Coaching a European Club – Week 27

This was a difficult week. It was kind of like coaching high school or college teams during mid-terms: tough to get the players to concentrate when they are worried about their exams and aren’t sleeping very much. That’s how we behaved this week in practice. I don’t know why.

I added more transition practice to mix up the beginning of practices, and went back to the basic movement skills too. We played a lot of 5v4 to force players to be more aware on defense and to talk more. One of our biggest problems defensively is talking on screens – a couple of our posts are quiet, and either are not heard or call out screens too late. Playing 5v4 has been the best drill that we’ve done in the last couple weeks, and it gets the most commitment from the players.

In our position breakdowns, we did more scrimmaging. With the posts, we play 2v2. I’m trying to get the second post to be more active to prevent the easy post-to-post double team, but our posts are not our most intuitive players. Our best post player in terms of understanding and reading the game is probably our youngest, but he’s injured, sick, or on vacation half of the time, and isn’t strong enough to play in the 1st Division yet.

The hardest part of coaching here is cutting players every week. I have 14 players, but I can travel only 8 players to away games and suit up 12 players for home games. We had a road game this week, so I had to choose 8 of the 14. Of course, this week, it was easier, as one player skipped Monday’s practice to go to a Drake concert, one said that he could not go to the game because it was his grandma’s birthday, and another had to work. It’s a pretty serious basketball league when a player skips a game for his grandma’s birthday.

It’s hard to have guys practice all week, tell them on Friday that they will not be traveling, and expect them to return on Monday ready to work. It’s also difficult not to have many bench options. I took what I would consider my top 8, especially for a game against a big opponent, but a couple of the guys just didn’t show up mentally. With 10 or 12 players, I could have played with some other players to see if one of our quicker guards could have brought some energy or if another post player could have finished better or another wing could have knocked down a shot. With only 8 players, if two or three are not prepared mentally or physically for the game, it hurts.

We played the best team in the league. They wrapped up the first seed weeks ago, and had nothing to play for, which should have given us a perfect opportunity to steal a win. We were playing to insure that we would be at home in the first round of the play-offs. We started strong in a frenetic opening five minutes. Eventually, we fell behind by 15, but cut it to five at halftime.

At half, I was confident. I did not have any adjustments to make. We were down five despite missing four lay-ups and six free throws. We has chased them off their press and their attempt to play zone. We had a couple errors defensively that led to some easy shots for them (three three-pointers), but I believed that if we could clean up those errors, and rebound a bit better, our shooting would come around, and we would be fine.

We basically played the entire second half even, but we never got over the top. There were a couple plays that we should have made that may have tipped the game in our favor, like a break away lay-up when our player slowed down and allowed their best player to catch up and block the shot that would have cut their lead to 1.

It was one of those games. I cannot say that we deserved to win, as I do not think we out-played them or played our best. However, we were probably one or two plays away from winning the game or at least having the game go down to the last possession. Our biggest problem was probably the free-throw line; we shot poorly in the first half, and in the second half, we gave up several offensive rebounds on their missed free throws. Inexcusable really.

As I have written before, I may have let my confidence in my team get the better of me. I felt confident the entire game. I knew we needed a third player to step up, and I gave every player an opportunity to be that guy, but we never got the contribution from the third guy. We never made the key play. We get a stop, but the ball rolls off of our fingers out of bounds. We get gifted two points off a missed free-throw, but we slow down, and they block the shot. We create a turnover, but attack out of control and throw the ball out of bounds. We work the ball for a wide open shot, but we turn it down because the player is not playing with confidence despite having a great game last week. We post up a guard to try and get him going, and he makes a good move, but the ball rolls right off the rim.

After not making the key play all game, we had the ball with one-minute to play in a 5-point game, and things imploded. We panicked, and then we forced things. It wasn’t like us.

Nobody on my team has beaten the other team; it has been a couple years since my club beat their club. At the end of the game, it was like the ghosts of previous losses took over. When I tried to get a timeout, the scorekeeper did not hit the horn fast enough, and we took off out of control. This is one of the struggles playing on the road – it happens almost every week that the scorekeeper misses our timeout. In FIBA, you are supposed to call a timeout to the scorekeeper, and then when the ball is out of play, the scorekeeper blows the horn to signal the timeout. Unless he doesn’t, and there is no recourse if he doesn’t. Some officials will grant timeouts if they see the coach motioning to the scorekeeper, but not all. Some coaches this season have dispensed with calling timeouts to the scorekeeper and tell the official, which I thought was not allowed. In the end, it probably did not matter, but the lack of control on the possession led to another turnover and ended the game.

Calling timeouts in FIBA is far more strategic than in NFHS or NCAA. First, in the second half, you have only three timeouts to use. Second, in the last two minutes, you can advance the ball to the front court on a timeout. Third, you can get the timeout only on a dead ball – if your opponent misses the second free throw, you cannot get a timeout, which happened on our final offensive possession. Fourth, you cannot hesitate; once the ball is inbounded, or technically once my player picks up the ball to inbound the ball, I cannot call a timeout. Finally, you are granted a timeout only after the opposition scores of after a whistle; you cannot call a timeout to set your defense. These are adjustments that you have to learn as a coach.

I probably held onto my timeouts too long. I tried to call a timeout with about 30 seconds to go, but the scorekeeper did not hit the horn in time. If I got that timeout, and a basket, I would have had one timeout left to advance the ball after a defensive possession. However, because I did not get that timeout in time, I probably should have called one with about a minute to play in a 5-point game to make sure that we were organized. In the U.S., I would have; however, in FIBA rules, being able to advance the ball at the end of the game is such a difference maker. I like to have at least one timeout available for those situations. It’s disappointing to have them hit a free throw to go up by three with three seconds to play, and not have a timeout to advance the ball and set up a play. But, when you don’t get the timeout on the subsequent possession, it’s easy to look back at the possession with one minute to play as the critical possession, and I should have used the timeout there to allow my players to catch their breaths and get organized, if nothing else. The timeout situation is probably the biggest difference between FIBA and NFHS/NCAA. It really changes your mindset and strategy, and leaves a lot of room for second-guessing.

With the loss, we finished the season in 5th place at 13-9. At the beginning of the season, the club manager thought that we would be one of the top 4 teams. However, that was before we lost our back-up point guard for the first 14 games, our best athlete for 15 games, and our best player for 9 games. All things considered, we did a fair job. I’m always critical, so I always think that we could have done better. The play-offs will be interesting. Had we won, we would have been set up pretty well schedule-wise for the play-offs. As it stands now, schedule and opponent-wise, few scenarios could have played out any worse. That’s what happens when you don’t take care of business when you have the chance. We made the road more difficult; we’ll see if we can handle it.

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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