Goodbye 2009, Hello 2010

Just wanted to wish everyone a very Happy New Year. I hope all of your coaching dreams come true in 2010 and we'll see y'all next year...

From the only game on the Saturday college basketball schedule, I was able to catch the whole game start to finish between Seton Hall and West Virginia in their Big East conference play opener, and a great game it was. I'm a big West Virginia fan, but Seton Hall definitely exposed some of WVU's weaknesses on this night.

We know that Bobby Gonzalez is a big fan of full court pressure, and so it was no surprise to see Seton Hall play with the intensity they did. But what I wanted to show in these couple of clips late in the game and in OT was how quick Seton Hall gets into their press. They waste no time celebrating, as soon as they get a score, they are setup in the box press,

Definitely something you need to drill and practice, because the natural instinct for players after they score is to pump their fist, backpedal, etc... For a pressure team, it's a mindset, you score, you get into position for the press, there isn't any time to spare.

Also notice that by simply hastening into position for the press, WVU started to rush as well. It's almost a natural instinct when you see the other team scrambling, to scramble yourself. After the score here, the inbounds is to the player closest with 3 defenders closing in. If WVU had been more patient, they could've gotten a better inbounds,

The flip side is true, you need to drill your players to relax, and play under control when the other team wants to create chaos and play extremely fast. That is what WVU failed to do in that final minute (and they missed a bunch of FTs as well).

Finally, I showed the first clip there because I thought it was important to see how to recover after the press is broken. It's important for you players to play under control and not foul or give up easy points. You have to pressure the ball hard, but you also have to play under control and recover when you are beaten.

I've been watching Seton Hall and their press for a while now and I'm always impressed by the energy they play with. If you want to know more about their full court pressure system, check out Bobby Gonzalez's 3-pack DVD on Full Court Defense which includes his 1-2-2 Containment Press, white/black full-court matchup press, and 9 Competitive Practice Drills. Definitely worth getting if you like how Seton Hall plays.

Like most of y'all I woke up today with the news that Urban Meyer, the highly successful football coach for the University of Florida at the peak of his coaching career, has decided to resign due to health concerns and to spend more time with his young family. We spend so much time taking care of others, we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves.

So with this being the holidays, this is a not so subtle reminder to all of us, all of you coaches out there, to make sure you take care of yourselves and your families first.

Happy Holidays, thank you for all of your support, and hope you and your families have a great break.

A great all-access segment by NBA TV on Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, in anticipation of the big Christmas day game between the Lakers and the Cavs. I talked to a stock-broker friend the other day, and he told me that if there was just one thing he wished he could be an expert in, it would be psychology. It's the same in coaching and teaching, psychology is by far the most important factor in becoming successful.

I think all coaches seek to reach that higher level of engagement, where as coaches we are guiding rather than dictating. Where the players are take responsibility for their own improvement and the improvement of the team. It's definitely not easy, and requires that you have some background in psychology and sociology. But when it clicks, you just know that you've reached the nirvana of teaching.

Another great weekend of college basketball games. Some interesting finishes like the Xavier vs Butler game. Today, I was able to watch some recorded video of the Illinois and Georgia game and in watching the game it was evident why they were able to win the game despite being the inferior team talent and skill-wise. Their team defense was able to overcome what they lacked in their individual defensive matchups. They were able to force the Illini to settle for jumpers and they rebounded extremely well.

Specifically in one area, I thought the Bulldogs did an outstanding job all night, and that was in how they handled ball screens. Late in the game, these are 2 examples of where they rotated well on the backside, and also forced the Illini into tough shots,

Whenever you hedge hard or trap the ball screen, it is essential that the rest of your team rotates to protect the basket first and foremost. Your weakside defenders must drop down into the lane, and the weakside wing should split the 2 outside players,

In the second sequence, with the game on the line, the Bulldogs hedge hard on the ball screen again, preventing the PG from turning the corner. As the seconds tick down, the McCamey of the Illini decides to take his defender 1v1, good choice because he is quicker, but without the ball screen, the play is essentially 1v5 with the help defense in great position to force McCamey to force up a mid-lane floater that ricochets off the rim,

Team defense is hard to implement because it requires all 5 players to communicate and execute properly. But when you have buy in and players work at it, it can work tremendously to your advantage especially if you are lacking in really good individual defenders.

For more ideas on defending ball screens in a M2M defense, check out Mark Fox's DVD on Building a M2M Defense. Mark Fox is in his first year as head coach at Georgia and was previously head coach at Nevada for several years.

Throughout the year, I think its important to constantly assess how well your practices are being executed. Making adjustments along the way, and finding out what your players can do well, what they need to continue working on, and in which ways do they respond best to. Mostly obvious stuff, but sometimes coaching, teaching, family, etc... can get in the way of reflection. Here are some essential questions based on some notes I dug up by Mike Dunlap on practice planning and assessment:

Time Allotment and Tempo

Do you have a practice schedule worked out for the year?

It's important for your players, parents, other teachers, and administration to know when practices are taking place. In the 24/7 world we live in now, this is a must. Do your players respond better to morning, afterschool, or evening practices? Be prepared to adjust to your team's needs.

How efficient are your practices?

As coaches, we often complain about the lack of practice time, but have you asked yourself exactly how you are utilizing the practice time you have? How many times are players standing around waiting in line? How much time are players simulating the tempo of real game situations? Lastly, but most importantly are you setting aside enough time for teaching?

Process and Emphasis

What is your process for teaching?

Dunlap's 5 laws of learning: 1) Tell them 2) Show them 3) Have them show you 4) Correct the demonstration 5) Repetition. What is your methodology, whole or part? Whole at the beginning of the season, part at the end, according to Dunlap. Is your process the best way to reach your players, could there be a better way?

What do you emphasize?

You can't be everything, you are what you emphasize, simplicity with detail. You should develop your own vocabulary with your players to help with the key concepts you want them to grasp. Test your players every day, do they get what you are trying to emphasize and why?

Why are you doing what you are doing?

As a coach, you need to have a vision, a credo, a mission statement. Know where you are going as a team, then ask yourself "where are we at currently, and how do we get to where we want to go?"

Assessment and Evaluation

What are your expectations?

Assume nothing, make sure everything you are asking your players to do is exactly what you require them to do. Peer pressure is your friend, the player voice is more powerful than yours -- "higher order of teaching". Have individual, small, and big group expectations.

How do you evaluate your players?

Everything you do in practice should be competitive, time/score, reward/punishment. Have a briefing before practices and a debrief after practices. KWL, what they know, what they want to know, what they learned.

How do you know your players are improving?

Skill will most likely not improve significantly over the course of the season, but you can measure their effort. Know the physical capabilities of your players (heart rates, recovery rates). The toughness test, contact drills to build up physical and mental toughness.

For more great practice insights, check out Geno Auriemma's new All Access Practice DVD. Coach Auriemma is of course the longtime head coach of the UConn women's team.

I watched Kobe do his thing the other night, hitting another game winner and today I came across this great quote from the Xavier Newsletter which I am happy to report is back in circulation with coach Chris Mack at the helm:

What makes one guy a champion and the other one not?

"It's drive. It's the will. There are certain people that have a tremendous hunger. There are certain people that have a will, determination and hunger that you need to be the best in the world. Those people -- and those people alone -- become champions."
This was Kobe Bryant's response, very similar what other champion's have said when posed the same question (See Arnold Schwarzenegger's response).

I like this quote because it's so true. Often times I watch players from different teams play and from around Grade 9 and on, and I have a pretty good idea which players will be special by the time they get to Varsity and beyond. Too often we focus just on talent. Alot of players have talent, but what truly separates the great ones from the good ones is the will to win. It's not something you can teach either, some players just have it. They practice harder, they player hard, they want it more.

Most of y'all probably saw the highlights last month when Milwaukee Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings dropped 55 points against the Golden State Warriors. I found this neat behind the scenes clip by NBA TV which talks a little about BJ's unique journey (through Europe bypassing college) and some coaches comments. I know that there's been a lot of debate about whether HS players should be going overseas to play (like Jeremy Tyler), but with BJ's success, I definitely think more HS players will be thinking about it. Enjoy...

I was able to catch this great game last night between Virginia Tech and Penn State. The game came down to the final few possessions with missed free throws playing a big factor in the eventual VT win. But what I wanted to look at was the importance of transition defense, and in particular the importance of having a safety and that safety being in position as the ball transitions from offense to defense. Take a look at Penn State's first transition defensive sequence and contrast it with the second one,

In the first sequence, a couple of shots are taken after offensive rebounds, but what's key is that you can see that the safety breaks into a back pedal and is in perfect position to defend either wing,

Because the safety is in position, splitting the 2 wings, it allows for the second transition defender to sprint back and get into position. Also, the ball-handler has to pull up a little bit as he attempts to get the safety transition defender to commit to either the ball or the opposite wing,

As you can see from the video, the result of the play is that the ball-handler forces up a contested layup 2-on-2, and the safety is the one that ends up with the ball. Penn State goes back the other way and scores to go ahead by 1 in the game.

Contrast the previous sequence with this one here. The safety gets caught biting on the offensive rebound and takes 2 steps forward. Virginia Tech secures the rebound and you can see them already in transition into offense. All it took was 2 steps the wrong way for the whole play to go awry,

The safety makes another mistake by attempting to intercept the pass to the outlet instead of sprinting back. The far side defender attempts to sprint back to contest the ball-handler who is ahead of him,

The defender attempts a hard foul to prevent the easy layup but ends up with the intentional foul. Virginia Tech gets both free-throws and scores on the ensuing possession, which essentially seals the win for VT.

With more and more teams adopting run and gun, UNC style fast break, Phoenix Suns SSOL offense, transition defense has never been more important than ever in my opinion. For me, transition defense starts with your offense. Everything you do on offense should take into account the need to have the safety, and every player on the floor must know their responsibility as the safety at all times.

For more video info on transition defense, take a look at Kelvin Sampson's DVD on defensive transition drills. Coach Sampson is an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Going through some taped stuff from over the weekend. I've been trying to catch as many Gonzaga games as possible this year because a couple of Vancouver, BC boys are playing with the Zags and getting actual playing time which is rare indeed for Canadians in NCAA play. Although the Zags lost the game to Wake Forest at the end by missing free-throws, I thought this play they ran at the end of the game was a great example of the offense reacting to the defense, and taking advantage of mismatches and good offensive spacing, check it out:

It's an extremely simple play here, but the execution is key. The situation is that the Zags are down by 3, less than 2 minutes in the game. Out of a 3-out 2-in initial set, they decide to run a high screen-roll for their PG with the Center.

Now what's key here is that both the PG and the Center read the defense to see how they're going to defend the PNR. If they appear to hedge or trap, maybe the Zags run a fake PNR and just basket cut. If they go trail but go underneath, maybe the Zags shoot the 3-pointer. Here, the Demon Decons decide to straight switch. Both offensive players read it, the PG uses the screen and dribbles to the open wing bringing his switched defender with him,

So, now you have a situation with little on big (PG with a center defender) and big on little (Center with a PG defender). For better spacing, the weak-side forward vacates the low block and comes up top,

The Zags now have 2 options. Post entry with their center against a smaller defender. Or 1v1 with the PG against a big slow defender. The smaller defender fronts the center. The big slow defender decides to crowd the PG. The easy play is for the PG to make 1 crossover move and drive down the middle,

A seemingly simple play, but a lot going on. These subtle nuances are the kind of thing that your players need to go over and over in practice, breaking it down in 2-on-2 and working your way up to 5-on-5. That's why I like breaking down practices into 2-on-2 because it allows you to teach simple offensive reads.

As for Gonzaga, I'm a huge fan mainly because of the aforementioned BC players, Rob Sacre, Bol Kong, and Kelly Olynyk. I've watched all 3 of them from when they were juniors in high school, and seeing them on ESPN with those big college crowds is unreal. If you like Gonzaga and some these matchup concepts discussed, then check out Mark Few's Set Plays DVD where he outlines principles of maximizing matchup scenarios.

I haven't had the opportunity to watch as many college basketball games as I've wanted to this year because of teaching, coaching, etc.. but I did catch the second half of this great matchup between Wisconsin and Duke earlier. I knew the game would be close, because of the patient ball-control swing offense Wisconsin uses. I caught these 2 great defensive sequences late in the game which show the importance of 1v1 defense, and specifically the importance of footwork. The Badgers got 2 huge stops late to seal the upset win, take a look:

In this first sequence, the Wisconsin player (in white) uses his feet and body to force the ball handler to turn back towards the middle. The defender uses great lateral quickness to again beat his check to the spot, hands straight up in the air, and the offense takes a contested shot,

In this second sequence, just a magnificent display of defensive slide technique and 1v1 defense, as good as I've ever seen,

The best part of both sequences is the fact that they happened at the end of the game when you normally expect guys to be breathing hard, hands on their knees, etc... But as all of us coaches know, this is exact moment (end of games) when we need our players to be player their best defense.

I think sometimes there is a tendency to over-emphasize help defense. I think help defense is important, crucial even, but more fundamental is the need for each of your players to be accountable individually on defense. To be extremely serious in being good 1v1 defenders, and to dedicate the necessary time and to take pride in not letting your teammates down when it counts the most.

For more info on creating great M2M defenders, take a look at Bobby Knight's 2-pack DVD on the Complete Guide to M2M Defense. The legendary Coach Knight is currently an analyst for ESPN Sports.

Going through some more notes this weekend and specifically I was looking for information on dribble penetration in a 4-out 1-in. From the dribble drive offense, you setup with the 1-in post always on the weak side. But I don't think it's always realistic to expect that in a game situation that will always happen. From these fantastic set of notes compiled by Zak Boisvert, here are some general penetration rules you can use for any 4-out 1-in motion offense, this is taken specifically from Rick Majerus and his 4-out 1-in motion.

Baseline drive on an empty post:
Nearside high elbow (O4) cuts behind for crackback (should be man to a man and a half behind ball). Farside high elbow (O2) drifts to vision (“It’s not a spot. It’s a “can the driver see me with his eyes?”). O1 sprints to corner for drift. O5 diagonals up to the front of the rim right by the front of the rim and should look to attack, but can settle for soft jumper (no bounce passes made to this big - everything going to O5 in this situation should be a chest pass — conversely a bounce pass on the baseline drift pass O3 to O1 because it’s extremely tough for v-back man defensively to get his hand down when covering sideline).

If such a baseline drive were to happen while a stagger was being set, the first screener (O2) would head to drift spot on first sign of penetration. The second screener (O4) who had taken a step towards stagger circles for crackback. O1 would “drift to vision.”

Middle drive on an occupied post:
(Perimeters should never be afraid to drive an occupied post. It’s their job to get out of the way). O5 would move foot closest to driver (right foot in diagram) and turn his body momentarily to head to baseline. O5 would turn to open and
call O1’s name (must make a verbal call).

Baseline drive on an occupied post:
O5 makes space by again lifting the foot the perimeter is driving at (left in diagram) and runs to the midpost area, curling to face O2. O5 should again make a verbal call and if O2 does throw this pass it should be a hook pass. On O5’s catch: shot (if he can shoot it) or a dribble handoff/pass to the nearest perimeter followed by an elbow angle ball screen (run a flare on opposite side—who’s going to help?)

For the complete explanation of this motion offense, take a look at Rick Majerus' 3-set DVD on the Encyclopedia of Motion Offense. Coach Majerus is currently the head coach of St. Louis.

From over the weekend this is a defensive sequence late in the game between Florida State and Clemson. I see a lot of teams trying to front the post defensively when they play against an opponent who has a formidable post player. Most teams execute the fronting part well, but what's usually missing, and the most important part in my opinion, is to support the front on the backside against the lob pass. FSU does this extremely well by bringing the help side wing down to pinch the forward:

Schematically, its really very simple. FSU is in a full front and the guard up top thinks that it should be an easy lob to O5. O5 even gives X5 a little shove and then goes up to get the ball. However, X3 times the pass and drops down from the help side and X2 rotates to split O3 and O2,

After the pinch, O5 attempts to put the ball on the ground and go up with a power move but the ball is stripped from him. FSU takes the ball the other way and is able to score on the break.

Very simple to scheme out, but definitely something that requires reps from your players. They need to instinctively know to drop down from the help side. You could run a modified shell drill to practice it for sure.

For more ideas on defense and drills to use in practice, take a look at Steve Alford's DVD on Defensive Drill Progressions. Coach Alford is the head coach of University of New Mexico.