Sunday, August 31, 2008

Tips from Alvin Gentry and Jeff Van Gundy

The September 2008 issue of Coach Sean Miller's Xavier newsletter's hit my inbox the other day. It includes some good notes from Alvin Gentry and Jeff Van Gundy.

Coach Gentry:

-- “Toughest thing in the NBA to guard is screen and flare with a good player. Pick and roll is more limited in today’s NBA. Set ballscreens with a shooter.”

-- “In transition, players tend to run back into the lane on defense. It is important for guards to be more man conscious in transition – ‘stay attached to man.’”

-- “Very difficult to trap pick-n-rolls, guards are too good off of the dribble, plus low post player 'punches' in middle of lane under goal which means the rotations are difficult.”

-- “Choose 2 or 3 things defensively and get good at them.”

-- “Don’t let great players catch the ball.”

Coach Van Gundy:

-- “I didn’t like two-a-days. Liked to come back a second time at night, walk through defensive concepts to prepare for next morning’s practice instead.”

-- “I always ask myself are we playing hard? If so, I can evaluate defensive schemes, if not your scheme can’t be evaluated.”

-- “Give great shooters one direction as they prepare to use screens.”

-- “Two keys to defense are transition defense and rebounding. He weighs these two things versus the greatness of the player when debating whether to change defensive scheme through scouting.”

-- "One thing that helped our post spacing is when the opposite post player went under the backboard on a low-post catch. This leaves the middle open for the post up player."

-- “There is no cutting action on a low post catch when the post player catches the ball in the paint.”

-- "Ball screening versus zone defense is very effective."

One Dad's daily reminder to his kids

As a parent, I really enjoyed this article about how Nick Sanchez, father of USC QB Mark Sanchez, raised his kids.

Here's an excerpt from the story in the Orange County Register:

Every day before they left for school or he dropped them off somewhere, Nick Sanchez would tell his sons: "Be a leader today."  

One of his tactics was to have them state their multiplication tables, talk about their science projects or spell words while shooting free throws or dribbling with their off hand. The idea behind that?  "Being able to multitask," Nick Sanchez said, "and to place them (in) a stressful situation so they're able to think on their feet and make decisions."

Nick Sanchez isn't sure where he picked up his taskmaster tendencies -- although it's worth noting that the Orange County fire captain was a sergeant in the Army.

He pushed his kids hard, on the field and in the classroom.  While riding in the car, Nick would ask them what they did in school that day. He wouldn't accept "Uh, nothing" for an answer, insisting that they elaborate.

Whatever the activity, he asked them "to achieve above and beyond what they felt was their best."

Giving assistant coaches ownership

Happened to come across the Maryland-Delaware football game yesterday and heard the game announcers talking about how Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler had passed on several big-time jobs to remain at UD.  

It got me curious about Coach Keeler, so I did some research and found his success as a head coach really took off after he made the decision 5-6 years ago to delegate more responsibility to his assistants.

Said Coach Keeler:  

"I think I've learned the magic of my success is hiring great people.  That's the best thing I do. I let them coach.  I need to give them ownership.  I'm very heavily involved in everything, but I'm smart enough not to meddle when I shouldn't meddle, and I think that's why we've been successful."

According to his offensive coordinator:  

"This is the best possible situation you can be in as a coordinator.  He's the head coach and he's ultimately responsible for the results of the team. But as offensive coordinator, I'm ultimately responsible for the results of the offense. So, you want to be able to make the key decisions. One of the reasons I love working for K.C. is, I have the opportunity to make those decisions."

By trusting his coordinators the freedom to do their jobs, Coach Keeler is able to focus on a number of important off-the-field issues:

"There are some things I want to do. I want a new weight room. I want a new academic center. I want a new athletic training room. I want enhanced locker rooms. I want to do something with the stadium. If I'm not leading the charge, who is?  I've gotten more involved in a lot of things. So, I've had to learn to put a lot of faith in the people I hire."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Coaching "Unconscious Competency"

My sister is an SMU alum and I'm a June Jones fan, so I try to keep up with his work with the Mustangs.  He knows he has a big job ahead of him and his staff.  SMU, one of the nation's best football teams in the early 1980s, went 1-11 last season and has struggled since receiving the NCAA "Death Penalty" in 1987.

According to a story in yesterday's Dallas paper, Coach Jones' first order of action is to establish a vision for his team:  

"You need some trust in an organization, doesn't matter if it's pro sports or college. Everybody has to be pulling together with the same vision and the same goals. Otherwise, you're beat before you even start."

As the article describes, Jones' coaching style is built around patience and affirmation:

There are no whistles, no profanity-laced tirades directed at players who make errors. The only coach who consistently makes noise is assistant Frank Gansz, the special teams master – and even he's bellowing positive reinforcement. 

If a player misses an assignment, he's pulled aside, shown the right way and sent back out to try again. "Unconscious competency," it is called.  The thinking is that the players – who are, after all, impressionable young adults – will be confident in crunch time, when no one can save them but themselves.

[By the way, Jones (who started a true freshman at QB) lost his SMU opener last night at Rice, 56-27.]

Friday, August 29, 2008

Basketball drills from Spain

Thanks to Chris Hackett, an assistant coach at Florida Tech in Melbourne, for passing along packet of drills from a clinic he worked in Europe this summer.  Download here as a PDF.

Palm Springs Coaches Clinic is next week

The Palm Springs Coaches Clinic is set for Sept. 5-7 at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa. A bunch of D-1 coaches, as well as a number of NBA folks will be speaking.  Here's the full schedule.  Should be a great three days.  

If you're interested in attending, you can download the registration form (as a PDF) here.

Where have all the point guards gone?

In their weekly email the other day, the Santa Clara coaches had a note from Steve Nash, who played at SC, about the importance of a point guard: "A point guard sets the table for everybody; he makes other players believe in themselves."

Unfortunately, there are few young players who play the PG position with Nash's mentality. In fact, I read a good story last year in the NY Times on the dearth of point guards.

"Great guard play wins games in March, or so the cliché goes. [But point guards] have become more the exception than the rule in recent years. Coaches, N.B.A. scouts and talent evaluators say there are a variety of reasons why the pass-first point guard seems to have gone missing.

But the primary reason they point to is that a generation of players weaned on Allen Iverson crossovers does not value passing as an art.

Before the N.B.A. established an age limit last year, high school stars — especially the taller ones — were flying to the pros, leaving the college game virtually void of talented big men. The impact of the draft rule has been obvious during this N.C.A.A. tournament, which has showcased players 6-foot-9 and above, like Ohio State’s Greg Oden, Texas’ Kevin Durant and North Carolina’s Brandan Wright.

But the less publicized and perhaps even more meaningful trend in the college game has been the absence of pass-first leaders at the point-guard position the past few years.

Traditional point guards like Bobby Hurley, Kenny Anderson and Mateen Cleaves, who dominated past N.C.A.A. tournaments, have become as rare in college basketball as thigh-hugging shorts. Since 2000, the number of players averaging more than seven assists a game has decreased from 11 to 2."

So where have all the point guards gone?

According to coaches and experts quoted in the NYT article there are a couple of key explanations:

1. An increased emphasis on scoring: "In an era of highlight dunks and a college 3-point line that has been called too close to the basket, the craft of running a team and distributing the ball is not viewed as being glamorous." Said Sonics assistant GM Troy Weaver: “I think Allen Iverson messed up the game. All these little guys dribble around instead of passing the ball.”

2. The need to "get noticed": "Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said that many talented high school players avoided playing point guard to bolster their exposure to college coaches. Many guards, he said, believe the only way they can get noticed is by scoring points."

3. Negative perceptions of PGs: The article quotes Grizzlies PG Mike Conley who says, “If you’re not a scoring point guard, people don’t think of you as highly. They don’t think of you as the type that’s going to make an impact in college because you’re not trying to score 20 points a game. You’re more trying to get 10 assists.”

Coaches agree that playing the PG position requires not only a particular skill-set, but a certain mindset. Said Texas coach Rick Barnes, who's coached point guards T.J. Ford, Daniel Gibson, and D.J. Augustin:

“They see things a little bit differently. The ones that I’ve been around have been very, very unselfish.”

Unfortunately, most young players today don't share Nash's "table-setting" mentality. In the words of Milan Brown, coach at Mount St. Mary's: “No one wants to set the table anymore. Everyone wants to eat.”

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What makes a player "coachable"?

A post from yesterday had a quote from Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli that ended with a question about "coachability." It got me thinking about the subject of "coachability" -- what it is, why it's important, etc.

Here's a solid definition from one management consultant: "Coachability is the extent that we hear and utilize outside input and influences. To produce breakthroughs, we need to be coachable."

About five years ago, former NBA player Devin Durrant (who averaged nearly 30 ppg for BYU back in the mid-80s) wrote a book called "Raising an All-American." I have a copy here at the house, so I pulled it off the shelf. It's written for parents, but really provides excellent insight on the subject and should be a must-read for players.

[Devin is pictured above and below in action at BYU.]

A couple of excerpts from the book that I found here (which, thankfully, saved me from having to re-type it myself):

Coachable and teachable are synonymous. Coaches are first and foremost, teachers. Players are students. Coaches want to feel players care about what they say. During practice, during timeouts, in the post-game, etc., a coachable player will give his coach his undivided attention and then do what he has been told to do.

If a player doesn't learn to listen, then he will have to learn to like a seat on the bench. More opportunities come to those who are willing to be taught.

One of the things that has always amazed me as a basketball player is how much time some players spend wishing the coach would change the way he did things—wishing that the coach would change the offense, wishing that the coach would change the defense, wishing the coach would change who he plays.

Those players need to take all that energy and think about what they can change within themselves. A potential All-American doesn't worry about the things he can't control. He just deals with the things he can control. As a player, one thing he can control is where he is going to expend his energy.

An athlete should focus on how to become a better athlete. A coachable athlete will try to understand what the coach is trying to accomplish and then do his best to make that happen.

Some athletes say, "The coach doesn't like me." That attitude creates a self-imposed negative barrier blocking the athlete from success. Remember a coach usually loves his players because they are playing their guts out for him. A coach may criticize a player [EM: Don't take it personally], but that doesn't mean he doesn't like the player [EM: Don't make assumptions.].

The coach wants to win. If a team member helps him do that, he will treat that player like a son because that player is helping him succeed. Generally speaking, if the coach seems to not like a player, it is because the player is not doing the things that will help the team win.

A potential All-American doesn't blame his lack of playing time on a feeling that the coach doesn't like him personally. The coach is going to play those players that he thinks give him the best chance to get a victory.

Some coaches are a lot easier to hate than to love. Despising a coach at times is okay. Keep in mind that an unlikable coach might be the key to future athletic success. It is not pleasant to be yelled at for having made a mistake but it is the coach's job to push the player.

A player won't generally have positive feelings toward a coach who at times is critical of him, but his feelings may change over time. A coach has to be a little crazy, even mean at times. He may have to yell and rant and rave in order to get a player to perform at his best.

A coachable player is not an excuse maker. He takes responsibility for his actions. If his coach takes him out and jumps all over him, he doesn't blame the coach. He is accountable for his own errors. When he makes a mistake, he acknowledges it and moves on. He then does his best not to make the same mistake again.

A coachable player knows he needs to take criticism or he will never get any better. One thing all great players seem to have in common is during their careers, one or more coaches were critical of them. As a matter of fact, one common method of coaching is criticism.

One of the best examples I have ever seen of someone who could take criticism and then go out and do good things was Charles Barkley. I was his teammate representing the United States in the University Games some years back.

As we prepared for the games, we spent some time in Kansas City where we played an exhibition game. At one point in the game I was on the bench and Charles was on the floor. He made a mistake and the coach immediately sent someone in for him. Charles came over to the bench and sat down right by me.

Our coach, Norm Stewart, who was the coach at the University of Missouri at the time, walked down the bench and stood above where the two of us were seated. I don't remember what Charles had done wrong on the court, but Coach Stewart let him have it. I watched Charles as he looked Coach in the eye. He didn't say anything, didn't challenge him, just took it like a man.

Coach Stewart finished his tirade, returned to his chair, and sat down. Charles got himself ready to go back in the game. Nothing more was said of it. It was over for Charles and it was over for Coach Stewart.

Charles went on and had a successful experience with that team at the University Games. I was impressed at how well Charles handled that tongue lashing. It took a lot of character just to take it and move on, but I believe Charles knew Coach Stewart's goal was to make him a better player.

One of the pluses of participating in athletics is that it teaches accountability. When [a player] makes a mistake, he is immediately held accountable. That might mean that he will be taken out of the game and get to sit on the bench for a while, or even for the rest of the game. That could happen because the coach is making him accountable for his mistakes.

Pat Summitt, the very successful coach of the women's basketball team at the University of Tennessee, said: “Accountability is essential to personal growth, as well as team growth. How can you improve if you're never wrong? If you don't admit a mistake and take responsibility for it, you're bound to make the same one again.”

[For more information on Devin and the book, click here.]

Expectations start at the top

You've likely heard the old saying about leadership starting at the top. A strong, active, and involved owner, founder, CEO, or president set the tone and pace for the entire organization. Whatever they emphasize or value becomes the focus of those who work there.

In the words of Peter Kyne, "The morale of an organization is not built from the bottom up; it filters from the top down."

So I took notice when I came across a note about Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt calling a late July meeting with his team. According to this article, Hunt told the players that "they should expect to be champions when they play for the Chiefs."

Said Hunt after the meeting: “That’s something they’re going to hear a lot from Carl (Peterson) and a lot from Herm (Edwards) and the coaching staff, but I wanted them to know that expectation started at the top with me. That’s the direction we’re headed.”

“When the coach says something, it’s one thing,” said former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese (who now works for ESPN). “When the owner says something, it’s totally different. It tends to get everyone’s attention. Everybody understands that he better do what he’s supposed to. Having him say that, it kind of put a spark in everybody. It tends to get everybody pulling in the same direction. He’s the guy that signs everybody’s paycheck.”

According to the article:

Hunt also laid out his expectations for this season. Other than to say he wanted the Chiefs to be competitive for a playoff spot, his goals had little to do with wins and losses and more to do with laying the foundation for greater success.

“I’m expecting the young players to develop,” he said. “It’s not just the first-year players but also the guys in their second and third years. I want to see them really make the leaps that you expect to see at that stage of their career.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Err on the side of production

Found an interesting quote from Detroit Lions head coach Rod Marinelli about what he looks for when evaluating college players.

According to Coach Marinelli:

"You have to have a unique athlete and there aren't that many who come out every year. There's a part, there's an anticipation, and that's why you can take these 40-(yard times) and throw them out.

There's an anticipation when the ball moves, some guys are just faster, they can feel it and they can sense it. They feel things moving around them. That same guy might run a 4.9 -- I've seen it. Initial quickness, that's what I'm looking for. And then it's balance and instincts.

Sometimes you get these guys that run a 4.9 -- I had a guy like that and his instincts off the ball were incredible. He was as fast as anybody at the combine in those first four yards.

It's that feel. It's not timing because that means you're guessing; it's a feel, they can feel a guy jerk, they can feel a guy lean and then they have the confidence to go. You can see that sometimes in the later draft picks -- you can find it.

That's why I think you always err on the side of production, always err on the side of film. You don't want to err on how high they jump or how tall they are. Err on the side of production.

What happens is sometimes these elite athletes you look at are [productive], but you have to see why they're [productive]. Everything they've done (in college) and been successful with, it gets stymied (in the pros). It's different. Then it's 'How coachable is this guy?'"

The Four Agreements: Lessons for Coaches

Tom Brady mentioned in an Esquire magazine interview I saw recently that he'd read the book by Don Miguel Ruiz titled "The Four Agreements." Curious, I picked up a copy. It's a relatively short book, only 140 pages, so I was able to get through it quickly. There are some good lessons for not only coaches and their players, but for all of us.

Ruiz outlines the four most important beliefs or "agreements," which I've recapped here using excerpts from the book:

1. Be Impeccable with Your Word: "The word is a force; it is the power you have to express and communicate, to think, and thereby create the events in your life. When you are impeccable, you take responsibility for your actions, but you do not judge or blame yourself. Being impeccable with your word is the correct use of your energy.

But making this agreement is difficult because we have learned to do precisely the opposite. We have learned to lie as a habit of our communication with others and more importantly ourselves. We use the word to curse, to blame, to find guilt, to destroy. Of course, we also use it in the right way, but not too often. Mostly we use the word to spread our personal poison -- to express anger, jealousy, envy, and hate.

We must begin to understand what the word is and what the word does."

2. Don't Take Anything Personally: "Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about "me." We think we are responsible for everything. Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.

When you take things personally, then you feel offended [when someone insults you], and your reaction is to defend your beliefs. You have the need to be right and make everybody else wrong.
Others are going to have their own opinion according to their belief system, so nothing they think about me is really about me, but it is about them. Don't take anything personally because by taking things personally you set yourself up to suffer for nothing.

When you make it a strong habit not to take anything personally, you avoid many upsets in your life. Your anger, jealousy, and envy will disappear. Write this agreement on paper, and put it on your refrigerator to remind you all the time: Don't take anything personally."

3. Don't Make Assumptions: "We have a tendency to make assumptions about everything. The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth. We make assumptions about what others are doing or thinking -- we take it personally -- then we blame them. We also make assumptions about ourselves, and this creates a lot of inner conflict.

Even if we hear something and we don't understand, we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. When we believe something, we assume we are right about it to the point that we will destroy relationships in order to defend our position.

The way to keep yourself from making assumptions is to ask questions. Make sure the communication is clear. If you don't understand, ask. Have the courage to ask questions until you are clear as you can be, and even then do not assume you know all there is to know about a given situation. Without making assumptions your word becomes impeccable.

Don't make assumptions. Just saying this sounds easy, but I understand it is difficult to do because we so often do exactly the opposite."

4. Always Do Your Best: "The fourth agreement is about the action of the first three. Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. Everything is alive and changing all the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be as good.

Doing your best, you are going to live your life intensely. You are going to be productive, you are going to be good to yourself, because you will be giving yourself to your family, to your community, to everything. It is the action that is going to make you feel intensely happy.

When you always do your best, you take action. Doing your best is taking the action because you love it, not because you're expecting a reward. Most people do exactly the opposite: They only take action when they expect a reward, and they don't enjoy the action. And that's the reason they won't do their best.

When you do your best, you learn to accept yourself. But you have to be aware and learn from your mistakes. Learning from your mistakes means you practice, look honestly at the results, and keep practicing. This increases your awareness.

By doing your best, the habits of misusing your word, taking things personally, and making assumptions will become weaker and less frequent with time."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A level of detail "that most people cannot comprehend"

Kevin Newell, the editor of Coach and Athletic Director magazine, did a terrific Q&A with Missouri coach Gary Pinkel in the magazine's August issue. Among the things Coach Pinkel emphasizes in the article are organization and fundamentals.

[Before coming to Mizzou, Pinkel, who played for and later worked as an assistant for the great Don James at Washington, was the head coach at Toledo for 10 seasons.]

Here are his thoughts on fundamentals and attention to detail:

"I remember Coach James constantly telling me to know the fundamentals and details of the position I was coaching, but always look at the big picture; to expand your knowledge on offense and defense so it could lead to another coaching position or a coordinator’s position. That knowledge of the entire offense or defense would lend itself to making that transition and hopefully having success.

[Coach James was] an organizational genius. He always talked about attention to detail. That is kind of defined at levels that most people cannot comprehend. He did absolutely everything from A to Z. We had a plan for every part of our program.

I called them the seasonal organization. We would start with spring football, then spring recruiting, summer, fall ball, in-season organization, recruiting, and your off-season program. We had a detailed organizational plan for success in every one of those areas. It’s a systems approach.

One of the many things that kind of set us a part, and one of the things that has had a big influence on me – I have done this at Toledo and now Missouri —is we evaluate every single thing that we do when we’re done. We analyze and evaluate our camps, player development, our two-a-days, regular season games, and bowl games, win or lose. We have a written evaluation from year to year. And last year we were fourth in the nation.

You always analyze and make notes. What that does is, you’re not only asking your players to get better, but you’re asking your coaches to coach better, too. This allows your program to get better each and every year and apply those lessons, good or bad.

There are a lot of people who have it on paper but don’t carry it out. I was the guy that if you had it on paper, you did it. I think that’s rule number one. It’s hard to explain this to people unless you come in and look at how we do it, but we have an exact plan for everything we do, a detailed plan. Everything is written out to the finest, minute detail and we carry those details out day in, day out. And we evaluate those things and make them better.

A lot of the times, you don’t realize the extent of what details mean unless you look out around and you find out what other people are doing. I always look at what other people are doing.

Although the foundation of our program has not changed, I am always reading about other coaches—football coaches, basketball coaches, NFL, NBA, anybody that has had success, anybody that has overcome adversity, and anybody that has built a program.

One thing I think is important to remember is that things change. Little things in every business change as well as college football. And you have to make some of those changes or it will stunt your program.

I think when you have an organizational plan you can’t be afraid to make some subtle changes. Our foundation has never changed, but there are little things internally that we have done to improve as we try to evaluate and get better.

You will not be a good football team if you don’t teach fundamentals. I tell our football players that there are just a couple of ways you become a better football player. One is player development. You get stronger, faster, and quicker every year you’re in the program. Then you get knowledge of your position.

The other thing is fundamentals, just constantly mastering the fundamentals of your position. If you do that, eventually you will become a better football player or become a better football team."

Assistant coaches: The backbone of a team's success

The current issue of The Sporting News has a great interview with NE Pats coach Bill Belichick (shown here with Florida coach Billy Donovan before the Pats preseason game with the Bucs).

The full interview isn't available online (at least not that I could find), but they did post some "outtakes" from the interview on their website. A couple of highlights:

On what coaches can learn from other sports: "I think maybe some of the basic coaching things, like when I talk to (Johns Hopkins) coach (Dave) Pietramala about a situation or a player or the concept of preparing for this or that or how to present it or the psychological part of it -- I think there's some carryover there. But lacrosse is a lot more (like) basketball or soccer ... it's different than football, (where) at the end of each play you huddle, you pick a new play. The games are a lot different, but the coaching principles carry over."

On what he learned in school: "One of the things I'd say I learned the most was the appreciation of the skills and talents of other people, the students, and how different they were and how talented they were and how they could do things, and not everybody did them the same way.

I think that applies to football, where you have receivers that have different styles. They're good, but they're not all the same, and you have to figure out ways to utilize those things. What one person does (well), another person might not, but they may still be able to be productive at that position. ... You can be good ... with one style of defense or another style of defense, as long as it's coordinated and fits together."

On how teams are a reflection of their coach: "Whoever's picking the players and coaching the players should pick them and coach them the way they want the team to perform. I'm not saying it's always perfect. But if you want a really fast team, you should go out and get really fast players. If you want a really big team, you should go out and get really big players. If you want a team that can really throw the ball and you're a good passing coach, then you should go out and get good passing players, and you should coach them well, and you should be able to throw the ball.

However you build you team, you should be able to see that reflected in way the team performs -- unless you made a lot of mistakes, or maybe there's too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, either coaching the team or selecting the team."

On dealing with players: "In some respects, you have to treat everybody the same. There has to be some sort of common denominator. But in another way, you can make some adjustments for some people, anybody really -- it doesn't have be one of the "name" players. That's what it comes back to. Any time you make a decision, you do anything, (if) you look back and say, 'That really doesn't help our team,' then why do it?"

On team leaders: "In a lot of cases, our best players are our best leaders and our hardest workers. They set a better example, to be as good as they can possibly be. That's an awesome situation -- that's really what you want. You want your best players to really set the pace. That's great environment for everyone else to emulate and try to keep up with."

On his coaching staff: "The assistants are the backbone of our success, really -- they're the ones who do most of the coaching. On a team basis, I do a percentage of it, but they actually do a far greater percentage of it. I think there is a balance. You want everybody to work together. At the same time, you want people to be able to work independently and come up with things on their own and handle problems on their own. But it's all in the context of a team framework."

Monday, August 25, 2008

How Kobe rebuilt his rep with hard work

Bill Plaschke had a good column in the LA Times this past weekend about how the Olympics provided a platform from which Kobe rebuilt his reputation.

Players speaking glowingly of him. Players who once universally distrusted him, well, they like him. They really like him. [Players who] once froze him out now follow him, gaining energy from his defense, making it their mantra.

Every game, Bryant has been the first player in a defensive stance, the first guy guarding the opponent in the backcourt, squatting and straining alone in front of four guys who have no choice but to imitate. If this team could have only one passport, Bryant playing defense would be the photo.

The loner has become an embraced leader.

Here's what his teammates say:

Chris Bosh: "He gives it his all on every second of every play. You see that and you're like, you've got to do the same thing. You see a guy playing that hard, you'll do anything not to let him down."

Chris Paul: "You hear a lot of things about Kobe, but I had no idea he was such a basketball junkie. He studies all the film, talks basketball all the time, knows everything. He always wants to guard the other team's best player."

Carmelo Anthony: "The things he does out there, they're not about putting the ball in the basket. They're about his presence."

This isn't about image-making. Anyone can change their image over night. What Kobe's done is about reputation-building. His actions have spoken louder than anything he could have ever said. Instead of talking about leadership, he's provided it.

It also says something about where Kobe is in his life right now. He's older (he celebrated his 30th birthday in Beijing). He has a family. He's been through the battles. He's won titles (and lost titles).

It's interesting to watch people evolve as they get older. What they valued when they were 19 versus what they value when they're 30 or 40 or 50.

As Plaschke puts it:

"The Beijing Olympics may initially be known for Michael Phelps' strength and Usain Bolt's speed, but, among American sports fans, no memory will prove as indelible as Kobe Bryant's redemption."

Four tips for your bigs

If you're a coach who is looking to help your big men improve, here are some tips from Jason Ludwig, the director of basketball ops at Santa Clara. [Contact Jason at to get on SC's "Assist of the Week" email list.]

Four quick tips:

1. Run the floor. Whether your opponent is bigger or better than you, you can out-run them. This requires that you're in top physical condition so that you can run the floor from basket to basket throughout the entire game. A big man who runs the floor will not only get himself easy opportunities to score but will open things up for his teammates in transition.

2. Use the backboard. When you're shooting from inside 10 feet, always try to use the backboard. Doing so eliminates the finesse needed when the ball is shot from close range without using the backboard.

3. Genuinely want the ball. You should always run the floor hard so that you can get the ball. If you don't get it, you post up hard calling for the ball. When a teammate takes a shot, go hard to offensive glass to get the ball. The more the big man gets the ball, the more you will score, and the more your team will score. In order to get the ball you can't simply want it, you've got to demand it.

4. Work on your hands. You must be able to catch any pass that is thrown to you.

Coaches and the need to be liked

This week's issue of SI has an interesting article about Bengals coach Marvin Lewis "taking a stand" and becoming "rougher and tougher" this season.

After giving "leeway to guys in certain areas" the last few years, Lewis hit rock-bottom after his team lost to a 3-10 San Francisco team last December.

It was then that Lewis decided to get "back to being the guy I was in Baltimore and when I got started here — when no one liked me" and holding his players and coaches accountable.

His players have noticed a difference. Said one veteran receiver:

"He is different this year. In the past he would say certain things, and a lot of times you didn't know if the consequences he talked about were going to happen. I think now you're getting the sense that if he says this is going to happen, it's going to happen."

As Andy Hill wrote in his book with John Wooden, "a great leader can't worry about being well liked." As Coach Wooden points out, players aren't "going to like you when you make decisions that affect them."

Wrote Hill:

"Coach Wooden understood all too well that his job depended on the team's performance, not on how much the guys on the team liked him. Coach could be very tough on players, particularly those he felt needed to be pushed. It was only inevitable that Coach had some players who were not fond of him. Hoping that everyone is happy all the time is not a realistic outlook. It will never happen, no matter what you do. A strong leader understands that this is something he has to accept."

From the SI article, it sounds like Coach Lewis has accepted it.

Change starts with igniting a sense of urgency

Found a good review this weekend of John Kotter's new book "Sense of Urgency," which just came out. Kotter is the Harvard prof who has written several books about leadership and managing change.

For coaches, GMs or anyone who is trying to drive change within a team or organization, Kotter claims the key is "igniting a sense of urgency."

According to the review, "Complacency is the culprit. We stick with the status quo. We shy away from new opportunities and choose to ignore huge risks. We live off the fumes of past success." What's needed is what Kotter describes as a "gut-level determination to move and win now. To do something important today."

Kotter has said that the biggest mistake people make when attempting to create real change is failing to create "a high enough sense of urgency among people to set the stage for making a challenging leap into some new direction."

"It all starts with urgency -- no matter the change effort, if a sense of urgency is low and complacency is high, everything else becomes more difficult. Complacency is more common than we think, and often is invisible to the people involved."

Kotter's advice:

1. "Create a sense of urgency by aiming for the heart first and head second. Feelings are more influential than thoughts. Emotion trumps logic. It's worth remembering that Martin Luther King Jr. didn't have a strategic plan. He had a dream. Behaving with passions, conviction, optimism, urgency and a steely determination will trump an analytically brilliant memo every time."

2. Bring in outsiders who can offer a different perspective and provide a candid assessment of your team's or organization's strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, send members of your team out to see what others are doing that works.

3. "Clear the decks. A crowded appointment diary is one of the great enemies of urgency, Kotter says. Scrap low-value meetings and don't let people delegate problems up to you."

4. Finally, when necessary, get rid of the "NoNos" on your team or in your organization. "These are the wet blankets who kill urgency, crush new ideas and discredit anyone who tries to break with the status quo.

If you've ever joined a team or organization that is sort of coasting or on "cruise control," you know how difficult it is to get people out of their comfortable routine and get them excited about a new vision, especially if they've had some success doing it "their way." It's even harder to drive change from the bottom up, i.e., without the support of others higher up in the organization.

I've ordered a copy of Kotter's new book and will post more from it later.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

It takes 118 points, but Team USA downs Spain to reclaim Gold

Congrats to Team USA, which won every quarter of the Gold Medal game against Spain today, winning 118-107. Some notes from the game:

D. Wade was off the charts in the first quarter. T. Prince also played well all the way around, but especially on offense in the middle vs. Spain's zone defense. [Spain went to the zone with 3:09 in the first quarter.]

The officials called a tight game with LeBron and Kobe picking up two quick fouls.

Both teams came out scoring; there was a general lack of defensive intensity other than D. Wade who played sensational defense in the 1Q.

I thought Spain did a good job on the high-low pass with big-to-big passing. In addition, Navarro did a good job of getting to the line for Spain with five FTA in the first quarter.

Kobe had a lot of energy in the second period. Team USA had great defensive anticipation, jumping in the passing lane and making Spain pay for sloppy, soft passes.

Spain's lack of speed and quickness in transition hurt Spain on steals.

At one point, the U.S. was 8-11 from 3-point range.

Spain was effective offensively on pick-and-rolls as Team USA was slow on its rotations.

After playing zone in the first quarter, Spain mostly played man to man in the 2Q.

Team USA and Spain scored 31 and 30 points in the second quarter, respectively, but slowed down in the third, as the Americans put in 22 in the third, one more than Spain.

As we've seen him do before, Kobe scored big down the stretch, putting in 13 points in the fourth quarter to lead the U.S.

Spain did a good job on the direct inbound pass on side out of bounds and was solid on the backboards. But Kobe and Wade were too much.

After struggling in Beijing from 3-point range, the Americans' long-range shooting was a big reason for their win today. They also did a great job of getting to the foul line, getting 37 FTA in a 40-minute game is pretty remarkable.

In particular, C. Paul did a nice job of attacking off the dribble, resulting in 10 FTA.

Both teams shot a high percentage from the field and Spain was excellent from the FT line, connecting on better than 80 percent.

P. Gasol (21 pts), Fernandez (22 pts), and Navarro (18) all had big games for Spain. And 17-year-old Ricky Rubio (6 rebs, 3 ast) is really fun to watch. He's a young, exciting point guard who can handle and is unselfish, though he lost his composure late in the game.

Preaching "fundamentals and defense" since 1987

Really enjoyed Bob Nightengale's article earlier this week about the emphasis the Minnesota Twins have placed on fundamentals since 1987.

It was more than 20 years ago when then Twins manager Tom Kelly implemented "the fundamental, monotonous fielding drills the Twins undergo.... First, it's the infielders. Then, it's the outfielders. And then, after watching their teammates sweat on the back fields, it's the pitchers' turn. The no-nonsense sensibilities began when Kelly and general manager Andy MacPhail came aboard, preaching fundamentals and defense, even if it meant working on drills after games."

"I don't know whether it was the right way or the wrong way," Kelly says, "but it was our way. When you're operating under certain parameters, you have to execute parts of the game. We have to catch the ball. We have to pitch. And we have to play defense."

To maintain the same philosophy for more than two decades is unique in professional sports. It's similar to what Jazz have done with Jerry Sloan as coach since 1988. It's a credit to the Twins' ownership and demonstrates what consistency can do for an organization.

Schemes can change, but the fundamentals of a game never do.

If an opportunity comes along and you've not prepared for it, you'll fail

Found an article that I'd printed out from last month but never got around to posting here.

It was about new Redskins head coach Jim Zorn, a guy I really admired when he was an NFL QB with the Seahawks 25 years or so ago.

The article tells how, as QB coach last season in Seattle, Coach Zorn was typing up a practice outline when his wife walked by and saw he'd typed "HEAD COACH" across the top of the page.

Surprised, his wife asked him about it. His response:

"Well if I don't prepare and then I get the opportunity, I'll fail."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

How leaders earn the respect of their teammates

Good story this week about Matt Stafford, the QB for the nation's No. 1-ranked college football team. Only a junior, he's started 21 games for the Bulldogs, but says he "deferred to upperclassmen" when it came to leadership the past few seasons.

Now, after staying in the shadows, he's stepped out to take on the role:

"You don't want to step on any toes," Stafford said. "You've got guys that are seniors that have been doing it for a long time here. I wasn't playing good enough to be (the leader). I was just trying to go out there and play as hard as I could. Just get out there and show the guys I'mgiving everything I've got."

According to Georgia QB coach Mike Bobo, simply being the starting QB doesn't mean you're considered a leader among your teammates:

"Just because you're the quarterback, you're not going to gain everybody's respect as soon as you step under center. You grow it through the way you work and way you perform out there at practice."

Stafford earned the respect of his teammates by "putting the good of the team before individual glory last season. He gained more respect with the way he led the team through Sugar Bowl practices last season and his dedication this offseason with getting in the best condition of his life." Said Bobo:

"Here's a guy that was five star, had every award given coming into college and at a time of a lot of teams in college throwing it every down, throwing for a bunch of yards and a bunch of TDS, we've asked this guy to step into this role and give us the best chance to win."

This past spring, when UGA head coach Mark Richt asked his team to write down who they'd follow into battle.

"Stafford was on probably all but one or two," Richt said. "That's 105 to 130 guys. The players believe he's the leader of this football team. That's crucial when your quarterback does that. Matthew knows that's his role now."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Finding the formula for team chemistry

We've all heard about the importance of chemistry and its impact on winning. You may have seen the story in USA Today earlier this week about the chemistry of the U.S. women's basketball team that's playing in Beijing.

I read a similar story this morning in the Portland paper about the chemistry of the team of high school kids that just won the Babe Ruth World Series.

Chemistry has come up in articles discussing the remarkable success of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, who just won the Gold in women's beach volleyball.

What all of these teams have in common is that they're successful. They're winning (or they've won) -- a lot.

So is the chemistry between players the result of winning or is their success because of their great chemistry? And is it possible to cultivate chemistry?

I did some digging and came across a 2004 article in Collegiate Baseball that addresses these very questions.

The author, Pat Bloom, the head baseball coach at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, writes:

It’s time to define this concept of team chemistry for coaches across the country. We toss it around like it’s this mythical, mystical phenomenon that is neither developed nor learned, but is instead explained as something that "just happens when everyone/everything clicks.

As a matter of fact, a team’s chemistry, or level of cohesion as it is more formally referred, is an ever-changing group of dynamic that comes in a couple of different forms, and can be learned and improved with practice.

Coach Bloom defines "team chemistry" as "a group dynamic that occurs when members of the team work together and make a united effort to accomplish the goals and objectives of the collective whole."

He then breaks chemistry into two parts: (1) Task cohesion and (2) social cohesion.

Task cohesion "refers to a team’s ability to function as a collective unit and perform effectively on the field. If your team has a high level of task cohesion, meaning that they play well together and remain united in the pursuit of the team’s goals, then they are more likely to enjoy success."

Liking each other, simply being friends and enjoying hanging out together, i.e., a team with high social cohesion, "means very little in the way of predicting your team's performance." In other words, just because your team gets along doesn't mean they'll win any games.

In fact, according to Coach Bloom, "it has even been found that teams who are high in social cohesion play worse as a team."

But a team with high task cohesion isn't guaranteed to succeed. However, there's good news for basketball coaches, according to Coach Bloom.

"For team sports like basketball and ice hockey, where players’ movements and verbalizations must be highly interactive and coordinated to achieve success, it has been found that greater levels of task cohesion relate to greater team success."

Coach Bloom answers my earlier question about whether chemistry is the result of winning or the cause of it:

"Higher levels of team (task) chemistry appear to be related to great team success as the season progresses, and as the team becomes more successful, the degree of team chemistry appears to increase as well. So you might say the relationship between team chemistry and team success is circular. As team chemistry improves, so does the team’s record, and as the team’s record improves, it becomes more and more cohesive."

I also came across this excellent article by a management professor at Wright State University in Dayton. According to the author, there are six factors that influence "good team chemistry," including diversity, role taking, constructive norms, leadership, cohesiveness, and common vision. In his words:

"Good team chemistry helps a team achieve its goals, and it results when (a) a team has members who possess the right competencies and (b) they work effectively together to achieve synergies. We most often notice that a team has poor chemistry when the members are talented but fail to work well together to make the most of their abilities. For instance, team members failing to play roles that their teams need someone to play or engaging in unproductive conflict are examples of problems with team chemistry."

He also highlights the importance of team leaders, which I've posted about here previously, claiming that "leaders provide direction, structure activities, share information, encourage participation, promote positive relationships, and support and encourage members."

The author also emphasizes goal-setting and providing a vision for the team:

"To reach the highest levels of performance, team leaders should ensure that members have goals that motivate them. Furthermore, the highest performing teams are driven by a vision of the future to which the team aspires. Team leaders who can articulate a vision for their teams can create passion and inspire exceptional performance. While goals are normally specific and measurable (often expressed numerically), a vision is a vivid picture of something exciting that a team can achieve. The kind of vision that energizes a team is a vivid picture of the future that's ambitious and exciting."

[Speaking of vision, here's the vision University of Washington head football coach Rick Neuheisel laid out for his players the other day.]

Thursday, August 21, 2008

After tight first quarter, U.S. explodes to rout Australia

Quick recap of the USA-Australia game the other day. [Sorry for not posting this sooner!]

[Here's the box score from the game.]

Australia had a good opening quarter, but was done in by missed layups early that could have given them a lead. They were also awful on the glass -- a key against Team USA. The Aussies needed Bogut to play big, but he seemed tired to me and only played 11 minutes.

Kobe was very good (again), but the biggest play of the game was Deron Williams' 3-ball at the end of the first half. Williams' shot was the result of poor shot selection by the Australians as they shot too early, allowing Williams to hit a pull-up 3-pointer.

Mills was best player for Australia against the U.S. But by the time he checked in, his club was already in a deep hole. We're seeing a bit of the changing of the guard as veteran C.J. Bruton gives way to Patty Mills, who finished with 20 points on 7-16 shooting. He also had three steals and did a good job creating off the dribble.

As I posted before the game, it was important for Australia to take care of the ball against the Americans. And in the first quarter, they did -- only turning it over once. It's a big reason they were only down, 25-24, after one.

But the U.S. easily won the rebound game, outboarding the Aussies, 58-27. When you shoot 50 percent from the field and still get 19 offensive boards you're dominating at the offensive end of the floor.

Team USA shot well from 3-point range, going 12-29. Their FG percentage and shot selection have been great and they attacked off the dribble, getting to the FT line 32 times in the game. To score 116 points in a 40-minute game (versus 48) is pretty remarkable.

And, had the U.S. shot better from the line (only 58%), they'd have easily scored in the 120-point range. But it wasn't much of an issue since when they missed a FT, they'd simply grab the rebound.

T. Prince and M. Redd gave Team USA solid minutes off the bench, combining for 14 points on 5-7 shooting.

Despite the blow-out loss, the Australians have some good young talent with Mills, Newley, Ingles, and Bogut. And with A.J. Ogilvy and Nathan Jawai, they'll have a real shot at a medal at the next Olympics.

Advance scouts "obsess over basketball minutiae"

Great article in the NY Times about Team USA's scouts. Bill Branch, Todd Quinter, and Tony Ronzone have impeccable reputations and are highly respected within NBA circles.

According to the NYT story:

"Quinter and Branch have compiled a 37-page report on the Australians. They obsess over basketball minutiae like how often a player goes to his left, who a team’s defensive weak links are and what are the different options on a set play.

They also give a detailed report on each player. For example, Quinter said that Russia’s Andrei Kirilenko has a penchant for slipping screens and sealing his man in international play. Quinter also said Kirilenko is more aggressive at the Olympics than he is in the N.B.A."

Weaver: It's what you learn after you know it all that counts

I mentioned Earl Weaver in a post earlier today and remembered the great Terry Pluto's book "Weaver on Strategy" and went to the bookshelf to flip through it again. I'd forgotten what a terrific book this was. A few short excerpts:

On constant improvement and curiosity:

When Weaver became the Orioles manager after the 1968 All-Star game, he posted this sign in the lockerroom: "It is what you learn after you know it all that counts."

As much as anything else, that sums up Weaver's outlook. He believes he knows a lot about baseball, but he also knows that there is always more to learn: You can never have enough information.

While a minor-league manager, Weaver wrote the program for the entire Baltimore Orioles organization. He designed the drills, the cutoff plays, and the procedures for spring training. Every year he would add a new wrinkle. It really is what you learn after you know it all that counts.

On managing his roster:

Overall, Weaver had a .583 winning percentage with Baltimore. But after September 1 that mark was .602. His teams were like a well-trained marathoner. The 162-game season punishes the sprinter, who wilts in the July doubleheaders; a strong finish is what usually makes a pennant winner.

So Weaver's teams would often stumble out of the gate in April. Earl would be using all his players, getting each of them some work so they would be sharp when the games piled up and the entire 25-man roster was needed. Perhaps that's why Weaver's teams won 65 percent of their games in doubleheader contests.

"If Earl Weaver has a player on his team, he will use him," said Orioles' general manager Hank Peters. "He does not believe in carrying anyone on the roster if he cannot contribute in some way."

"So much of baseball is plain old common sense," Earl insisted. "I will never understand why some people don't want players to hit home runs. It's the greatest play in the game. And I don't understand why some people don't want to use their best pitchers as much as possible. If I'm managing, I like to have Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, and the other great pitchers on the mound. When they're out there, you know you've got a great chance to win."

"Earl had plenty of good players," noted Brooks Robinson, "but he knew how to use them."

On what made him an effective manager:

"I think Earl Weaver would have been a success no matter what he did for a living," said Harry Dalton, general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. "He has a quick mind. His organizational abilities and his knack for understanding statistics are outstanding. He is not afraid to make a decision and stick with it. He has plenty of guts and can get the most out of any team."

On what made him unique among managers:

They can talk about Weaver's spats with the umpires, his occassional verbal volleys with his players, or his candid personality, but in the end the one thing that raised Weaver about the rest was that he won. He did it year after year. Weaver won with young teams and veteran teams. Teams that hit home runs and teams that stole bases. He won in Elmira, Rochester, Baltimore, even Fox Cities.

On training camp:

"I always tell my players that they must be somewhere doing something every minute of spring training," wrote Weaver. "If they pay attention and follow directions, we'll get them off the field faster because our work will be done. I try to keep standing around to a minimum."

On having talented players:

"People always say the Orioles had great 'fundamentals' teams. That's true but a lot of what they consider fundamentals is really just players having great talent," said Weaver. "A manager can get the players in the right place and teach them where they are supposed to throw the ball, but they're the people who catch the ball, get rid of it in a split second, and throw it right on the money. That is talent, not managing."

On conditioning:

"I firmly believe that conditioning has a direct bearing on the length of a career. If you start as 22 or 24 and stay in shape, you can play until you're 38 or 40. It's easy to say, 'Keep in shape,' but it requires a lot of effort. Frankly, there's no other way to do it, no short cuts."

Weaver's "First Law":

"No one's gonna give a damn in July if you lost a game in [the preseason]."

The short and long of coaches

Anaheim Ducks SVP of hockey operations Bob Murray, who played 15 years in the NHL, divides coaches into two general categories:

"There are coaches who are always on their players, always whipping. They tend to be short-term guys. Then there is the type that are more laid-back but know how to kick when they have to kick. They tend to last a lot longer."

This is probably true in a general sense, though it depends on the club's GM and team owner. It also depends on the team's roster and where the team is at the time.

What kind of coach is required for this team at this moment? Where's our talent level? Is it a veteran team or a young club? How much success has the team had over the last several seasons? Is it time to rebuild or are we close? Who would our guys respond to? Does this coach have the right temperament and personality for this team?

These are the kinds of questions that GMs and owners work through when hiring a coach.

Billy Martin and Dick Williams would likely be regarded as short-term guys in baseball. Martin and Williams were no-nonsense managers. But Earl Weaver was a my-way-or-the-highway kind of manager and he lasted almost 20 seasons with the Orioles.

In the NBA, Jerry Sloan is generally regarded as a no-nonsense coach and he's had incredible success over two decades with the Jazz.

The point is, labeling coaches can be tricky because there are so many variables involved.

As a side note, in addition to his role with the Ducks, Murray serves as GM of the club's minor league team in Iowa, which recently named Gord Dineen its head coach. Here's Coach Dineen's coaching philosophy:

"I like to put the players in a situation where they figure it out themselves. I think that's the best way to learn. I am going to give them structured guidelines and certainly a system which will be the Anaheim system to play ... but I want them to be able to think on their feet and go out there and react accordingly on the ice."

It's possible that Bolt, like Magic, is an anomaly

anomaly (ə-nŏm'ə-lē) 1. Deviation or departure from the normal or common order, form, or rule. 2. One that is peculiar, irregular, abnormal, or difficult to classify.

Every once in awhile, an athlete comes along who is "difficult to classify." Before Magic Johnson, if a coach had a 6-foot-9, 220-pound player on his roster, it was likely he'd be spending time in the low post.

Similarly, until 6-foot-5 Jamaican Usain Bolt came along, 100- and 200-meter sprinters tended to be shorter when compared to 400-meter runners.

As former Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson said in this NY Times article recently: “In the past, if somebody 6-5 walked into the coach’s office, the coach would have said, ‘You’re a 400-meter runner.’”

After watching Bolt shatter world records, coaches are changing their thinking:

Just as basketball coaches had to overcome resistance to chunkier packages like Charles Barkley, so track coaches have had to recognize that a man as tall as Bolt can be a sprinter, long legs, long frame and all.

But in Magic's case, his dominance of the PG position hasn't led to taller point guards. Of the top PGs in the NBA today, all are between 4-6 inches shorter than Magic. Chris Paul is 6-0 at the most. Arenas, Nash, Billups, D. Williams, Baron Davis -- all are 6-3. Tony Parker, Bibby, D. Fisher, Rondo -- all 6-2 or shorter.

And the all-time great point guards -- Stockton, Isiah, Oscar Robertson, Archibald -- were relatively small.

Magic was unique. An oddity. A "deviation from the norm." Bolt might be, too.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What's your long-term plan?

Read where the President of the WNBA's Washington franchise is stressing accountability and long-term planning as the team is six games under .500 and has a losing record at home.

Said President Sheila Johnson:

"The Mystics have been operating for too long without a long-term plan. [We've been] far too sight-sighted and our player personnel decisions are far too needs-based. Our issue has not been lack of effort, it has been lack of talent. This is pro basketball. Good coaching and gutty performances can only take a team so far. There will be a lot of evaluation in the next month to come. Everybody is on notice."

This isn't unique to the WNBA or pro basketball. Organizations of all types -- from pro sports franchises to small businesses -- often lack a vision and a detailed plan for achieving that vision. In almost every case, those that do have significantly more success than those that don't.

And it's not just organizations -- it's departments and divisions and work-groups within those organizations that need a plan, including a clear strategy and action steps for executing that strategy. And at the end, there needs to be in place a way to measure how well your team or group or division did.

Planning isn't much fun, which is why people avoid it. But once you have a good plan, it gives you a road map -- you know where you're going and how to get there.

One coach's recipe for success

Here's one high school coach who absolutely "gets it."

Coach Earl Smith, 54, and his staff have led his current program to consecutive North Carolina state titles. His recipe for success:

-- Pay attention to details. "It gives you a chance to succeed if you focus on the little things," said one former player.

-- Highly-organized practices "orchestrated with precision." Said Coach Smith: "Every minute is accounted for. Every second. One thing we don't do is waste time."

-- Positive coaching. "No berating" players.

-- A good staff. "I rely on them heavily to teach the fundamentals."

-- Clear goals for the season. Now that his team has had some success, "the goals have been raised."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A game plan for beating Team USA

Just for fun, I've drawn up a game plan as if we were coaching Team Australia in Wednesday's game against Team USA.

Of course, there's little chance the Aussies will upset the U.S. in this one, but we've still got to play the game, so here's the plan:


1. Believe we can win.

2. Transition defense: Take away "easy baskets." We want to eliminate Team USA's possessions.

3. Value the ball. Be patient with our "Princeton Offense" and its principles. Spread the floor. Penetrate. Knock down the 3-ball.

Remember: We want to "shorten the game." Even though we played great up-tempo vs Lithuania, and we're comfortable in the up-tempo game. Push and look for easy baskets, but be patient.

4. On defense, go over the top. Keep the lane compact. Force Team USA to shoot perimeter jump shots.

5. Spurts and runs. We must control two of the three runs in this game. We simply can't allow Team USA to go on a 10-2 run. Think TEMPO and TIMEOUTS.


1. Take care of the ball. No unforced turnovers. Goal: 12 turnovers or less. We will play both point guards together in CJ Bruton and Patty Mills as the game goes on.

2. No quick perimeter jump shots. These can lead to long boards and run-outs for the Americans.

3. Only our 4 and 5 men to offensive glass. Our 1, 2, and 3 guys are in a track meet. Sprint back in transition defense.

4. Pick-n-roll package. We will change angles all night.

5. Post up the 4 spot. When Team USA goes small, we'll post up and kick out on sagging defense.

6. Team USA wing denial. Look for backdoor cuts. No soft passes! Direct, crisp passes. Meet all passes with two hands. No QB interceptions on passes.


1. Transition defense is critical.

2. Contain dribble-penetration. Keep point guards (Kidd, Paul and Williams) in front of you. Any time Wade, Bryant, or James catch the ball, our other four must shrink the floor and force the perimeter skip pass.

3. Defensive glass: All 5 to the defensive glass. No leak-outs.


Patrick Mills: We need you to get in the lane and create shots.

Andrew Bogut: You must be a force on the glass all night. Take the 3 if Team USA's bigs don't come out and challenge you.

Brad Newley: Keep playing with the confidence and at the high level you've been playing at. We need your points.

Chris Anstey: You've got the green light on all open 3 balls.

C.J. Bruton: Stay composed against Team USA's ball pressure. Your international experience is big.


K. Bryant and L. James: We will give help. Play straight up and trust your teammates behind you.

D. Wade: Force him to take the jump shot. Keep him out of the lane. Chase him down in transition.

C. Anthony: Scores in lots of ways. Match his physical play in the post. Play his jab-step and limit his offensive rebounds. Make him defend pick-n-rolls.

J. Kidd: Randomly leave Kidd to "over-help" on all Bryant, Wade, and James catches. Hands out for passing deflections. Play him as a quarterback surveying the field.

C. Paul: Back off of him. Keep him out of the lane.

D. Howard: Meet him early and box out. Don't give him an angle to score. Make him shoot over a hand. No lobs!

C. Boozer: Be physical. Take away the mid-range shot and play his left-hand finish.

M. Redd: Don't leave him. "Hand in the eyes" on all 3-balls.

D. Wiliams: Play him straight up.

C. Bosh: Be physical with him. Keep him off the offensive glass.

T. Prince: Make him beat us.