Week 7 encapsulated freshmen basketball in many ways. We start the week with a win over another local school playing without one of our better players who was away on a family vacation. Play a road game on Tuesday. The officials showed up late and asked me the game time. Then one official delayed the game so he could find a uniform to wear as he forgot to bring his. Ironically, he gave me a technical the first time that I said anything to him, without raising my voice, when I said, “Way to be professional” in response to his comment. Wednesday, we played our third game in three days and missed four players who had to go to a guitar performance for class credit, had another player injured early in the game, and had two players sitting out the first half because they missed the bus and showed up late because they had club soccer practice.
It is difficult to fault for players for other interests, since I am not a proponent of early specialization, but it is also difficult to see players who are not fully invested in the team (as another player leaves for a week-long vacation today). People here ask me if I ski because I live 25 minutes from world-class skiing. I did ski as a child. We had a cabin in Lake Tahoe. We sold it when I got to junior-high school. We never used it because I had games every weekend. If my family had gone on vacation when I was playing, I would have stayed with a friend rather than go on vacation and miss part of the season, but then again, my parents never would have schedule a family vacation that would cause me to miss school, let alone practice or games. But, I digress.
We went 2-1, beating the teams that we should have beaten and losing to the team that is better than us. After our Tuesday game, I had a heart to heart with two of the best players. One is extremely talented and has improved over the course of the season, but I feel like he has a fixed mindset. He never appears to go 100%. I told him that he could be good, but that I wasn’t sure if that’s what he wants. Physically, he should be a potential starting wing on varsity next season. His shooting has improved more than anyone during the season, and he has a really nice, high-arching shot with an effortless release. However, he seems to be in his own way a lot. He seemed to agree with my assessment. The next day, he tweaked his ankle and took himself out of the game.
The other player is one of the better players, but he seems discontent with being on the freshmen team. When we have sophomores practice with us or when we scrimmage the sophomores, he plays much harder. I told him that I felt like I was not helping him improve and asked him to tell me if there was anything that I could do. He is a point guard, and I pretty much give point guards complete control to call plays and run the team. In most games, you hear the coach call a play every time down the court and every time the ball goes out of bounds. I never tell them what to run. I want players making those decisions. I want players learning to make those decisions and learning to communicate with each other.
In our first game of the week, the most impressive thing, I think, was that we scored at the end of the first three quarters with three different players making the play. At the end of the first quarter, I had neither of our regular point guards in the game, so a wing calmly called for a high ball screen with five seconds left and stepped confidently into a three-pointer. More than anything this week, that played showed our improvement thus far: a player who has never played organized basketball before this season communicating nonverbally with a teammate to create a shot under time stress without any prodding or play-calling from the bench.
I showed up late for the loss on Wednesday due to my “Motivation Theory” class. We did not play poorly. We were down at half and cut the game to 12 and had consecutive possessions where we missed two lay-ups and three of four free throws. Then they went on a mini-run to balloon the lead to 20. We did some decent things; we got decent or good shots against their switching defenses; we played adequate help defense; we rebounded a little better.
However, after the game, my focus was on their mentality. One thing that I have stressed from the first or second practice is that a “quiet gym is a losing gym.” We do not communicate enough on defense, and we lack enthusiasm for each other or for the game. I told the that when I walked in the gym, their body language told me everything. I tried to remember this list of the things that winners do and went over three or four with the team in our post-game talk:
How to Tell a Winner from a Loser
- When a winner makes a mistake, he says “my fault”; when a loser makes a mistake, he throws the blame on someone else.
- A winner credits his “good luck” for winning on being fundamentally prepared; a loser blames his “bad luck” for losing on bad breaks even though he is not fundamentally prepared.
- A winner works harder than a loser and always finds time to do what is expected of him; a loser never finds the time and when he does, he works on the wrong things.
- A winner makes commitments and sets goals with his heart and sets out to accomplish them; a loser makes “promises” with his mouth and never sincerely means to keep them.
- A winner shows he’s sorry by making up for mistakes; a loser says “I’m sorry” but does the same thing next time.
- A winner thinks, “I’m good, but not as good as I should or could be.” A loser thinks, “I’m not as bad as some of the others.”
- A winner would rather be admired for his ability than liked, although he would prefer both; a loser would rather be liked than admired because he knows he hasn’t worked hard enough to be admired.
- A winner hates to lose; a loser could care less although he may put up a good front.
- A winner is fundamentally sound in all aspects of the game; a loser is not!
- A winner knows that strength, agility and quickness are the keys to success in athletics and works hard to attain those things; a loser may know, but never attains.
- A winner takes constructive criticism from the coach, realizing that it will help him and the team; a loser pouts and thinks he’s being picked on.
- A winner thinks of the team first and never wants to let the team down; a loser thinks of himself first and the team last.
In practice yesterday, one of the players responded. He was trying to get the others going and trying hard to encourage everyone and talk on defense. But, nobody else responded. The one player who I can count on to talk on defense was away at a soccer tournament, so the one player was solo trying to pick up his teammates.
In my post-practice huddle, I used a reference that I stole from former Crenshaw head coach Willie West. He talked about the team as a fist versus five individual fingers. I have used this since the beginning of the year, but in many ways, we are still a collection of individuals. Tactically, we organize like a team, but in terms of the group enthusiasm, playing for one under, talking, helping, cheering, high-fiving, etc., we resemble a pick-up team, and that so far is my greatest failing with this group.
By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League