Coaching Frosh Basketball 2.0 – Week 1

The first week was tryouts. It was a tough cut. Most of our activities were game-based: transition drills, chaser lay-ups, tag, half-court cut-throat, and full-court games.

Whereas there was not a lot of instruction during the first week, we did emphasize a few things.

First, as with all the clinics that I do, I explained my two rules:

  1. If a coach tells you to go somewhere, run.
  2. If you don’t understand something, ask a question.

For some coaches, the second rule is unpopular. A friend forwarded a text last night from his boss. The head coach texted his assistant and apologized for the practice that day, but finished with “I wish they’d stop asking so many stupid questions and do it.”

This is a common response. However, what is the coach’s job? Coaches like to call themselves teaches. How is a coach teaching the players if all questions are bothersome? How does a player learn if he does not understand the directions or the objectives for a drill?

We did a drill last night that I picked up from Mike MacKay from Canada – hence my name for it, 4v4 Canada Rules. Essentially, there are six rectangles in the half court, and the offense cannot have two players in the same rectangle (I think Mike uses four boxes). The players seemed frustrated with the rules, and I can tell that one of my assistants is not as sold on a constraints-based coaching style as am I. After we concluded the game, I showed them how the principles relate to a real game.

Last week, we worked on string spacing on offense in relation to dribble penetration. String spacing isn’t perfect, however. Sometimes, rather than moving away from the dribble penetration, a player should loop behind, like with the dribble-drive-motion action. When? Within the Canada Rules game, it was easy to see when a player should flare and when a player could loop. Similarly, on a drive toward the basket, when should a player stay in the corner and when should the player loop? The rectangles gave a pretty good indication of when a player should loop and when he should spot up. I connected the Canada Rules to our basic philosophies, and then we played an unconstrained scrimmage to see whether the basic ideas transferred. Once the players know the objective, there are fewer questions, unless I did a poor job explaining the execution of the drill. If I did a poor job, I should re-explain myself, and someone should ask that I re-explain.

Beyond my two rules, we have emphasized mistake response. One of the teaching points that I use is “Don’t let one mistake make another” or “Don’t let one mistake become two.” I also emphasize that players are not coming out of the game for a bad pass or a missed shot; however, if a player makes a bad pass and hangs his head or walks back on defense, then he is likely coming out of the game. The one mistake (bad pass) was a small mistake; walking back on defense creates a second, bigger mistake. A bad pass doesn’t kill us unless they turn it into an easy shot. We pointed out this response a couple times, so hopefully that will be all the attention that we need to devote to it.

We spent a lot of time in transition drills in the first week. From a defensive standpoint, we introduced my four keys:

  1. Protect the basket
  2. Stop the ball
  3. Find the shooters
  4. Match up

That is my order. Many coaches emphasize stopping the ball first. However, if there is a 2v1, I do not want my defender to run out to the ball and allow an easy pass for an easy lay-up. I want to protect the basket first. To maintain consistency, I stick with this order. Even coaches who preach stopping the ball first tend to emphasize a safety retreating toward half court on the shot, which, to me, is protecting the basket first.

The other concept that I emphasized was making the offense play 5v5. If we can force the other team to play 5v5 on every possession, I don’t think a freshman high school team can execute well enough for an entire game to win (provided we rebound). I want to eliminate the easy shots, and the easy shots are much easier to get in transition than in the half court.

Offensively, we spoke about our two general goals:

  1. Spacing
  2. Disorganize the defense

Also, since we want to force our opponent to play against five defenders on every possession, we want to try and play against fewer than five defenders. We also talked about spacing in terms of width and depth, not just the popular width, and we talked about forcing the defense to defend the entire court.

After talking about width and depth at one practice, and feeling like it was not fully understood, I started the next practice with a small blackboard session. I showed some of the common positions that I had seen on the previous day, and asked the players to give me solutions. For instance, I divide the court into five lanes across the court. We often had three guys running in the same lane. What could happen to create better spacing? There were no right or wrong answers. I wanted them to see that there is not one perfect answer; there are a multitude of ways to attack, and if the first player does one thing, the second player has to adjust.

After some wild shooting in the first couple days, we also spoke about shot selection. To me, a good shot has three things: (1) the player is open; (2) the player is in his range; and (3) the player is on balance. I also spoke about shot ratings, a concept from Dick Devenzio. Each shot has a rating of 1-10 with 10 being a break away uncontested lay-up. I referred back to the previous practice, as in one of the last possessions, I had told a player that his shot was a good shot, but his teammate had a great shot (the player shot a pull-up jump shot at the free throw line after using an on-ball screen, but he had drawn both defenders to him, so his teammate – a better shooter – was wide open on the three-point line; a semi-contested free-throw-line jumper was a good shot – 5/6 – but a wide open catch-and-shoot three-pointer is a great shot – 8).

These are most of the concepts that we emphasized in the first week: catching and squaring to the basket; passing and cutting to the basket; spacing in relation to the dribble; transition defense; shot selection; and mistake response. As we move into week 2 with the team finally settled, now we can get more specific and start building team offense and team defense, instruct some more on shooting technique, and spend more time on footwork and other details.

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

5 thoughts on “Coaching Frosh Basketball 2.0 – Week 1

  • If there is a 1v1 transition situation, how far back do you teach the defender to go before he engages the ball handler?

  • It depends on the match up and the location of the starting point. A small defender vs a big offensive player wants to pick up early; a big defender vs a small can wait until the shot. I teach players to play the match up: almost always, one player has some advantages, and the opponent has some advantages. It’s a matter of playing the game where you have the advantage. If I am big and strong, I want o make it a power/size game close to the basket. If I am small, I want to make it a game of speed and quickness.

    With older players when a 1v1 is almost always a basket, I take the “Euro foul” and foul early on the dribble to prevent a 3-point play. With younger players (freshmen), I want to play defense without fouling because a full-speed contested lay-up is not such a gimme. In our first 1v1 transition drill over the weekend, I’d say we converted less than 50%. Why foul?

  • You mention 4v4 Canada rules a lot, and it sounds intriguing, are you able to share those, or have you anywhere?

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