Today’s guest on the Torg Stories Podcast is the new head coach at Mars Hill University, Coach Emry Tsitouris. Mars Hill is located just north of Asheville, North Carolina and competes at the Division II level as a member of the South Atlantic Conference. Coach Tsitouris was hired in the spring of 2022 and was previously an assistant coach at Catawba College. Tsitouris played college basketball at both USC Aiken and Belmont Abbey.
This isn’t a “how to shoot” or a “how to teach shooting” video. I’m trying to answer this question: when I watch these shooters, what do I notice?
What shooters did I watch? Steph Curry, Sue Bird, James Harden, Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, and JJ Redick.
Who are some of my influences when it comes to teaching shooting? Indiana HS Coach Sam Alford, his son Steve’s workout videos, Dick Baumgartner, Dave Love and Drew Hanlon.
When I have questions about shooting–for example, where should the guide hand be placed?–I try to watch video of great shooters and look for the answers.
I think of this video and post as a sort of video remix about shooting. Yes, I am using short screen grabs from other people’s YouTube posts the way I might use a quote from a writer’s article writing my own research paper. As a kind of Works Cited, I will link you to each video I screen grab for this project. I hope you will check out some of those YouTube channels and that my linking to them sparks some great conversation / content about shooting.
A belief I have about shooting: good shooters don’t shoot the same way. There are multiple ways to be a good shooter. By the way, I believe the same thing about writing.
For this video analysis, I looked for mostly catch and shoot situations. Great shooters don’t shoot the ball the same way every time. Sometimes the situation–off the dribble or sprinting off a screen–demand the shooter do something different when it comes to footwork, balance, or the path the ball takes from catch to release.
Here’s the screen capture from my study of Steph Curry, Sue Bird, James Harden, Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, and JJ Redick.
After watching the shooters in the above video, what did you see worth bringing to this discussion?
Here are some of my thoughts after watching those shooters:
A consistent shooting motion can overcome minor mechanical flaws related to some idea of an ideal shot. I need to chill out about some more minor things I see with the players I work with.
Left / right footwork for a right handed shooter is a good starting place. Step toward the ball on the pass with the left foot and put the right foot down on the catch.
The pocket is where the ball is taken on the catch. Teach the pocket as a ball width away from the stomach and slightly toward the side of the body of the shooting hand. I first heard the pocket described that way by Dave Love.
Rather than keep the ball close to the body as it travels from the pocket to the release, the ball travels away from the body to the set point in what looks like a half circle. The upper arms, forearms, and hands can move together as one to the set point. See examples in video above.
I teach what I call rhythm shooting. This rhythm includes taking the ball down to the pocket as needed, (if the ball wasn’t caught there) flexing the legs, and then the ball starts to rise toward the set point just ahead of the legs starting to push and extend. The timing of that process, which is one fluid motion with no stops, is what I mean by rhythm. The word tempo also comes to mind.
I prefer the shooter and the ball go up and toward the basket. Many players have something (hand, jump, footprint) that goes somewhere not toward the hoops. A very common flaw is for a player to drift a lot if they are catching on the move. Some twist of the body is fine and this can become more pronounced depending on what kind of shot is being taken. Of course as players’ skill evolves, they will make use of fade aways, step backs, and drifting in a direction to get away from the defense.
When I finished this project, I wondered where the players I work with look when they shoot. I think they can watch the flight of the ball, the front of the rim, or the back of the rim, but I realized I had not talked much about that to the players I work with.
I do have a routine I use when I start working with a player on their shot. Perhaps that is a future post.
Here is a list of the videos I used in making the video on this page. Again, I am thinking of these videos in my video as quotes I would use in writing a research paper.
Many of you know the cycle: fall workouts on the court and in the weight room, the school season, and the travel season that follows in March, April and May. June is for high school team stuff and July is back to the travel circuit heading to places such as Louisville, DC, and Indianapolis. Since the basketball never stops, it’s tricky to find moments for reflection, goal setting, and starting a basketball journal such as the one I’m hoping for here. With the school year beginning, it seems as good a time as any to start the project. Up first: where (or is it who) are we now?
I am an assistant coach for the girls basketball team at Watauga High School in Boone, North Carolina, and I teach completely online writing classes as a lecturer at Appalachian State University. Teaching online means that I have a lot of flexibility about when I do the job and so am free for morning workouts and practices after school. I find I have way more time to prepare to coach than I ever did when I was teaching at a middle or high school.
I have two daughters. The oldest, Charlotte, is a high school sophomore. Eighteen months ago, as her last middle school season came to a close and the CDC was confirming the first case of Covid-19 in the United States, Charlotte set the goal of making the varsity team for her freshman season. We had a few weeks of travel basketball but then the season was cancelled. We couldn’t get into a gym, and so I hung a goal in our garage that could only be nine feet high because of the height of the ceiling.
The girls and I worked on ball handling, agility, finishing, and post moves. Like a lot of other people, I invested in more weight equipment and as the weather warmed up, Charlotte, her sister Izzy, and I logged what now seems like an incredible four months of six days a week of outdoor workouts in our backyard and at Junaluska Park in Boone. We got up early to avoid the heat and tried to get our workouts in before the sun rose above the trees. A surprising number of people passed through the park each day, and we made many new acquaintances. Charlotte did reach her goal of making the varsity, and she started all twelve of our games during the pandemic-shortened season. I’m proud of what she accomplished.
My youngest daughter Izzy is an eighth grader, and up until this past summer, I felt like she might just be along for the ride when it comes to basketball. When Charlotte and I had plans to workout, we’d always ask Izzy and she’d agree to go with varying amounts of enthusiasm. Although I tell her she’s always free to decline the offer, I’m not sure how free she could really feel to stay home. Charlotte would probably be the first to tell you that Izzy can pick up a ball handling move faster than she can and is more of a natural shooter, but over the years, I have just been unsure of how badly Izzy wants to work to improve.
Last season, for the first time in Izzy’s life, she was on a team where she didn’t play very much. It was the first time that our school system took the eight K-8 schools that feed into the high school and made a district wide middle school basketball team. The competition to make the team was tougher, and while Izzy did accomplish that, she rarely played in the games. Izzy didn’t say anything to me about not playing. When she’d hop in the car after a practice, she was always happy and chattering about things her teammates had done or funny things her coach had said. Izzy liked her teammates, her coach, and took pride about her team’s undefeated season.
What I did notice about Izzy in the weeks and months that followed her season was that Izzy started to go out and work in the backyard on her own. When Charlotte and I were gone for high school workouts, Izzy would join my wife Megan for Peloton workouts at the house. A player really can’t just decide one day to start working very hard on their game. A player has to also decide to get in shape. Working hard on your game takes a lot of cardiovascular fitness. Izzy became a more enthusiastic runner of the big hill outside of our house, and I no longer have to prod her to keep running all the way around the mile loop we run at Valle Crucis Park by our house. For most of Izzy’s life playing basketball, she could get by because she could handle the ball with both hands, shoot layups with both hands, and consistently make wide open shots. Like most basketball players, and probably all athletes and maybe anyone who pursues a goal in or out of sports, Izzy came to a point when what she was doing to prepare to play in games was no longer good enough for her to succeed on the floor. It’s one of the great things about playing sports. A challenge rises up; we have to work to meet it or give up. So far, it’s been a pleasure for me to watch Izzy respond to the challenge.
Not too long ago, Izzy hit a rough spot of missing a bunch of shots while doing a transition / run-the-sideline drill. “Keeping working,” she told herself. I jumped on her comment and told her it was one of the best things I’d ever heard her say in a workout. Charlotte and I have also latched onto the phrase and it’s become a simple mantra for the three of us. Keep working. Rough spots are coming on and off the court because that’s part of what it is to be human and that includes playing playing basketball: there are missed shots, turnovers, bad losses, and days that we struggle to bring energy to our work. We often don’t get the results we want as quickly as we expect. Izzy, Charlotte, and I will ride those up and downs together and, like Izzy says, we’ll keep working.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.