Keeping Up with the Joneses - Part 2: Tryouts and Practices

November 10

Freshmen tryouts and the first official varsity practice were held today. We only have one gym at Jones so we had to put the curtain down to split the court. It was crazy. There were more freshmen trying out this year than in my 15 years at Jones. We moved into a new building in 2013 and the bigger space has translated into 300 more kids at the school this year. Because of the increased enrollment, we had over 70 boys trying out for the freshman team. 

It is easy to make first cuts at Jones. Many of the kids that try out don't play much and are dreamers or basketball fans. Kids that are afraid of the ball, can't catch, or can't shoot a layup are the kids that get cut first. Coach J cut 25 kids after the first half hour. Another 15 were dismissed after doing some full-court drills. Then Coach G wanted me to watch the last half of the tryout to make sure we didn't miss on any players. It's easy to identity good or very good players, but it's only through experience that you can find some diamonds in the rough during tryouts. A trained eye can spot a kid with footwork, shooting potential, or intangibles like knowing where to be on the floor and coachability. Coach J was thorough and didn't miss anyone on the freshman team, so I moved to other court to help with the varsity practice. 

The varsity players were in decent condition. Coach had them warm up with three-man weave, three-man rush, three-man cross, three-man curl, five man weave to 3-on-2, 3-on-3, and 4-on-4. They played at a faster pace then they had in previous years. We always do some scrimmaging and simulated play because it’s fun and it keeps the players enthusiastic. If practice is always work they will eventually lose interest. We then went into a competitive shooting drill with three lines, and the line that hit 20 two-point shots first won and the other two lines had to do 15 push-ups. We switched lines twice so everyone had a chance to shoot from the left, center, and right side of the court. We would expand this drill to include 3's later in the week.

Coach G had the players walk through our presses, which is his specialty, and then we scrimmaged against each press while incorporating our press break. We both love combined offensive/defensive drills. We finished the practice with free throws and then had a selected player shoot two free throws. If he made both, practice was over. If he missed one, the team ran one full-court sprint and if he missed both, the entire team ran a suicide. Luckily for them the third player picked made both of his shots. In the past we've had the whole team fail to make 2 in a row. The team ended up not being very good. Go figure. Maybe this is a good sign. 

November 12 

After warmups we went right into man-to-man defense. In the past we have played a zone defense and we've been too passive. Our rebounding has been poor because we don't have block out responsibilities. We haven't gotten steals and therefore our offense suffers. We decided as a staff to play hard man-to-man starting with tough denial in the front court and really being physical in the post area. The players really responded to the man-to-man, but they soon realized that they weren't in as good a shape as they thought they were (which of course the coaches knew all along). They were gasping after these intense half-court drills, after which Coach G made them scrimmage full court. By the end they were exhausted, but it was a promising defensive practice. Tomorrow we put in our offense, which is review for most of the players.  

November 13

After our warm-ups, which are the same every day as described on November 10, the coaches had the players stand on the baseline and told them what offenses we were going to use for this team. Coach had the starters come on to the court and we walked through two offenses, “five” and “stack”. “Five” is the old Ray Meyer/DePaul two-guard front offense with L cuts to the wing, flash cuts to the free throw line and dive post cuts opposite the ball. Coach also added a UCLA cut by a guard if he passes the ball to the wing. A UCLA cut is cutting off a pick from the high post after a post man flashes to the free throw line extended. We then shadowed “stack”, which starts with two players on each block and the point guard at the top of the key. One player in each stack uses the other player as a screen and V-cuts to the wing or the top of the key to receive the pass. Once the pass is executed the player on the opposite side goes back into the stack and can use another screen or be the screener. There are so many actions we have using “stack”, but we just focused on the basic movements. We then had the remaining players walk through the offenses and then the first team ran the offenses against defense. That went surprisingly well as Bryson and Justin alternated playing with Ellington, Chidi, Devon, and Adrien. There was a definite chemistry among those six. Then the first team switched and played defense. As I said before, combining offense and defense in the same drill is fantastic given our time constraints so we got a lot of positive work done.

November 14

We went over our zone offenses today. I introduced a new offense that I picked up from the Chicago Sky, the women's professional team, after returning from a clinic at UIC. It's a 1-4 flat set where the point guard dribbles to the corner replacing a player who cuts the opposite corner and fills the spot of the player who cuts to the point to receive a pass. The player receiving the pass then gets a screen from the player who was on the opposite block from the ball when the dribble initiated the play. Again we will add options but this is the basic set. The players ran it well. The same could not be said for our other zone offense, which was sloppy. We also ran “five”, which can be used against a 1-3-1 defense, and the players kept forgetting the cuts. Full-court work tomorrow. We'll see how we've progressed.

November 15

Concentration level stunk today. The second group did not challenge the first team at all. We did some good work with the presses, but both the zone and man-to-man offenses were sloppy. The cuts were weak and passing was tentative. Maybe it was because our man-to-man defense was much improved. Both teams were having a tough time getting our offenses started by entering the ball to the wing and the defenses got a lot of steals. We walked through all of our out-of-bounds plays, both baseline and side court, and finished practice shooting free throws. All in all it was a productive week of practice. Next week we'll add more detail and continue to refresh players on the team concepts and fundamentals needed for us to be successful. 

November 17

The coaching staff worked the players through all the half-court offensive zone and man-to-man sets and worked on our man-to-man and zone defenses. We also added a guard-to-guard ball screen as part of our man offense. We finished practice with a sideline-to-sideline run on half of the court wise since the girls were practicing on the other half of the gym. It’s tough to only have one gym for a student body of 1,300.

November 18

The girls had a game today so we got to practice full court. Certain players are now starting to shine above others. Ellington is playing with an increased level of concentration while Chidi is contesting every pass on the defensive end. His intensity has seemed to rub off on everyone because we are getting tons of layups from turnovers. Hopefully it will carry over when we start playing games.  

November 19

The team did a lot of shooting, starting with a three-point contest at the beginning of practice. The best three-point shooters by a large margin are Adrien, Bryson and Gabe. At the end of practice the team shot a lot of free throws. Free throw shooting was a definite weakness of the team last year as we shot less than 50% for the season. It is a point of emphasis for the coaching staff to improve that area, because we could lose a lot of games if we don't make them when the game is on the line, just like we did last season. We didn't shoot them especially well today and there was a lot of running during the free throw challenge at the end of practice. We need to do better. The best free throw shooters seem to be Adrien, Gabe, Vic, and Will. We'll see what happens if their technique holds up under game pressure. 

November 21

Full-court warmups, shooting drills, and free throws were on the agenda today. We also worked on our three-quarter and half court presses in preparation for the intrasquad game tomorrow. It should be very interesting in telling the staff if our team is ready for competition. 

November 22

We played four, ten-minute quarters after we warmed up with full-court drills and competitive shooting. In the first quarter, both teams played man defense. For the second quarter, both pressed and dropped into man. Both teams then played zone defense in the third and the staff called out defenses and offenses for the fourth quarter.

Coach Thibs from the Chicago Bulls likes to say “next man up”, but in high school basketball the team won't be nearly as competitive if a starter gets hurt or gets into foul trouble. That is definitely the case with our team. The bench guys in the intrasquad game looked lost and were constantly in the wrong spots on offense and defense, which led to breakdowns and easy scores. As a staff it tells us that they aren't comprehending our systems.

The team is still adjusting to playing relentless and tenacious man defense and allowed our offenses to initiate sets when passes weren't denied hard. Justin especially had trouble grasping the denial concept. Chidi was over aggressive, but we liked that because we can channel his energy and make him a more efficient defender. Adrien showed excellent on-the-ball defensive skills against the point guard. This will make our defense so much better because we will stop penetration in the lane and can more easily deny passes. Ellington played a great all-around game and made his teammates better through his passing, rebounding, and defending. Devin showed a real good touch on his baseline shots and stop moves, while Bryson gunning from all over the court (as usual) and was making his threes and pull-up jumpers.  He even got out on the break to get some easy baskets. Justin turned the ball over too much, but rebounded well and got some steals to go along with some good drives. Gabe and Vic shot well from the outside and Gabe also blocked several shots.

We pressed well but the zone defenses and offenses were sloppy because the players don't like playing zone. Looks like we converted them! The out of bounds plays were average and our free throw shooting was, to be kind, not good. Like we said before, if we don't shoot free throws better it's going to cost us. Coach G passed out the uniforms and he bought pizzas for the team. The team looks close. We will see when we play Monday how close we are. 

NEXT WEEK - Part 3: Let the Games Begin