Over 100 Takeaways from 50 Encounters with Books and Coaches

Tryouts begin the season tomorrow. Good luck this season to all coaches. I hope to keep posting, but priorities do get rearranged this time of year. Thank you to everyone who gave me their time and secrets over the past nine months. The list is too long, but you know who you are. Here is a quick summary of over 100 takeaways from 50 encounters with books and people this offseason.


  1. Communicate why players come out of the game. Even if it is just a “routine check-up.”
  2. When everyone’s technique is incorrect, it’s time for the coach to own it. (Steve Boudreau)
  3. Don’t focus on many rules within your culture. Focus on one or two good ones. Let those keystone habits drive change everywhere else. (Charles Duhigg)
  4. Game Day Routines: Every player should know where and when the pregame meeting is when they step off the bus at road games. Every player should have direct eye contact with you in huddles (no standing behind someone else when coach talks). Every player should keep their sneakers and uniforms on until after you are done speaking after the game. Every player should sit together in a place where they will watch the JV game or do their homework productively. (Paul Tanglis)
  5. Body language is more important than actual language. And it’s not even close.


  1. Make her take three dribbles with the weak hand. (John Fortunato)
  2. Don’t reach, take. When she uses the comfort dribble, it should be that easy.
  3. “I want LeBron.” Have a can-do attitude about guarding great players and get excited not nervous.
  4. Defense has their butts to the basket. They have natural position. They should get the rebound. Some of the quickest short players have been great rebounders. Go get it.
  5. Treat it like offense.
  6. If you protect the paint and you close out well, you can beat anyone. (Randy Bennett)
  7. “Our guards are tenacious and eager to guard regardless of if it is someone 5’10” or 6’10”.” (Jay Wright)
  8. In games where you feel like you need to shoot lights out to have a chance, preach getting stops instead. (Jay Wright)
  9. Helen Williams stuff on Post Defense is beautiful. Deny. The. Catch.
  10. Kevin Tanglis on Defense: “Yell dead when a dribble gets used up.”
  11. Boudah on Defense “Mismatches don’t kill you, uncontested shots kill you.”
  12. Foul less. That’s what makes Bo Ryan and the Spurs great. Less free throw attempts means less points.
  13. Coach Halcovage (Villanova) on defense: Your shoulders must be at their hip level on a pin-down screen and the screener’s man must hedge for a second to buy time.
  14. One of my players on defense: “The closeout is the hardest play in basketball.”
  15. “Every shot should require a box out. How much time do you spend on shooting, and how much time do you spend on box outs?” (Paul Tanglis)
  16. “If the defense gets beat off the dribble, it’s because of a poor closeout.” (Paul Tanglis)
  17. “Why is it that a player is so frustrated when they miss a wide-open lay-up on offense, but don’t even acknowledge the equivalent to such a play on the defensive end?” (Bob Romeo)


  1. If a player gambles and misses they need to be celebrated for busting it back into a play. Same for a player that misses a lay-up on offense and stops a transition opportunity the other way (Bob Romeo)
  2. The margin between teams is much smaller than you think (Brad Stevens)
  3. Demand more from players that are watching action during practice. Get them to communicate, reflect, teach their teammate, cheer, ask the coach, and consider a counter situation.

End of Game

  1. Have a plan for 1 to 3 seconds left, 4 to 5 seconds left, and 6 to 8 seconds left. It could save you a game, which is your job as a coach. It could also be useful at the end of the quarter or half. (Seth Stantial)
  2. “We don’t have enough time for end of game situations.” At the end of a shell drill, morph into an end of game situation. (Steve Boudreau)
  3. I’d rather have a player get called for a fifth foul too early and lose than put a player back in too late and lose.


  1. Our greatest resources are #1 Energy and #2 Time in that order. (Chasing Daylight)
  2. Time without energy is wasted.
  3. Energy is drained every time we say no. Instead say, “You know what that’s not a bad idea, but…” (Helen Williams)
  4. We want them to be fundamentally sound immediately. They want themselves to have fun immediately. Discipline plus full-scale celebrations equals retention (Coach Isaac).
  5. Don’t worry about teaching in the early part of building a relationship. Worry about building successes and confidence. That will create a greater future investment because players will be less inclined to give up faster.
  6. Be aggressive early. You can always dial it back later, but you can’t dial it up later.
  7. “Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our circumstances.” (Stephen Covey) Don’t blame, take blame. Don’t give effort in accordance with the scoreboard. Keep external circumstances external.
  8. Motors are skills. Ask college coaches.
  9. Energy is not necessarily rah-rah. In fact, players that bring rah-rah energy eighty percent of the time are killing their team twenty percent of the time. Encourage consistent players.
  10. More often than not, players need their coach to calm them down before games, not amp them up. (Phil Jackson)


  1. Surprises occur more frequently in high stress leadership positions. “Fire drill” your reaction to the surprises.
  2. Fight the impulse to take over a drill that an assistant coach is running. If you don’t like it, tell them in private afterwards. (Coach McVeigh Sr.)
  3. “Use common sense when you post, but if you’re not on social media, you’re missing out.” (Steve Boudreau)
  4. Productive exercise. Give players a blank sheet and ask them two questions. How many points per game you would like to score and how many minutes per game do you want to play. Then add the totals. It’s impossible for everyone to get what they want, are you willing to sacrifice?
  5. Never expect or desire consensus. Get input and move on with a decision letting the other coach know it’s nothing personal.
  6. Ensure every player on the roster is adding value.
  7. A great player that is willing to be vulnerable is going to take their program past their expected win total. (Culture Code)
  8. You don’t need a coach, senior, or a captain to have a leader. You just need someone who serves others.


  1. Sharing the basketball is better than exploiting mismatches. It’s better for team camaraderie, team morale, helicopter parents, Geno Auriemma, effective field goal percentage…it’s just better.
  2. Throw passes with two hands. Catch passes with two hands. Stop dribbles on two feet. I know, it’s simple. But start counting all the times that players fail to do so. (Coach Mike McVeigh)
  3. Anytime the ball gets passed into the corner, the ball-side wing should screen away.
  4. If an opponent is getting out in the passing lane on your five-out, extend to the NBA three-point line. Then try backdoor. (Monique LeBlanc)
  5. If someone is more open than you, give it up (Marisa Moseley)
  6. Reversals are a stat worth keeping in games. Every good reversal results in a long closeout for a defense.
  7. A guard can dribble as much as they want around the key providing there are four offensive players on the perimeter.
  8. A kick out from the paint to a shooter allows for a quicker release and better footwork on the shot. (Ted Schruender)


  1. Very rare that plays go as scripted (Jay Wright) players must be ready to use their instincts.
  2. The game is played with less mistakes when players have to know less.
  3. If you practice by not using set plays, the defense cannot cheat and both units are improved. (Casey Grange)


  1. Don’t just give players one goal to strive for in a drill. If they realize with 25 seconds left they have no shot at the record, they’ll mail it in. Give them a “record score”, a “good score” and the “worst of all time.” (Bob Romeo)
  2. Uncontested shots in games have a chaotic feel to them. What are you doing in practice to simulate this?
  3. Giving up on players that are very skilled in one dimension, but not others is a sign of a weak coach. (Rick Gorman)
  4. Any skill taught in isolation will look better in isolation than when you go back into the general game.
  5. If you chart what players shoot in a daily drill, they have a visual for how improvement happens. A great way to demonstrate a life lesson (progress is not linear) and a basketball lesson (chart your growth in the offseason).


  1. The overrated list: Defensive rebounds, being a starter, and shooting one hundred free throws in a row.
  2. The underrated list: Rebounding rate (Erik Johnson), having the power to change the outcome of the game when you’re in, and interleaving where you practice shots (Make It Stick)
  3. If you are two passes away when an outside shot goes up, you are much harder to box out and the ball is likely to find the weakside. Seal your defender. (Erik Johnson)


  1. Become better at scouting by assessing the game plan after the game.
  2. If you scout a game with a rival coach ask him/her what he/she thought. They won’t see it the same way and their perspective will help.
  3. No plan survives contact with the enemy. (David Petreaus)
  4. Scout on snowy nights when your team is 3-15.


  1. Use your depth. It gets more players involved in the experience, more players invested at practice, and prepares your team for foul troubles, sickness, and injury. (Jim Dziadosz)
  2. When you call a timeout late in a game, a motivational speech will help sell the story to Hollywood, but a calm speech will help your team reach its potential.
  3. There are always positives to find on film. Find them more than you find the negatives (Dave Clay)
  4. Any activity where people cannot talk enhances team-building (Seth Stantial)
  5. Analytics are great, but players generally do not like to do math outside of math class. Keep the crunching to the coaches and just summarize for the players unless they are curious.
  6. Youth practices should spend at least two-thirds of the time teaching fundamental skills (Alan Hibino).
  7. To counter junk defenses that try to curtail a great scoring guard, have them post up. Most guards don’t have a clue when it comes to post up defense and the helping big will have to be the one chasing the passer on the perimeter. (Chris Passmore)

Shot Fakes

  1. Ball up, butt down (Randy Bennett)
  2. You can get multiple reps in one catch.
  3. Doesn’t have to be super fast.
  4. Eyes to the rim should be a given on every catch that isn’t a quick pass.
  5. More than a perimeter move. Coaches should be seeking opportunities to utilize them everywhere on the floor (elbow, block, etc.)
  6. Great opportunity to draw foul that is under taught to players especially in late game scenarios.

Special Teams

  1. Thought on Defensive BLOBs. It’s a 5 on 4 for the defense. An opportunity for a 5 second call.
  2. Thought on Offensive BLOBs. The player with the ball has four seconds with the ball where it cannot be stolen and you are a toddler-strength pass away from a lay-up. An opportunity for an easy shot.


  1. If a player on the bench has a question for you about the game, ignore the action on the floor and answer the question (Coach Isaac).
  2. Parents, peers, and professors will always emphasize the points. Sell players on everything else when they have an off-night and an on night.
  3. Get players to send Christmas cards to someone in their life who has made a difference to them. Past the obvious list of people.
  4. The pre-game moments in a locker room addressing a team eyes should be locked on a speaker. If someone breaks this code confront it immediately. This mistake corrected early in the season feeds into the rest of the year.
  5. Players do not need a Dirk Nowitzki step-back, they need to learn a lefty lay-up (Rick Gorman).
  6. The beginning of the season can seem overwhelming. Focus on being able to run, rebound, and defend to give the team and yourself a sense of accomplishment. (John McVeigh)
  7. Ask your seniors a couple strategic questions such as what they learned playing for you, their regrets, or what they would change if they had your job. Take good notes and ask if you can share their answers after they’ve answered.


  1. Time spent showing multiple players make the same mistake on film is wasted (John Fortunato).
  2. Time spent using 280 characters when you could have used 140 characters is wasted.
  3. Time spent blowing the whistle for every mistake you see is time wasted (Randy Bennett). What’s the mistake you have been emphasizing that you are seeing? That is what needs your attention.
  4. Time spent correcting a mistake that is repeated many times at the team or individual level is worth it. Just make sure the timing of the correction happens after high levels of action.
  5. Time spent lifting weights during the season could be a detriment. Schedules get thrown off in snowy climates and when two or three games per week start flying, it makes it impossible. Focus instead on core and plyometric training (Alan Stein).
  6. Let players listen to music with appropriate lyrics. Don’t waste time letting players pick their music during practice.
  7. Encourage your players to do multiple sports. Tell them why they play for their community. Explain that they will be the best at something and the worst, but being part of is most important of all.


  1. Turnovers have an adverse psychological effect in games. They have no meaning in practice. This needs to be flipped. (Paul Tanglis)
  2. Avoid your first dribble being called a travel by getting low on the catch. Catch on jump stops. Exaggerate jabs in drills. (Dave Harrington)

Words to End

  1. Buy every player in your program Dick DeVenzio’s book Stuff Good Players Should Know. (Adam DeBaggis)
  2. Simplify (unless you are writing an extremely long list of things you learned in the offseason…) You can’t crash boards and play transition defense (Mike McVeigh).
  3. Players that are “clutch” should try harder during the third quarter. (Tim Grover)
  4. If the impossible happens and you get the stunning upset, championship, or last second miracle remember to clarify to teams that the moment cannot define them. It’s only basketball. The mission was, and still is to be a great person (Jay Wright).

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