This entry is part 21 of 28 in the series Leadership

Spending the last week at Tampa at the Women’s Final Four was a great experience. There was plenty of learning going on about offense, defense, recruiting, and numerous other topics. Tons of information was presented to make any program better if we choose to use it, but that’s not the reason it was a great experience.

Let’s be honest. We’ve heard most of that information before. Was there any presentation that was earth shattering? Did a coach drop knowledge that was so completely new and innovative that every program who attended will be doing things in a radically different way next season? Not really.

Compare the information from conventions over the last 5 years with the one in Tampa. The lessons from all of these presentations are pretty comparable. It’s always good to hear things again. It’s always good to have topics reinforced over and over.  Sometimes that’s the only way to get it through the thick skulls of coaches. We are some of the more stubborn people out there. Let’s be honest though; a lot of the presentations are a rehash of the previous years.

Part of what made the Final Four a great experience was the meaningful relationships that were fostered. Some of them were new relationships that were forged. Others were existing relationships that were made even stronger.

Even that’s not the true value though. The real value is in the fact that I realized I need to do a better job fostering a relationship with God. If I commit to having a good relationship with Him, then everything else will take care of itself.

I have a great relationship with my wife, but just imagine if it was better?  I have great relationships with family and friends. What if I could have better relationships with them too? I could have the Final Four experience every day. Isn’t that what life is about? Is it about drills, or recruiting or strategies? Is it about “moving up”?

Or is it about relationships? And not just superficial surface level relationships.Those leave you wondering what you’re missing out on. Some of them don’t even give you that much curiosity.  It’s the deep and meaningful ones that matter. It starts with a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God. That is the answer. Now it’s time to get to work.



It Is Just a Game After All

This entry is part 20 of 28 in the series Leadership

Basketball is just a game. I’ve played games all of my life. I’m competitive in solitaire not to mention Monopoly, spades, basketball or anything else. I just want to make sure I’m keeping it in perspective. I hope everyone else will as well.

What is a game? According to the dictionary…..

Game: a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.

A quick aside…

I can’t speak for anyone else, but why did I choose coaching basketball as a career?  A lot of people say it’s all about making a difference in people’s lives. Yes it’s about making a difference in people’s lives. I have made a difference in people’s lives in a number of careers that had nothing to do with athletics. Doctors, teachers, ministers, psychologists, managers, supervisors, nurses and many other professions make differences in the lives of others all the time.  You can make a positive impact on other people as a toll booth operator or a grocery store clerk. Your career doesn’t determine how you impact people’s lives. You do.

Why did I choose coaching? I choose coaching because it’s fun. Recruiting is fun.  Player development is fun. Developing practice plans and game plans is fun. Coaching is fun.

Why did I choose basketball? That started a long time ago. I played basketball, because it was fun. I played basketball growing up in my garage because it was fun. I went outside and played for hours by myself because it was fun. I worked to get better, even when I didn’t have a team to play for anymore, because I enjoyed it. It was fun. I watched countless games on TV growing up because it was fun.

I choose the game of basketball because it’s fun. It’s fun to be in the gym, whether it’s by myself or with a team. It’s fun to shoot. It’s fun to rebound. It’s fun to pass. It’s fun to play. It’s fun to compete whether I’m the worst player on the court or the best. My aside is now a digression.  I apologize.

So many people do not enjoy their careers. If I’m going to spend 8+ hours a day 5-7 days a week for 30 years doing something, I figure I might as well enjoy it.

Does this mean that I take it any less seriously than any one else takes their job?  Does this mean I don’t work as hard as the next person? The people I’ve coached and coached with can speak to that. I take my career very seriously. My wonderful wife tells me to relax every day. I need that.

I think we have to keep it fun. We shouldn’t have to make it fun, but we can’t take the fun away. If players don’t enjoy playing, they shouldn’t play. If it’s not fun, then I don’t understand why anyone would put themselves through all that effort.

I hope I will always keep it fun for teams I coach.

Let me be clear about this as well. A basketball game is not a war. It is a competition. It is not a battle.  It is a form of conflict. Every game starts with a basic premise. “My team is going to play your team and we’re going to find out who is better.” Basketball is fun. There is nothing about a war that is fun.

Let’s hope that no one has to pay the ultimate sacrifice in a game of basketball.  Let’s hope no one loses their freedom as a result of a basketball game. Let’s hope no one needs to go into treatment for post traumatic stress disorder as a result of a basketball game.

War and basketball are in no way, shape, or form comparable.  They are so very different.

There’s no doubt our military personnel could teach us and our athletes a lot about teamwork, discipline and sacrifice. I could end that sentence with a lot of different words. Honestly though, I don’t know how much any one in athletics has to offer them. I’m sure they’ve never sat in a room and compared a mission to a basketball game. We shouldn’t disrespect or insult the sacrifices that they make by making any comparison of our game to a battle or a war. They fight for our freedom to be able to have fun. We’re not fighting for anything.  We are just playing a game.

Basketball is a game. There’s a lot of money in the game. It is certainly a business.  When the buzzer sounds and the game is over, it is just a game after all.

The Simplicity of the Game

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series R&R Intro

I’ve watched a lot of basketball over my lifetime. I’m not that old but I’ve coached, played, or watched hundreds of games. It is so simple and so basic. The simplicity makes the game beautiful. Yet I feel like we make it so complicated.

One team is trying to score. The other team is trying to keep them from scoring. Then the other team gets the ball, and the roles are reversed. It isn’t scripted. It can’t be. Every possession takes on a life of its own.

Yet it all boils down to the same basic things.

On offense…

Shooting, dribbling and passing when a player has the ball. Movement and spacing when they don’t have it.

On defense…

Defending the player with the ball and being in position to defend the other players if they receive the ball.

Gaining possession when it’s up for grabs…

This could be loose balls or rebounds, but teams have to be able to get the ball to increase their number of scoring opportunities while at the same time limiting the other team.

Transitioning between each of the phases…

Physically and mentally being able to switch from defense to offense or visa versa is critical.

The teams that collectively do these 4 things the best win.

At some point it turns into a big game of one on one. Who is better? Me or you? And then the next person catches the ball and its a new game of one on one.

Yes there needs to be structure on both ends of the floor and in transition. Yes we can’t just roll the ball out and say “Have fun. Good luck”. But really, how hard is it?

All the X’s and O’s don’t matter much if your X’s are better than my O’s. Sure I might be able to compensate for some of that as a coach, but really?

Of course there’s the mental component. Who can make the best decisions? Who wants it more? Who can execute under pressure? Who takes the competitive challenge and cherishes it? Who can make up for physical limitations through mental skills and effort?

But really, why do we make the game so complicated? Isn’t it just about 5 people working together to complete a task? Isn’t it about each player beating their opponent at the given task as many times as they possibly can when the opportunity presents itself?

There are tons of different ways to go about it. At the end of the day, the game is simple.

We aren’t playing American football where we have one group that plays offense, another group that plays defense, and we can huddle before every play. We aren’t playing hockey where we can substitute anytime we want. It’s not soccer where one goal could be enough to win.

It’s basketball. It’s team. Even slow tempo games or defensive struggles have significant amounts of scoring compared to other games. There’s a reason football is turning into a up tempo game.

I would like to challenge coaches that through all of the schemes and game plans that we don’t lose sight of what makes this game great. It is its simplicity.

Take a Step of Faith

This entry is part 30 of 28 in the series Leadership

Hoops College Readers,

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. The past couple months have been extremely hectic. The blog has taken a definite back seat to other much more important things. Maybe I’ll take time at some point to write about them in detail. Over the last couple of years, I’ve written about basketball, coaching, and offense. I will pick back up with some of those topics at some point. Right now, I want to take a minute to encourage each one of you to take a step. Take a step into the unknown. Take a step into the uncomfortable. Take a step of faith. Take a step with God.

It’s not easy. In fact, it’s really hard. It’s fun. It’s nerve-wracking. It’s exhilarating. It’s stressful. It’s liberating. It’s demanding. It’s emotionally draining. It’s inspirational. It will make you laugh. It will even make you cry. If you really want to live, if you really want to love, if you really want to find out what the possibilities are, you have to be willing to take a step.

For too long I lived comfortably. The whole time I was being prepared for something that I never saw coming. I’ve been hypnotized, blind sided and mesmerized. At the same time, my eyes have been opened to a whole new world of possibilities. I’m taking a step, and it’s an amazing ride.

A little over a year ago, I met the love of my life. I will marry her in less than three weeks. The way she has affected my life could never be described completely.

In short, she challenged me to take a step. It’s a step I’ve known I needed to take. It’s a step that she is encouraging me to take every day. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know I’m going exactly where I’m supposed to go.

Our human nature influences us to be comfortable. It drives us to make poor decisions. It encourages us to do things that aren’t so good for us.

I love her for so many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is that she’s honest with me and holds me accountable. She has asked me some pretty simple questions that have had some pretty obvious answers and held me accountable to those conclusions.

I can’t wait to start my life with her. I can’t wait for her to challenge me again just when I need it. I know the next step will be easier because I’ve taken this one. For now, I just need to make sure I complete this one.

This isn’t about X’s and O’s. It’s not about a drill. It’s about having faith, just a little bit. I don’t have as much faith as the size of a mustard seed. I haven’t moved any mountains yet. In fact, I’m a ways off from having that much, but I’m working on it. Little by little, day by day, I’m working on having that much faith. One day, I will. One day I will move mountains. For now, I’m loving, I’m living, and I’m growing.

I hope you will take that step that you’ve always wanted to take. I hope you will take that step that you’ve always known you needed to take but for some reason just couldn’t let yourself. I can’t tell you where it will take you, but I know it’s exactly where you’re supposed to go.

Take a step of faith. Take a step with God. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

Establishing a Foundation: An Offensive Philosophy Part 4

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Offensive Philosophy

Great offenses are made up of great players who use their superior skill sets and mentalities unselfishly within the framework of the team. We see great offense game after game when teams like Oklahoma City and San Antonio play each other. Those guys are hard to guard. Most of us don’t have the opportunity to coach that level player. We might get to coach dominant players on our level, but they don’t come around all the time and even they have limitations. This makes it incumbent on coaches to establish a foundation offensively that we can build on using the abilities of our players to create the mentality that we want. If there is no foundation, there’s nothing to build upon. The foundation must be fundamentally sound. The foundation must be robust. The foundation must be straightforward.

I guess we just generated a list of three more questions that need to be answered as we develop an offensive philosophy.

  1. What is a fundamentally sound offense?
  2. What is a robust offensive philosophy?
  3. What is a straightforward offensive philosophy?

I think we’ve talked significantly about fundamentally sound offense. We’ve talked about spacing, ball movement, and player movement. I believe these are fundamental to any offensive philosophy. These three qualities are easily taught and mastered by players. Players can be easily held accountable for those three things. These are three things that can constantly be improved upon. Players can always move the ball and themselves better. I don’t necessarily mean move MORE. In most cases at least, I mean move smarter or move more efficiently. These are skills that can always be improved upon, but I think it is very easy to teach these at a basic level, while at the same time constantly emphasizing to players how to improve in these areas.

So what is an offensive philosophy that is robust?

  1. A robust offensive philosophy works against any defensive tactic.
  2. A robust offensive philosophy works with a variety of players, allowing them to showcase their strengths and mask their weaknesses.
  3. A robust offensive philosophy works at any point in the game.
  4. A robust offensive philosophy gives coaches something to hold players accountable to.
  5. A robust offensive philosophy gives players something they can be confident in.
  6. A robust offensive philosophy provides the best offensive players on a team the opportunity to help their team.
  7. A robust offensive philosophy emphasizes offensive rebounding.

You can change your offense against different defenses but your philosophy shouldn’t change. There should still be a certain mentality that players bring to a possession no matter what the defense is doing. Coaches talk a lot about having a defensive mentality. Contrary to what this blog might make you think, I think defense is more important than offense. However, having an offensive mentality is important to playing good defense. How many times do you see teams come down and fire up a bad shot and then play good defense? Playing good offense can give teams a sense of euphoria and a desire to get a stop. Bad offense often leads to easy transition opportunities or at best a lack of energy on defense. Having a robust offensive philosophy helps teams keep up a more consistent mindset on each possession.

A robust offensive philosophy must allow players to use their strengths and mask their weaknesses. Coaches can ask their players to practice in discomfort but they must allow them to play in comfort. When a coach asks a player to do something in a game that they know they aren’t comfortable doing, it affects that player’s mentality as well as the mentality of their teammates. As coaches we can always throw out the words, “Do it because I said so” but I would like to ask you this. If you’re asking a player who can’t attack well with their left hand to use a ball screen on the right wing to go to the middle, then how is that any different from asking that player to beat Michael Jordan in 1 on 1 and giving him the ball first.  It doesn’t set them up for success . That player knows that’s not their strength; their teammates know it’s not their strength. It affects the outcome no matter what the defense does because it affects the players’ mentality.

A robust offensive philosophy must be work no matter the time and score. Again you can change what you do based on the time and score, but it’s tough to change your philosophy. You can call a different offense but your players must have the same mentality when they approach that possession. It’s going to be tough to have a different philosophy with a different play call. I wouldn’t recommend developing your philosophy from your plays. Develop your plays from your philosophy.

A robust offensive philosophy provides a mechanism for holding players accountable which helps create a confident mentality. We’ve talked a lot about mentality already. I won’t harp on that now except to say that being able to hold players accountable is important to team success. When players know they are doing the right things, it gives them confidence because coach is happy and they can be more freely on the court.

I haven’t talked a lot about scoring, because I think that is more of a factor of the players than the offense. Players make plays.  Good players make good plays.  Great players make great ones. They don’t need a coach to score. They need a coach to make it easier for them to score. A robust offensive philosophy gets the ball to players who can score or create easy scoring opportunities for their teammates in situations where it is easy for them to do so. We’ve already talked about how a defense can take away something if they want to throw enough resources at it. The question is what do they have to give up to take it away and can your offense capitalize. A robust offensive philosophy makes defenses pay for every choice they make.

This last one may be the most important one of them all. A robust offensive philosophy places an emphasis on offensive rebounding. If you’re not coaching in the NBA, you’re probably coaching a team that’s going to miss over half of their shots game after game. How many of those rebounds are you going to get? Your half court offensive philosophy must address how you want your team to rebound offensively. You won’t score many points if you don’t.

Now that your offensive philosophy is fundamentally sound and robust, you must make it straightforward for your players. You can make it as complicated as you want to in the office. You can talk about it for hours and look at different options and pros and cons. However, when you step on the court, it better be like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It better be simple. It better be presented simply. It better be executed simply. Of course there are a lot of different skills and concepts that go into making an offense work. Shooting is a fairly complex skill. Some players make it more complicated than others. That’s even more reason that your offensive philosophy must be simple. Players should be able to tell you in less than 30 seconds how you want them to play on offense. It doesn’t have to be some catchy anagram or “Coach’s Offensive Octagon.” It doesn’t have to be clever. It should be simple, concise and easy for them to understand.

Your offensive philosophy must be fundamentally sound. It must be robust. It must be straightforward. If your offensive philosophy encompasses those three qualities, then your team has a good chance to play lots of quality possessions over the course of a season. By the end of the season, your offense might be complicated but your philosophy will remain the same.

Team Mentality: An Offensive Philosophy Part 3

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Offensive Philosophy

The first question about an offensive philosophy surrounds the physical skills of the offensive players. The second question asks about the mental state of the players. Do the offensive players allow the defense to dictate the mentality of the offense? In other words, are the offensive players confident enough in their understanding of the offense that no matter what the defense does, they will be able to generate the best shot every possession?

How many times have you seen a player on offense freeze because they don’t know what to do? Typically this happens for one of three reasons, they forgot what to do, there are so many options they can’t decide, or they aren’t allowed to do what they want. Sometimes this happens when a player catches the ball. Sometimes it happens when they don’t have the ball. We can yell and fuss and scream and teach and whatever we have to do to get the player to remember what to do. Or we can make it really simple and straightforward and we can drill it until they don’t know what else to do.

Players can own an offensive mentality in which they are ultimately confident. There’s no reason they can’t. When they don’t have to worry about “messing up the play,” they can focus on just playing. They can focus on shooting, making good moves, making good decisions, screening, and all the other skills we want them to execute.

This mentality must start with an understanding of spacing, player movement and ball movement. Then it must be complimented with an understanding of each player’s strengths and weaknesses. This starts with understanding one’s self and then understanding one’s teammates. If players understand these things, then I believe they can find a way to beat any defense that’s out there.

I don’t believe they have to memorize 57 quick hitters or 10 continuities to confident in their offensive mentality. At the same time, it takes time and a level of basketball IQ to be able to effectively run a true motion offense. Instead what if we do something that takes the best of both worlds and combines them.

What if we glue players to spots on the floor that they can’t leave unless something makes them leave those spots? That something would be an action that is so simple and that has been drilled so many times that it becomes instinct.  Spacing therefore is maintained.

What if we give the player with the ball the freedom to do whatever they want within their skill set? Now the ball can move freely based on what the player feels comfortable doing based on what the defense allows. Ball movement happens easily.

What if we teach them step-by-step how players can move through the use of concepts and rules that can be drilled and mastered? Now players move in an organized fashion but also in a way that is unpredictable. We have accomplished the criteria of player movement.

Now we have to know our teammates and ourselves. As a player, I must know:

The list goes on and on. However, if a player knows these things like this, it makes offense so much easier to play. Each of these things could happen on the same possession or none of them, but none of them are specific to any play. They are just a part of playing offense.

Don’t get me wrong; there must be some skill level to go along with the mentality. Players must be able to do something on the court. The higher the level of competition, the more they need to be able to do.

However, assuming that there are similar levels of players on the court, I believe that a team of players with a confident mentality regarding how they want to play offense will be able to take advantage of any defense they face. What happens when a defense changes how they defend the post or a ball screen? What happens when a defense goes from a man to man to a match up zone? What happens when the defense starts playing a box and one?

How many times have you seen a defense get into the heads of the offense just because they take something away or do something different? I believe we can severely neutralize if not prevent this from happening. If players know how to play offense, they don’t care what the defense does. They just play offense.

Sometimes players get in their own way. Ever seen offensive players freeze up when the pass they are supposed to make isn’t available? What happens when a player forgets to set a screen, or makes the wrong pass? What happens when players run aimlessly around the court without purpose and spacing, because they don’t really know where to go?

If the offensive players are tied to a play, they are more likely to be unsure what to do if the defense is able to take away part of the play. If the defense can cause the play to breakdown, then the offense is forced to do something else.

I believe these should never happen. Players should be able step on the floor and play offense with very little mental effort. Of course we can practice offense for hours and hours to make sure we get it right, but what about players’ skills? What about defense? If we simplify offense and at the same time make it unpredictable, we can be good offensively, and get better at defending and fundamental skills. If we teach and practice the same concepts on a daily basis, then we can focus on improving on the skills surrounding these concepts as well as defensive concepts.

Players will never worry that the defense took something away. They will never worry about what defense the other team is playing. They will find ways to attack the defense and generate scoring opportunities. It’s really not that hard. I think a lot of coaches make it that way trying to out think the room. If your team has a mentality that they can’t be defended, you might be surprised what they can do.

The only question that remains is can they put the ball in the basket. This is the single biggest reason we have struggled over the last 4 years offensively. We can generate tons of shots and good shots. We just haven’t been able to put the ball in the basket. The best way to defend us has been to let us shoot and then make sure you get the rebound.

Skills and Abilities: An Offensive Philosophy Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series Offensive Philosophy

The first major question in developing an offensive philosophy (and not necessarily the most important question) is do the offensive players have the skills and abilities to take advantage of what the defense is doing. In other words, if the defense takes away a certain movement or action can the offensive players take advantage of what the defense gives up? In reference to the last post, if the defense allows a certain movement or action, can the offense capitalize?

For instance, if a defender denies a pass, can the offensive player recognize it and make a good backdoor cut. If a defender fronts a post player, can the perimeter player make a good lob pass away from help side defenders? If a defender chases the offensive player off of a downscreen, can that offensive player curl? If the defender is forcing the ball handler to their weak hand, can that player still be effective? If the defense traps a ball screen, can the ball handler make the proper play to make the defense pay for taking that risk?

How do you defend Ray Allen when he’s coming off of a screen? He’s going to set it up. He’s going to use it. He’s going to make the right read depending on what the defense does. So many times a defenders only chance is too defend him differently than he did the last time to make him uncomfortable and then make the shot a little tougher in hopes that he misses.

How do you defend Tony Parker on a ball screen with Tim Duncan? So many times, the only thing defenses can really do is force one of the two to shoot a jump shot and hope they miss. Without Serge Ibaka on the court, they got any shot they wanted in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. It’s a nearly impossible task.

Complete offensive players make offense easier on everyone else. They create opportunities for teammates that allow them to play to their strengths. One complete player is hard to guard. Two complete players are almost impossible to guard.

If you’re coaching against players who have extraordinary skills and talents, they become nearly impossible to defend with one player. These kinds of players have the skills and abilities to counter almost any defensive maneuver. If you decide to double-team that player, offense just got a lot easier for the other 4 players.

However, most of us don’t have the luxury to coach that level player. Most of us coach players who have limitations. They aren’t proficient dribblers with both hands. They can’t create their own shot. They don’t use screens well. They can’t finish in traffic. They can’t shoot off the dribble. They can’t shoot without dribbling. They are undersized. They are slow. The list of potential limitations is long. Most players have at least one offensive limitation. Other players have more than one. This affects their mentality, which we will talk about later, but at the most basic level, it affects their offensive production.

What if your team doesn’t have one complete player? Like most of us, what if our whole roster is made up of incomplete players? We become much easier to defend. Defenses can make shooters drive. They can make drivers shoot. They can make right-handed players go left. The good news is that the teams we play against are similar to us. Some are better, and some are worse, but the limitations of other teams give us a chance to be successful on game day. Otherwise, we would be in trouble (e.g. the rest of the world during the Summer Olympics). When the USA puts it’s 5 best players on the court, the rest of the world can’t keep up.

Players can develop their skills. They can get better over the course of their careers. However, very few of them will ever be complete players. Even if they have complete skill sets, many of them don’t have the athleticism of a Lebron James or Kevin Durant. So even a complete skill set is limited by their athletic ability.

There are so many situations where it comes down to a matter of the execution of a skill. Some players are more skilled than others. Some players are so talented that a defender might only make it more difficult for a player to execute a skill. They may never be able to take away that opportunity. Other players may have trouble executing the skill even in the most simple situations. Even if the coach calls the perfect play in the perfect situation, if the player can’t execute the skills properly, then the play will fail.

How can we empower players to be successful on offense given their limitations? We teach them how to play and use their skill sets to help the team. We let drivers be drivers. We let shooters be shooters. We let players who can go right go right. We let post players, who might not be good 1 on 1 players, be good screeners. We find ways to help our players be successful no matter what the situation.

How many times do we run an offense that looks good on paper but doesn’t work when our players run it? We’re mad at our players because it isn’t working. Maybe they don’t have the skill set to run that play or that offense. Our players’ limitations severely handicap offensive production. When we run plays or offenses that require players to do things that they are not good at, we make that box even smaller.

I believe players have to have options. Players must have the option to do multiple things with the ball within their skill set when they catch it. Obviously if they can’t do anything with the ball, then there is a bigger problem. Surely if they are on your team, they can do something with the ball. Surely you can help them learn how to take advantage of their skill set in a way that helps the team.

As long as there is spacing, player movement, and ball movement, I believe teams will create cracks in defenses and turn them into gaping holes if we teach them and allow them to do so. If offense is simple, then they can be more focused on their skills. If offense is unpredictable, then the defense has a more difficult time knowing what’s going to happen next. This gives our players with limited skill sets an advantage.

The point here is that an offensive philosophy should allow players to maximize their strengths and hide their weaknesses. It should be flexible to no matter who is on your team and no matter who goes in the game. If there is an emphasis on spacing, player movement, and ball movement along with the development of skills, then your team will be tough to guard.