Building a Great Basketball Program Starts with the Foundation

Success doesn’t start with the varsity team. Hudl looks into how one New York program builds itself from the ground up.

Let’s be honest – a coach’s reputation is generally based on his varsity record. How he or she is viewed depends almost entirely on the success of the program’s top team.

But winning doesn’t start at the top. To truly build a strong program, you have to start with a strong foundation, activating and encouraging the JV and freshman teams. Those players are the future, and building them up early on will pay dividends down the road.

Just ask Jim Kelly, the head coach at Middletown High School (N.Y.). The Middies, who went 20-5 and advanced to the state finals last season, have established a winning tradition because of the emphasis Kelly and JV coach Jeremy Beamon have placed on developing their athletes at every level.

“I have recognized that the kids who have come through my program understand the importance of that preparation,” Beamon said. “I do see a difference.”

So how exactly do you go about building a program from the bottom up? The Middletown coaches share their expertise.

Get the Right Group Together

Your coaching staff is the cornerstone on which your program is built. You are the CEO – you need to surround yourself with like-minded individuals you can trust and people who think along similar lines.

Align yourself with coaches you know will not only carry on your vision, but have the ability to contribute valuable insights. Empower them to voice their opinions and let them know that their input is valued.

Getting assistants to understand their importance is vital. These coaches are the gateway to your program for new players. Their first exposure to your system comes through your assistants. That’s a big responsibility, and the more empowered they feel, the more effective they’ll be.

Build Continuity

The longer your athletes are exposed to your philosophy, rules and academic guidelines, the more prepared they’ll be once they reach the varsity level. They won’t be surprised by your policies or style of play – on the contrary, they’ll be able to hit the ground running thanks to years of experience.

Middletown even engages its sixth graders, empowering them as ball boys and team managers.

“The same philosophy we have for the seniors we have for the seventh and eighth graders,” Kelly said. “We get together as coaches and meet and talk. We all harp on the same little things. I’ve been reaping the benefits of it.”

Kelly makes it a point to have an all-staff meeting at least once every two weeks. The Middies run the same offensive plays and employ a similar defensive scheme among all teams. Once the young players join the varsity squad, they’ve been exposed to the style for several years and should be well-accustomed to it.

Stress Off-the-Court Work

The adjustment to high school is often a difficult path for any student, much less someone devoting 20-plus hours a week to athletics. Beamon said many freshmen see their grades suffer right of the bat as they try to fit in. Make sure your athletes have everything together in the classroom before worrying about their game.

If you start your players on a positive trajectory early on, they’ll be far more likely to succeed. High school life brings a host of new temptations and distractions for athletes to balance, but keeping them on the straight and narrow from the get-go should help them avoid potential pitfalls.

“Character, responsibility, accountability is held at a high standard with me,” Beamon said. “We want to prepare them for college. I tell them, college coaches come in and they want to see not only your grades, but what kind of person you are. Are you someone who’s going to be skipping practices, skipping school, getting in trouble? They want to know those things.

“There are a lot of good athletes out there, so how are you setting yourself apart? How are you preparing yourself mentally? And what is your character? What kind of person are you when nobody is watching? Are you doing the right things when no one is watching? Those are the things I stress more than anything.”

Emphasize Preparation

The sooner you get your athletes watching video and analyzing game video, the more comfortable they’ll be with that routine. Your young players will not only improve from watching video, but they will be fully prepared for your video sessions once they reach varsity.

Beamon learned the power of Hudl while serving as Middletown’s football coach, and he brought that mentality to his new role as the JV basketball coach a few years ago.

There is great value in getting athletes to review games and practices. Actually seeing their successes and mistakes is much more effective than simply being told.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘You didn’t box out here.’ They just say, ‘Coach, yes I did,’” Beamon said. “But then you show them, ‘You didn’t put your body on them. You didn’t box them out.’ Then that’s another thing. Saying is one thing, but showing them is hands-down the best way to teach. We talk it, we walk it, we show it, and that’s how I think they learn. They need to hear, but they need to see it firsthand too.”

Beamon has his players watch each game twice. The first time they view just as they would a normal spectator. But the second time through, the athletes are to specifically watch themselves.

“See if you’re in the right spot,” Beamon said. “Are you in help defense? Are you helping your teammates out? Are you looking for the open man? Could you have made a better pass? First time through, watch it like a game. Second time through, focus on yourself and things you did well and didn’t do well and learn from those things.”

Have your JV and freshman players watch video of the varsity team, as well. Not only will it show them how to correctly run your system, but it will also inspire them to want to reach that level themselves. Get your athletes engaged with video now and you’ll reap the benefits later.

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