One of the challenges we face as coaches is organizing our pre-season practices so that we don’t skip or gloss over any facet of the game. This dilemma is even more pronounced at the HS level where one might have 3 weeks or less to cover everything.
It’s not surprising then that with all the important categories there are to cover, fast break, man offense, zone offense, press offense, defenses, presses, transition defense, delay, various inbounds plays and special situations, among others, that some things can naturally fall through the cracks. For purposes of this article, we’ll call them “one-offs”. Some of these may cross over into what you would consider special situations.
When these one-offs do fall through the cracks or we get to them late and rush through them, we are sending poor messages to our players about these categories. One might be well served to include these facets of the game to one’s first week practice itinerary to ensure that not only are they covered but they are also given priority.
JUMP BALLS: These are obviously less frequent and less important than they used to be but if you get possession on the opening tap of the game, you have a chance for one extra possession or you prevent your opponent from the extra possession. The same thing holds true for every overtime session. This alone can be the difference between winning and losing.
FOUL SHOT ALIGNMENT: Lane violations at either end of the floor are inexcusable. At the defensive end, the player occupying the first slot has to have his outside foot as close to the block as possible with feet together-so that when he steps across to block out the opponent in the second slot, it’s a full step into that man’s body. Being far from the block and/or having one’s feet spread are a recipe for allowing an offensive rebound. The players in the third slots must know which of the two are responsible for blocking out the shooter. The remaining 3rd slot player can double- team the opponent’s slot player on his side. At the offensive end, the 2nd slot players should be able to follow either inside or outside on calls from the bench or the floor.
INBOUND PLAYS: At the defensive end, the minimal goal is not to give up a layup but if you study Ohio St,’s baseline defense, they not only are stingy giving up points, but they also create turnovers with 5 second counts and steals. At the sideline, if you sag off everyone, you should negate any towards the basket action and be able to take away most, if not all layups. On the other hand, you may have to pressure a sideline inbounds late when behind and you’ll need a plan for that. At the offensive end, on all inbounds, baseline, sideline and full court, a safety valve at 2.5 to 3 seconds is highly recommended. Another quirk that often gets totally ignored are non-conventional inbound spots like the dead corner. When this happens, coaches and players alike often look puzzled and their best effort isn’t put forward.
LOOSE BALLS: One play especially drives me crazy-when a player doesn’t secure a loose ball because he’s in such a rush to get out on the break. In this case, the player usually tries to steal and dribble simultaneously. These are usually 50-50 balls and are lost when not secured with two hands. I believe the time spent demonstrating this is well worth it.
PICKED UP DRIBBLES AND DOUBLE TEAMS AND COMING BACK TO THE BALL IN GENERAL: It’s easy to take this fundamental for granted even at higher levels but practicing coming back to ball to reduce the chance for an opponent’s steal is also well worth the effort. While this is very important on many “normal” passes, it is especially crucial any time a teammate picks up his dribble or gets double-teamed.
BAD FOULS: Coaches’ opinions in this category and the next can vary widely. Certainly, when there is a shot clock and team A is behind and hasn’t fouled for most of the shot clock, fouling in the last few seconds is deflating when a stop is possible. Other bad fouls are fouling the ballhandler anywhere on the floor in a non- penetrating situation but especially far from the basket and fouling the jump shooter. Each coach should comprise his own list and review on the court.
GOOD FOULS: Among the good fouls can be the ones committed at the end of either half that don’t put the opponent in the bonus-or fouls committed against poor foul shooters late in the game when behind or fouls to prevent a layup when no other solution is available. Again, this category is one of personal preference and each coach would be wise to list and review.
TRANSITION DEFENSE: This pet peeve of mine might normally be covered in transition defense but I like to call special attention to it. It usually involves a forward or center whose offensive assignment doesn’t run down the floor at first or does so slowly. We want our man to sprint back to the lane so that we have a 5 on 4 advantage. In this case, “ball-you-man” position is irrelevant.
There are likely other similar facets of the game that, for whatever reason, you have given the stepchild treatment over the years. Starting with your “one-offs” in the first week or two of practice can send a strong message to your players.