Christmas and Post-Ups

My worlds are colliding again.  Coaching and faith are intersecting as we celebrate Christmas.  Both are on my mind, a lot!  And both involve a change in focus.  Since implementing Dribble Drive concepts, I’ve become more aware of how my favorite part of basketball as a kid has been slowly disappearing – the effective use of the traditional post-up.  And like so many others in today’s society, I’m also left dumbfounded by the way our society continues to miss the simple meaning of Christmas.

BASKETBALL – The vanishing post-up.

www.sportsilustrated.cnn.com

www.sportsilustrated.cnn.com

As a kid, I spent endless hours in the church gym across the street – my dad was the pastor, so we had the keys; most of that time I spent playing 1 on 1 against myself, but it wasn’t just me.  It was Lew Alcindor shooting a sky-hook over Wilt Chamberlain or it was Oscar Robertson backing in Walt Frazier.  It was all about the low post.  We were taught that the best players were the ones playing on the block, shooting turnaround jump shots, sky hooks, and fade-aways.  And then as a coach, in almost every offense I worked with, the first priority was establishing a low post.  It was the essence of fundamental basketball.

In the age of analytics and the evolution of the 3-point shots, that’s changing.  While a strong, dominant post player is nice to have, it’s not essential to scoring.  In fact, as pointed out by Celtics coach Brad Stevens, it’s not even very efficient.  The most efficient shots in basketball are shots at the rim or open 3-point shots created by penetration and ball reversal to beat rotating defenders.  That’s one of the reasons I prefer to use the Dribble Drive.  I prefer a free-flowing, attacking offense that doesn’t get bogged down trying to feed the low post by keeping the post away from the strong side.

So why is the post-up vanishing?  Allow me to offer up some possible explanations:

www.sportsillustrated.cnn.com

www.sportsillustrated.cnn.com

1)  Analytics:  Expanded statistical information has helped defined the most efficient ways to score.  Posting up still plays an important role in the game, but the purpose has expanded to forcing double teams, facing up to draw fouls, and exploiting mismatches.

2)  World Expansion:  The U.S. is the home of basketball, but the international game has forced our game to change – the trapezoid lane, international rules, and wide-open styles of play led to disappointing losses for our teams.  U.S. coaches have adjusted and the effects have filtered through the ranks.

3)  Teaching Focus:  The focus of youth basketball often neglects the individual skills required to score in the post.  Gone are the days of teaching players footwork and counter moves.  Though my 14-year old son has a distinct height advantage, he’s had only one coach in the last seven years take any time to show him the basics!  And, unfortunately, it’s not just the low post, it’s also the perimeter skill of feeding the post that has deteriorated.

4)  Three Point Shot:  ESPN loves dunks and loves three’s.  Players today develop in a culture of drawing attention to the big plays.  While the risk is often worth it from a team scoring perspective, too many players focus more on perimeter glory than the down and dirty low post.

5)  Priorities:  Part of the decline of the low post is simply due to a change in focus.  The change has happened without many of us knowing it.  If you’re not intentional in your teaching, change is inevitable.

I don’t believe the post-up will disappear, but its role continues to change.  As a coach, I’m smart enough to realize that you have to utilize the post-up when it maximizes the skills of your players, but when many players have not been taught the essential skills, coaches at my level must prioritize practice time in order to teach proper skills. If you do, here’s a spin move from Pau Gasol that allows a low post to attack the rim:

And if you spend the time working on this or other moves like Face Up or Running Hook, FastModel Sports has a great library of Post-Up Plays to help you find great ways to include post-ups.

LIFE & FAITH – Change the focus!

Christmas, even for Christians, has lost its focus.  The essential elements of Christmas have been intentionally changed for many of us, or lost by a lack of focus on the fundamentals.  We often use Christmas to momentarily find ways to do nice things for others (analytics), we’ve allowed the world and other religious cultures to shape and distort the core elements of Christianity, we’ve taught our children to focus too much on receiving, or we focus on how doing generous things makes us feel better about ourselves.  Like the post-up, though, those things often have some merit, but we’ve confused the role that Christmas should play.

The opening chapter of John’s Gospel explains the true nature of Christmas:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.    (John 1:14)

That’s Christmas!  God becoming flesh.  God coming to us.  God reaching down to have a personal relationship with each of us.  The traditions of Christmas have and will continue to change.  Commercial markets, other cultures, and politics will all influence and distort the message, but like the post-up, it’s not going away.  Too many of us, though, like the woman meeting Jesus at the well (John 4: 7-12), often miss the gift of Jesus.  We hear the Christmas carols as we shop for just the right gift to impress somebody, but we miss it.  So choose how you want to observe Christmas.  Keep it in a traditional, commercial wrapped box that you open once a year to help fulfill an obligation, or hold on to the daily truth that God loves you so much that he gave up his Son to become human flesh and graciously provide the sacrifice for our sin – an act so unselfish that it should compel each of us to live daily with the true Christmas spirit!

Merry Christmas from 3 Point Wisdom!

Fantastic Finishes in Life and Basketball

 

KittelEvery sport has its drama and fantastic finishes, but for me, there’s nothing like the emotion and thrills found in basketball.  Baseball has its walk-offs and football can have its last-minute drives, but basketball provides a non-stop roller-coaster of emotions –  and, an endless supply of lessons that relate to life and Christian faith in a fallen world.

Our Concordia Wisconsin team has had its share of thrilling comebacks and wild finishes in recent years, but this past weekend the Falcons manufactured one for the ages.  Coming back from a 17-point second half deficit and winning on a half-court shot by a freshman point guard will provide memories for a lifetime, but hopefully the lessons learned on the court will impact our season and inspire our players off the court as well.

BASKETBALL – Finish well.

Until the final four minutes of our game with Millikin, I really wasn’t sure that our team was poised for a fantastic finish.  After a week of exams, an erratic stretch of practice, a long snowy night in Decatur, IL; and an early morning clinic with some area kids, the Falcons seemed to have everything going against us, especially after squandering a surprising 9-0 start to the first five minutes against an explosive team. Throw in some officials unfamiliar with our team and you have the makings of typical end of semester slide by a team fighting to find its identity. After hanging in, though, the team made clutch plays that culminated with this fantastic finish:

DustinEric Kittel hit an amazing shot to end the game, but also raised his level of defensive against some terrific guards to register five key steals and earned his stripes as a legitimate clutch shooter by knocking down three more of his six 3-pointers in the final 4:00.  Just as impressive, though, were crucial plays like Dustin Thumann ‘s key rebound on the final missed free throw and solid ballscreen defense in the final minutes, Brad Prinsen‘s key three-point play Boubaon an amazing putback to give CUW a lead prior to the final play, and much improved free throw shooting by Boubacar Camara who hit 7 of 9 critical foul shots.  If it sounds like I’m bragging on our guys, I am. They proved how important it is to finish well – even when circumstances around you change, good players and good teams find a way to finish well.  That doesn’t always mean you win that game, but it gives you a chance to win.

LIFE – The risk of sounding cliché.

It may seem elemental, but a buzzer beater like this provides a perfect metaphor for life in a world filled with pressures and distractions.  Here are just a few of the factors involved in this game that can inspire us to finish well in any aspect of life:

Trust your teammates:  No one can do it on their own.  Find trusted friends and mentors to share in your challenges.

Recognize adjustments:  Our team had to find a way to secure rebounds and limit the scoring opportunities for Millikin’s guards.  Always be ready and willing to make adjustments.

Maintain focus:  With so many distractions and excuses, we urged our team to stay focused on the task at hand, nothing else.  That’s also how each of us can deal with the pressures of everyday life.

Renew your strength:  We had very productive timeouts.  Our players stayed fresh and really tuned into observations from the bench.  That’s so important in life, too.  We all need those ever-important timeouts!

Stay alert and positive:  Too many of us let circumstances consume us or just allow them to overtake us.  Our entire team stayed emotionally invested in the game, even when things weren’t in our favor.  Don’t let life drag you into mediocrity.  Stay alert!

Persevere:  It’s easier to hang in there when you stick to your core values and principles.  Our concept of team defensive and offensive plan to attack the rim and share the ball allowed us to hang in there.

Life will have its challenges, but lessons like these from our comeback win can help each of us to finish well.

FAITH – It’s how you finish!

Scripture is filled with stories of faithful people like Joseph, Samson, Gideon, and Daniel who used the same concepts in their journey of faith to finish well.  While the Old Testament especially is an encyclopedia of faith-filled examples, it also provides countless example of those who failed to finish well.  They doubted God, ignore his teachings, and tried to do things their own way.  In fact, if you take the time to count, there’s actually more examples of this kind!

The good news, though, is that God sent His Son, Jesus, to allow all of us to have a fantastic finish.  As the scene shifts to the New Testament, we learn how the followers of Jesus and those who were in the early church used some of those same principles to stay strong in their faith.  They trusted in each other and grew the Church, they adjusted to the challenges of a sinful society, they were focused and alert in spreading the Gospel message, they took time to allow the Holy Spirit to renew them, and most of all, they persevered.  God does provide all of us with the opportunity to finish well by believing that Jesus died on the cross to remove our sin, but in the meantime, He expects us to compete in life.  That’s why Paul, in one of his last messages, referred to it as a race:

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)

and throughout his writings encouraged us to run the race of life with purpose, and not run aimlessly (1 Cor. 9:24-27).  My prayer for each of us is that we can have a fantastic finish!

Coaching Loyalty: The Saga of Jason Kidd & Lawrence Frank

kidd-frankHave you kept up with the soap opera called the Brooklyn Nets?  Here’s what SI.com had to say as they predicted that the Nets would finish first in the Atlantic Division this year:

The Nets took out a second mortgage in order to build the most audacious rotation in the NBA. The team now boasts at least two future Hall of Famers in Garnett and Paul Pierce, three more All-Stars in the starting lineup and former All-Star Andrei Kirilenko and former Sixth Man Award winner Jason Terry off the bench. . . But the arrival of Garnett and the hiring of fellow future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd promises to caffeinate the entire organization. Kidd’s inexperience will be offset by the meticulous preparation of lead assistant Lawrence Frank, who will help make sense of the substitution patterns that will be crucial to the Nets’ success this year.

While the Nets have won three in a row, they now stand at 8-14, but most importantly, Frank has been demoted off the bench and relegated to writing game reports  This is a bizarre and extreme circumstance, or is it?  Let’s consider the role loyalty plays in coaching, but also as we navigate the struggles of life in this world.

BASKETBALL – Get on the same page!

It’s to be expected, right?  A playing legend with no coaching experience is hired as an NBA head coach and he turns to his former head coach to be the lead assistant on his staff.  It makes sense doesn’t it?  The experienced, detail-oriented veteran helping his former player rebuild a program.  Should be a good match, right?  As you read Dave D’Alessandro‘s coverage on NJ.com, though, you quickly realize that our imperfections as humans can deteriorate the best of relationships in a hurry!  But, who’s at fault?  Certainly, Kidd has the right and responsibility to call the shots and certainly, Frank needs to put aside his desire for control, but what happens to loyalty, communication, and shared vision?  It seems to me that Kidd knew what he was getting in Frank as an assistant and surely, Frank would appreciate Kidd’s inexperience and the likelihood of an erratic approach, right?

George Raveling is a retired college coach who is making an impact with his terrific website Coaching for Success.  Kevin Sutton, a Georgetown assistant, contributed 10 Things an Assistant Coach Can Do to Help Their Head Coach, which wonderfully sets the tone for assistant coaches.  Lawrence Frank probably didn’t read this!  As a young coach, I wanted to be the best assistant I could be and was passionate about filling that role, hopefully for my entire career.  It’s amazing, though, how external factors can change things in a hurry.  Coaching is about decision-making and some of the same factors addressed when we started 3PW:  Haste, Anger, Ego, Apathy, and Desperation affect the decisions that head coaches make with their staffs.  It’s easy to see that a couple of these impacted Jason Kidd!  My own career and the desire to maintain a reputation as a trusted assistant was dramatically impacted by these factors as well.  Loyalty is a necessity, but it’s often a direct by-product of open communication.  Staffs that function well have each member of the staff on the same page.  Assistants must be willing, but head coaches must set the standard.   When communication is inconsistent or damaged, coaching roles become compromised.

LIFE – Loyalty among friends.

en.wikipedia.org

en.wikipedia.org

It’s often been said that the greatest component of true friendship is loyalty, but like roles on a coaching staff, the extent of loyalty is often determined by our willingness to have open communication with our friends, family, or even co-workers.  And, it also involves working with and assisting each other when we make mistakes.  I love the idea expressed about Ulysses Grant by General William Sherman of the Union forces during the Civil War:

“Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.”   

Loyalty develops when we accept each other’s mistakes, help each other improve, and communicate with each other.  In this world, you will constantly be confronted by misguided and changing loyalties, so learn to have vision for the big picture and think beyond yourself.

FAITH – Loyalty like Jonathan.

Running with the GiantsIn one of John Maxwell’s fantastic books, Running With the Giants, Maxwell helps everyone learn from the Bible characters who have gone before us.  While so many of us hold King David in reverence as a man after God’s own heart, consider the case of his loyal friend, Jonathan, who kept his eyes on the bigger picture.  It’s really a case-study for assistant coaches, co-workers, subordinates, siblings, and friends.  It’s easy to brush it off as simple friendship (begin reading 1 Samuel 18:1-4 to see how it started and throughout the next chapters to learn more about their open communication), but when you consider the compromises made by Jonathan – the King in waiting and loving son to King Saul, who also listened to God’s plans – you realize that his loyalty went far beyond friendship.  Jonathan put the good of his nation’s future and the necessity for his people to follow God’s plans completely ahead of his own desires and his own potential status.  And as you follow their friendship, you find evidence that the two of them took time to communicate.  How often do you hear of that these days?  It certainly isn’t happening in Brooklyn!