Basketball and the Night Watch.
Every now and then I drag out an old magazine or book from my basketball library and reread old stuff trying to come up with new ideas. There is so much information out there for coaches nowadays that it can actually be a little overwhelming to try to glean through all the bullshit trying to find anything of actual value. Suddenly, everyone thinks they're John Wooden or the basketball equivalent of Sir Isaac Newton, presenting their ideas as if using an extra cone or two in a drill is going to revolutionize the game. I'm a firm believer in the idea that you have to keep learning or you'll stagnate and die, but I've come to realize that the most valuable learning is going to come via a revelation or a change in your overall perspective rather than in some young muscle bound guy with a neatly trimmed beard and the annoying manner of a used car salesman inventing a way to have a cutter disappear for two seconds while cutting through the lane only to reappear under the basket (not that it couldn't be done).
I recently saw one young lady pooh-poohing the idea of centering your hand on the ball and of aligning your elbow. She even took a swipe at the need to place the ball's seams horizontally. She spoke with such great conviction and passion that I'm pretty sure she'll actually convince a bunch of dumb asses to add their off-hand thumb into their shooting form in an effort to correct the flying elbow and the knuckleball trajectory of random seams. I just muttered a disdainful curse word and figuratively broke wind in her general direction as I deleted her nonsense from my feed. I do find something of value on the rare occasion after deleting something like twenty morons for every one thing that I keep.
Today's reading was taken from the May/June 2009 issue of Winning Hoops. I chose to blow the dust off the magazine because it had an article explaining Coach Walberg's Dribble Drive attack, an offense for which I've developed a kind of love/hate relationship. Coach W is a true innovator and has a lot of interesting concepts, but, in my opinions, he has way too many disciples. Jesus Christ only had twelve, and he set the world on its head. I think we could all agree on the fact that too many cooks spoil the, you know, whatever it is that too many cooks spoil.
What I actually read was an article entitled Follow DeVenzio's 4 Rules for Winning Basketball. I don't know how much you know about Coach DV, but that dude could say more in a paragraph in one of his short pamphlets than most Coaches could say in one of their overpriced and over-stuffed with fluff, mainly self-glorifying, books. Take Rule No. 2 for example, "Always throw the ball to your own team." It sounds so dumb, but it is actually pretty wise. I've seen players on the junior college level, men and woman alike, who played like they never had a coach tell them to always pass to the outside hand away from the defense, or never to throw a fifty-fifty pass in between their receiver and the defender, or most importantly, in tight games, to make sure you put an extra emphasis in knowing the difference in what color jersey your opponent is wearing. There's a zen-like simplicity in the statement that covers a lot different things that can go wrong when passing a basketball.
The item that really caught my attention though was a rule mentioned in a sidebar by a Dena Evans who at the time, was the Chairman for Point Guard College, the organization created by Coach DeVenzio. The side bar was about attacking a zone defense. The fourth rule was Use the Dance Rule which explained that the two weak side players had to constantly work together (dance) in attacking the middle of the zone from the back. The rule read, "The point guard needs to know that best way to beat a zone is to get someone the ball in the middle instead of tossing it around the perimeter." Talk about a lost tactic; in the headlong rush to reap the benefits of that extra point gained by making threes, a lot of people seem to forgotten the importance of simply getting the ball in the middle of the zone. It even enhances the three because inside-out passing increases the shooter's chances of hitting the three by a double digit percentage (according to a study commissioned by the NBA). Making threes can defeat a zone, getting the ball in the paint and under the basket can break the zone down at such a foundational level that the opposing coach would probably have to send the zone to seek the help of a professional therapist before he/she employed it in a game again.
I've thought like this for most of my career. Three pointers are like attacking a castle where the arrows rain down on the defenders and strike an occasional defender who is foolish enough to be out walking around without his helmet during the attack. Shots inside the paint with their potential for drawing fouls are like huge boulders flung from catapults that crash into and demolish the walls of the castle. I even came up with a Tokien reference to prove my point. In The Hobbit, it was Bilbo noticing the tiny hole (over the heart) in the Dragon's armor that eventually destroyed the dragon when Bard put the black arrow (which had never failed him) into Smaug's heart and only after the defenders of Lake Town had wasted a year's supply of arrows trying to pierce it's scales and had basically given up the fight, accepted the inevitable, and started blaming each other and pointing fingers. At that point Coach Bilbo stood up from the bench and yelled at Bard, his star guard, to get the ball inside.
You want to beat a zone? I'd suggest shooting it in its heart.