Coaching a European Club – Week 17

Trying to incorporate a new player in the middle of the season is difficult, especially with limited court time. Even with a fairly realistic practice plan each day, we failed to get through everything that I hoped to cover in each practice because of time spent reviewing old plays and defensive calls for our new guy. It’s not his fault, but in a week where we were preparing to play the best team in the league, it was not ideal either, especially when he ended up fouling out in less than 8 minutes of action. 

Mid-week, we finally got out back-up point guard back from a concussion. By his last couple days out of action, he was mad at me for not allowing him to play. The doctors here just told him to rest until he felt better and then to resume activity – amazingly, doctors told a player with a concussion to sit out three days, whereas they told a player who hurt his ankle, and didn’t even know how it happened, to sit out two weeks. The doctors also do not prescribe exercises to do while not playing, and they tell the players that they can return when they feel like it; no follow-ups necessary. Our back-up PG ended up sitting out 17 days before he returned to a full-contact practice based on concussion protocols that I found online and through talking to physical therapists.

His presence helped with the practice intensity, as he can run for days and plays hard almost all the time. He’s also the most competitive of the young players. When he was out, for instance, the u20s lost a game by 17-20 points. I am pretty sure that if he had played, we would have won. I think he could make that much of a difference on that team. On the D1 team, he does not have quite that much effect on games, but he does help practice, and it does mean that we have 10 players so we can scrimmage. He also is one of the few who I can trust to know all of the different positions for all of the plays, so he was charged with helping the new player learn the plays.

I continue to do more post/guard skill work. With our top post player injured, we have to find a way to get some points from our back-up post players even though none is a natural scorer. Most of our post practice has centered on offensive rebounding put backs and catching off different cuts and finishing through contact. Our guards spent time this week handling a trap off the on-ball screen because I knew that our opponent would hedge hard with big, agile big men.

We had a terrible final practice before the game. It was mostly my fault. I wanted to do a couple scrimmages to work on specific offenses and defense. Our opponent ran a lot of stuff similar to us, so working against our own stuff was our best preparation. Plus, I felt we needed repetitions with our new guy so he would know enough of the plays, and some of the other guys need to get more comfortable with the offenses to make quicker decisions and harder cuts. We have about 11 total plays, though 6 of the 11 are derivatives of one play. Of the 11, we generally only run 4-5 now, and we primarily run two plays, which are both more motion-oriented than the other quick hitters.

I played short games (2s and 3s to 7) with the stipulation that you have to make two free throws in a row to consolidate the win. In our final game, we went through almost every player on the team before we hit two free throws in a row, so the game dragged on, and I think guys were demoralized a little by missing so many free throws. It also meant that we did not get to the situation games that I had planned to play, as we cannot go over our time at all, especially on Friday nights, as the gym owner starts to turn off the lights and raise the baskets right at 9 P.M. I realized that on the night before a game, I need to do less scrimmaging. I also need to end on a good note, which I generally leave time for, and generally happens. However, in an attempt to get through too many things in a tight amount of space, and our inability to make free throws in a row beyond on our top 2-3 players, we didn’t this week.

None of it mattered in the end. We played a good first quarter and led 19-16 at the end of one. Considering our opponent, it was the best quarter of defense that we played all season. Our opponent had three really good bigs – young, athletic, mobile – and aggressive guards. We stuck to the game plan pretty well in the 1st quarter and we battled inside. If we eliminated a couple bad turnovers that led to lay-ups, our 1st quarter defense would have been outstanding. We helped inside better than we have and our rotations were better. Our back-up PG tends to help with this, as he covers a lot of ground, talks better than the player who he replaced, and plays harder than most on the team.

That was the end of the highlights. Our new guy was a foul magnet. He had three fouls before he could break a sweat. I really didn’t think that he committed three fouls. One, I don’t know what he did, and the other should have been called on someone else, but the officials here guess at who committed the foul all the time (in a D3 game, they called a foul on a player who had checked into the game while the official was reporting the foul. He couldn’t remember the number, so he walked around and picked out the tallest guy, even though he had just walked onto the court. Officials here are infallible, so he, of course, was correct, and our player committed the foul from the bench, and I was warned for having the audacity to challenge this call).

In my efforts to find someone inside who could finish and box out, I played 12 players. Our youngest post who was on the roster for only the second time this season got a couple minutes even though he was severely physically outmatched. It’s too bad, because he talks better than the other posts and actually made aggressive moves. He got roofed on one post move by their post who was about 5 inches taller and much more athletic, but at least he went strong and made a move.

It was pretty much a disaster in the second half. At halftime, I did not make any adjustments. Our problem was that we were backing down. We could not get open individually or with a screen. We shied away from contact. We were complacent when we were defended or when the defense switched. Nobody acted like he wanted the ball. It was not a matter of running a new play or switching up something on defense. It was being tough. It was setting better screens, and setting up screens better. It was boxing out tougher. It was grabbing the ball on a rebound instead of tipping it. It was a bunch of little things. The same little things that plagued us when we were winning and left me displeased with our performances then, plague us now, and the better teams are making us pay. The guys are too reliant on our point guard and our big to bail us out, and without the big in the line-up, there is only so much our point guard can do by himself. Having the two of them makes the game so much easier for the other players to get open shots because they attract so much attention. However, with only one healthy, we have to work harder to get shots, and against better teams, our role players are unable to elevate their games to a high enough degree to replace one of the stars.

After the game, I had to find one of the players to get him into the locker room. when I walked in, our American was talking to the team about commitment. I think he’s fed up with the lack of commitment from the younger players who miss practice because of homework or because they have a runny nose. He’s sick of guys who don’t rehab their injuries and don’t come to practice when they are injured. I’ve said the same before, but it’s better coming from him, as he explained what he’s sacrificed to be here.

Amazingly, after his talk, and after I explained the schedule from here through our first game after New Years, two starters immediately said they wouldn’t be able to make our practice scrimmage right after the New Year. I was shocked. Even if it was true, I wouldn’t have the balls to listen to my teammate talk about the lack of commitment to the team and then tell the coach that I couldn’t make a scrimmage because of a party or because I was going to play with another team. It’s unbelievable to me. I asked the club if I could step in and prohibit the young player from playing with another club’s u18 team, and he said no. Apparently it was part of the deal to get the player to stay with the club. So, our u20 team forfeited a game because we did not have five people two weeks ago, and this player could not go because he had homework, but he can drive 2.5 hours to practice once a week with the other club (skipping our youth workout here), and play games on Sundays with the other club – somehow, homework does not interfere there.

I understand our club because of where we are in the middle of nowhere has to make deals to keep talented players, but it also undermines much of what you try to do as a team. When I got here, everyone told me that last year’s team fell apart because the coach had different rules for different players. On the court, I think I am pretty fair about feedback to all players and stuff like that. However, the club makes it impossible to hold all players to the same standards, as it has deals with certain players because of the distance they travel to practice or because they want to play u18s for another club or whatever. They’re not my rules, but I can’t override the club. However, it definitely creates a problem when we talk about commitment and the two players who play the most have these issues. It’s hard to be consistent with the message and the behaviors when decisions are made from above without my consent or control. It definitely creates a team that, like last year, has different rules for different players, even though they are the club’s rules, and not my own. I understand the club’s predicament – even the coach of yesterday’s opponent talked about what a great club I am in and how the club manager is great, but it is so hard to get players because we are in the middle of nowhere. I understand it practically. But, from a broader perspective, there is a negative, as evidenced by the feelings from last year’s players.

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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