First off, I do want to congratulate Coach Jamie Dixon and Team USA on their gold medal finish at the FIBA U19 World Championships this past weekend in New Zealand. I also have to mention Canada's very respectable 7th place finish as well.

I often hear the argument, if there's something wrong with amateur basketball in the US, then why do they keep winning world championships. If Jay Bilas is right, and America needs more teaching and less coaching, then what about guys like OJ Mayo, Kevin Durant, or Jrue Holiday, they certainly appear to have all the fundamental skills down. If the European model of basketball development is so good, then why can't Ricky Rubio shoot??

Well, I think the problem of lack of fundamentals, made worse by summer AAU basketball, is not a problem at the elite level. What I mean is that at the highest levels of amateur basketball (world championships), the best athletes in the US are playing basketball. This latest win by Team USA, won with a roster of players that were second or third choices, only serves to underscore that point. USA will always be on top because all their best athletes play basketball or football, unlike the rest of the world which is soccer crazy, or in Canada where we are hockey crazy.

Therefore, the argument for the decline in skills matters more at the college and high school level than at the elite levels. Amateur basketball in the US parallels the high degree of economic inequality. There is basically no parity, there are a few really good players, and a bunch of bad players. There is a dwindling middle-class -- in other words the average player, the Joe Schmoe who is a starter on his high school team, or for a mid-major D1 is getting worse.

Well, you might be asking yourself, why exactly does it matter whether Joe can shoot a proper jumper? What difference does it make so long as we have the Stephen Currys, or Derrick Roses to carry the load? Well, the big loser in all of this is ultimately anyone who enjoys watching college or prep basketball. As coaches and fans, we have a certain expectation of what "good basketball" is. I'm pretty sure nobody's idea of good basketball entails the "star" player with the ball and 4 guys standing around, 1-on-5, or the "star" player cherry-picking fast-breaks for dunks, all of which happens all too often these days. That's not good basketball, that's not good for anyone.

If coaching is educating, then we as coaches have let our players down if they don't learn the basic "background knowledge" of how to play the game, the so-called "Basketball 101" fundamentals. Because if we don't teach them the fundamentals, then how can we expect them to execute more complicated tasks like making a option read off a PNR play depending on how the defense is playing? Or, how can we expect players to run true motion, if they don't know how to execute a proper screen?

I realize that coaches, college and high school alike, have little incentive to change. After all, it's always the job of the coach before them to teach them all those fundamentals isn't it? Wouldn't we all rather work on breaking our next opponent's 1-3-1 zone press then our shooting form? Of course. But all of that is short term thinking. In the long term, it is always the teams that have a system of developing players either in-house or from their feeders that will ultimately be more successful in the long run. Yes, it requires a lot more patience, yes, it requires a lot more work, but it is in everyone's best interest long term.

4 comments

  1. Nigel Prentice  

    July 12, 2009 at 8:13 PM

    Great article. I am a 35 year old hoops fan who plays in 2 or 3 leagues at a time in my city. I also help out with a few AAU teams, and I've been thinking about starting my own. I found your blog a couple of months ago and I read it in my Google Reader.

    I enjoy your writing and I always look forward to your insights. I liked how you broke down certain sequences during the NBA playoffs this year, I like your coaching tips (with diagrams), and I like your commentaries like this one. Keep it up! Aspiring coaches like me can really use your continued guidance!

    -Nigel

  2. John  

    July 13, 2009 at 3:54 AM

    Bruchu,

    A great piece and something (AAU) that I don't know much about, being from the UK where our system is totally different. I also closely follow the opinions of - amongst others - Steve Finamore, a JUCO coach from Michigan. He has a strong view on the development of fundamentals with is opposed to that of Bilas (and yourself) and believes that isn't really a problem at that level. I run a blog myself and would be really interested to interview you about the 'state of the game' in the US with regards to this issue. I'm going to ask him the same but to give his perspective and then comment on the contrasting views myself and draw in some thoughts on the UK game. If this is something you'd be interested in please drop me an e-mail at john@johnharris.tv.

  3. kcsbasketball  

    July 16, 2009 at 7:02 AM

    You could not have found a coach who is more in agreement with your ideas concerning teaching fundamentals.

    I was the head coach at a small high school in Louisiana for 18 years and we averaged 22 wins a season during my tenure there. True, I was fortuate to have some outstanding players, but on average, that was not the case.

    A heavy emphasis was placed on mastering fundamentals on a year round basis. We advanced to the state semi-finals twice while I was there and in our final practice each time we worked on v-cutting, shooting form, and passing, etc.

    I also agree with you statement about AAU basketball. AAU is doing great harm to high school basketball in the United States and I am not sure what the solution is but have thought about it a great deal.

    At any rate, that was an excellent piece you wrote and I hope lots of coaches stop by and read it.

    For any coach looking for a coaching clinic this fall to attend, the link below will take you to the flyer/registration form for our annual fall clinic.

    http://www.kcsbasketball.com/coaching_clinic.php

  4. bruchu  

    July 18, 2009 at 12:06 AM

    Thanks for all the comments. I don't expect everyone to agree with my opinions, but I think that hopefully it will at least generate some much needed dialogue and discussion.