Sunday, February 15, 2009

Notes from Dick DeVenzio's book "Stuff Good Players Should Know"

Over the past year or so, I've received notes from coaches who've read Dick DeVenzio's book "Stuff Good Players Should Know."

Over the last month, I read it myself. Incredibly well-written, it's a must-read for young players.

For those who don't know Coach DeVenzio, he was a 5-foot-10 point guard who played for Duke from 1969-1971. The son of a coach, Dick played professionally in Europe and ran basketball clinics and camps around the U.S. Sadly, he died of colon cancer in 2001 at the age of 52.

Dick's brother, Dave, continues to operate the National Point Guard Camp, one of the top specialty camps in the country, according to ESPN The Magazine.

Following are some highlights from Coach DeVenzio's classic book.


-- Five guys working together doing the "wrong" thing have a better chance of winning than five guys all doing their own thing because each thinks he knows best.

-- No team ever lost by playing the wrong defense. They lost by playing that defense poorly.

-- Thousands of players go passively for offensive rebounds, and coaches often let players get away with that passive effort. Perhaps the reason is that defensive rebounds are expected, or easier to get. But in most cases, the reason more offensive rebounds are not grabbed is simply that players don't try hard enough to get them.

-- Placing blame and make alibis is really not much more than a simple bad habit. It is not something you really want to do. It is merely something you do. But good players lose this habit, and good players learn not to look for alibis. They learn to accept responsibility. They learn to look inward. They learn to ask themselves, "What could I have done better?"

-- Bad shots, probably more than anything else, lose basketball games, yet bad shots are ridiculously common. Go to any playground and you will see more bad shots taken than good shots. Players seem to love taking bad shots. Winning teams are most often the teams who pass up shots and wait for better ones. What is the difference between a 45% shot and a 60% shot? Not much. A bit more time. A step closer in. A bit more confidence and certainty about the one. Yet again, the 60% shot wins and the 45% shot loses.

-- All coaches seem to want players to get in a lower crouch than players want to get in. All players seem to want to stand straight up. So how low should you be? A good rule to follow is: Make sure your head is always lower than the head of the guy you are guarding.

-- Good defensive position means, unless your coach gives you some other rule, not so close that the player with the ball can step by you with one step, yet close enough that you can slap the ball if the man holds it in front of him. In other words, you are close enough to be able to bother him and to make him worry that you may touch his next pass or block his next shot or steal his next dribble. From eight feet away, regardless of what you do, you will not be the ball handler's primary concern. Good defense is a matter of learning to get in a player's bubble, in his private territory, and of being able to stay there.

-- Don't be beside your man all the time. Don't be there when the ball is on the other side of the court. In this instance, you need to be in a position ready to help a teammate. Remember: the closer the ball is to your man, the closer you must be to your man. Be where you can worry him and bother him and make him aware that "Oh no, here you are again." Your objective is not to steal the ball and block shots; it is to stay in that bubble all night long and irritate and distract and bother.

-- Good players beg for the ball, not so much with their tongues (though they do sometimes shout) as much as with their body movements and facial expressions. Good players want the ball, and that want is obvious to whoever has it. The average fan would likely say that all players want the ball, and they do, but not like good players want it. Good players want it in a way that they are always close by, always popping out, always looking at the guys with the ball with a sort of desperation.

-- If you want to play good defense at the end (of a game), you have to make it very difficult -- ideally impossible -- for your man to receive the ball. If you realize that your objective is to stop passes and, if anything, give up the risky lob or backdoor bounce pass, then you will get your share of comebacks. Good players know their job is to prevent perimeter passes in spite of screens and other diversions. When your team is behind near the end, it takes guts. Stick to your man and don't let him touch the ball.

-- If there is ever a time to take the ball aggressively to the basket, it is near the end when you are behind. Resist the urge to flip up long jumpers at the end when you are behind. Take the ball to the basket aggressively. You'll get easier shots than you could ever expect to get in the first half.

-- Criticism is going to be a large part of any basketball experience if the goals are excellence and winning.

-- In basketball, where no one is allowed to touch you, there is no reason that double-teams have to bother you. It is merely a matter of how you think. If, at the moment you see a double-team form, you think, "Oh no, a double-team," you are likely to panic and throw a lob pass somewhere that someone can intercept. Your thinking should be, "Oh, here's a 4-on-3 opportunity." All you have to do is be strong with the ball, be patient, stay low, pivot, and look.

-- You should learn to score from everywhere with one dribble. That means, when you get the ball in shooting position (at a distance you can shoot from) you should expect to be able to get to the basket in one dribble. It is a matter of wanting to get there in one dribble, practicing, and developing the habit.

-- Most basketball players, even the ones who usually don't dribble very much, dribble too much. For many point guards, the problem is one extra dribble, the failure to pass at the right time because of the desire to show off that dribbling ability one more time. For big men inside, often even one dribble is too many. A move should be able to be made effectively without any dribbles at all, so the defensive guards have no chance of stripping the ball on its way up from the floor. Analyze your game. Chances are you often take unnecessary dribbles. Unnecessary dribbles may not seem as though they hurt you, but they always end up hurting a team. Unnecessary dribbles give opponents extra chances to steal the ball or get into defensive position.

-- Against a zone, you want to receive the ball each time in a position where two defenders feel they need to take you.

-- Faking, almost all fakes, work great in games, and there is a very good reason why. Most players, even a lot of good ones, don't fake, or at least not very often. As a result, very few defenders have had the opportunity to react to fakes, so when they meet one in a game they fall for it and get faked out. The most important rule on faking is, "Use fakes."

-- A 2-on-1 is an advantage situation. When you have more players than they do, you don't need a great pass or fancy play. You simply need to give the ball to the player who is unguarded. The same is true of a 3-on-2 or a 4-on-3 break. These situations don't require great plays. The best way to win is by learning to do simple things simply.

-- Most players, even lazy ones, give the impression they are ready to play good defense during the first five seconds of any defensive play. As a result, any shot taken after only one pass is likely to be well defended and followed by five men blocking out for the rebound. Two to five seconds on defense, no cuts to guard, no man to chase, no screens to get over or through, no fakes to worry about. One pass and the shot goes up. It should be obvious, when you think about this, that the first-pass shot should be refused -- even if it is a good shot.

-- Never leave your feet on defense -- not even to block a pass, not even to block a shot. For every pass you block by jumping, two will get by you and you will be slow getting to good defensive help-position. You have to wait until you come down to move. For every shot you block, twice you will foul unnecessarily and another time or two the shooter will miss but be able to run by you for the rebound, since you cannot block out in the air. Jumping is not a valuable skill on defense (unless you are a gifted, intimidating center). Don't jump. Never leave your feet. Keep your feet on the floor at all times on defense.

-- Never foul a difficult shot. Game after game players go driving into the basket and get themselves underneath or stretched out, and their only opportunity to shot is some off-balance whirling, loop-dee-loop throw and then some eager but stupid defender swings at the ball and fouls. Don't try to prevent a shot that you are happy for them to take. Let them. Whirling, loop-dee-loop throws don't go in that often. But they are constantly fouled.

-- If you want to help alter the passers' priorities, try these reactions:

1. Compliment a pass all the time.
2. Throw the ball back often to the guy who throws it to you.
3. Move to get open constantly.
4. Yell, but don't nag, to let them know when you get open.
5. Go aggressively to meet the ball when it is thrown to you.

-- Scientific experimentation has show conclusively the value of setting goals. When you walk onto a court to practice alone, you shouldn't just "shoot around." You should count your shots and have definite objectives.

-- Many players are mediocre because they try to make great plays. They want to score a fancy layup, and they miss it. Or they try to throw a lightning quick pass to a cutter six inches ahead of his man, and it goes out of bounds. Mediocre is sometimes just another name for erratic or inconsistent or "always striving to make great plays." It may surprise you to learn that good players don't strive for great plays. Great plays come to them occasionally, but only in the process of concentrating on their job, trying to do all the little things right. Good players are not gamblers, they are performers.

-- If you decide to go one-on-one, do it immediately after you get the ball, or don't do it at all. The longer you hold the ball and look around or jockey for position, the more time the defense has to get in good help-position to stop you and clog the lane. A good rule to follow is this: When in doubt, pass. Or, if you've held the ball, pass. Seldom does a team lose for having passed up open shots. You lose by missing shots, by shooting too fast, by taking bad shots, and by shooting tentatively.

-- You don't get open with head and shoulder fakes and quick pumping feet. You get open by running hard in one direction and hard in the other direction. Whatever you do, make a decision and go hard.

-- Any time you get the ball, and often before you get it, look to your basket. It is astonishing that players need to be told such a thing, yet players fail to do this constantly.

-- After you lose you should think. Thinking is always valuable. Did you give your best physical effort? Were you fully tuned into the game mentally? What things could you have done better? What would you do differently if you had it to do over? There are a lot of questions to ask yourself, and those should come in place of the more common comments like "The referees were terrible," "The coach was stupid," or "If only Jones hadn't tried that stupid shot."

-- Have you ever noticed that good boxers don't miss very often with wild swings? Inexperienced boxers are constantly missing with big swings that look like they could knock out an elephant if they connected. It doesn't pay in boxing to swing wildly or lunge forward and get off balance. A boxer is too vulnerable when he is badly off balance. And so are basketball players. Good ones don't lunge and get out of position very often. It is the mediocre player who tries to show the coach he is hustling by making flamboyant attempts to steal or block shots when obviously it is too late. The problem is, basketball players don't learn this as quickly as boxers. When a basketball player lunges out of position, it only results in a five-on-four situation, and the eventual shot may seem to be someone else's fault. Too bad basketball players can't get a solid rap on the chin when this happens. If they could, they would learn faster.

-- A mistake is a common event in the game of basketball. It happens all the time. Good shooters miss shots, good passers toss the ball off legs and throw it out of bounds, and good defenders get beaten backdoor or beaten to the ball. Since it happens to everyone in every game, it hardly seems like cause for foot-stomping or finger-snapping or head-holding. When you make a mistake on offense, you should do exactly what you would do if you had scored on offense -- make the swift, abrupt transition to defense, and play the best defense under the circumstances.

-- It makes sense to respond to momentum. If your team is "hot," go with it, keep the pressure on, keep shooting, and let the game flow. But don't let the game roll along when the other team is getting the best of the flow. A good rule of thumb: When the other team scores two consecutive baskets, slow down the game, throw more passes, and keep them on defense longer until the momentum breaks.

-- Whether you are a point guard dribbling and looking for an open man, or a forward wanting to drive in for a layup, the important thing that you must do is move the defender who is guarding you. Your purpose, very definitive, is to move him. Make him go places. Make him do things. Make him move to guard you. A real offensive threat moves his man. He makes that man do things. His man is constantly being forced to go here and there and then recover and come back.

-- Before a big game or any game, you're likely to feel nervous. You will probably control your nervousness better, and be sure that it helps rather than hurts your performance, by enjoying your nervousness instead of trying to hide from it. Let yourself feel your nervousness fully and be grateful that you have it. Do you know how many people live their lives day after day without ever having the opportunity to feel nervous? They have hardly experienced any emotional highs the way you feel before every game.

Sports contests have that unique ability to raise people, fans as well as players, to emotional highs that they rarely get outside the arena. Be nervous, enjoy the fact that you have a game to play, a contest to win, a challenge to confront that is right out in the open, in front of people who care whether you succeed or fail.

Nervousness is part of the life of an athlete. Every athlete trains for the big game, the big confrontation, that special time when the fans will be gripping their programs and biting their nails and sitting on the edge of their seats. The athlete chooses this condition, and strives for it. Regardless of whether you succeed or fail, you have to enjoy the opportunity and all that goes with it.

-- Good players recognize not only the situation they are facing, but also the situation which will arise as a result of the entry into the play of the next man. You should always assume the arrival of a next man, and know whether it is going to be your teammate or opponent.

-- When your coach tell you how he wants you to do something, if you understand what he is telling you, nod to him. Nodding to the coach tells him you understand his instruction, and more importantly, it gives the coach a good feeling about telling you.

-- So many players stand around bouncing the ball on the floor, going nowhere. But few are probably aware of how devastating are the results of go-nowhere dribbles. The more go-nowhere dribbles that are taken, the fewer passes that are thrown. Especially, there are fewer split-second, perfectly-timed passes because the ball is usually coming off the floor at the moment a cutter is free. The result is that few cuts are attempted and therefore fewer people get open.

Many coaches talk of the importance of moving without the ball, yet few players learn to move without the ball if they play with [go-nowhere dribblers]. It is discouraging to cut free while your teammate is dribbling, going nowhere, and not ready to pass. Few players are likely to sustain their effort when they aren't rewarded with quick passes and teammates looking for their movements.

One of the best ways to be sure that you are not one of those players... is to promise yourself not to dribble at all unless you are going forward.

-- Good players often think about the possibility of losing. In fact, many of them think more about the possibility of losing than they think about the joy of winning, and there is a very good reason for this. Good players are usually accustomed to winning, so for them winning carries with it no great joy. A certain measure of satisfaction, yes. But not jumping-up-and-down joy. What motivates a good player is not so much any thrill involved with winning, but instead the wrenching disappointment -- the agony -- of losing.

-- Certainly against a press or pressure, and anytime you are not wide open, you should receive a pass by running through the ball. Don't wait for the ball to come to you. Go and get the ball. Many passes are intercepted because the receivers wait for the ball. Get in the habit of going to the ball with your body, not just leaning or reaching toward the ball with your arms.

-- Lose the idea of stealing a ball from a man. You can only get a ball from a man if he makes a mistake. Trying to take the ball from a man is likely only to get you a foul or throw you off balance. Your thinking is to force a mistake, not get a steal. When you think of stealing a ball, you should think of stealing it from the air. In other words, think of stealing a pass, not a dribble or a ball being held.

-- Good players get their hands on the ball on defense. They deflect some passes going inside, they hit a dribble in the lane, and they touch one or two of their man's passes.

-- A used-up dribble changes all the rules of defense. Suddenly, no one needs help, the ball cannot penetrate to the basket, and a pass must be thrown in five seconds. That means it is time to climb all over your man. Overplay him so he cannot get to the ball. If you're guarding the man with the ball, get in his face... and try to deflect the pass. Don't double-team a man who has already used his dribble. Stay on your own man and prevent the pass. Don't be content to let your man use his dribble and then just stand there, off him, as though you still respect his speed and dribbling ability. When a man has used his dribble, get on him -- all over him.

-- When you see a player use nine terrific moves to get the ball upcourt, don't be impressed by his dribbling. He doesn't know how to play. You can't afford to use nine or even three or four moves to get the ball up the court. You are making yourself more vulnerable to a mistake the more times you reverse or go behind your back or through your legs, and most likely do not have a sufficient awareness of the court during all that activity.

Watch any good player with the ball and usually all you will ever see is one move, one burst of speed, or one change of direction. One. Not nine. Many players throw a great fake and then, instead of taking advantage of it and beating their man, they throw another fake, obviously because they are not aware of the effects of their moves.

Switch-dribbling and reversing and reversing back and going through the legs and behind the back -- all that -- just to get the ball into the front court is a waste of ability and a lack of savvy.

-- A few concepts are all you need to be excellent without the ball. First, you need to drift constantly -- not run hard and sprint everywhere, but keep moving all the time. Second, you need to make short bursts of speed to the ball or the basket from time to time. That is simple enough and describes your movement -- drift and burst, drift and burst, hardly ever coming to a flat-footed spot. Where and how to move are dictated by one simple concept: Stay behind the head of the guy guarding you, and be prepared to burst out for the ball anytime you see the opportunity.