How to Build an Identity Around Turnovers

I have had limited opportunities to watch Coach Tanglis’ teams at North Andover and before that Stoneham High during the winter months. Every time I watch though it seems like they are forcing a five second call on an opponent’s baseline out of bounds plays. That begged the question about what exactly went into the preparation and more importantly the mentality of the players to force these types of turnovers.

BLOB Defense

Everything for North Andover begins with scouting the opponent. Most teams do not want to use Option B on a play. Coach Tanglis tells his players to deny whatever Option A happens to be.

From a scheme standpoint, before the ball is put in play Coach Tanglis is adamant that the defense has the advantage. It is a 5 on 4. Every defender is in full deny and the player guarding the man taking it out of acts as a free safety helping on anything at the rim. They will try to fight screens – especially knowing what the opponent wants to accomplish. Their goal is simple on the surface but hard in execution: get a five second count every time.

Inevitably they will get burnt. There are times where the opposition will show a look that they did not encounter in scouting reports. The assistant coaches are on high alert every time they see an unfamiliar BLOB and will write down either the name of it, the action, or both. Again, this is where coaches need to be accountable. They cannot excuse be burnt twice.

The Ripple Effect of a Turnover

Alan Stein says, “Once you find yourself in a hole you need to stop digging.” That sounds nice on a webpage without any emotion to attached to it. Getting through to a sixteen-year old in the fourth quarter of a close game is much harder. Coach Tanglis and the North Andover basketball program love to exploit the mental hurdle a turnover imposes on their oppositions. Getting your opponent to commit a turnover will get that same opponent to crack on the defensive end. Momentum is critical.

As Coach Tanglis elaborated on the BLOB defense, he told me it was not specifically BLOB defense that the team prided itself on. It was frustrating an opponent. The idea of a thirty second violation is demoralizing for an offense. They move the ball and possess it with the obvious goal of scoring and cannot even get the ball to hit the rim. Inevitably the coach grows furious, the players second guess the offense, and players can get out of character on the ensuing possession to force the issue.

Even deflections where a turnover is not forced has positive outcomes in changing momentum. Getting a piece of a pass where the opponent maintains possession will mess up the timing of a play. Now an uncontested shot is a contested shot and the defense is much more likely to get a stop.

Properly Value Turnovers in Practice

Getting turnovers on defense is only positive if the offense takes care of it. That is why emphasizing and measuring turnovers on offense is a must in practice for Tanglis. He might walk into practice and tell players that on offense for that day there is a goal of no more than nine turnovers. The point he makes is that coaches do not attach proper value to turnovers in practice.

Here is a typical exchange in a four on four shell drill. The offense throws the ball just a little too high and outside, and the ball goes out of bounds. The offensive player chases it. The coach says set it up again. The offense goes at it again and nobody thinks anything of the turnover. In an actual game, this type of play might have huge emotional meaning to all stakeholders, so why should practice be any different? Coach Tanglis returned to his earlier point about the ripple effect of turnovers. If a team is going to build mental toughness from them as Alan Stein argues, the turnovers need to have the same emotional consequences (or worse) at practice than they have in games.

As Coach Tanglis has brought in the system of tracking turnovers, players have also become more aware. The defense will ask him to record a turnover with pride when it happens. Once the ninth turnover happens, it is a penalty for the team that had committed it. Next year, Coach Tanglis intends to improve the turnover tracking system by making it more tangible. Using nine cones and nine basketballs and removing them for each turnover will make it more recognizable to players.

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