Tryouts have started. We have roughly 40 players for 12-15 spots. The freshmen class is talented, which is good and bad. The best freshman went straight to varsity, and we are likely to lose anywhere between four and eight more players to the sophomore and/or junior varsity. Certainly hurts our competitiveness as a freshmen team, but gives a lot of players a chance, as there could be close to 25 freshmen in the program this year.
Cutting this group is going to be difficult. The players are in shape and have a lot more playing experience than last year’s group. They play faster now than our team did at the end of the season last year. They are accustomed to a faster pace of play because many have played AAU together as opposed to playing only Jr. Jazz which is the dominant youth program in the area.
This year is different as I have two assistants. One coached the sophomores last season, and the other is a friend who has tons of experience with middle schoolers. One of my weaknesses as a coach is using assistants, primarily because I have never really had an assistant. I am fairly Type A on the court, and because I think differently about coaching and basketball than most coaches, I tend to like to do everything. My goal this season is to get better at working with and utilizing assistant coaches, especially since I have two guys who I trust (my other goal is not to get a technical this season!).
For tryouts, we started with a quick dynamic warm-up, as we started late due to housekeeping issues. Even with the abbreviated warm-up, several players caught our eye. When a big guy who is a little overweight walks on the court, many coaches dismiss him – we nearly did that last season with a guy who became one of the most effective players. When the same guy starts dynamic warm-ups and shows great movement skills – loose hips, good footwork – I take notice and watch the player more carefully. Another guard caught my attention with his hips and footwork, so we watched him closely during the games. I am pretty sure that we may have missed on him if we did not notice him during warm-ups and focused on him. He never did anything to grab our attention, but he was a solid player who was very coachable.
After the dynamic warm-up, we played. We started with 2v2 Army Drill. With the big numbers, the defense passed to the offense and touched the baseline rather than the coach passing to the offense. It started slowly because of the numbers, but luckily we have two courts which are close to full-sized. The execution in the 2v2 was pretty good. Every player had some sort of clue of what to do. It may not have been perfect, but nobody was lost. There are some things to tighten up offensively and defensively, but I was impressed.
After the 2v2, I brought the group together to give them a quick break. I asked questions. I did not explain my coaching philosophy yet – I’ll wait until we have the team – but I wanted to see what they would say. The first question was: “What’s the objective in a 2v1?” Immediately, several guys answered, “To pass.” We nipped that in the bud quickly. You penetrate to score. You pass when defended. To my other questions, I received very general answers. I probably need to start with more specific questions.
After 2v2, we played 3v3 Hockey without the hockey rules – essentially 3v3 full court cut throat. Again, the guys played hard. We picked up full court on a made basket. After one game, I stopped and explained what I meant by picking up full court. In the first game, picking up full court was translated as being in the vicinity of the offensive player when he receives the inbounds pass and then running back on defense. I told them that I wanted to see who could guard in the back court and turn a dribbler once or twice. I told them not to worry about getting beat because I expect a transition game.
Immediately, one of the smaller guys who had caught our attention with his smart ball handling picked up the best guard full court. When he started to get beat, he shouldered him and created a little space to recover. I loved it. Sure, he got beat. However, he went after the best player, and rather than back down, he tried to muscle up with the bigger guy. That’s a kid who has a chance even though he is small.
After the 3v3, we did the Oiler Shooting Drill:
We followed the shooting with the Chaser Lay-up Drill:
In the Chaser Drill, we noticed one guy’s quickness around the corner, so we watched him more closely when we moved to five-on-five.
After the lay-ups, we ended with five on-five games. We did not put any restrictions or ask them to run anything.
As you might have noticed, we look at things a little differently. There was no fluff – I don’t know how a coach can pick his team by watching three-man weave drills and sprints. Stationary ball-handling drills can tell you only so much about a player’s ability to play the game.
Rather than looking at conditioning, we are looking at movement – I know the players will get in better shape if they play basketball every day; they may not move better simply by playing basketball every day. We look for toughness, not size. One guy caught our eye because of his speed recovering after mistakes. Another guy caught our eye with his passing on the pick-and-roll in the five-on-five games. Another guy is going to get more attention tonight because his team won almost every game. Movement, toughness, winners, decision-making. Of course, several players were pretty obvious with their talent level and their work rate, though several of those players will be playing at a higher level.
For the first day, it was a great practice and a really good group of guys.
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