Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Truth about July Basketball

As the calendar turns to July, players with hopes of catching the eye of a college coach will be covering the country to play during the last evaluation period. Not until recently did you hear of kids going to Disney World & NOT planning on seeing the Magic Kingdom & the thought of taking a group of underage kids to Vegas seemed ridiculous but that's the evolution of summer basketball. 
   I am a fan of summer basketball, particularly AAU, as long as it isn't used as a replacement to skill development. I do think there are too many teams out there, as evident by the beat downs some will receive during pool play. I love what Nike did with the EYBL in bringing the best of the best together.
   For what ever reason, players & parents crave exposure. They need to be found. What happens  more than often is they get found out. I would rather they crave competition. That should be the reason for playing: To compete versus the best competition in front of college coaches. Sadly, summer basketball has become an escape from "structured" basketball. "That Coach won't let him play his style." Blah. If a kid can play, any coach is going to play them. 

Here's a couple thoughts on Basketball in July. 

1. Defense is 2nd in July but 1st in March

    I can't tell you the number of people that tell me "he just plays better for his summer team." My usual answer is "that's because summer defense makes your son look like Moses parting the Red Sea." That goes for all summer basketball, high school team camps included. The hardest part of the year for a basketball coach  is (1) getting football kids in basketball shape & (2) stressing defense after your players have played in the spring with their other teams. 
        I Believe that Spring/Summer should be used to increase offensive skills & athleticism. 

   That doesn't mean I agree with just ignoring defense but it does take a back burner. Here is why.  College Coaches will tell you they recruit offense, toughness & teach defense.  Coaches are watching a kid that can score, run & show some toughness by finishing & handling under less than perfect settings set by officials.
                  Side note: When I coached AAU I loved early games because that meant fresh legs on officials. I hate games that have an officials observer. The officials get too caught up in their performance's appearance instead of getting calls right.

    Summer teams don't stress defense. Most summer teams that is. I've seen some very well coached teams that took pride in defense but for the most part it isn't stressed.  Their defense is often based on a press or trap & relying on athleticism. Most teams are going to play a zone. I'm not faulting a summer coach or any coach for playing zone if its to their advantage. Today players can't pass. Sadly, a player cant make a pass without trying to make it a no-look or something fancy. They struggle to read the defense & they all stand and watch the ball being over dribbled. 
     The teams that play M2M usually aren't that good at it for an obvious reason: They don't practice everyday. To be a great M2M team you have to practice it everyday. You can get away with pressing & trapping because teams aren't working on press breaks or pressure releases either. 
   In a team camp at a local university this month, our team played versus a team that featured a guard that has offers from a Big East, Big 12, 2 Missouri Valley & a SEC schools. His coach said he "blew up" in the spring. Good for that young man.  He's a very good player but just because you can score in the spring/summer doesn't mean you'll be able to January through February against more disciplined defenders. We played M2M, held him to 6 & 8 & won both games comfortably, all with a player without a 1 D1 offer. It's a different game.

2. Character Counts
  I'll never forget this. I was walking through the gym at a large tournament in Dallas when a "coach" from another organization in our state stated this, loudly. " Ya'll suck because the F$&"ing High School coaches don't teach you s*^t. You can walk your a$$ back home." Not only was I furious I was embarrassed because right there on his chest said enough. Arkansas. I apologized to a couple of Moms & promised that not only was he not part of our organization but he didn't reflect the citizens of our state.
 Some summer Coaches seem to have this identity that yelling & cussing is coaching. You're not coaching if you don't coach hard. Some Part-time guys make what full time guys do almost impossible. 
Quite frankly, that is why you're doing what you're doing. You couldn't survive with principals, media & rules. That is why I respect AAU & PCA so much. Guidelines. Rules. It's a Real organization. That's why the other tournaments started. They allow coaches to act nuts. I've said it before but you don't call every car a Cadillac so we shouldn't call every summer team an AAU team. That's why I refer to it as summer basketball. On twitter, the hashtag #AAUBINGO points out everything wrong with summer basketball. Again, not all these teams are AAU clubs but its worth a look. Some one let this guy on their sophomore team. 
    Yep, that's an ankle monitor. Apparently the community service he is doing is court ordered & not
    because he cares about the community. Here's a couple tips to remember:
       * No one is there to watch the Coach coach. It's a game not a show. 
       * No hats, Bluetooth, Jerseys & definitely don't shoot with your team. 
       * Select Kids that are good citizens. No coach wants to wait for charges to drop.
       * If you are going to use a State or City's name as part of your team name, please remember that
         before you act.
       * When your team walks in a gym, have them take off their hats, beats, & act like they are going to 
          a game.
       * NO HEADPHONES during warmups. 

3. Motor & More Motor
Play hard. If you're going to play, play the right way. It's that simple. When on the floor play as hard as possible. Don't take plays off. If a player can't get a minute's rest because the bench is that bad then there is the sign this team shouldn't be playing in a certified event. Coaches want to see players compete. The excuse of playing multiple games a day isn't one. Players signed up for that. The biggest place to play hard? Transition, both offense & defense. Don't just run hard with the ball or when you'll get it. Run back on defense. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Growth: What every Coach needs to address this off-season

This time of the year should be a time for growth & rest for coaches on every level. Whether you've coached 30 years or are starting your first job in August you need to grow. If you're one of the coaches that knows it all & doesn't need to get better its time to retire. 

Growth doesn't have to come in the form of drills, Xs & Os or philosophy. You can grow as a professional by learning from other areas. I recommend reading books on leadership & business. 

Hopefully we all want to come back a better coach just like you expect your players to come back better. You need to examine mistakes you've made. Most of us remember a play we wish we'd have made an adjustment on or something we should've worked on more.  To be a truly successful coach, you have to know yourself. No one knows you like you do. I use this a lot. "Don't take advice from someone with nothing at stake by giving it." Listen to yourself but know how to talk to yourself. 

Here are a couple of areas I think EVERY coach has to work on. 

1. Don't compound a mistake

We've all seen it. We've all done it. A player makes a mistake & the coach is livid. It's so bad you can't hide it from anyone. The coach is screaming at the player during action & at the first dead all substitutes for the player so he can get all over him. All that did was make you look like an idiot. Did it change what happened? Did your player do it on purpose? You can't answer yes to either of those questions. If you answered yes to the second one you have bigger problems than mistakes to worry about. 
Don't compound a mistake. Attacking a player after a mistake is as bad as ignoring it. That type of action can't never happen. Did you catch the double negative in the last sentence? That's the reminder of compacting a mistake. Don't do it. If you want to be mad be mad at yourself. The mistake formed in practice because you didn't prepare your team for that situation. 

Now, lack of effort...well...Coach Izzo showed you can address that and still make the Final 4. 

2. Learn to talk to officials

This is the simplest but hardest thing for coaches to understand and become good at. Its a relationship. Seriously. You need them or its PE & they don't have to like you. Depressing isn't it? I've decided to hate every official; that way I don't have to be let down by the good ones or shocked by the bad ones. I say that half-heartily but that's kind of how coaches approach it. We all have to do a better job, both coaches & officials, of talking. We've all been on the side where we are attacking the rim & no whistle to be followed by a hand check called on our end. Or you're playing a zone & they're in the bonus already while they're playing full court man & haven't fouled yet. I could keep going but you get the point. Some of you are angry now remembering a similar situation. Ever seen a judgment call overturned followed by a technical, in the state tournament?! Grrr...
The problem we all face is how we talk to officials. Most, hopefully will talk to coaches. They don't want to be showed up anymore than you want to be ignored. Ask what they saw. If they don't answer, move on. Talk to their partner. The most important thing to remember is this. You have to get through that game. Afterwards, call the assignor, send film in but you owe it to your team & yourself to manage that game. 

3. Pick the hill worth dying on 

This is the most important thing in my opinion. Know which fight to fight. In almost every situation you care more about the gym floor than anyone else on campus. Knowing that, when the principal lets Student Council have a blood drive, or a pep rally has an egg toss know you're probably not winning your argument. Just be proactive. Put a tarp down. Suggest other things or locations. Offer to help set up so you are there to protect it. 
In the south, basketball is the sport between football & spring football. The only reason they don't play HS football on Sunday mornings is so the preacher wouldn't have to decide where to be because everyone knows where the congregation would choose to be at. That's never going to change. That's only a problem if you see it as one. 
Fight for your program. Demand excellence from yourself & players. Let the rest fall into place. 

Please contact me at I'd love to hear from you. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Repairing a Broken Relationship: Fixing our game from PeeWees to thePros

    I feel this is one of the most important things I've spoken about, but I feel it is needed and honestly I know I'm not the only Coach that feels this way. Our game is broken. I take that back. The American game is broken. We have to take a hard, long look at how we teach the game of basketball and where our emphasis is. We begin playing games with kids as young as 6 years of age instead of focusing on fundamentals and functional body movements. Players do not work on their skills during the off-season because they'd rather play games in the spring and summer. Youth coaches, any coach from PeeWee to Middle School, would rather sacrifice skill for a W. It is what it is. We value a win while ignoring the fact we are doing our players and the game an injustice by not teaching it the right way.

    It is not just the way we teach the game but the way we treat each other as well. PeeWee Coaches, or "Daddy ball" as it is often referred to, think Junior High Coaches are too restrictive. High School Coaches want Junior High Coaches to teach fundamentals better while also competing at a high level. College Coaches want High School Coaches to be better teachers of the game so players arrive prepared to play. Same can be said about the way Pro Coaches feel about College guys. Then you bring in summer coaches. There is a truly a hate/hate relationship between high school and summer coaches. High School Coaches hate the fact that when Conference and State Tournament time rolls around there is that guy lurking in the corner promising and persuading so he can go win a weekend tournament that no one will know about. The player starts talking about "can't wait for summer ball" and before you know it the season is over. Sound familiar?

   Before I go on I must say I am painting a negative picture about summer coaches and their relationship to get my point across. I have a lot of respect for programs like MoKan,  the Banshees here in and Arkansas and guys like Boo Williams that do it the right way. 
That is another sermon for another day. You don't call every car a Cadillac so why label every summer team/coach as AAU? There are some summer programs doing it right. Some, not all. Just like everything else. Back on topic...

Here are a couple of areas that I feel we must address as Coaches to improve our game.

Youth Level (5 years old - 11 years old)

Teach them  HOW to PLAY not run plays
This is the ground level where most of our mistakes are happening. We are so caught up in winning that we, coaches and parents, miss out on teaching the importance of learning how to play. Players this age group, in every sport, should be learning basic fundamentals and functional body movement to perform this skills versus competition. Is the desire for competition for the player or the parent? Don't think it's important enough to not worry about the score? Think about the time you lost a game because your player couldn't finish a left or right hand layup or traveled because he didn't use the correct footwork. It will matter, eventually.

Coaches and leagues are so caught up about winning games that there is little importance put on skill development. It's put on a back burner, sometimes not even on the stove. It's about scoring, not how to score. I hate watching youth teams and hearing a coach screaming out set plays every time down the floor. What's even worse is the team that presses the entire game to fall back into a zone defense. THAT TEACHES KIDS TO REACT TO A SITUATION, NOT TO DEFEND. Kids aren't being taught to play, they are learning the easiest way to win. Why wouldn't you run a zone & force a 7 year old to throw it from 19 feet? Sickening, not strategic.

Every player in this age group should be able to:

  1.  dribble with both hands
  2.  shoot a layup with both hands 
  3. pivot, forward and reverse, with both feet
  4. understand offensive spacing
  5. understand man to man defense principles
  6. be able to perform the 6 movements of basketball correctly.
    1. Sprint
    2. Backpedal
    3. Defensive Slide
    4. Pivot
    5. Jump
    6. Lunge
Emphasising wins over skills during this time of development often proves to be a fatal mistake. Between the first two levels is where the first "ripple" happens in the basketball relationship. Until now, players have either played for a parent or a non-professional coach. Does having a degree with a Coaching endorsement mean I'm smarter than someone without one? No. It just means I chose to pursue a degree to allow me to coach in every possible setting. The Youth Level coach at times thinks the "School Coach" won't let the players play their game and is too controlling. "When I coached them..." doesnt matter. The fact is they are having to reteach and break a lot of habits that could have been avoided.

Middle School Level (12 years old-15 years old)

Increase Skill, Erase Labels, Add Competition
Does anyone know who the number one rated 12 year old in the country is? First of all if you do, step away from the screen and find a hobby. Secondly, who cares? Is that really important to know? a stud at 12 is usually because he is maturing faster. As adolescences begins, so should the players skill and movements increase. Now is a great time to introduce strength training. First of all, strength training is not weight training. If you can't differentiate between the two you need to hit up my friend Alan. Players need to be able to control their bodies and perform fundamental skills near perfect. 
Unfortunately, by the time a player has hit age 12, they have played in multiple games and are already labeled by position based on height. We've all seen it. The kid that that it an early growth spurt so he's a post player. Never gets taught how to handle the basketball, never learns to defend out on the floor and by the time he reaches high school he is of average height with below average skills and virtually worthless as a HS player. Wonder how his youth coach feels about those wins now?

  1. Every player needs to go through "guard" work at this age, regardless of height. 
  2. Train every player as if they will all be Point Guards
  3. Train every player on proper footwork in the Post.
This is also where team competition can and should be added as well as continued skill work. 3 on 3 is a great teaching tool & introduction to competition because it incorporates spacing on offense and on defense players learn to contain and the first levels of help defense are instilled.

By ages 14 & 15 players are ready to participate in 5 on 5 games. That statement seems a bit odd when you look at our current system. We have kids playing for National Championships in the 2nd grade! If you win a National Championship in the 2nd grade what else is there? Is winning a State Title in High School a letdown? How about a Conference title? We need prepared players, not just players. I'm not saying 5 on 5 before now is bad, the emphasis on winning shouldn't be included until now.

Varsity Level (16 years old - 18 years old)

Preparing for The Next Level, Finding Competitive Satisfaction
    It's a painful truth that basketball discriminates against talent. At some point we all reach a level that we can't play and compete at the highest level available for us anymore. Most players find that out after High School graduation. Some of the greatest memories a player will have come from this level of playing though. This is the glory days. Playing for your school, sometimes the town. Doesn't get much better.
   During the varsity level of development, two things are occurring: Mastery and Separation. Assuming players continue to work on their skills, the lower level player will have reached his level of mastery. A higher level player will begin to separate himself with the possibility of earning the right to play college basketball. Coaches on this level must see the bigger picture. Regardless of size of school or style of play you choose, we must continue to teach skills, especially with players who may have the chance to play on the collegiate level. A 6'4" player may be your post player but would be a guard on the next level. He deserves the right to work towards that goal. All it will do is make him a better player. The player that is separating himself usually does this through his play during the season and with by playing in the spring/summer evaluation periods. Here is where the relationship strains again.
    The relationship between High School/Summer/College Coaches is strained and in dire need of repair. In general, High School coaches dislike the fact some Summer coaches act like they are responsible for the players becoming a college player. Summer coaches feel like they don't get the respect they deserve from High School coaches. (That could be based on the blue tooth, hat backwards and "Do Him" offense. More on that in another post). College coaches MUST have a relationship with both. Sadly, some summer coaches will ask for favors, manipulate players and undermine the High School coach and make the recruiting process difficult. Same can be said about HS coaches that dislike summer ball.
    Before we go on, are all summer coaches bad guys? Absolutely not! But we can all agree that the bad outweigh the good and that is why they have a bad reputation.

At this level, this list is a must for each program:

  1. If you're summer coach says you are being recruited, the college coach will contact your HS coach and your parents. That's how you know you're actually being recruited.
  2. Playing in the summer should not replace skill and strength training, but accompany it.
  3. Limit the amount of games your players play in the summer. Pick one team. Play with them. 
  4. Find a team that best meets the needs of the player.
  5. Summer coaches, don't approach a player directly before or after a game. Evaluate them, then speak to them with a parent or high school coach present.
  6. High School coaches, respect the commitment, financially and time, that the summer coach is making to provide a way for your player to be seen. 
  7. Lastly, Do not bad mouth the other guy to the player.
 Collegiate Level 

What's the problem?
  "If you can't play basketball because of an injury, would you still be happy on that campus?" That is the advice given to a player choosing where to attend college. What advice do you give the player that picks a school, becomes unhappy with his situation and decides to transfer?
   Transfers are happening at an alarming rate among Division one NCAA programs. First let me say that if a player is recruited by a coach who then either takes another job or is fired I'm okay with that player seeking a transfer. The Coaching staff played a major role in that decision. What I don't like to see is a player leave over lack of playing time. One of two things happened. Either the player didn't come in and work hard enough or the coaching staff didn't keep up their end of the promise. I tend to lean towards the second choice when a freshman transfers because if they come in expecting a lot of minutes either the program is in bad shape, they are a high caliber player or someone told them they would play. All could've been avoided with honesty.
    Another issue is the lack of time coaches are allowed to spend with their players outside of the season. There is still a need for skill work at this level. High level skills can be taught while enforcing and sadly correcting flaws in their game. The NCAA has included hours coaches can spend with their team in the summer but it fails drastically in comparison to our International counterparts. There is a reason more foreign born players are being selected over NCAA players. They are more skilled. They don't rely on athleticism to be the separator. Think about Marc Gasol versus DeAndre Jordan. Same position. One can hit a 18 foot jumper. One can't. Skill is the true separator. Gasol returned to Spain after high school. Jordan attended a NCAA school, Texas A&M.

Pro Level 

We're All Watching
    The NBA is a business. A thriving business. Unfortunately for us, the players have become businessmen first & players second. Long gone are the days of Larry Bird bouncing his head off the floor & returning in the same game. Today's player might miss a couple games with a jammed finger. I get that the contracts are bigger & sports medicine is a lot smarter but I know I miss the days of players just playing. Michael Jordan was & is THE ICON when it comes to basketball but even he put his competitive greatness first before he put on his Air Jordans, slammed a Gatorade & later put on his Hanes t-shirt.
    The NBA is entertainment. Offense sales. Why else would the league have defensive rules like it does. I enjoy watching & learning from coaches like Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, Kevin McHale & Kevin Eastman but I struggle to enjoy the game at times. I know they are the elite players. if it looks like they're coasting at times they probably are. A car & a bicycle can cover the same distance, one just does it a lot easier than the other. Quite frankly, it's become soft. Superstars want to be catered to, not coached. Their body language is awful. THEY WALK BACK ON DEFENSE!!!
     So how do you fix the NBA problem? The league needs to stop worrying about flopping & just call the game. The league should address players complaining after every call instead. You became a superstar because you were blessed with talent & worked to improve your skill. If you achieved superstar status by complaining every time you got bumped then we've all been doing it wrong. 
     Young players are watching. I hope they are watching the work ethic, the skill level, & the athleticism instead of the complaining, the lack of effort in transition defense & the business side of the game. 

The Solution
    Our game is broke, but it's still the greatest game on the planet. All anyone has to do is watch a game in a driveway, see a kid shooting in an empty gym or take a drive through Indiana & you'll realize it's a way of life. We can complain & do nothing or we can all be moved to action. We need coaches on every level dedicated to putting the game first, the player second & the coach last. We need discussions between every level of coaches, (think Coaching U). We must all teach how to play the game, the love of the game & most importantly the respect of the game. High School coaches & summer coaches have to have a peace summit. The game needs it. Pro coaches need to stop raiding the college game for talent so college coaches can develop better pros. 
    The responsibility isn't all on coaches though. It's on the players as well. We all must but priorities in the right order. No shortcuts. Don't worry about looking cool but about playing the RIGHT way. Dont get so caught up in winning games that no one will remember or care about the outcome if that means we neglect skill work. 
    It's an easy fix. The hard part is starting the change. So who's with me? 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Why you MUST attend the D1 experience

The D1 experience is a premier camp for players seeking more from camp than a t-shirt. It incorporates the 2 most important areas in player development, athleticism & skill, by bringing together the top two professionals in those areas in Alan Stein & Drew Hanlen. This is not your "daycare get away for Mom & Dad" camp. This camp was 3 days of intense, world-class instruction accompanied by a great facility, the Spiece Fieldhouse in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Here are the 3 points that make this an incredible experience. 

1. Foundation of Athleticism
If you're familiar with Alan Stein's StrongerTeam you know that his expertise in that field is second to none. What each player at the D1 experience receives is focused, functional & interactive instruction. We've all seen camps where the Coach never interacts with every player. You won't find that here. Every player receives individualized instruction. 

2. Skill is King
Drew Hanlen is becoming a household name in the NBA. He is an incredible skills coach. His attention to every detail makes it no surprise that his NBA clients are becoming NBA All-Stars. He carries that passion over to each player at the D1experience. Ever seen a Coach at a camp be "to good" to work with a camper? Drew's ability to teach skills from the NBA to the middle school level is why he is the best in the world at what he does. He takes as much pride in helping a junior high player understand the reason behind a particular drill as he does when he's working out a potential NBA lottery pick. 

3. What Separates the Camp from Others
Details. You'll struggle to find a staff more dedicated to providing your player with an experience that will drive them to become a better player. The D1 experience gives each player a taste of what a D1 athlete goes through. Players go from the floor to the film room, back to practice just like a college player. Think of it like a "fantasy camp" in that each camper will participate in a college level environment. The camp serves as an introduction into what it takes to achieve the level of commitment required to play on the collegiate level. 

For the attending coaches, imagine watching Alan & Drew instructing on the floor then meeting every day for a staff meeting. You'll learn new drills, how to teach them & have a wealth of knowledge at your disposal. 

Please check out for future dates & locations.