Coaching a European Club – Week 11

This week was the first time that we have played a league game against a team that we have faced, so it was the first time that I have had an opportunity to prepare for an opponent in league. When we played our opponent the first time, we led the entire game, but they kept the game close by hitting a number of three-pointers, many from stagger screens. Therefore, we worked on our defense against screens as the major emphasis for the week. 

After Monday’s practice, I got another “good practice” from one of the injured, veteran players who comes to practices semi-consistently, but cannot scrimmage and has not suited up for a game this season (or last).  It was one of the few practices that involved no 5v5 play. Interestingly, I have now had players make a point of saying “good practice” twice, and neither practice involved 5v5 play (and both involved full court 1v1, which is the only similarity between the two practice plans).

I continued with bull in the ring as a rebounding drill, as it seemed to start practice with good enthusiasm and energy that carried over. For much of the season, I have started practice – after our dynamic warm-up – with shooting drills, which I used early (1) to make sure that we were shooting enough and (2) to continue the warm-up with some more movement and running from the beginning. For the past two weeks, I like how the bull in the ring drill, while far from my favorite drill, has created a good energy to start practice – much better than starting with shooting drills. I also added a couple new variations to our finishing drills based on the first drill here.

On our second practice, in our last scrimmage of the day, my big man came down wrong during a scramble for a rebound. After going to the doctor, he still did not have a diagnosis other than to rest, which is the doctor’s and physio’s answer to any health-related problem here. Our next practice was a short practice due to some other games, and it was a good practice with good energy. Usually our Thursday practices are not as good, as we miss at least 3 players, including all 3 of our centers. However, this week, with the shortened practice and the later start, we had good energy. That carried over to Friday, as we finished everything that I had planned in about an hour (90-minute time allotted), so we could go over some special situations and out of bounds plays.

On Saturday, I coached three games with some combination of the entire team. The first game was like a local adult recreation league game, and it featured the players who don’t play or play the least in my 1st Division games, as well as two u15s. As with basketball here, we started the game with six players, and ended the game with a different six, as one player who started had to go to school for something and left at half, and the player who showed up late had to work in the morning. We did not play well in the first half, and I got on the four players who practice with the 1st Division team. I told them that if this was their level of play, they couldn’t practice with the 1st Division team anymore, as they might be holding back the 1st Division players. The second half was a blowout. However, with only six players, everyone played a lot.

The same players, minus one of the u15s who had never practiced with these guys previously, joined with 3 players from the bench of the 1st Division team for our 3rd Division game. We played a team that was much, much bigger and stronger, and they ran us off the court. Our hope was to play the game fast, as we are a pretty small, and young team (playing as an u20 team in an adult league), but that did not work so well. We did not play well together, and we took way too many bad shots. Their big guy got several of our bigs in foul trouble, so our top five players played only a couple minutes together. It was a bad game made even worse by officials who could not be bothered to run up and down the court, which nearly led to a fight toward the end as the officials had lost all control of the game. Bad calls happen, but when you are rarely in the right position to make a call, you’re stealing money as an official.

Naturally, of course, in our 1st Division game (the primary game, as the others are mainly to get more playing time for young players who otherwise wouldn’t see much game time), their best shooter did not travel with their team. Also, with our starting center out of the game they repeatedly went inside. We were in foul trouble with our bigs immediately. The game was very similar to the away game. We led for the entire game by double digits, but every time it looked like we would put away the game, they would get a couple stops and knock down back to back three-pointers to keep themselves within striking distance. They played a box and 1 for much of the third quarter, which left wide open elbow jumpers or weak side three-pointers for our second and third options. However, it also meant that we settled for too man jump shots, and when we missed a couple in a row, as happens, it gave them an opportunity to make a mini-run and close the gap. In the end, we won 88-79 in a game that was not that close.

It was reassuring to win a game without our best big man, who is out indefinitely as he waits for referrals to someone who can actually do an MRI, but a little less so since their best player did not play either. We did do a much, much better job rebounding, as the unofficial total had them with only four offensive rebounds; last time, they killed us on the boards even with our big guy in the game.

I played 10 players in both halves. The decision to play 10 was partly due to foul trouble and partly due to performance. Beyond our key three, and a center, I rotated several players at the fifth position (3rd guard/small forward) to try and find someone to lift our play. Each of the options brings different strengths and weaknesses, and the starter didn’t have his best game, which opened more minutes for reserves to get a chance.

After the 3rd Division game, I challenged two of the guys because I knew that I would play at least one substantial minutes in the 1st Division game. I told them what they needed to do, and how they need to change their games for the 1st Division team. For one, it meant focusing on rebounding and attacking the rim like he intended to dunk, rather than shooting finger rolls. For the other, less dribbling and fewer fouls. Both responded well in the 1st Division game, playing better than they had in the 3rd Division game. This was good to see, as we lose two more of our bigs before our next game, as the club cut one player who was getting paid but contributing minimally, and the other has to travel outside the country for a week for his work with the military. Assuming our starting center is not back from his knee injury, we will be really, really small, and really young in our next week. Basically, team team is now an u20 team + one 21-year-old and our American important. In our top 10, we have 9 guards and a F/C. With the changes, travel, and injury, we have gone from a relatively big, good inside team due mostly to our starting center, to a very small team in the matter of a week.

Cutting a player is always a difficult thing, as he was from another country and had dreams of playing in more professional leagues. However, in a small club, performance is not everything. From the beginning of the season, the player did not participate in some of the club social events, and some of the veteran players and club officials were not happy about this, and spoke to him about it. He also did not speak the native language here, not English, so he struggled to communicate. For a while, the women’s coach assisted me and acted as his personal coach to try and help him understand the instructions in the middle of practice (I don’t have an assistant coach). However, he never really caught on, whether because of the language or his playing habits or whatever. For a small club with a tiny budget, it is better to give those minutes to a local player who may not be quite as good, but costs nothing and potentially will be with the club for years. The plan, if we stay on track, is to find a replacement during the season, prior to the play-offs, and to save money in the interim. In the meantime, it gives two u20s who had never played above the 3rd Division prior to this season a major opportunity to earn minutes.

In the long run, these injuries and setbacks should make us a deeper team in the play-offs, as the coach last season played only 6 players in the play-off games. However, in the interim, we’re going to have to work harder to keep pace. We’re currently 4-1 and in 4th place due to point differential (tied for 3rd by record). However, we’ve had a fairly generous schedule to start the season, though our only loss was to the team currently in 1st place. This week will be focused on trying to find ways to get some easier baskets with our small team, as we cannot rely on three-point shooting alone on the road next week. With our lack of size, I may have to introduce some zone this week to protect our inside players if they get into foul trouble.

By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES
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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