Coaching a European Club – Week 4

Last weekend’s three games in 18 hours certainly had lingering effects. On Monday, we talked about the events of the weekend, and I handed out the 24-hour Athlete information to the players. I asked the players how they felt, and they were tired, so we had a short practice. By our next practice (Wednesday), we were missing guys due to injuries (knee that swelled up after knocking knees, and returning pain from a foot injury suffered last season) and illness. Combined with absences due to work and a funeral, and we could barely practice mid-week in what I had intended to be our more intense practices of the week.

The focus early in the week was getting open on offense and transition defense. We struggled to get open against bigger, stronger guys in the games, and we were initiating our offense at half-court. We spent a lot of time doing no-dribble drills to work on fighting to get open in better positions on the court. On defense, one of the games regressed into a 3v2 drill, and we were not very good in the 3v2, so that was the focus. I used the Army Drill predominantly and played 3v3 (rather than 2v2 showed in the video below).

Due to absences, we shortened practice and concentrated more on shooting on Thursday. On Friday, with nearly everyone back, we re-focused on our half-court defense, especially our back-side rotations. Our initial help was good on the weekend, but our weak-side tended to stand too much or take too much time to decide where to go. I emphasized that I’d rather a wrong decision made quickly and aggressively than the right decision made passively and slowly. I generally believe that a quick, aggressive play is better, even if it is technically wrong. In one case, we over-helped on the baseline. However, the help was early and aggressive: it wasn’t needed, but since it came, we had a trap on the baseline, not the worst thing. To me, that is preferable to being late and arriving just in time to foul a shooter on the lay-up.

Saturday, we drove 2.5 hours to play a team in the higher division. They were missing some of their guys, and we traveled only 8 players – one van’s worth. We started slowly. They came out in a man-to-man press looking for opportunities to run-and-jump, and we crowded the space: more and more guys were retreating to the backcourt to help, giving the ball handler no space to attack. They appeared to be trying to take the ball out of my American’s hands, at least that’s how he felt.

After a couple of turnovers, I called timeout and told everyone to get out of the ball-handler’s way. One of my guys was aghast, but it was a man-to-man press: the only reason that there was extra pressure was because we were condensing the space and enabling them to run and jump. Once we cleared out, we only had a couple mistakes against the press, generally due to turning our backs with the ball or passing the ball into the corners – silly mistakes that I wouldn’t expect at this level, but they happen. As the game wore on, we learned and cut out our mistakes.

We took the lead in the second quarter and led at the half. On the first play of the second half, our point guard took an elbow to the mouth and was out for the remainder of the game. This was a great learning experience, as we had a tight game without our American. The youngest guy on my team is our other guard, and really our only other ball handler who traveled. He played great, even though he had been sick all week, and I told him before the game that I’d try to hold dow his minutes. Ah, youth. He defended their Canadian import and did a much better job in the second half.

Overall, we were able to adjust and execute the changes that we talked about at half time. Early in the game, they got baskets off of our turnovers and offensive rebounds. Their Canadian drove at will and scored in the half court, and a couple of their guys were hitting open threes off his penetration. At half-time, we emphasized blocking out: we were getting good shots every time we got the ball into the half court (we led 49-46 at half), so we didn’t need to worry about getting out in transition. We needed to rebound. We also needed to back off their guard and contain his penetration and then find the two guys who were hitting most of their threes. Because they were missing their center, they were, in some ways, a harder match-up because they put four decent shooters around the three-point line. They attempted 40 threes for the game, and made 12. We did a much better job closing out all the way to the shooter in the second half and forced their 3rd and 4th best shooters to take the three-pointers, not their top two options.

On offense, we did a good job of disorganizing their defense and moving the ball to get open shots. We rarely got into a set play; they had to double our post, and they were trying to press, so their defense was disorganized from the beginning. We kept the ball moving and got open shots on nearly every possession and ended up winning by double figures (93-81).

We still have a lot to practice. Our end of quarter performance left a lot to be desired, as we probably cost ourselves 5 to 7 points with poor execution with regards to the clock. Our defense on inbounds plays was poor at the beginning of the game, though it improved. Our rebounding needs to improve, as we are too dependent on one player to get the rebounds. However, in one week, we showed a lot of improvement even with the lack of consistent practice time. Hopefully that means that we are starting to learn some of the concepts that I have been stressing since the beginning of practices.

At this point, we have had 16 practices and 4 practice games (2-2), all against teams that should have beaten us, based on their level of play. We have another week of practice and another practice game on Saturday where I am hoping to travel and play more than 8 guys. We need to continue to tighten our defense and be stronger with the ball on offense, but it was good to see improvement since last weekend.

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

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