Ready vs. Prepared

Each year a number of young coaches inquire asking for advice on getting into basketball coaching, navigating the business, and suggestions for personal development.  Here are a few thoughts that I share.

Everyone is ready for the next step but are you really prepared?  Put yourself in the shoes of the position you want.  Visualize sitting in that chair with those responsibilities.

Do you know what those responsibilities would be?

What have you done to fulfill those responsibilities right now? 

If you plan to learn how to fulfill those responsibilities when you get that job, you already are way behind your competitor.  Some advice on your first coaching job:

1. You better have answers prepared.   You get one shot at building your credibility.  You get one shot at that first impression.

2. If your boss gives you responsibilities that you cannot handle, those responsibilities go elsewhere and you become expendable.

3. If players get a hint that you do not know what you are talking about, their confidence in you is gone.  Players will listen if they believe that what you are saying will legitimately help them or their game.  Players don't care how much you know unless they know how you care.  Just because you get a coaching shirt and whistle, does not mean that players will give you their heads and their hearts.  Those are things you earn.

4. Can you identify needs and handle it without running to your boss or someone else to handle it?  Team success is often found in the clarity of the head coach's mind.  A good assistant or staffer is handling the things that need to be handled before it gets to the boss and often these tasks have far more to do with chasing a teenager to do whats right or handling phone calls that are not always fun to deal with.

5. Understand at most levels where coaching is a profession, the actual strategic and on floor coaching is the 'fun' stuff.  The majority of the job is working to promote the program, build and nurture relationships, massage and manage personalities, organize functions (such as camp, clinics, team building exercises, etc.) and dealing with daily minutiae. The guys that dodge the real work are a dime a dozen.  Every year college coaches call and ask for recommendation of 'grinders' that will do all these things.  Every year head college coaches are searching for answers because they are caught up handling things that they should not be handling.  Don't make your head coach be your taskmaster as well.

6. Understand what it means to be loyal.  Everything is we's, our's, and us in a program.  The head coach sets the standards, the philosophy, and the culture.  Your only choice is to wave the flag and sell it like you believe it's gospel.  When you begin second guessing and sending out mixed messages, you are in the wrong. Period. End of story.  A hint of dissension that gets out publicly, is a massive ripple effect that reflects poorly on the program but sticks with YOU.

I have been fortunate to be exposed to a great deal of professional development opportunities.  My advice to young coaches is to get into any college or legit high school practice you can observe.  Takes notes.  When you are at the undergrad or graduate level, that is a great time to focus on getting your own doctorate in the game.  Get to every clinic in site.  Read clinic notes online.  Email coaches. Track down retired coaches for a few lunches.  Study film, scouting reports, and individual players on all levels.  Can you follow what a teams strategy is by watching a random game on tv?  Can you figure out the chess match, the counters, the sub patterns, dead-ball sets and adjustments or pick up on who is dictating tempo?

Some advice on becoming prepared to teach and scout the game:

1. Study and learn the game through any literature possible.  Love this part of it.  Don't just read what you want to know.  Read it all so you understand it all.  Read books, biographies, coaches backgrounds, the analytics, understand basketball math and statistics, understand what's useful in a box score and what is not, read any coaching clinic note you can get your hands on.  Why? It builds your basketball language.  It builds a foundation so that you can understand basketball subjects and also speak on it.  Understand which coaches come from which 'coaching tree' and the characteristics that bind them.  These are developmental tools for any profession.

2. Get film of workouts, team workouts, practices, and game film.  Make contacts that can help get these items for you.  Many in the profession share.  Learn to mimic some of the best drills.  Catch on to teaching phrases and communication styles of different coaches and find what best fits you.

3. Get in the gym and blindly scout AAU and high school games.  Don't cheat or ask who's who.  Learn to be able to scout players and decipher the various levels of competition to project where prospects fit.  Talk to scouts, coaches, recruiters and get their scouting sheets for evaluating players.  Evaluating players is an art that is slipping away.  Don't be a chaser that needs to follow a list from someone evaluating in generalities.  Understand what you value or your program values and be able to identify what you see as valuable.

4. Be a manager or a player.  Be at the ground level.  Be in the locker room when no coaches are around and get a feel for the player culture.  Become empathetic to players and what is important to them. 

5. Spend a season as a video editor.  This is where you can get a doctorate in X's and O's.  I was fortunate to breakdown film for Coach Lon Kruger as well as stat from film from Coach Paul Westphal.  If you are lucky enough to find NBA level coaches, you will work your tail off but never regret.  In a given season, you are breaking down hundreds of games into individual clips scouting opponents, opponents opponents, and your own team.  You begin to appreciate every play as its own domino in the game.  You start to see how a player short-cutting a play by 8 inches can throw off the timing and effectiveness.  You see teams game plans, the chest match counters, and your own head coaches strategy in play.  Doing video clips for your opponent, for your own team, and of individual opponent players you begin to think exactly as your head coach would.  If you fortunate enough to type of scouting reports as well, then you get the full experience of game prep.

6. Coach players.  Sounds simple but find any team to coach on any level where you are the head coach.  Winning and losing depends on you.  You have to find a way to motivate, strategize, and communicate to your team.  Work out bad players and elite players, bigs and guards.  Develop a way to communicate, teach, correct, and demand with confidence.

7.  Spend time with players at the level you want to coach at.  Understand how they talk, what they are in to, their culture, and what makes them tick.

8. What analysis do you provide for your head coach?  Ideas are like the wind.  What provides value for your coach to consider.  For example, at Findlay we chart every shot for every player and what our percentages are from those spots on the floor. We chart what the result of every possession is for every player (for example, on elbow catches #33 turns it over 1 of every 4 times, shoots 32%, and has 1 assist on the season from there).  In game, we chart +/- which is the score when a player enters and the difference in score when he exits.  We do the same for our different defensive schemes.  Your head coach probably gains more value in hearing that "we are -12 when Johnny is in the game with Billy" or in a meeting noting that "Johnny is 4 of 22 from 10 to 17 feet, but 12 of 14 from inside 10 with 8 free throw attempts".  What we found with several players of the years is that their production after 6 minutes decreased through +/-.  For those particular players we adjusted their sub patterns.  Give your boss data supported by facts, make your case, and let him decide.  Advanced analytics also provide credibility with your players.  Show them how to improve their game. Stats and film earn trust that you know what you are talking about.

Some advice on building relationships in the game:

1.  You need to have a foundation of relationships built before you ever get to where you are trying to get to.  It is all about relationships.  Much of the game is about salesmanship.  You are selling your program, yourself, and what you can provide.   Your buyers are the players you are recruiting, your future boss, the coach that is coaching the recruit you want, etc.  The days of the cold call sales pitch are long ago.  The proliferation of social media has changed how people communicate.  There is a great deal of saturation in communication.  You better have a personal relationship that supersedes all the noise so that you can get results.

2.  To build those relationships, get involved in aau basketball.  Do some freelance scouting for one of the internet scouting services.  Anything to get a reason to introduce yourself and be able to call on someone in the future.

3.  Shake hands and exchange information around coaches.  I've made some of my best contacts sitting next to high school coaches, aau coaches and chasing down the speakers to thank them.  Try to get emails, phone numbers, etc. Follow up with a hand written note.

4.   Stay involved year round.  AAU, camps, etc is a great way to network.  Call up universities and ask to work their camps.  Even if they say no use the call to network with whomever you are speaking with.

5.  Hear everything, see everything, don't say anything negative.  Like any profession there is all sorts of gossip and back biting.  Be a positive person that doesn’t get into all that you will see that eventually there are few that will have anything bad to say about you.  Trust and loyalty will open doors.  You may be popular for giving the gossip but will anyone want that type of person in their inner circle?

6.  Be likeable.  Sounds simple but humility, empathy, and being pleasant can be really valued with all the bad experiences that take over workplaces.  Because basketball is so competitive there is a ton of ego. Sometimes you get ahead biting your tongue and not proving right and wrong at every turn.  Many try to get ahead by keeping others down but you can get to the same level and it is more rewarding if everyone rises together.

When the opportunity arises, don't be ready to fill the role.  Be prepared to exceed all expectations.  Know how to contribute. Know what your teaching. Be confident. Have your relationships ready to have your back.  When your boss realizes that his workload is less, the results are getting better, and that your added value (in what he sees and also what he doesn't have to see) is the difference you will be well on your way.


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The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have. -Norman Vincent Peale

It's great to see players go get in amazing shape preparing for the draft. Kills me tho that some go through college then be at their best

Studying some trends in high school rankings to college to the NBA draft. Interestingly, Findlay had 3 of the 16 youngest guys in the NBA

Good to see UNLV alum get a ring. All those hours in the gym he made himself into a player & deserves to be a champion

If u love high school hoops history u gotta follow . Delivers some of the best facts & stories on twitter.

If APR base had been at 930 (which it's moving to) instead of 900 this year, CBB would have ~60 teams ineligible for '13 postseason play.

There's a dilemma in HS age media. Glorify kids into Internet stars but no one wants to single out a kid for foolishness & understandably so

Hope the up & comers watch the Dream Team doc. The stars wanted to compete to prove who is best. See a lot of dodging & ego preservation now

More good commentary from combine: "Still plays with tunnel vision", "What does he do without the ball that translates to the NBA game?"

Great stuff from scouts at combine "Has a kid been coached HARD?", "Has he modified his game to play with talent?", "Will he accept a role?"

Good lessons from the playoffs: 1) The game requires initiating contact to get what & where u want 2) Win the collisions 3) 1&2 are mindsets

2 questions i ask in evaluating: 1) does his play translate to helping win big games 2) how hard is he to scout & take away what he does

Hardest to play against & stop: 1) playmaker for others 2) relentless hustle guy with skill 3) disruptive defender who changes your offense

Easiest to play against & stop: 1) scorer who doesn't hit open man 2) guys that need a pass to get the ball 3)transition dependent players

High Field Goal Attempt , low rebounding #'s, + high turnovers = hyped based on high volume usage not substance & efficiency.

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The bottom 20 high major (For simplicity: ACC,Big10,Big12,Pac12,SEC,BigEast) teams in scoring had 3 players total selected in the draft.

The top 20 high major scoring teams combined for 35 players drafted. Does talent allow up tempo play or up tempo play let players shine?

The 2 basic statistics that most translate to having value at all levels are Defensive Rebounding & Free Throws Attempted, Toughness stats!

16 of the top 19 high major defensive rebounders (that were draft eligible) were selected including 9 of the top 21 picks! Rebounders wanted

6 of the top 8 in free throw attempts per game from high majors (that were draft eligible) went in the 1st round. D. Lillard was 5th in NCAA

Damian Lilliard averaged most shot attempts per game of any 1st round pick at 15.47. Harrison Barnes next at 13.68. Be efficient & rounded!

Kevin Garnett will make the most NBA salary ever at $321,000,000. Under 20ppg career avg but #2 all-time rebounder. Rebound young fellas!

345 Division 1 schools, nearly 4,485 scholarship players, only 60 players drafted. A LOT of VERY good players undrafted. Lesson: it is HARD!

Joe Dumars said he had 10 to 12 sources of background info on Drummond including his 6th grade teacher. We've get a ton of these type calls

Young players there is a difference in rankings/mock drafts & someone paying you. Character, health, personality are critical to the latter

Make getting drafted a milestone not the destination. For some dropping and having a chip on their shoulder is a blessing

Quick draft count: 9 internationals picked, 6 foreign college players, 7 from outside big conferences, 29 that can play power forward/center

Interesting to see trends toward production over potential in the draft. Now into the role filler part of draft. What NBA skill do u bring?

Potential draftees Findlay Prep played in HS: Kidd-Gilchrist, Waiters, Rivers, Sullinger, Ross, Lamb, Miller, English

Findlay NBA draft notes: 3 1st rounders & a 2nd rounder in last 2 drafts. Produced 3 of the last 12 1&done 1st round picks

The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have. -Norman Vincent Peale



Hubie Brown

1. 4 things players must do:
a. Be on time. (Give ‘em 5 minutes.)
b. Must play hard. (Give ‘em 2 minutes to grow up.)
c. Know your job.
d. Do your players know when to pass/shoot?

2. San Antonio Spurs...are good because THEY PLAY...and nobody talks/jaws!

Coach Paul Hewitt, Georgia Tech University

Topic: Man to Man Offense

The more ball reversals the more stress you put on the defense. This causes more closeouts.
Get yourself or someone else open with your screen.
Catch the ball and rebound the ball with two hands always!!
Drive to score on the baseline, not to explore.
Be sure to read screens (pop, fade, curl) and make sure to set your man up and wait for the screen.

Coach Leonard Hamilton, Florida State University

Topic: Defensive Philosophy

• Be very detailed.
• Break down and explain
• don’t take anything for granted
• Use terms and phrases that the players will know, relate to, and understand.
• “Shrink the Gap”
Shrink the gap between the ball handler and the next pass.
• Initial ball pressure is very important
Don’t let them see the post, high post, skip pass
Make them worried about you by putting heavy pressure on the ball
• Front post on all entries foul line and below.
• Denying the post entry is a 3 part process
• 1. Pressure on the ball
• 2. Front the post
• 3. Weak side help must be there
• “Connect the dots on defense”
Use defensive drills to develop skill and intensity

Coach Lute Olson, University of Arizona

Topic: Match up Zone Defense
• Mix up Defenses to confuse other team
• Look to change your defense if the opposition scores on you 2 times in a row.
• The goal of changing up defenses is to confuse the guards, and make them have to recognize what you are in.
• Defenses Arizona runs
• 20- Match-Up Zone
• 10- Man to Man
• 13- 1-3-1 Zone
• Start on man to man and work on it for at least 2 weeks before you get into teaching zones.
 Develop the defensive fundamentals

Mark Gottfried


1. 15 minutes = Individual attention time (i.e. defend ball screen, defend down screen)
Nov.-Dec. = work on part of game and how/what our system will do (offensively and/or defensively)
Jan.- end = use as post/perimeter breakdown

2. 5 minutes = Wing denial OR closeouts

3. 5 minutes = Offensive drill (i.e. back door with guard & forward, 3 on 0 cutting)

4. 5 minutes = “Flanker”

5. 5 minutes = Rebounding (i.e. Ante over w/:)
 Power lay in
 Pump fake, power lay in
 Pump fake, 1 bounce, power lay in
 POGO (mikan hop)
 2 hand follow in air

6. 15 minutes = Shell defense (position, help)

7. 5 minutes = 1 on 1 live
 Posts/Guards
 2 dribble limit

8. 5 minutes = 2 on 2 defense

9. 5 minutes = 3 on 3 defense

10. 5 minutes = 4 on 4 on 4

11. 10 minutes = 3 on 2 conditioner (continuous)
 Red vs. White

12. 10 minutes = Man offense (no defense)

13. 10 minutes = Zone offense (no defense)

14. 10 minutes = Shooting

15. 10 minutes = 5 on 5 ½ court vs. man

16. 10 minutes = 5 on 5 ½ court vs. zone

• Practice time =
 Early in season = 2 ½ hours maximum
 Late in season = 1 ½ hours maximum

Bobby Gonzalez

• You learn how to coach at the lower levels (JV, Varsity)
• “The best job is the one you’ve got.” (enjoy where you are, appreciate it)
• Important to understand your players, how to motivate,...
• Important to coach attitude every day
 use articles
 NBA footage/video

• Working on pressure defense
 1 on 1
 2 on 2
 3 on 3
 4 on 4
 5 on 5

 Points of emphasis/things we work on:
 ball pressure
* stance
* ball in front

 fake trap = “stunting”
 denial

• Our goal is to get a “5-10-5" = 5 second call (on the in-bounds), 10 second call (in the back court), 5 second call (in the half court)

• Deflection Chart
• = tip
 = hand on ball
S = steal
F = flick
B = block

• Our goals:
 20+ deflections by half
 40+ deflections for game

• Pressure Defense Goals
1. Wear people down (14 to 10 minute mark, game of runs)
2. Never out of game
3. Use more players
4. Forces fast play = quick/bad shots, turnovers

• Scouting Specific
1. Trap only PG
2. Make 4/5 bring it and make a play (“shut out”)
3. Trap dribbler
4. Trap 1st sideline pass

“Put your players in emergency situations often.” = forces quick thinking and communication (game-like)

Tubby Smith

 Early teams were shooting 44% against Kentucky - TOO HIGH!
 Defense FG% is key!

 As coaches - we “have to give back to the game”

 In 11 years as a head coach he has never finished below 2nd or 3rd in defense FG%

 Stance (1 hand high, 1 hand low (“dig” hand))
 Focal point = Belly (peripheral vision to see ball)
 Ball goes up = 2 hand pressure
 Ball goes down = 1 hand down, 1 up, & step back

Steve Fisher San Diego State

1. Be loyal, work hard, don’t complain!
2. Don’t be afraid to speak up! (i.e. I disagree with..., I think...)
3. Let people be/feel important!

Don Meyer Northern State University (SD)

Post Play

1. Point toes out slightly
2. How do you know if you have angles in post?
If pass is right at your face = no angles
Pass communicates to you = tells you where your open angle is
3. Get open, stay open, score simply!
4. “Doleac” = arms out, palms out, fingers up to ceiling, be able to see back of hands
5. Chin ball = fingers to ceiling
6. It’s a 2-handed, 2-footed game (power, balance)
7. Mikan series
8. “Get more of the defense.”
9. Catch the ball perpendicular to the line of the pass.

How To Get Teams UP For Game
1. Urgency
2. Purpose

5 Stages of Coaching
1. Survival - philosophy, how to...
2. Strive for success - get respect
3. Satisfaction
4. Significance - impact, legacy
5. Spent - nothing left in tank

Reasons To Take a Job
1. Like to live there
2. Be able to win
3. Must enjoy people you work with
4. Get appreciation/satisfaction from work you do
5. Program money (budget)
6. Good kids
7. Salary

“Money has yet to make a person rich.”
“Relationships make you rich.”
“Money is a lousy way to keep score.”

6 Ways To Get Fired
1. Alcohol/Drugs
2. Divorce
3. Merger
4. Incident
5. Taking a stand
6. Poor teacher

“I never let our players get satisfied.”
“I never let our coaches get satisfied.”
“I was never satisfied.”
“You can always do it better.”

3 Things That Stop You From Winning
1. Injuries
2. Illness
3. Ineligibility

3 Dreads of Coaching
1. Telling a kid to do or not do something we don’t do or do ourselves
2. Players in trouble
3. The end of it all

Skill coach vs. Drill coach
1. Make practices like games.
2. Make games like practices.

Our Practices
1. Skill development
2. Team competition
3. Team defense
4. Situation competition

“Be a practice player first.”

“Properly and quickly execute the fundamentals of the game for the welfare of the team.”

“We practice and play with the poise of a national championship team.”

“Even when we lose we win.”

“Don’t have to win the championship to be a champion.”

1. Stance
2. Position
3. Movement
4. Re-position

Defensive Reminders
1. Jump to ball
2. Travel on air time of ball
3. Go where help came from (i.e. X out)
4. Sprint in and out of “i” on help side

1. Shot off pass
2. Shot fake, shot

3 Rules for Coaches
1. Find out who you are
2. Find your unique gift/talent and develop it
3. Give your gift away

2nd Hand Compliments

Random Thoughts
1. Use short phrases in teaching
2. Echo yells
3. A quiet team is a scared team

4. Buddy System
- coach your position when on bench
- veteran & rookie NOT rookie & rookie
5. Attention to detail