Coaching a European Club – Week 26

We had a short week of practice to compare for a tough team. Our u20s played on Thursday, which meant no Thursday practice, and our starting PF and C and another player missed Wednesday’s practice because of school, work, and military testing. On top of the short week of preparation, the team that we played had joined together with another team since our last game against them, and I had no idea who would be on their team or how they would play with the different personnel. 

With two full practices, and no scouting report, we focused on our stuff this week. We did more team stuff on Monday than I would do normally because of the lack of a full Wednesday practice. I used Wednesday’s practice to get up a lot of shots and focus more on skills. Friday was a typical practice, working on shooting and position skills, going through our offense and defense, and working on end-game situations.

During one of the end-game situation games, I stood next to my young point guard as he inbounded the ball. We were running one of our normal plays, but with a slight variation. The defense came out switching everything, and the desired option had a huge mismatch. However, in addition to the switch, they left early to double this player. Our second post player was wide open on the backside of the rim for a dunk, but our inbounder passed it to the desired option, in a double team, and the pass was deflected.

I asked the player if he knew who was open. He pointed to the nearest player to him, who had run to the strong-side corner. I said that he may have been open, but the post was open at the rim. He said that he did not see him.

I have noticed this more and more. For a team that averages 85 ppg, we are a terrible passing team. We miss open players all the time. We struggle with tunnel vision.

One issue that I am trying to work through is that when we focus on one specific skill in a drill, we do very well. For instance, when we do a passing drill, suddenly our passing skills appear better. When we focus on talking on defense, we talk on defense. However, when we put everything together, things are not transferring as well as they should or one would hope that they would. When we focus on passing, we see the floor well, but when we add game pressure, dribbling, and shooting into the mix, our vision narrows again. When we play 3v3 and work on defending an on-ball screen, we do very well; when we move to 5v5, we make mistakes.

Part of this is me being a perfectionist like most coaches. We win by 21 points and score 96 points on Saturday, and I remember the four missed fast break lay-ups, and the two late breakdowns where there two best shooters got wide-open three-point shots. Some guys don’t understand why they don’t play as much – when you go into the game late and guard the one player who our limiting scouting report said to run at and not allow a three-point shot, and he has not even attempted a 3 all game because of our defense, and you allow him an uncontested, stand-still three-pointer, how can I trust you to play in a closer game?

Maybe I worry about these things too much. I think the team certainly believes that I do. However, this is the third time that we have won by 20+ points, and my attention is focused on the last two minutes of the game, and the dumb mistakes. You have to be able to play 40 minutes. If you are a bench player, and you want to earn more minutes, you cannot enter a game and allow the intensity and execution to slip. These type of mistakes carry over. I yelled at one player for this same thing after a blowout win, and even one of the other coaches in the club did not understand my angst. However, a couple games later, he was playing at the end of a 3-point game because of injuries, and he did the same thing, and they hit a 3-pointer to tie at the buzzer. That’s why garbage time is important to me, and important for players who do not play as much.

As I often say and write, “You’re either practicing good habits or you’re developing bad habits.” When you enter a game, and do not play hard because it is a blowout, you are developing bad habits.

Overall, we played pretty well and led by double digits for the entire game. With everyone back, we are less reliant on the younger guys to play meaningful minutes, though we started three u20 players on Saturday. We have maturity and some experience off the bench now, whereas we played much of the season with only young guys on the bench. We also have some wings on the bench with a little size and strength compared to the shorter, skinnier young guys, which gives a lot more versatility. Despite our passing issues, we handled a couple presses with no problems, as we generally have 4-5 competent ball handlers on the court at all times. We fixed some of the offensive mistakes that we made in our last loss, and some of our defensive mistakes from our last home win when we surrendered 105 points. I am also getting more comfortable with rotating the players, as we have had the same team for 4-5 games in a row now, so we have more consistency.

We play the best team in the league this weekend, and start the play-offs mid-week next week. Hopefully, we are ascending towards our peak.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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