Coaching Frosh Basketball Year Two, Day One

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

9 thoughts on “Coaching Frosh Basketball Year Two, Day One

  • Great post! Thanks for the help on what to watch for…

    I have two assistants and they allow me to manage the game. They watch the players and move players in and out of the game. I trust them and they know what we want to do as a team. I watch how our players react to the defense and watch for things we can exploit.

    I hear so much about playing time at this level. When my eldest son played, the coach would play 6 kids until there was 50 seconds left in the game and then clear the bench. He could not understand why they would be up by 10 or 12 points at half time and lose the game in the second half. A good coach trusts his 6-12 players to get on the court and spell the starters so the team can finish strong.

  • Mike:
    Thanks. I played all 14/15 players in every game last season, and all played in every half except 2-3 times. I plan to do the same this season. I think it helps to keep the practices competitive because everyone has to stay sharp and everyone keeps improving.

  • Brian, I really enjoy reading your stuff. I coached freshman for 5 years. I used the 3 man weave in try-outs because I felt it separated the kids who could pass and catch on the move. I would have 80-100 kids at try-outs. I didn’t see it as translating to games, but there are many kids (at least at our school) who really struggle to catch the ball on the move.

  • Mike:
    If it doesn’t translate to the game, does it matter if it separates players? Last season, a bigger, awkward player was nearly cut during the 3-man weave drill. He ended up finishing the season as our second best player. Once we removed him from the 3-man weave stuff (when I got to take over tryouts), we could see that he had some things to offer. We would have been significantly worse competitively had we cut him because he struggled in the 3-man weave.

    I could run sprints to separate the fast players from the slow players, but isn’t that what the track team is for?

  • My thought was that if they are 14 or 15 and struggle to pass and catch on the move they lack the athletic experience to be successful high school players. One of the reasons I enjoy reading different viewpoints is that makes me question your own methods. I am enjoying the blog on coaching the European club team.

  • Mike:
    I understand your point, and with 80-100 kids trying out, you have to find a way to separate them quickly. However, couldn’t you just as easily make them run a sprint and eliminate the bottom 40 guys in a sprint and argue that they lack the speed and quickness to play high-school basketball? Wouldn’t you potentially eliminate a player who could be good?

    In general, evaluating based on the three-man weave favors those who have played previously, especially those with coaches who did the three-man weave. Does that experience mean they are the better players or have more potential?

    Here is another example:
    I know a trainer that ran his own exposure camps. He tried to differentiate his exposure camps by doing drills. Nothing wrong with that. However, if you have 8-10 players who have trained with the trainer and know all the drills, they will stand out among the 100+ players in attendance. Does that mean that they are better in games? No. It means that they have learned the drills already, whereas the other players are learning and performing the drills for the first time. In my opinion, this provides a false evaluation.

    I worked the Oklahoma University basketball camp when Kelvin Sampson was the coach. It is the only college camp that I worked where the coaches had time to evaluate players and then the coaches did their own draft. We did stations as our means of evaluation, and we could do whatever we wanted. Some guys did lay-ups; others did three-man weaves, etc. We had roughly 8 minutes with each group of 10 players, and one half court to use. I did 3v2 drills. Our of 10 teams (I can’t remember), I picked 8th (roughly). I managed to get the best PG in camp in the first round and arguably the best wing in the second round. Why? Because I had actually seen them play. The others made picks based on size or who jumped high or whatever. I saw how they actually played against defense. We lost one game all week. In a camp situation, the best PG in camp should not go 8th. But, he wasn’t the fastest, and he wasn’t the tallest; he just played. He was aggressive, made good decisions, finished against contact, etc. – all things that are valuable, but also hard to see in drills.

    I’m not saying that you’re wrong. However, it’s my opinion that a player could get lost due to inexperience with the drill or lack of coordination because of his growth spurt or something like that. No tryouts are perfect, but I really don’t want to be guilty of making an arbitrary decision (which is why we gathered 3-4 opinions before each cut).

  • Hello Brian, thank you so much for your fresh and honest coaching advice and shared experience. I am a PE teacher who has had to step into Coach JV Boys Basketball this year with no coaching experience in this game. I teach invasion using Teaching Games for Understanding and lots of movement on the ball games to kids and no drills or suicides which is what everyone else seems to do. I am so thankful that the learning philosophy I rule by is centred here and so am finding lots of great ideas for my kids – I will be using as many of your ideas as I can as I make up my own drills and know with confidence that I can teach kids this way successfully and effectively! Thanks again.

  • Mel:
    Glad you found it helpful. If you’re looking for more ideas that are aligned somewhat with the TGfU methods, The 21st Century Basketball Practice distills much of what I have learned about running a practice into a single, fairly short book, and it is available on Kindle:

    Good luck with the team. If I can help in any way, let me know. My latest post ( talks about my coaching journey, including coaching a sport that I had never played and doing things that made sense to me, but differed from proper coaches. Good luck.

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