Coaches Network: Learn and Adapt From What Opponents Are Doing
This week’s question for the USA Basketball Coaches Network:
What strategies or styles have you seen this year -- either from your opponents or elsewhere -- that you might want to incorporate into your game plan?
Sharman White, head coach, Miller Grove High School (Ga.)
Prior to each season, I make it a point to study a particular offensive and defensive scheme of a team or coach. Not always to add to what our team is already doing but to also enhance my personal knowledge of the game. As with every basketball season, I try to watch as much basketball as possible and this season has been no different. By doing so, I was able to see some great strategies on both sides of the ball.
I had the opportunity to coach against one of the premier players in the country in McDonald’s All-American and USA Basketball star, Malik Newman from Callaway High School in Mississippi. Malik is coached by David Sanders, and I was impressed with the variety of ways they were able to get Malik in an isolation situation on different parts of the floor while we were in our man defense. By using all of the court and giving Malik the ball with various angles to attack from as well as needed spacing, it was very difficult to defend. I took a lot from this particular matchup. We have a player that we like to isolate because of his ability to make plays for himself and his teammates -- keeping him attacking from different spots on the floor is a plus.
I also had the unique opportunity to work with USA Basketball's Don Showalter this past fall and was able to grasp some great defensive schemes and concepts through his use of full-court presses. The tempo that is created through his pressing style can really cause disruption for teams. The “rhythm” -- something that is not really mentioned with defense -- can be established from the defensive side of the floor.
In my opinion, the key to incorporating any style or strategy into your personal game plan has a lot to do with your own strategy. Does it fit with the players you have? I have wanted to incorporate numerous strategies and schemes into our system, but I also had to understand that if it didn't fit well with my personnel, it was something I couldn't force-feed and risk making it a fail for everyone.
Don Showalter, head coach, Iowa City High School (Iowa)
I always try to learn from other teams and coaches and evaluate different strategies and styles that our team may use next year. I always look for special situations that are used by other teams -- out of bounds plays, last-second shots, specific sets after time outs, press breakers -- that may fit our team’s personnel. I think high school coaches need to evaluate their talent each year and make some changes that fit their personnel. I also like to evaluate certain tendencies that teams may use. For example, I watch teams that press, as I want to see how they press certain teams and what makes them successful. Or I may want to play more zone next season, so I watch teams that play zone to evaluate slides and how the zone is played.
Brian Robinson, head coach, Bishop McGuinness High School (N.C.)
Coaching involves constant learning whether that is at games, watching television or attending coaching clinics. I try to understand the mental and physical level of my team, then incorporate things by watching and listening. This past season, after working as an assistant to Sue Phillips for a second year (with the USA U16 in 2013 and then the U17 team last year), there were a couple of fast-break drills that I added to our high school team practices that helped our current post players going from end to end. The drill wasn't exactly as she taught it, but I tweaked the concept that came from her. Watching the USA National Team practice in September also gave me some ideas on spacing in the half-court, which again helped our team. The most important thing I have learned over time is that you see how you can adapt a drill or set concept to your team's makeup; the key is to always be willing to learn and to adapt.
Scott Fitch, head coach, Fairport High School (N.Y.)
This year, I saw a strategy that continues to grow based on the way the game is being officiated. It was highlighted in the Final Four as well. First, in Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo's comments following his loss to Duke. He mentioned how he needs to change the type of player he recruits to take advantage of the way the game is being called. It was also brought up by Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski's comments at halftime of the championship game when he talked about how his team had to attack Wisconsin more, be the aggressor and force them into fouling more.
I have been frustrated at the local level because of the number of times a kid drives out of control, forces contact and throws up a bad shot only to be followed by a whistle. I could not believe how many times that player was rewarded with foul shots after making a bad basketball play. This offseason, I am making sure I have an offensive set (that includes an offensive mindset) to attack aggressively off the bounce. It is not the way I like to play or coach the game but with the game being officiated the way it is, I feel it is something you need have.
Sue Phillips, head coach, Archbishop Mitty High School (Calif.)
A strategy that is commonly and hotly debated is “to foul or not to foul?” That is the question. Late in the ball game (say 10 seconds), your team is up three and your opponent has the basketball. Do you foul and put them on the free throw line or defend the 3-ball?
If your strategy is to foul, then your opponent goes to the charity stripe for at least one or possibly two free throw attempts. Your opponent looks to make the first free throw, but then purposely misses the second free throw for an O-board put back. The worst-case scenario is that O-board gets kicked out for a three-point make, and a subsequent four-point swing. Ball game.
We prefer not to foul and defend the 3-point attempt. We switch all screens and have the discipline to contest but not foul. In this instance, the worst-case scenario is that the game goes into OT, and you play the extra period starting with a momentum shifter. Hindsight is always 20-20. In turn, it is advised to work on this situation in practice and determine your team’s best strategy.