in a row, and the coach went to a man defense. We have never practiced against a three-quarter court trap and have not seen one all season. However, we have general principles against a trap, regardless of where, and we got to the right spots, our point guard made good decisions, and the pressure had no affect.
To end the week, we spent some time playing 3v3 games with different conditions. We used the 3v3 Wildcat from Cross Over and Blitz Basketball to work on penetration and kick-outs, as that is a major part of our offense, while our ability to defend penetration and recover is a deficiency. We also played a new game in the key, as our spacing tends not to be great off our on-ball screen because the defense collapses, so we have to be able to pass and catch in tight spaces, as well as pivot into better shots. Defensively, we need to finish plays with the rebound with lots of players in the key fighting for the ball. The drills were okay for the first time.
This week, we have three games in three days. It will be interesting to see how we react and how we play in such a situation. Many of the players show glimpses of real improvement during practice and last game. Hopefully our second half of our last game and our good practices to end the week give us confidence moving forward.
By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League