The first tip Coach Dave Harrington of Evolution basketball shared with me on how to avoid traveling before the first dribble was to immediately sit and get low. On virtually every catch this is what players need to be doing. It is much easier said than done. Bentley University’s Associate Head Coach C White (whom I spoke with last year) told him that girls struggle to get low. To combat this, Coach Dave drills players to get uncomfortably low in a squat with a ball. Once they are low, he pushes them to extend their pivot foot further than they are used to. Here were some other nuggets he shared with me:
Catch on a Jump stop
Either foot can be used as a pivot foot if a pass is caught on a jump stop. We wrote last year that there is a case to be made for players to practice pivoting on one foot. The greatest players in the world pivot on their weak foot more than ninety percent of the time. Here is the case to be able to pivot on both feet.
First of all, there are still those ten percent occasions for great players where the defense dictates that you move in the direction you are less comfortable to go. Second, these players that get flagged for traveling are not Kevin Durant or the best players in the world. Third, the defense has to respect both feet when the ball is caught on a jump stop. Fourth, as Coach Dave stressed refs love to call pivot foot error travels. Catching on a jump stop creates less for them to think about. Fifth, a player is more likely to be balanced when they catch. Even if they are leaning one way on a jump stop catch, they can take the step in the direction that they are leaning and not get called.
Jab Step & Reverse Pivot to Avoid Traveling
Coach Dave’s point about catching and squatting also applies to a bad habit he routinely sees in the jab step. Players are not low enough when they jab. When they are overly vertical, they lack explosiveness and balance. This combination leads to the wrong foot coming up and a travel call. To build this skill into a player’s consciousness, he has players use a ladder and step at the defender and at forty-five degrees with both feet.
In addition to the flaws of the jab technique, Coach Dave also notices a dearth of reverse pivot moves. This is especially true with post players who catch the ball most of the time with the back to the basket. If these players utilize a reverse pivot, they immediately put pressure on help defenders to shut down cutters.
Transition Offense Tips
Initially Coach Dave wants young players and teams to understand lanes, how to find a trailer, and get a lay-up. This spring he has coached a team that is using transition a little differently. The team is a stronger shooting team with just one forward and many guards. In today’s game, the emphasis on the three is not anything new of course. What I liked is that he is specific in what he wants from his team on the three balls. He will issue challenges such as getting an open three four seconds after the ball gets over half-court or get a three after only three passes. I also liked how Coach Dave broke down the why behind this philosophy.
Why Shoot 3’s in Transition
- Great looks. There is a higher probability of getting a clean look in transition than the quarter court where all ten players are stuffed together. Traditionalists might argue that you can get closer, but there is also a chance that when the defense is set that contested close shots are harder than uncontested far shots. Not to mention that the possibility of a turnover increases when open shots are passed up.
- The math equation. If the percentage of two-pointers made is less than 1.5 times the percentage of three-pointers made, it’s a good idea to shoot more threes. This is where knowing your team’s strengths and weaknesses is critical.
- Speeding up the pace. Teams that are deeper and guard-oriented benefit from playing fast. Again, know your team.
- Size becomes less important. Open shots being emphasized translates to shot blockers being less of a factor.
- Really fun to play. Players are motivated. They are more likely to put extra time in working on their shot when they know that they will get to put their work to use.
A common theme with Coach Dave and Coach Randy at Evolution is keeping it simple. Set plays are not emphasized. Players should ball screen instinctually based on the situation rather than have a call. What Coach Dave did want was players to react correctly when he would give them cues within the play such as a reversal dribble hand-off until a backdoor cut was open. The NBA game has helped him think about mismatches. In 5 on 0, he wants to show players how to screen for one another to get a certain matchup. Then, see if players can execute that in 5 on 5. Executing includes ensuring that players do not force shots once the mismatch is in place.
One great takeaway Coach Dave had was in regards to where players are spending their time. He will tell players that are addicted to social media to take as many free throws as they get likes on their Instagram photos or to work on the weak hand the same number of minutes that they send messages on Snap Chat. It is a way to relate to players that those things are distractions from bigger goals and that they are not doing everything possible to reach their potential.
I have always believed in the philosophy that if you want to be the hardest working player, there’s nothing stopping you from doing that. Talent, height, and athleticism all have innate features to them, but effort does not. In a similar way, Coach Dave wants his team to not only be the hardest working teams, but also the best I.Q. teams. This is what he is going for when he says he wants players to instinctually find and exploit mismatches, search for a great shot, or set ball screens without calling a play.
There are many people out there who argue AAU is not worth driving two hours to play. There are four tiers of player according to Coach Dave: developing, competitive, elite, and advanced. For the elite and developing players this sacrifice might be too much. He argues that for the elite or advanced players who want to play in college, AAU is an absolute must. High school leagues do not guarantee a challenge as many games are blow outs. AAU does not guarantee a challenge either, but by playing more games against upper tier competition the probability increases. More importantly though, it is much easier to get recruited since college coaches can scout more people that they are interested in. These same coaches might not go to a high school game if they are not sold on a player.