Watched a few more videos the last day or so with coaches Bob Knight, Bo Ryan, and Sherri Coale. One of the things they said was the most important thing they look for in a scouting report was to identify the player on the opposing team that was the worst percentage outside shooter. That is the player that they want to cheat on for help defense.

Seems pretty obvious, but it's a crucial point. You don't want to spend a whole game trying to figure out which players are the ones that can hurt you from beyond the arc. Not to mention the fact that in High School, most teams will have 2, maybe 3, really good shooters. Find the worst shooter out of the starting lineup, and you will know where your help defense should be coming from.

It's the calm before the storm, football training camp begins on Monday for us, and my girlfriend is going away to Europe for 2 weeks. So I decided with my last day of nothing really to do, I went downtown and caught some live 3-on-3 action at the annual NBA Jam Session 3-on-3 tourney. It is a cross country tournament held every year for players of all ages and skill. I was watching this one team in particular and there was a post player who being guarded by a guy with long arms. Every time he tried to call for the ball inside, it was getting poked away or even stolen. He looked pretty frustrated both with himself and with his teammates whom he thought were late in seeing him open.

Being the coach that I am, when he subbed out, I decided to approach him and I asked him if I could give him a quick coaching point. He said sure why not. I told him one of the reasons why he was having problems with Mr. long arms defender was that his teammates were either bouncing passing the ball towards him where it was getting poked away, or they were passing it to his body where his hands were.

I advised him instead to use an arm bar with his inside arm, and extend his outside arm out in an L with fingers pointed towards the sky (also known as a Pro Stance). In other words, give your teammates an outside hand as a target. They will most likely throw it a little outside, so you'll have to hop to receive the pass with the outside hand, chin it, then get into your on-ball post moves. He said alright, he would try it when he got back on the flor.

In the next series he subbed in, he tried it against Mr. long arms. He caught the ball successfully with the outside arm, chinned it, reverse pivoted, swept the ball low, blew by Mr. long arms underneath and finished with a reverse layup on the other side of the hoop, away from Mr. long arms attempted block. Needless to say, that just about made my day.

It's a great tip not just for post players though. It's also something you can use for perimeter players. As they come off a downscreen, exploding up past the 3-point line, make sure they are calling for the ball with their outside hand. Cutting towards the basket, the opposite is true, they need to call for the ball with their inside hand.

I got this tip from watching Mark Few's Flex for Success DVD. In it, he keeps telling his guards to call for the ball with the outside hand coming off the downscreen. Off the flex screen, he keeps telling his guards to call for the ball with the inside hand cutting to the basket. Seems so simple a concept, but players don't know these things instinctively, it has to be taught, and reinforced. Anyways, the season is approaching fast, the question you have to ask yourself coaches is, what are you doing this offseason to best prepare yourself for the upcoming season?

I think every coach has had the situation happen before where we use a lot of coachspeak and the players look at you with that puzzled look. And then you use a different word and then it instantly clicks.

For years, in teaching M2M defense, I've always used the term "hedge and recover". To me, it seems natural, I've been around coaching long enough and I always thought it was a universal term. But I can remember the many times that I've tried to teach it to players and some of them got it, but from others I would get the puzzled look. They problem is that they really don't understand what that means, what does it really mean to "hedge"??

Old School Coach K

I was watching an old school Mike Krzyzewski DVD on M2M defense (I converted it from VHS and isn't available anymore, but this Coach K DVD on Defense is basically an updated one) and in it he talks all the time about the "fake trap". After hearing that, I instantly thought to myself, that is what I need to use to better communicate it to my players. I'm watching the players move, and Coach K is there saying "fake trap" and they're really getting into it. The motion is exactly like going to set a trap, but backing out -- a fake trap.

There's all kinds of coaching jargon that gets in the way of getting your message across to players. Although we take for granted, the many terms we use, we have to assume the players don't know what the heck we're talking about the majority of the time, and we also have to assume that not all terminology is the same from team to team, school to school -- ie. there is no universal terminology. I'd be interested to hear if you all have others out there that might help all of us out.

After this past season where we started 2 point guards, the more I think about it, it is something that I would definitely go to again given the personnel. The game of basketball has evolved to more of a dribble drive attack and having 2 point guards allows you to take advantage of the extra speed off the dribble. There are also several added benefits:

- never get pressed. Teams didn't even try to press us this past year with our team speed
- early offense initiated quickly. We didn't have to get the ball into our primary PGs hands to start our break. It was just outlet and go.
- shared PG duties. Our 2 guards could share the primary responsibility of bringing the ball up the floor against heavy ball pressure, making it easier for both in the long run.
- our best FT shooters were also our PGs, so we were more efficient from the line as well.

When one of our point guards got injured late in the season, we suffered our first loss of the year against our crosstown arch-rivals (whom we had beaten twice previously). I was (still am) convinced that the main reason why we lost was that we didn't have our 2 point guards on the floor at the same time. With our 2 point guard lineup back intact a few weeks later, we were able to beat the same team in the championship final.

I've seen most recently the Denver Nuggets using Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton on the floor at the same time. You sacrifice size on the boards, and maybe a little scoring, but what you gain in the efficiency of possessions and ball movement is worth it in my opinion. I think it is especially effective under FIBA rules where you basically have 15-20 secs each possession after you factor in bringing the ball across half-court. Let me know what you all think.

Number One Mistake Coaches Make...

I often talk to coaches and they say that they plan on installing a new offense or defense in the fall. They say they want to go to a dribble-drive motion, or a Princeton offense, or they want to use a new zone offense they picked up from watching another team run it last season. Fast-forward to the end of the season, and when I ask coaches how the new system worked, I get a lot of responses that the system never worked the way it was supposed to, players were either too robotic, moving from place to place without really reading the defense, or players just ignored the play and freelanced.

I would say that the number 1 problem I've seen from coaches trying to install an offense or a defense is that they don't teach it in a progression. They start on air 5v0, then after a few reps they go 5v5. The players run the system but they don't really know what they're doing because they haven't spent the time on the intricacies. They have the big picture idea of how it is supposed to work, how it is supposed to look like, but they don't know why they are doing it. Coaches are on the sideline yelling and screaming at players to pass when they shot the ball, or shoot the ball when they were supposed to pass.

Sometimes, as coaches, we forget that at the end of the day, it's the players that have to play. As a coach, you can draw up any offensive play to beat a given defense, and vice versa, but that's all clinic talk, that only exists on the chalkboard. What really counts is whether or not your players can execute it. The best system in the world isn't going to do a darn thing if you can't teach it to your players. To me, that is really the essence of coaching, being able to communicate and teach it to the players.

So how do you teach in a progression? You want to start with a foundation and build on prior knowledge, you want to teach it step by step. Always start in a 1v1, then "progress" to 2v2, then 3v3, then 4v4, before going to 5v5. You don't go to 3v3 until the players have mastered 2v2. Basically, if you can't break your system down from 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, then you don't understand the system enough to be teaching it in the first place.

Teaching in a progression also helps you organize your practices better as well. It forces you to break your system into chunks which fit nicely into your practice blocks, such that you are maximizing the amount of reps the players get and minimizing the amount of standing around.

Another benefit of teaching in a progression is that when you want to make adjustments, or when you are having problems with your system mid-season, you can easily go back to 2v2 or 3v3 and find out where the breakdown is.

Finally, when you teach in a progression, you come up with your own drills on how best to teach your system. The best drill is the one that puts your players in the most game-like situation within your given system.

When you go in the lion's den, you don't tippy toe in — you carry a spear, you go in screaming like a banshee, you kick whatever doors in, and say, 'Where's the SOB?' -- Brian Billick, former Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens

I was reading something the other day from Brian Billick (who is now a FOX Sports football analyst) and I came across the quote above. I remember when he said it, it was 2000, the year the Ravens won the Superbowl. They had just beaten the heavily favored Tennessee Titans in Tennessee in the playoffs and a reporter asked him in the press conference why Billick was so confident they would beat the favored Titans. That's when he replied with the now famous quote: "When you go in the lion's den..."

It's still smack dab in the middle of the summer but I'm already jacked up about the upcoming seasons for both football and basketball. The school I am at has a storied basketball tradition and our Varsity team is touted as a pre-season championship contender. By contrast, the Varsity football team (relatively new, in year five) graduated most of the talent and is predicted to finish dead last in our division, the prep beat writer wrote in his preseason predictions that we would be lucky to survive the season. What's interesting is people think that it must be weird to have the two opposing set of expectations. I tell them the expectation for both is the same, to get into the playoffs and win a championship.

As coaches, there's always talk about what makes a championship team, or how to turn around a struggling program. By moving around and being a part of both rebuilding programs, and championship teams, I've seen what has worked, what hasn't, and I've had many chances to reflect on these ideas. There is one commonality regardless of the situation you find yourself in. As a coach, you must never compromise your expectations; you have to set high standards and commit yourself fully to achieving them. Coaches lead, and players get their confidence from us as coaches, and they lose it just as easily from us as coaches as well. If you're going to stand in front of all of your players before a game, before a season and say "lets just try to survive out there", or "I think we have an OK shot at winning," what kind of message do you think you are sending your players. You've already thrown up the white flag before the fight.

As a teacher, I've had the similar opportunity to teach in both public and private schools. Last year, I taught at a prep school which boasted a 100% university admission rate, and was ranked as one of the top high schools in the country. People always think that prep school kids are smarter, or more studious than public school kids, that it's a matter of money and genetics. That's a load of BS. There is one singular difference between private and public, successful and unsuccessful -- level of expectations. Prep school kids (and their parents) expect their kids to go to college and get good jobs. The kids at public schools who have similar expectations do just as well. The kids (and their parents) who have low expectations achieve what they aim for, mediocrity or lower.

Back to coaching to close. Some of you are probably reading this and are skeptical. You say, "yah, but Coach, we're just not a good team this year". The question I ask you is this: Did your preparation change as a coach when you were a "good" team? Do you take your foot off the pedal because the team you have this year isn't a "championship contender"? Winning is hard, winning championships is even harder -- a lot of things have to fall into place and a lot of things are out of your control. I get that, we all do. But you are in control of how you plan and prepare for your season, and each game. A coach is a leader, and part of being a leader is to set the expectation. As your seasons approach, I ask you to assess and evaluate your expectations of your own teams? What kind of signals are you giving to your players? Coaches, I'm asking you to stop tippy-toeing and kick that freakin' door in.

Going through some more videos the other day and really enjoyed UNC women's head coach Sylvia Hatchell's Quick Break DVD. It's not a great DVD if you're new to coaching and looking for the encyclopedia on offense. But for more experienced coaches, she's got some great tidbits in it.

One of the best parts is where she explains her 2-rule motion offense. Very simple to use, and suitable for any level of play. Much easier in my opinion than a traditional flex, or swing, or open-post motion. But sophisticated enough to run all the way up to the college level.

The 2 rules to the offense are:

1. Guard to Guard pass - Downscreen

2. Guard to Wing pass - Cut and fill

The post player just follows the ball to the side where the ball is.

That's it. Simple. The crux of the offense lies in the reading of the downscreen. There are 4 things you can do off of the downscreen - pop, curl, backcut, flare.

This is the part where you really need to drill your players, on how to read the defender off the downscreen. If the defender cuts underneath, then you pop out. You can then drive into the middle or shoot the mid-range, or shoot the 3-pointer. If the defender chases, then curl to the basket. If the defender jumps over the top to deny the pop, then backcut. If the defender cuts underneath and gets in a position to stop penetration, the screener rescreens for the flare cut.

It's also a great offense to use up some clock, you get good movement and there are other options you get use such as the post coming up to ball screen, it's an easy offense to fast break into. Really easy to teach, and something you can even add if you already do something like dribble-drive and you want something where players off the ball are moving more. I haven't seen the Kevin Boyle's Motion Offense DVD but I've heard that the rules are very similar.

Hope you all are having a great summer, it's hard to believe that there's only a few weeks left, the basketball season will be sneaking up on us pretty soon, enjoy the summer while you can.