Five Undervalued Ideas to Coach Better Basketball

I asked Coach Mike McVeigh what he preaches that is not typically preached. Coach McVeigh laughed and was quick to point out that he’s not unique in anything he does. “Any coach that takes credit for creating something or claiming they were the originator of something is probably deceiving themselves.”  That being said, he did tell me quite a few things that he preached daily and believes these things may be undervalued in some gyms. Bounce passes, setting your priorities, crafting your terminology, the power of “2”, and having automatic decisions to make were what he elaborated on.

Bounce Passes

“The bounce pass can be great- and it can be a killer. A good general rule is that a bounce pass is best when it is going toward the basket. Things like a fast break, post entry, etc.  On the other hand, a bounce pass across the perimeter is too slow. Not only does it make an offense vulnerable to a turnover, but the worst kind of turnover – a live ball turnover that will lead to an easy transition opportunity for the opponent. Even if the unnecessary bounce pass survives in getting to its target, the defense is in a better position to recover as a result of it being slow. “

My take is that in order to examine the bounce pass you have to analyze what prompted it. For youth level players there is sometimes a lack of awareness. The easy solution is to teach them and make them aware. After that point though, it becomes a matter of seeing that a player did not properly use the dribble, did not maintain balance with defensive pressure applied, the other four did not react properly, or a combination of those three things.

Prioritizing your practices is crucial- what needs to be done today? This week? This month?

Mathematicians have percentages, but Coach McVeigh prefers marbles.  He stresses that he didn’t devise this concept, but he loved the metaphor.  Every coach has 100 marbles to work with each practice.  Basically you could place fifty marbles trying to teach players a motion offense, thirty teaching man to man defense, and twenty on transition and conversion basketball.   If that’s the plan for your team – fine- but your team will not have a formal press breaker, will have no shooting reps, and struggle with ball handling issues. Now that is a problem. It’s just that in a two-hour practice, you cannot do everything that needs to be taught. The same can be said for a three-month season.

As he put it, two coaches could divide up their one hundred marbles each day in entirely different ways and both be successful. Pick what you feel is vital, and do it- over and over and over.

One thing that coach did as part of the 100 marbles was tweak with the way he communicated to a team. He talked quite a bit about his ABCDEs. It was an acronym that can fluctuate a little, but meant something along the lines of Attack, Box/Boards, Convert/Crash, Defend, Energy/Emotion/Enthusiasm. They must be stressed each day.  And then on game day, it was a quick way to assess what needed to happen in pre-game meetings and even timeouts as to what needed to be adjusted during a contest.  Which aspects of your ABC’s need adjustments…and quickly?

Words Matter

The word “convert’ was in itself a way of quickening the communication process. Convert was his way of talking about defensive transition. If the word transition was used, it was exclusive to offense. Being clear with your terminology resulted in more effective communication in a hectic 45 second timeout with refs yelling to get your team out of the huddle and the second horn blaring away. No time to be explaining that your remark about transition was a defensive concern and not an offensive concern.  “Transition” speaks to offense, “conversion” speaks to defense. Clear and concise.

The Power of “2”

Coach related a story about a coach from Assumption College that spoke at a clinic when he was just starting out as a 22-year-old coach. This coach had given his Merrimack team fits when he was a player, so he brought his notebook with anticipation. The Assumption coach’s entire talk was about catching with two hands.  Coach McVeigh was disappointed and due to his inexperience, thought it was a waste of time. Initially.

For the next forty years, he saw the value of that speech. For forty plus years, he has watched countless times as teams (too often his own) gave away critical turnovers by not using 2 hands to catch the ball, 2 hands to rebound the bound, and sometimes when passing the ball.  He has long believed that this fundamental is vital in many dimensions of basketball. Two hands to catch. Two hands to rebound. Two feet to jump stop.

The one I found most helpful was two hands to throw a pass. A one-handed pass looks flashy, but what happens if at the last second you decide to pull the pass back? With one hand it cannot happen, but with two hands, you can pull the ball back and avert a turnover. Coach even referenced the pass that gave Villanova the championship over North Carolina. And of course with all of the accolades that Villanova has been receiving of late, that play is only one of many examples of a team that seems to embrace the idea of doing everything with two.

Rules over Robots

There were hundreds of changes to techniques especially around shooting that coach has made over the years. The biggest change that he’s made from an x and o standpoint is that everything is less robotic today. Coach McVeigh used to invest significant time into the triangle offense and flex offense. He’s a believer on what he calls “automatics”, or what other coaches might call rules or principles. Whatever you want to call it, toward the end of his head coaching tenure at North Andover one of his players actually went through and wrote out every automatic they had learned. The list came to twenty-six. Coach related to me that when he started, he didn’t have any automatics in his playbook.

Once again Coach McVeigh referenced Villanova. Whenever Jaylen Brunson drove to a certain area on the floor, all four players had an automatic. Their job was to get in a better position to score depending on the defensive player’s movement and team rotation.

In my own experience, I think that the youth level all the way to the high school give way too much attention to running out of bounds plays in a robotic manner. I have seen games at the low middle school level where players start out in a box set and literally are uncovered. Without fail they go set the pick on the elbow or step out to the corner. Shouldn’t the first thing they are taught be if you’re open underneath that’s an automatic pass? At the high school level, it might not be quite as simple but there are often easy opportunities for a seal and post based on the matchup.

This is part II of a series of posts with Mike McVeigh. Here was yesterday’s post on communication

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