I am not a pessimistic person; however, I approach coaching basketball from an angle of pessimism. I have always thought about successful basketball as elimination of things that cause you to lose. I catch myself doing this while evaluating my teams on film. I do not see the really good things we are doing consistently, or people making “plays,” but instead I notice critical execution errors that lead to us giving up points or failing to get a good look at a scoring opportunity.
Because of this perception, my practices and teaching revolve around flawless execution. I tell our players that if I don’t expect them to perform at 100% accuracy, there is no way they will achieve 95%. We work daily at elimination of mistakes. On defense, low hands on close-out will cost you 2 points sometime during the game, so we expect high-hands close-outs consistently. Bad weak-side rotation will cost us points during the game, so I expect correct rotation on dribble penetration or post feed every time. On offense, we sweep the ball when we catch, we prepare for a catch of the ball the same way all of the time, and we “read” defense on all of our cuts off screens. We do these things to maximize our scoring chances, which lead to quality possessions. Possessions without quality lead to losses.
Too many college coaches today do not teach consistently. They spend the first week of practice with some fundamentals and then get into the Xs and Os of their offensive and defensive (some of the time) schemes. I feel what you do is really over-rated compared to how you do it. Whether you run a numbered break, slow-it-down half-court game, zone press, or vanilla man-to-man, it all comes down to execution of your systems.
For me, our systems are designed to beat the best teams on our schedule and maximize our abilities. I don’t recruit “athleticism-first” players. I get system guys who have strong character who will run our team game on both ends of the floor, don’t mind scoring lower than most teams on average, and who will clap it up for a good teammate assist or charge drawn versus a dunk shot or block. My emphasis with team, community, and media is the same—little things matter. I never, for example, talk about our high scorer with the media. I always talk about our best passer in the game, our guy who set the most intelligent screens, and the player who kept a possession alive with a good competitive play. We reward our best defender with a traveling trophy (an old, ugly basketball found in a closet and signed by the winner of the trophy for that game) and charges taken with a sports drink after practice the day following the game.
When this all comes together, we have a team that garners its own “cult” following, if you will. In year one, all people realize is that we look a little different than most college basketball teams. By year two, they start to realize what we are doing, what is really appealing about it, and they begin anticipating our good plays (like back-cuts against pressure defenses or a perfect defensive rotation where we steal a pass from an out-of-control offensive player).
By emphasizing the details of all that makes good basketball work, we emphasize the individual and his complete development. Since our players prepare tirelessly, they learn the value of preparation in any task. Because we reward effort and unselfishness, we teach such traits in the development of the individual. No player on our team is unimportant, and I consistently praise efforts of our “practice bodies” as much as our first-team all-conference player. When my players graduate, the biggest thing I want to have accomplished as their coach is to have provided them with a good “experience” in all facets of the college learning environment.