“Practice On Intense Situations Everyday”
by Coach John Kimble
Formerly of Crestview (FL) High School
This article was originally written for Winning Hoops
How many basketball games have you watched or been involved in where the outcome of a close game is determined by just a matter of a couple plays? Both teams may be very equal in the talent and skill level with possibly the only difference being the outcome of one or two key possessions during the game. It is conceivably possible that one of the teams could possibly even have less talent, in general been out-prepared, out-hustled, and out-played in almost every aspect and phase of the game. But because of just one or two particular possessions, that team that succeeds in those possessions can win the game. Those possessions could very likely be the last second situations of each time period whether it is the end of quarters or halves. Those offensive possessions not only can produce points for your team but maintaining possession of the ball also prevents the opposition from scoring.
Preserving possession of the ball for the last shot of the time period and then scoring at the end of that specific time period could be as much as a 6 point swing in addition to the momentum and confidence builder that that one possession could produce. Having two or four end of time period possessions should then be looked upon as invaluable in the preparation time for that game. Does one of these teams have a decided edge in preparation of unique scenarios that can easily happen during the game? But unless this team is prepared and can achieve an edge in these situations that can easily take place in a game, all of the hard work and effort put forth by both players and coaches (during the actual game and in practices) will have gone for naught.
If the various offensive situations that could possibly take place during the course of a game have not been carefully thought out, analyzed and then practiced many different times, a basketball team could only win this type of close game by relying solely on executing a play they have just had diagrammed to them for the first time in a frenzied timeout. If winning a game is so important, should a coach go with an offensive play that was drawn up during the excitement of a last second timeout—a play that the coaching staff and players are not necessarily familiar with or is a coaching staff going to elect to run a play that has been carefully thought out, discussed, taught, and practiced repeatedly during the season?
My opinion is that if a staff and basketball team that has spent countless hours on fundamentals and skills of the game and also numerous hours on plays, offenses, and defenses; shouldn’t “one-play scenarios” that may be the actual deciding factor in determining the winner/loser of the game be practiced at least for a few minutes frequently? Instead of a coach drawing up a play that his team might not have ever seen or practiced, why not have the plays already drawn up, seen and understood by his team and also specifically practiced. This would give that team an opportunity to be as prepared for these last second situations as they are for everything else that takes place in the game.
There are many different methods and philosophies that have been proven to be successful. There doesn’t have to be a “right or a wrong” method, as long as the method has been carefully thought out and agreed upon by the coaching staff. Once the philosophy has been developed, that philosophy must then be thoroughly taught and sold to the players. Instead of giving coaching staffs specific answers to all the many scenarios that exist, the purpose is to challenge each reader to be prepared for those situations by simply asking themselves if they have developed a sound idea and philosophy to the many different offensive situations that could easily come up in games.
Before late-game decisions that could determine the outcome of the game are made, there are other ideas and philosophies that must to be developed. Does your offensive team have “baseline out-of-bounds plays” that will be successful against man-to-man defenses and/or against zone defenses? On offense, does your team have specific plays from the sideline that can be run against zone and/or man-to-man defenses?
Does the coaching staff have a philosophy on whether they want players early in the game to call a timeout to protect the possession of the ball as they are about to fall out of bounds or about to get tied up after a loose ball on the floor? Or does the coaching staff want to save those timeouts for late game situations? If the coaching staff does not have a set philosophy and has not taught their players, those decisions will then be left up to the players. Does the coaching staff want to leave that decision up to the players?
OFFENSE—DELAY GAME AT THE END OF PERIOD
Offensively, does your team half a Delay Offense or more than one? What are the rules of the Delay Offense? Can anyone take the last second shot? What kind of shots are acceptable and what kind are unacceptable shots? When is the appropriate time to take the shot? Do you allow time for an offensive rebound? What defense are you going to fall back into? Will you press full court? If so, will it be passive or aggressive? Will it be man-to-man or zone press?
OFFENSE—SHOT SELECTION (“2’s” or “3’s?)
Another scenario/situation a team and coaching staff must recognize is the actual score and what type of shot do they need to take and what types of shots should not be taken. Don’t expect your players to read the your mind and know exactly what kind of shot you want. One line of thought is that if the score is tied or down by as much as 2, a high percentage shot or a shot that could draw a foul should be taken and not a “3” (in the lane). Others believe in taking the “3” immediately. Obviously if your team is down by 3, your team needs the best possible 3 point shooter to take as good of a 3 point shot as he can get and the play should be designed to allow that. If your team is down by 4, the coaching staff must determine whether they want a 3 point shot or a 2 point shot to be taken followed by a press (and ultimately a foul). A definite philosophy should be agreed upon by the coaching staff in the preseason and then thoroughly taught to all players in the program, so that there is no doubt or hesitation in anyone’s mind as to what to do during the intense situation.
OFFENSE–TRANSITION AFTER OPPOSITION SCORES
One of the most important decisions a coaching staff should decide on and then convey to all players is what they should do in the last seconds of a game after the opposition scores to tie the game or put the opposition into the lead. The amount of the lead should also affect the coaching staff’s philosophy.
Do players have a grasp on how many seconds it actually takes to dribble full court for a driving layup or to the top of the key for either themselves or the opposition? Has the number of dribbles it takes to reach various points on the offensive end of the court (such as the basket, the top of the key, to the ten-second time line) been counted and timed? Does each player know who realistically are the three-point shooters that should take that last second shot? Has the team practiced those “buzzer beater” shots?
OFFENSE—TRANSITION WITH A LATE GAME DEFICIT
Does your staff have a philosophy (and a plan and a play) to react to the opposition’s score in the last minutes of the game that puts your team behind by 4 points with more? Or what do you want to do if you now trail by three points with more than or less than 10 seconds? What does your team do if you trail by two points with more than 10 seconds or less than 10 seconds, or trailing by one point, or when the score is tied (with more than 10 seconds or less than 10 seconds remaining? A coaching staff might not have practiced all of the various scenarios that could actually play out in a game, but he/she at least should have a mental plan on what he/she wants to do.
After the opposition scores late in the game, do you want your team to automatically call a timeout and set up a play? Many coaches adhere to that practice because they feel they then can organize their team for a planned (and hopefully practiced) play? This is a sound reason, but the timeout also gives the opposition an opportunity to organize and possibly substitute better defensive players into the game, set up a full court press, or change half-court defenses. Without a timeout, the opposition would be able to make none of these adjustments. Who will benefit more from the timeout, your offense or the opposition’s defense? Does the coaching staff have a sound philosophy for their decision?
A philosophy opposite of automatically calling a timeout after the opposition scores is for the offensive team to push the ball quickly down the court and already have a plan and a play (that has been practiced repeatedly) to execute. The defensive team obviously could not substitute better defenders in the game, could not probably set up full court pressure and probably not effectively set up a different half court defense. In fact, not calling a timeout sometimes could catch the opposition off balance and allow for better offensive matchups and give the offensive team a high percentage shot. The question that must be asked is “Is your offensive team prepared enough to execute a last second play in a pressure packed situation? Does your team fully understand what type of shot and who the coaching staff wants to take the last shot?”
OFFENSE–LAST SECOND SHOT SITUATIONS FROM FULL COURT
When your team calls a timeout and your offensive team must travel the length of the court, there are two important factors that can change the philosophy. One is that the offensive team may be or possibly not allowed to run the baseline. Not being able to run the baseline takes away very important options that an offensive team can incorporate into their “last second shot” philosophy. The second scenario is determining whether the offensive team has any remaining timeouts left to use. If timeouts still exist, any offensive pass receiver that catches the ball in the frontcourt could possibly call an immediate timeout. This would allow the offensive team to reorganize and run a “Sideline Out-of-Bounds” play that starts much closer to the basket.
A coaching staff must know which scenario exists and not only know beforehand how he is going to handle these critical decisions, but convincingly sell his philosophy to every player and then have his players repetitively practice that play in game-realistic situations. The coaching staff must devise a play that could also handle the surprise defensive change by the opposition. Each play should have a primary and a secondary shooter in case the primary shooter is taken out of the play defensively.
OFFENSE–“QUICK” SIDELINE & BASELINE OUT-OF-BOUNDS SITUATIONS
Do you have a philosophy and a plan and a play for offensive “Sideline Out-of-Bounds” situations and also “Underneath Baseline Out-of-Bounds” situations when your team needs a “quick” shot (because of just a few seconds left on the clock), a “three-pointer,” or a “quick” three-pointer?
OFFENSE–LATE GAME DESPERATE FREE THROW SITUATIONS
Do you have a philosophy and a special play to fit the needs of your free-throw shooting team late in a game when your team is down by two or more points. Do you have any special “rebounding stunts” and intentionally miss specific free throws to get the offensive rebound? Do your rebounders know how to beat the defensive box-outs and does your free throw shooter know how to miss the free throw? Do you know how to slow the opposition down from inbounding the ball after your team has made the last free throw, so you can set up a full court press?
OFFENSE–DELAY GAME/FREEZE SITUATIONS
Do you have a plan of action when you want your offensive team to simply “milk” the clock and not be fully committed to “letting the air out?” Do you have an offensive philosophy dependent upon the time and score when to start your fully commitment to “stall?” Do you have an offense (or two) designed to achieve that purpose? Do you have a complementary defense that corresponds to the offense that you are implementing in that particular situation?
Do you have special inbounds plays to get the ball to your best free throw shooter when your team has the lead and are being pressed late in the game? Do you take advantage of the times when you are legally allowed to run the baseline when taking the ball out of bounds?
What is the coaching staff’s philosophy when it is very late in the game with the lead and you have to make a choice between inbounding the ball to one of two different players–your best free throw shooter or to your best ballhandler?
Do you and your team agree on who are your best free throw shooters are, who are your best ballhandlers, and who are your best 3 point shooters? The coaching staff and each and every player should agree with the coaching staff’s opinion on the best player in each of these categories. If not, there could be a breakdown in some crucial situation, which could prove costly to the team. How does the coaching staff determine who are the best free throw shooters, the best ballhandlers on the team? How does the coaching staff then convince the team who those specific players are?
Instituting a philosophy and specific offensive plan for the many situations requires a great amount of time, effort, imagination and creativity by the coaching staff. This plan will be much more fundamentally sound and effective when developed in the off-season instead of in the middle of the game. The margin of winning and losing can sometimes be just the difference of one decision by the coaching staff and/or of one correctly or incorrectly executed technique by a player. Winning just four games that could have been losses can drastically turn the outcome of an entire season around. A team that ends up with a 15-11 record seemingly has a totally different season when they could have had a 19-07 record. If the coaching staff makes the correct coaching decision and a player executes that decision properly in a championship game could be the difference in winning championships instead of being runners-up.
Not only should a coaching staff create and build a wide range philosophy in the off-season, so that sound decisions can immediately be made during pressure-packed games, but a plan of action must be devised so that every player on the team can grasp the reasoning of those decisions. Those players must then be given frequent repetitions in order to improve their performance levels. Implementing the last ten to fifteen minutes of practice of several sessions will be invaluable to the team. During the season’s practices, the appropriate techniques can then be fully explained, taught, and practiced with the players and the entire coaching staff. This makes everyone involved more prepared and confident in the defensive plan of action. Remember the cliché, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Be lucky in those close games with POISE.
About the Author
Coach Kimble was the Head Basketball Coaching position at Deland-Weldon (IL) High School for five years (91-43) that included 2 Regional Championships, 2 Regional Runner-Ups and 1 Sectional Tournament Runner-up. He then moved to Dunlap (IL) High School (90-45) with 2 Regional Runners-up, 1 Regional, 1 Sectional and 1 Super-Sectional Championship and a final 2nd Place Finish in the Illinois Class A State Tournament. He was an Assistant Basketball Coach at Central Florida Community College in Ocala, FL for 1 year before becoming Offensive Coordinator and then Associate Head Coach for 3 additional years He then was the Head Basketball Coach at Crestview (FL) High School for 10 years, averaging over 16 wins per season.
He has had articles published in the following publications such as: The Basketball Bulletin of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, the Scholastic Coach and Athletic Journal, Winning Hoops, Basketball Sense, and American Basketball Quarterly. He has also written and has had five books published along with over 25 different DVDs by Coaches Choice and Fever River Sports Production.