My First Basketball Memory

The first team I rooted for was the Logansport Berries in Indiana. Felix the Cat from

When I was a first grader in 1977, my dad was an assistant boys basketball coach at Logansport High School in Indiana. They were the Berries, played their games in what was called the Berry Bowl, and the mascot was Felix the Cat. I remember the team came over to our house for a meal. It’s the kind of thing coaches who are long remembered by their players do: they spend time with their team off the court. At our house on Hillcrest Drive, we had a nicer than usual basketball goal. What made the goal so nice was its sturdiness, it’s feeling of permanence. I remember the pole being nearly as big around as a telephone pole and bolted to the concrete of our driveway. I remember Dad’s players standing in the driveway and shooting around while they waited for my mom to call them in to eat. Props to all of those coach’s spouses out there (yay Sue!) who do so much to support the players and the coaches. I especially remember looking up to the big kids to see how basketball players were supposed to act. That’s an easy thing for big kids to forget, the way the elementary and middle school kids look up to them. I can remember them laughing about stuff I didn’t understand. I don’t remember any of them acknowledging that I was even there, but what I remember the most was that one of the guys hit a shot from off of the driveway and out in the grass of our yard. It’s possible that the distance wasn’t much beyond seventeen feet, but to my third grade self, it seemed like an impossibly long shot. The big kids were doing the impossible. Maybe someday, I must have thought, I could do it too. 

On the subject of this kind of reaching back for a memory, the writer and teacher Donald Murray says this:

“The writer’s memory is a powerful telescope to the past. I do not have a good memory in the quiz show sense and as I age I have increasing trouble with names. When I write, however, the flow of language takes me back and I remember what I did not know I knew.” 

In the weeks to come, I wonder what else writing will help me remember what I did not know I knew. I can already see myself a few years later when dad was the head coach and athletic director at Caston, a school so named for the way the district bridged Cass and Fulton counties in Indiana. I remember my mom Sue, my sister Anne and I taking Dad meals at school so that we could see him at least for a little while with him working such long hours. I remember hearing how Dad’s friend Bob March experimented with not sleeping so he could get more work done in his athletic director job.

Here’s an early look at my lefty jumper collage by my mom Sue

As a little kid, I used to inhabit the front row directly across from dad, rolling the game program like John Wooden used to do it. I also remember an elementary recess basketball game when I heard the bell ring and I swished a shot from out of bounds for what I claimed was the game winner. My friends–Kurt Kline, Brian Tomson, and Kevin Keller–argued about whether or not the shot counted. I haven’t seen any of those guys for decades, but their smiling boyhood faces leap into view now as I sit at my desk in a house just outside of Valle Crucis, North Carolina. No, that shot shouldn’t have counted because there are no legal shots from out of bounds in the game of basketball, but yes that telescope Murray describes sure seems to work for me. I shall make plans to use the tool some more.

5 Lemov Inspired Questions for Coaches

Doug Lemov’s book The Coach’s Guide to Teaching was probably one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read about coaching. There’s a lot in the book that I want to immediately apply to the way I coach basketball.

I read the book on my Kindle and highlighted or took a note on over 200 passages in the book. I read through those and typed up seven pages of reflections in a Google Doc. Now, in hopes of facilitating some conversation with you all, I’ve come up with some questions for discussion. I’d also love to hear from you in the comments section about some of what you found most interesting in the book.

Lemov often references videos in his book of coaches and teachers practicing their craft. Those videos are helpfully collected here.

In what I write below, I will often use a phrase such as “Lemov argues,” when what he actually does is quote a lot of teachers and coaches he’s talked to. He also takes the time to situate the idea within scholarship on teaching and how the brain works. For this post, I just say “Lemov” instead of all of the different coaches he quotes.

So, here are the questions I’ve come up with for you that I hope will spark some conversation among us:

  1. What’s your feedback like for players? Is it all over the place? Too much of it? Lemov suggests we focus our feedback and keep it short.
    • Let’s say I’m using a 4v4v4 drill because I want players to make better decisions in our screen and roll action. Specifically, I ask players to watch the roll player (players are often looking at the floor) and to watch to see where the help defenders are positioned. In the past, it would be my tendency to stop play and offer feedback on any number of things I see that I’d like for us to do better including footwork on a catch or the way a defender closes out a shooter. I’ve also been the head coach who wraps up a drill by asking all of the coaches if they’ve got any feedback. Lemov suggests this is too much information to be retained and that feedback should be focused on one area of play.
  2. What are your best drills or games for practice? Lemov suggests we choose core games that can be adapted for emphasis. By modifying restrictions during a game or drill, we can change the emphasis of the drill.
    • I’ve wasted time teaching players a lot of different drills and games. I’ve done this, in part, because I’m always learning activities that I’d like to try, and I believe that using a variety of ways of working on the same concept can help to keep players engaged. What I hope to do instead of teaching players lots of new games is to identify some core games and drills that I use again and again. When I encounter a new drill or game, I need to consider if the time it will take to teach it is worth adding it to practice.
    • So as a basketball coach, what do I mean play with restrictions? An example of a core game that many coaches use is a three-quarter court game that could be run with teams ranging from 3v3 to 5v5. I know when I used to watch Knight’s Indiana teams practice, huge sections of practice were devoted to 4v4v4 done three -quarter court. Let’s say I want to work on screening, and so I say that the offense has to either get a lay up or hit the screener two times before they can shoot. We will always take a lay up if we can get it no matter the restriction. We can play the game make it take it, or we can play the game to stops. We can give an extra point for an offensive rebound, but as we add these restrictions, Lemov suggests that we don’t over complicate the scoring system. Just one restriction for what we most need to teach at this point in the players development. By not having to learn a new game, the players can devote all of their attention (working memory) to the concept we want them to learn.
Appalachian State players talk to campers during a stoppage in play. That’s my kid #85

3. How are you managing / coaching play stoppages? Do you stop practice the right amount? For what reason do you stop? What do you say when you stop practice?

One thing that Lemov suggests that I haven’t done is to use the same word every time to stop and then resume play in practice. That might be “freeze” or “pause” or maybe two whistles. Next, I need to coach the players up that we need them to stop moving so that the situation I stopped practice for can quickly be recreated. What I say needs to be very short, probably less than 45 seconds and then I need to give the players a chance to do what I just talked about. The word to resume play also needs to be the same. Maybe it’s, “Let’s play.”

4.Are you individualizing player development?

Lemov suggests that we have at least one thing for each player we are trying to improve. We’d meet with the player to decide on this one thing. We’d develop a plan for improving the one thing. We’d meet regularly to see if we are “moving the needle” on the one thing. In basketball, we get a lot of reps on something we call a stride stop. For some of our players, this is a very new concept. Others have done hundreds of stride stop. As a classroom teacher, we call this differentiating instruction. Lemov suggests that we consider what each player needs when it comes to skill development.

5. How far in advance do you plan what you will teach to your team? Are you always scrambling to get the next practice plan finished? Have you organized your team (in my case basketball) curriculum?

Lemov suggests that we list the concepts we need to teach our team and then prioritize them. The books suggests students probably need three days of instruction to understand a concept such as something like attacking 2-3 zones or trapping in our man to man defense. After we’ve got a concept in such as attacking odd-front zones, we need to circle back once in awhile to make sure our players retain the concept. Remember that last second cramming we might have done as a student before a big test? That’s not good for our teams. Obviously, there’s probably more that we want to teach our players than we can even get done in an entire season. So by listing all that we want to teach, prioritizing what we will teach when, and then looking at what we can fit into our scheduled practices, we can make more educated decisions on how to spend our practice time.

To wrap up…

I see my questions and commentary above as just an opening to a conversation about Lemov’s thought-provoking book on teaching and coaching. I’d love to hear from you in the comments section about what you are most excited to take from this book to your coaching pedagogy.

Thanks for taking the time to read the post!

Basketball Coaches, What Stats Are Most Important to You?

One of the ways I use statistics is as a sort of self check to make sure I’m not missing anything. When a game ends, I have an idea of what I think happened, but it’s the game video and the stat sheet that give me more concrete information. I keep a Google Doc template called “Opponent Name by the Numbers.” There are two columns in the document. One for our team and one for the opponent. As I fill out the two rows of numbers, I find that there’s often some aspect of the game that I hadn’t previously considered that jumps out to me. Since I first started coaching high school back in 1994, the statistics I pay attention to have changed. Here are a few of those categories that might be a little less obvious:

Are you better in zone or man defense?

Does your team play different defenses? If so, you might find it worth your time to see how efficient your opponent was depending on which defense you played. For example, this past season, I believed that our 1-3-1 half court zone defense was our worst defense. I seemed to remember lots of quick swings for open jumpers and lots of offensive rebounds on the weak side. As it turned out, our opponent was actually most efficient for that game when we played man to man.

To chart defensive points per possession according to the defense we were playing, I watch our game film and make categories for each defense. For example, let’s say during the course of a game we played a 1-3-1 zone, a 2-3 zone, man to man, and a full court run and jump trap. I would keep a list of each defensive possession and the result of that possession. Did the other team score? If so, how many points? How many times did we foul while playing that defense? If we played ten possessions of 2-3 zone and the other team scored three points, our defensive points per possession while playing zone would be 0.3 points per possession. I also kept a separate category for transition defense, which usually meant that we had just turned the ball over. The other team’s offense was always most efficient when they were playing offense after one of our turnovers. I did not do this charting for every game we played. Here’s an example of what these numbers might look like over the course of a few games.

  • Man defense: 0.73 points per possession
  • 2-3 zone defense: 0.48 points per possession
  • 1-3-1 defense: 0.65 points per possession
  • Diamond Press Defense: 1.0 points per possession
  • Transition Defense: 1.2 points per possession

Numbers like the ones above could be helpful to know when trying to beat that conference opponent the second time around or to see which of your defenses tend to be most effective over the course of the whole season.

Just because our 2-3 zone yielded the lowest points per possession for opponent’s offenses, doesn’t mean our team should play that every possession. Perhaps we also force the least turnovers in that defense. Maybe teams are able to really slow us down by being patient when we want to play fast. Maybe our players start to stand around a little more when they are playing zone. Still, I find looking over these kinds of numbers really helpful when it comes to evaluating our team’s defenses and what defenses might be most effective versus certain opponents and in certain situations.

Two notes of interest:

  • We use HUDL to manage our game video and participate in their statistics service.
  • Colton Houston of HD Intelligence is the person who pointed me to this way of thinking about defensive points per possession.
Possession Chart Shared by Houston of HD Intelligence


The eFG% accounts for the fact that some baskets are worth two points and others three. A player who goes 2-4 from the field shooting two pointers will have a lower eFG% than a player shooting threes. When I look over our team’s three point shooting numbers, I see that what we did last season was much in line with what our opponents’ did:

  • Us: averaged 3.3 makes a game and 12.5 attempts for 26%
  • Opponents: 3.5 makes and 12.3 attempts for 28.6%

My first thought on these numbers is that we didn’t create any advantage with the way we shot threes; in fact, we lost the game at the three point line by a little. Looking to the off season and next year’s practices, I see an opportunity to turn a slight loss into a significant advantage for next year. When I look at our current players, I see many players who with regular practice and armed with the confidence that comes from knowing which shots we want them to shoot might be able to make big improvements.

After looking at those three point numbers, I watched all of our team’s three point attempts. This was made much easier in the Hudl program because on the reports tab, I can just click on the 3FGA number and be taken straight to all the clips of our three point attempts. Because of some of the offensive actions we run, I found that a significant amount of our three point attempts were taken from the wing and the corner. If as a coaching staff we think we can improve in this area, we can decide to devote a certain amount of our offseason workout and practice time to wing and corner threes. We can chart our progress in workouts to see if we can perform significantly above last year’s 26%. We can start to get an idea for what might be a goal for next year. Should we up our three point attempts to twenty a game? More or if we’re going to stay at 26%, should we shoot even less? Do we think we can shoot 30% from the line next year? Even higher? That I paid attention to eFG% numbers has given me some concrete ideas to consider for this offseason and next year’s practices.

Offensive Rebound Efficiency

It used to be I might say we got out-rebounded 35-17, or we got beat on the offensive glass 15-6. What’s wrong with that? Well, those numbers can be pretty deceiving. What if we caused a bunch of turnovers with a press and so made a lot of lay ups? The higher percentage we shoot from the field, the less chances we have to get an offensive rebound. The Hudl stat report defines offensive rebound efficiency as, “how many of the possible offensive rebounds were successfully retrieved.” In addition to getting this number from our HUDL report, we also tracked it during the game. If a team missed a shot, one of our JV players would mark a slash on a chart. If that rebound was gained by the offensive team, that slash was circled. We always knew how we and our opponent was doing on the boards. For example, we would know that we’d rebounded 4 of our 10 missed shots for 40% in the first half, and that our opponent had rebounded 2 of their 8 missed shots for 25%.

How About You, Coach?

Thanks for checking out my post. I’d appreciate any thoughts you have that might help me extend my thinking about these statistics, and I’d especially like to hear what statistics you pay attention to and how you put those numbers to work for you to make decisions about your team.

Basketball Leadership

I took some notes while reading Dick DeVenzio’s book, Running the Show: Basketball Leadership for Coaches and Players. I recommend it to players, coaches, and parents. You can click here to access it on Amazon. Below, you will find a list of things that stood out to me while reading the book.

  1. Play away from the boundary lines of a basketball court. (Today, I’d say we would have the exception of the corner 3)
  2. Scorers should run your defender into the players who are going to make it rough for the defender. 
  3. Play the line game with your team in practice. One whistle means players stop where they are. Two whistles mean for players to sprint to the line the coach is pointing at. If players can explain the problem with one of the points of emphasis, play resumes. If no one can explain the problem, the players run and then coach explains the problem. 

Here are some examples of what a coach might choose to emphasize during the line game: 

  • A shot means 3-2 movement for the offense. Two players back on defense. 
  • Mistake = instant hustle
  • If we lose ball, switch ends fast. 
  • Always see the ball on defense. 
  • Contest all shots.
  • Avoid negative body language
  • No right hand lay ups for the opponent. 
  • If you are on defense and the ball is ahead of you, sprint to catch up with it. 
  1. The coach calls out his or her rating for the shot that is taken in practice. This helps coaches and players to be on the same page when it comes to shot selection.  
  • 10 is perfect shot. There are no perfect shots. 1 is the worst shot you can take. 
  • 9 is an uncontested lay up. 
  • 7 is, I’m ecstatic. We need 7s and above. 
  • A “5” is so-so. You can make these in practice but not against good competition. 
  • A “3” is very low percentage. We can’t have these. 
  1. Most teams can be stopped half the time if you can get 5 defenders in the lane with their hands up. 
  2. A pass to the other team is an especially devastating turnover. 
  3. Assistant coach can keep track of the following: 
  • How many uncontested shots? 
  • How many fast break baskets? 
  • How many right-handed lay ups given up? 
  1. Do most of your coaching in air conditioned rooms. (not on the practice court) This means team and individual meetings when people are calm and thoughtful. 
  2. Lots of good practices over a period of time is the goal. 
  3. Play 10-12 players every game. 
  4. What should the subs do? “Hustle hard, fight for loose balls, sprint up and down the court, keep moving and setting screens constantly, make a lot of body contact, don’t try difficult things with the ball…hustle on defense and go for rebounds.”
  5. Decide your players playing time before the game begins. 
  • He partners players with a sub and tells them when the sub plays each quarter. Example is a 4-2-2 split when it comes to minutes in a quarter. Sub plays the middle 2 minutes. 
  • DeVenzio suggests that you might want to use the above method for the 1st three quarters and make in-game decision for fourth quarter. 

Teams with bad coaching or no coach (as in pick up ball) have these problems:

“No plays. No timing. No group-understanding of roles. No one to keep them from just going out and playing.” These things are the coach’s job. 

13. Take time to teach procedures. What does DeVenzio mean, procedures? 

  • How do you want practice started? 
  • How do you want players to huddle for timeout? 
  • Do you expect eye contact when you are talking? 
  • What do you want them doing before practice starts?
  • Are you okay with them kicking a chair or disrespecting a manager? 
  1. The players who are leaders constantly remind their teammates what to expect and where to be. 
  2. Leaders should use the 6 to 1 ratio. Tell a teammate 6 positive things for every negative comment or suggestion. 
  3. Leadership requires a lot of energy. There is so much to notice and so much to say out loud.  
  4. Spotlight your teammate by saying positive things about them.
  5. Leaders say two names for each minute of practice. “Get back, Joe!” or “Anne, stop the ball.”
  6.  DeVenzio on people who believe change is impossible: 
  • “I’m amazed at how quickly athletes, parents, and people in general seem to conclude that things are as they are and there’s no use trying any longer to change them, even though many of their situations are extremely changeable.”  

Basketball Shot Analysis

The video below can be used as a lesson in how to shoot a basketball. I’m definitely not someone who would claim to know THE way to shoot a basketball. If you are someone who already knows a lot about shooting, there should be some information in the video that could make for an interesting discussion.

Lots of times, a player or coach knows that the shot is messed up, but they don’t really know how to start improving. This video contains some questions that should help a coach or player to analyze a shot. The questions are embedded in the video and there is a link to a Google Doc provided below.

For a blank Google Doc template with the questions for analysis, click here.

For my written commentary on my daughter Charlotte’s shot, click here.

Thanks for checking out the post!