Coaching a European Club – Week 14

This was a weird week, as we started with a game on Monday, finished with a game on Sunday, and had only two practices in between. We played at home on Monday in our third game without our starting center, meaning 3 u19s in the starting line-up and our young PG was our tallest starter (6’4). Luckily, our back-up post returned from military duty, so we had some size on the bench.

We started with an amazing shooting start, as we made 6 of our first 7 shots and only missed two shots in the entire first quarter to lead 34-16 at the end of one. Their defense toughened in the 2nd quarter, but we led by double digits at half, and my American guard had poured in 25 points already. In the 3rd quarter, my American cramped up and came out of the game. As soon as I put him back in the game, my young PG asked out because he was tired. Then, my starting 4 asked out – he never asks out of games and almost always plays 38-40 minutes. I don’t know if it was the two days off on the weekend between practice and the game, a lack of conditioning, lack of sleep, or whatever, but we did not fare well physically in a game that was not much tougher physically than others – it was not especially fast-paced, they did not do anything more than token backcourt pressure that most teams play, etc.

We managed to hold the lead for the entire game. We had the ball under our basket with a one point lead and 12 seconds to go with 3 seconds on the shot clock. I called a timeout and showed an out of bounds play. We did not run it 100% as drawn up, but we scored a basket to go up 3. They called timeout to advance the ball into the front court.

In the U.S., I would have fouled up 3. However, the officials here are so unpredictable, and almost everything is called a shooting foul, that I did not want to risk it. Plus, on free throws, the defense only gets 3 people in the lane, to box out 2 offensive players and the shooter, and we struggled to rebound all night, so I did not want to risk the rebound either. Naturally, we had a defensive breakdown on a staggered screen and they hit a 3-pointer. Of course, it was not a traditional made shot. It hit the flat part of the rim between the cylinder and the backboard with a thud and just kind of died right into the basket. I called timeout to advance the ball and we missed a 5-foot shot at the buzzer.

In overtime, they killed us from the beginning. However, once we started to make shots, we stayed in the game. With one minute left and down five, we hit a deep three-pointer. Next possession, we were fouled on a three-pointer. We made all three to tie. They took an ill-advised shot. We attacked the basket and the ball was knocked out of bounds. We ran the same out of bounds play as before. We scored again, and they called a foul. They complained, and were called for a technical foul. It ended up as a 7-point possession, and we won the game 97-90 in overtime, finishing on a 13-1 run. My American ended the game with 50, and someone said that he had 17 of our 19 overtime points (the only other two were the two technical free throws).

After the game, we had two practices. However, as per custom here, only one had the entire team, as our young PG had to go out of town with his family. When he told me that he was missing practice, I said, “I thought you were serious about basketball.” He said that he was. The problem, of course, is the way that coaches prioritize things for their players. I don’t do this, but it is common for a coach to say that a player’s priorities should be “God, family, school, basketball.” Here, family and vacations are prioritized more than anywhere that I have coached. If you tell a player that family comes before basketball, or you grow up in a society where family comes before basketball, how do you tell a player not to go out of town with his family? After all, we make allowances all the time because of school – players show up late for our weekly workouts because they get out of school late or they miss a practice on a school trip – and we say that family comes before school. If family comes before school, and we make allowances for school, don’t we have to make allowances for family?

Personally, I would say no. Last season, when a player missed several practices over the Christmas break (here we are not allowed in the gym for two weeks around Christmas), he missed two games and did not start the rest of the season. To me, he and his family had a choice. They knew when practices were. However, they chose a winter vacation because he was a football player, and at that school, there was no way that a player would take a vacation during football season or spring football. Here, his family knew he was in the middle of the season. However, there is not the same expectations. Even though the player has dreams of playing Division 1 basketball in the U.S., it would have been harsh or uncharacteristic for him to be punished for missing a practice to spend time with his family. As I told the team last week, I am trying to adapt to the culture here and the ways of the club even though they differ from my background and expectations. However, as I learned in Ireland and Sweden, it is better to adapt to the club than to try to mold the club to your viewpoint, as I am expendable, whereas a local starter in a small town club is not expendable.

I had a game tape of our Sunday opponent, though they had switched coaches since the game, so I did not know how accurate it would be. We prepared for their zone defense and on-ball screens, as that is primarily what they did on tape. We also spent time on the defensive breakdowns from late in the game.

On Sunday, we started terribly and were down 13-4. They started as they did on the tape, pushing the ball ahead and shooting quickly. We started the game settling for jump shots, none of which scored. Finally, we started to attack the basket, and took the lead by the end of the 1st quarter. We led for most, if not all of the game. We had a 5 point lead with 2 minutes to play and gave away the ball on two poor turnovers and a missed lay-up. We had a 2-point lead with about 38 seconds left. They hit a 3 with 23 seconds left. We missed a wide open 3 with 11 seconds to play and a wide open 8 footer with 6 seconds to play and lost 82-81. With the week’s results, we fell to 6-2, which puts us tied for third in the league. We have gone 3-1 without our starting center. It was one of those games that all things considered, they played harder and better than we did, so we did not deserve to win, but at the end of the game, we really should have won it.

After the game, I recalled two earlier games in the season. Twice, we held 20 points lead late in games and got careless with the ball. After those games, I expressed my displeasure in the locker room after the game, and some of the players seemed to dismiss my negativity because of the win. That’s another of the club’s mentalities, and one that I am trying to change. It doesn’t matter how you play as long as you win. Wrong. Because those mistakes that we made at the end of games in September are the same mistakes that cost us the game this weekend. The same mistake that we made to give the team on Monday the open three-pointer to tie is the same mistake that we made to give away the open three-pointer for the lead on Sunday. When everything is copacetic when you win, you forget about or ignore the mistakes. When you manage to win, you get a false sense of confidence. I haven’t been happy about a win yet because I don’t think we’ve played a full game to our potential. I think some of the players have reacted to this and do not like to be pushed to do more. They do not like what they see as my negativity. They want to win a game and celebrate. I want to push towards playing to out potential every game for forty minutes and not relying on our American to score 50 to bail us out.

Hopefully, in the long run, this loss will help us to see this. Hopefully we are more focused in practice and in games. Hopefully the complacency borne from the winning streak is over, and we can get serious about improving again.

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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