Sky Hoops with House

January 26, 2012

Hey Sky Fans! We are working fast and furious on free agency! This time is such a great time! Tracking our players (and other players) overseas, watching video and putting together all sorts of different scenarios for the roster… we are a little busy. It’s an exercise I call “what if.” Constantly asking the “what if” question leads our coaches to many, many different answers and constantly keeps us thinking. That process has slowed my draft prep travel a little, but I am back on the road early next week. I’ll update you all on that trip when I get back. Make sure to email me your college player ideas (jhouse@chicagosky.net) this week.

The last two games I watched (Maryland @ Duke and Tennessee @ Notre Dame) were really good games, but could not have been more different. Maryland starts four sophomores and a freshman... what’s that the 2014 draft class? I won’t have to watch them for two more years! In watching Tennessee several times this year... they have looked unstoppable and they have struggled. I think that shows the increase in talent and the number of great college programs across the country. An amazing thing is the Lady Vols schedule. Tennessee, prior to the ND game, was the #1 ranked team in the country in RPI and there is no doubt that has a great deal to do with the schedule they play. The string of ranked teams they have played is crazy! Miami (FL), Baylor, Texas, Rutgers, Stanford, Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame. The in between games were not cupcakes either! Both Duke and Notre Dame are young, talented and exceptional teams... tough, they both defend and rebound and a variety of players can score. March is going to be fun to watch!

Enough college stuff for now, I’ll get into more college stuff next week... let’s do something a little different this week. Let’s talk some basketball philosophy.

Let’s evaluate the age-old question.... Man to Man or Zone defense.

In the WNBA we see primarily man-to-man defense. Some teams might mix in a little 2-3 zone and occasionally a team may toss up a 2-2-1 press after a made basket or free throw. For the most part though, it’s straight up man to man. That reinforces the necessity of teaching man-to-man defense at the youngest ages. I believe we should be teaching solely man-to-man defense until ninth grade.

I am huge believer in teaching man-to-man defense, especially at the youth level. In the off-season I help direct a non-profit organization called the Virginia Basketball Academy. Our organization conducts 7.5 hours of coaching instruction for every coach in two leagues before their games even start. Combine that with weekly, on-going reinforcement updates and training and one-on-one coaching sessions throughout the 10-week season… they are ready to coach after. With nearly 60 teams and 600 boys and girls in the two leagues, we teach our coaches to teach and play nothing but man to man defense. To me, It makes no sense to walk into a gym during a 9-year old game and see them playing zone defense! (Watch Stan Van Gundy’s video clip on “The Importance of Winning.” So true!) Playing zone at the youngest ages is only geared towards winning games, not developing basketball players. The principals of man-to-man defense are the foundation of all defenses, much like Latin is the foundation of all languages. Most importantly, if you teach man to man principals first: a good stance, how to move your feet, hand position, how to keep players in front of you, what is help and recover and how to execute help and recover... players will be able to have a stronger foundation for zone defense when they learn to play it. Don’t get me wrong, I like zone defense. I really like zone in certain situations... after a timeout, on made free throws or tactically vs. teams that struggle from 3-point range. I like the “change” it brings about and the different ways to trap out of a zone. I like that you can speed up or slow down a game with zone defense and have an opportunity to force opponents to play out of their comfort zone. Zone is great... in the right situation and not for 8 and 9-year olds!

Teach man-to-man defense first.

These are my top reasons to teach man-to-man defensive principals first:

1. Players learn and improve upon an athletic stance.
2. Players learn good footwork and help develop coordination
3. Players learn mental and physical toughness
4. While learning to play man-to-man defense, players learn how to attack man-to-man defense
5. Players understand the concept of boxing out and rebounding better in man-to-man defense

Learn and improve an athletic stance

In man-to-man defense, players learn an athletic stance that serves them well on defense as well as offense. This athletic stance is their defensive stance. When they move to offense and are holding the ball – it’s the same stance for triple threat position. A good, balanced athletic stance is the first thing young players need to learn. The game of basketball cannot be played standing straight up and down and learning this stance early is a great foundation to establish.

Learn footwork that helps develop coordination

Footwork and coordination are two key fundamental athletic skills in basketball. They are the basis for being able to move quickly and efficiently on the court. In teaching an athletic, defensive stance, defensive slides, explosion step, help and recover, turn and sprint... the many repetitions help develop a greater level of coordination. The by-product in all of this is also leg strength. Starting a stance progression teaching at a young age helps increase leg strength tremendously over the years and makes the player a better, stronger overall athlete.

While playing zone defense, players are responsible for an area not a specific player on the other team. Footwork is different in zone defense than in man to man and in some ways “easier.” If a player has very good defensive footwork in man-to-man and can play zone as aggressively and with the same sound footwork, they will make the zone defense that much better and more aggressive.

Learn mental and physical toughness

It’s no secret that the low, aggressive defensive stance taught in man-to-man defense is tough... physically and mentally. A player’s legs burn, their mind races and plays games with a player’s head (through fatigue and pain.) Going through multiple individual defensive stance drills develops each player’s ability to work through this mental and physical pain, ultimately becoming much tougher in both areas.

Learning to play man-to-man defense, players learn how to attack man-to-man defense

To be a complete player, one must be able to play both ends of the court and be the best they can be at both ends of the court. Drills and teaching principals that allow us as coaches to prioritize both offense and defense in the same drill are exceptional. Having one coach focusing on what the offensive player in the drill is doing while another is teaching the defensive position within the same drill allows for development of both players within the drill and makes that drill a “double rep” drill. It also makes the drill “LIVE” and live drills that are competitive are the best at simulating game like conditions. Players cannot just be “Drill or Practice players”; players have to play in games and we have to create as many “game like” conditions as possible in practice.

Understand the concept of boxing out and pursuing a rebound

In man to man defense, when the shot is taken each defensive player on the floor knows exactly whom he or she are responsible to box out. This teaching progression is much easier in man-to-man defense. In zone, when a player is responsible for an area the box out rules are cloudy. A player can be responsible for an area to box out in zone, but what if there are multiple players in that area. Who do you box out? Pick one and hope your teammate’s boxes out the others? Not very efficient. There are no built in excuses or “gray areas” in man-to-man box out responsibilities. There are certain things defensively that are “Defensive Non-Negotiables” and man-to-man eliminates the gray area in regards to box outs.

When you do teach your team zone, they will play it much better

This is simply a great extra benefit to sound man-to-man defensive teaching. Eventually a coach will teach zone. When they do, the players will understand it better, move better within the zone and be more aggressive in it.

Aggressive defense sets a tone. It is more difficult to play vs. an aggressive, multi-faceted defensive philosophy than a passive one. When dealing with players, it is always easier to say “Whoa” than “Giddy up.” Giddy up doesn’t work! Players who learn to be aggressive and play hard can always dial it back. Players who don’t know how to play hard all the time, don’t understand how to sell out for their team mates or dig in and get stops are much harder to get them to turn it up a notch and really get after it. Any coach wants to have players who play hard all the time.

The question all youth coaches have should ask themselves... Do I want to help these young players learn to become better basketball players or do I want to win games? At a young age the pressures of winning should be removed completely. Don’t worry about it! Focus on a child giving their very best effort. Focus on learning great sportsmanship, character and developing the fundamental skills needed. Worry about and focus on teaching. Teaching is coaching. Can anyone who is now an adult tell me how many youth league games they won when they were 9, 10 or 11 years old? If their 2nd or 3 rd grade team won a league championship? Did the winning really matter?

I am not saying winning doesn’t matter. It does, but don’t let it be the focus at a young age. Still encourage a player that every time they step on the floor... compete to win... play as hard as you can to win... prepare and work your tail off to win... do not be happy with or satisfied with losing - but if coaches focus on and teach a process... teach fundamental footwork, man to man defense, playing hard all the time and teach players passing, dribbling, catching and shooting fundamentals they will develop all around players who will be able to play and be successful in any system on any team their entire life.

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