This week started off roughly. As we gathered to start practice, I had everyone huddle together, as I planned to ask about their impressions of the game from the weekend. As we walked together, our team leader joked, “Are we canceling practice?” I jumped on him, as it was the third or fourth time that he’s joked about not wanting to practice, and he already skips one practice per week every week. He said he was trying to be funny, and I said that nobody laughed. If practice is the drudgery that he makes it out to be, I don’t think complaining about it makes it any better.
After dealing with that, I asked about the game. A couple players had some good responses. Nearly everyone noted our rebounding issues. Some noted our offense, and others our defense. One player accepted responsibility for not getting us organized, and I blamed myself for not being prepared for their zone. Despite appearances and perceptions, our offense was and wasn’t a problem. It was our best shooting game of the season (based on true shooting percentage), and a pretty good defensive effort (based on true shooting percentage). The problem was that they took 17 more shots to score 3 more points. The extra shots were a combination of their offensive rebounds and our turnovers. We did talk about the biggest positive from the game, which was after putting our head’s down and almost giving up, we fought back and had two chances to tie the game in the last minute. We regrouped and played out the last 6 minutes with real fight and hunger. Unfortunately, instead of being down 8 when we started to play better, we were down 12 and ran out of time.
This week, we focused on rebounding and zone offense. While we shot the ball well, we could have handled the zone better, and we expected to face a zone this week too. After our pre-practice talk, we returned to basic rebounding drills starting with Bull in the Ring. After a couple turns, the teams started to get lively and energy returned to practice. Next, we did a basic circle rebounding drill where the defense runs in a circle and on the shot has to box out the crashing offensive players. It’s not a drill that I like because it is not realistic and it does not help with perception, but it does force teams to communicate, which was a positive.
After focusing on rebounding, we walked through the zone that we had just faced. We went over the errors and talked about what should have happened in certain situations. We also went through the offense that I had attempted to draw up during timeouts during the game, which wasn’t clear enough in my drawings. Altogether, it was an easy practice physically.
As the week went on, we continued to work on our zone offenses, our defense (paint drill), and basic rebounding. Bull in the Ring continued to be the most lively drill all week. Our defense in the paint drill continue to be much more aggressive. As I noted, when we focus on one thing, we are able to do that one thing very well. However, when we have to combine everything, we are not there yet.
I changed up the shooting drills to do more partner shooting and hopefully increase the number of shots per person. They seemed to be just going through the motions with the Oiler Shooting Drills. Shooting drills are gym dependent, however. Twice per week, we practice in a gym with two baskets, so partner shooting drills are out. Two days per week, we practice in a gym with six baskets. Therefore, practice planning has to account for the gym to prevent too much standing around in lines.
On Saturday, we had two games, one with my u20s and one with the first team. As it turned out, both teams, from different parts of the country, were comprised almost entirely of Lithuanians who had moved here to work in some industry. The u20s play in the third division, which, I imagine, includes a wide variety of teams. In this case, they were big. We were fast. Even though we had only 8 players, including a 14 year-old PG, and all 3 post players had 3 fouls in the first half, we pushed the tempo at every opportunity, and defended in the fullcourt. We took a 12-point lead, but they started to pound the ball inside and ended up taking a 4 point lead in the 4th quarter. With all 3 posts sitting on 4 fouls, I went to a box and one defense. My biggest guy defended their biggest guy and everyone else played a zone. It worked, and we won by 10. Unfortunately, we had to work pretty hard, as three players who played nearly the whole game are in the 10-man rotation for the 1st team too.
In the first team game 3 hours later, despite our preparations for a zone, they played man defense. They had one really good player who was a nightmare match-up for our personnel, and their PG was crafty and scored. We led the entire game and ended up winning by 11 (90-79) after we gave away about 8 points in the last two minutes with bad decisions. The game was not all that intense – it was like a recreation league game in the States. However, we did a pretty good job boxing out, as they were bigger at all 5 positions and considerably bigger at the 3 and 4. Essentially, I start four guards. My small forward is about 6-feet tall, but he was the back-up power forward (though he rarely played) last season, as he actually has some muscles on him. He is called “McGee” by the other players because of the likeness between his game and that of Javale McGee’s! My starting 4 played the 2-guard for a different club last season and isn’t much taller; my second tallest starter is actually my 2-guard, who is 17 and skinny like a growing 17-year-old. They started 3 guys over 6’5. We got posted up a little, but we blocked out well.
For the first time in 3 games, we had more shots than our opponents, even though it was our lowest true shooting percentage for the season. We settled for too many mid-range shots, but we shot the three-pointer better than we have in any game this season with all five starters making at least one three-pointer.
I only went 8 deep with the rotation again. I had intended to play 10 guys, but it’s hard to continue to go smaller against bigger teams. As small as the starters are, the bench is smaller, as most of the bench is 18 year olds. Luckily they get experience playing as the u20 team in the 3rd Division, so a lack of playing time shouldn’t stunt their development, but I also wanted to reward two guys for their improved practice performance. It’s just hard when there is no natural match-up for them, and it is a senior level where the objective is to win.
I still find substituting to be the hardest part of coaching. Is a tired starter better than a reserve? How much playing time will maximize my best player’s performance? At what point does their efficiency decrease due to too much playing time? How well can a reserve perform in a 2-3 minute stretch? When I put a reserve guard into the game, it was late in the first quarter, and we had a couple fouls to give. I told him to harass the other PG. He picked up a couple fouls, but he made him work a little and gave the starting guards a rest. He has a clearly defined role, as I have used him in the same situation before. Now, I need to find similar roles for a couple of the other young guys on the bench.
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