In 2010 I was appointed Head Coach of the AIS men’s program and I went into that position with a firm view that we needed to improve shooting as a Nation. My journey into shooting lead me further into the importance of Style of Play and how that helps create good shots (one’s that have a high percentage chance of going in!).
Another initiative I created early in my tenure at the AIS was to create a consultative group to provide some more experience into the decisions that were being made with regard to the development of our future National male players. I would bounce ideas off this group to ensure there was a collective and well thought out approach to what I was trying to deliver to our best athletes and our National Programs.
I selected the members of the group based on their International success as coaches in the Men’s program, they were; Adrian Hurley (fourth place Senior Men 1996 Olympics), Barry Barnes (fourth place Senior Men 2000 Olympics) Gordie McLeod (Silver Medal at 1995 under 20 World Championships) Rob Beveridge (Gold Medal at the 2003 Under 20 World Championships) Guy Molloy (Silver Medal at the 2010 Under 17 World Championships) and we were in Boomers Head Coach limbo at that time as Brett Brown had finished his tenure and Basketball Australia hadn’t appointed a successor however I used my crystal ball in inviting Andre Lemanis into the group as a current Boomers assistant coach and likely successor to Brett.
I had some visions on an Australian style of play and I shared my thoughts with the group seeking their feedback, the following is a letter I sent them in 2010 and my thoughts remain the same and are worthy for all coaches to consider;
Here are some background thoughts;
Our sport has been heavily influenced by Lindsay Gaze and the shuffle offense. While 90% of the coaches that I communicate with find some reason to criticise the shuffle its impact on basketball in Australia cannot be understated. Many teams in the NBL, over the years, have run 1st or 3rd options as sets and some will run the shuffle in its entirety. Guy just won a silver medal with it, the last NBL grand final I participated in both teams ran it (Tigers and Dragons – Guy’s influence again no doubt) and the Tigers had won two previous championships with it under Al Westover and one of two with Lindsay at the helm.
In my time at the Crocodiles I was tempted to run the shuffle right from the start but in a bid to be different I chose the Triangle instead largely because it was a continuity offense based on similar principles to the shuffle.
Barry used the Flex to great effect at the Spectres for many years too.
(NB. NBL teams practise a lot more than junior teams)
Anyway my point is that when you walk into any basketball stadium in Australia on a Sunday morning and see rep teams practising they spend way too much of their time jogging through their 5-0 offense – a trademark of Lindsay Gaze and Ken Watson teaching the shuffle. My observations of European teams in similar situations are that they spend that same time playing 1 on 1, 2 on 2 and 3 on 3. They end up with better skilled players who know how to play basketball rather than run sets or offenses.
This is the start of the problem with establishing “our” style of play as changing that system of practise with our junior clubs will be a great challenge.
Anyway back to the top down approach. Another issue with establishing our National team style of play has been that in the past the decision makers on the panels who appoint coaches have expected the National Men’s Coach to lead the style of play of our sport and while I expect those in that position do the best they can in that regard, they are really going to be judged by how the senior men’s team perform, so that is where their focus remains.
My observations, over many years, of programs overseas has been that the National style of play is often driven by the Federation, not the National Coach. I haven’t seen any significant change in how Spain, Serbia, Croatia, and Lithuania play the game and they have had many National Coaches over the past 20 years. The National Coach buys into how the Federation are developing the game, they add their own influence to it but the style of play is Federation driven, not driven by one person – the current National Coach.
This is how I propose this – developing a National Style of Play - should be driven;
A technical committee of past and present National coaches and players decide on key elements of our National Style of play.
The thoughts and advice of this technical committee are held in high regard by the Board of Basketball Australia.
The technical committee are represented on the panel that interviews and appoints National coaches – a buy in by the applicants into the National Style of Play is a key part of selection criteria
The view of the technical committee is held in high regard throughout the ITC, NBL, Junior State coaches so that philosophical direction by the committee is embraced by the wider basketball community
The technical committee have representatives who attend all International events as technical advisors to the coaching staff – representation at the under 17, 19 World Championships, World University Games and Men’s World Championships and Olympic Games. The technical committee representative is a past coach of such events.
The technical committee is made up of enough members so that if one or two leave, retire, quit or die they can be replaced and momentum of the committee is not lost.
Okay so given all that is embraced and approved I would also like to propose some thoughts on National Style of play.
I think Guy has been instrumental in helping develop my view on this; his concept of “false motion” used by the Europeans has been the ignition to my research on this.
We have been working here with our AIS players on three segments of each 24 second possession; we are breaking it down to three 8 second intervals:
First eight seconds (shot clock at 24-16) – we look to run! In this time we want to put maximum pressure on the basket by filling lanes, spreading the floor and making good decisions that will end up with either a layup or an open three point shot to one of our proven 3 point shooters. We do not want mid range jumpers or contested shots in this time.
Middle eight seconds (shot clock at 16-8) false motion time, time to use the ball, (run two thirds for the shuffle people) give the other team a chance to foul us, we will take gifts if presented to us during this time but the main purpose is to use the ball, use the clock, use the offense to create a high percentage scoring opportunity, mid range jumpers only off kick out passes.
Final eight seconds (shot clock at 8-0) we call this “hustle” so instead of everyone on the bench counting down the shot clock, which is an advantage to the defending team, we call out “hustle” this alerts everyone time is running out, if a good ball handler has the ball, we will either look to set an on ball screen with the other players spreading the floor or we will look to dribble penetrate and create either dumps to post players or split, kick and extra pass opportunities to our perimeter players or we will dump it into a post player who will make a move or kick it out for extra pass opportunities. We will settle for mid range jumpers during the hustle time if we have to.
24-16 – Transition defense is critical. Slowing the ball down, getting it to one side, getting matched up and preventing high percentage shots. If the other team have an obvious fast break opportunity off a steal or turnover during this time we coach using fouls to stop the break. We coach to foul in the foul line to foul line area of the court. NOT once a player has started to the basket as this often ends up a three point play. Full court pick up if off a dead ball or a score, pressing opportunity too.
16-8 – Good team defense time, no fouls on drives, no hacking fouls, (save the fouls to stop fast breaks) contest all shots, block out, and follow the team defense rules.
8-0 – Hustle time again – we will switch all on ball screens, we will not commit fouls during this time, we understand they are about to shoot it so blocking out is a high priority; we contest all shots without fouling.
Education of the players on reading the shot clock and understanding the requirements of the time left is a high priority. Developing great three point shooters and creating a style of play that creates more three point shots is a key to bridging the gap with the teams who we struggle to beat at the International level.
I believe we also need to have a National strategy on how we are going to beat the Europeans. Can we play them straight up? – I've just watched the Boomers play Spain and Spain consistently shoot the ball in the first and final 8 seconds, the Boomers in the first and middle 8 seconds, can we really beat them playing this way? We take many contested shots during those time frames. Spain consistently pass the ball 6-8 times whereas we sometimes shoot off one or no passes.
I think our National mentality is to try and play these teams straight up but I don’t think we are good enough to do that. Mohammad Ali would have got his arse kicked if he tried to fight George Forman straight up, he used rope a dope as it was his only chance of winning, if the Vietnamese had tried to fight the Americans straight up they would have got their arse kicked too, they fought a guerrilla war that gave them a chance to win. I think we try to take these significantly stronger teams on trying to out gun or out run them but it rarely works. What is out National strategy going to be to beat the more talented teams? I think we need to use that middle 8 seconds better, we need to ramp up the defense, we need to produce better shooters, all this is possible but it needs leadership that, I feel can only be driven by a Technical Committee or for want of another name the AIS advisory Committee!!
What do you guys think?
I’d be interested to hear what other coaches out there think too. I believe the strategies I discussed in this letter six years ago are just as relevant to teams of all levels. While this article addresses the needs of the Boomers (I was working in the Men’s Program) I also firmly believe they hold the answers for the Opals getting over their major hurdle in International play, the USA. Not everyone has the most talented team, so how are you going to play to give yourself the best chance of winning?