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Thursday, March 21, 2013

JOHN BEILEIN AND THE ART OF DETAILS AND FUNDAMENTALS

Here is a portion of an article written by Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Pass on Michigan coach John Beilein.  It is an excellent article and I strongly recommend that you read the entire piece here.

Cut to a scene Tuesday in Ann Arbor, two days before tonight's NCAA tournament opener against South Dakota State at the Palace and some 40 years after the days of dribbling by the family apple orchard. Beilein's team is practicing on the main floor of the renovated Crisler Center. Guards, wings and forwards are working on separate drills on different parts of the sprawling floor with eight hoops.

Assistant coach Bacari Alexander is teaching Jon Horford, Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary how to position themselves to defend the post. Instructions are precise and repeated, as if this were a summer basketball camp.

Watching the coaches teach such basics is startling, considering the time of year and proximity to the Big Dance. But consider that slab of concrete in upstate New York: Beilein wasn't going to eat until he mastered a particular aspect of the game on any given night, and he wasn't going to let his team feast on the anticipation of the NCAA tournament until it relearned how to defend in the post.

"Did you see the Wisconsin game?" asked Beilein's assistant Jeff Meyer. "We got beat up down there. John's philosophy is: 'Before we move forward, we've got to try to fix this. It's got to be retaught.' "

And so even on the heels of a successful regular season in which U-M attained a No. 1 ranking and came within a few inches of a second consecutive shared regular-season Big Ten title -- Beilein spent a good chunk of Tuesday reminding his players how to dig into a post player and how to switch through screens and how to close out on a shooter on the perimeter.

"Sometimes the review is every bit as important as the initial (teaching)," Beilein said. "It's the old saying: 'Read a book once and instead of reading another book, read (the original) again.' "

Beilein is fond of review. Not just of games, but of practices, which are filmed, cut into 30 digestible nuggets, then fed to the players and staff.

"It's unique," said Meyer, who has coached college basketball for more than 30 years. "It's a divider. I don't know of anybody else who breaks down practice like this."

Or who prepares so thoroughly for it.

"For every minute we were on the court Tuesday, we spent that much time preparing for that practice, down to the minute," Meyer said.

Many coaches at major college basketball programs are meticulous by nature. Then there is Beilein.

"I remember the first time I watched a practice of his. I was taken aback with all the time he spent on passing," Meyer said.

Fire with backspin so that the shooter catches the ball in proper position; receiving a knuckleball is harder to aim. Beilein breaks down footwork in the same manner. And cutting. And pivoting.

"These are things that most young men don't know how to do when they get to college," Beilein said.

No passing phase

There is a reason the Wolverines average 9.2 turnovers a game -- fewest in the conference -- despite playing an up-tempo game within a philosophy that allows players offensive freedom. Part of this begins in the summer when Beilein teaches the snap pass and the arch pass and the chest pass and all those fundamentals. And part of this is because Beilein values skill. He recruits it. He nurtures it. He emphasizes it. This dates to his solitary ballhandling sessions on the slab.

Beilein's wooden board for X's and O's has become famous in the basketball offices. He loves to navigate the pieces in search of open floor space. No doubt the minicourt feeds his need for angles and geometry, something, he acknowledges, that satiates his meticulous nature.

Yet what separates him as a coach, at least according to those who have coached with him, is his love of skill. Though he arrived in Ann Arbor with a reputation as an offensive innovator or, as he likes to say, "as someone who likes to let big men chuck threes all day," his assistants argue the success begins much earlier.

"I always laugh when I hear about the offensive guru label," said Mike MacDonald, who coached under Beilein at Canisius and is now the coach at Medaille College in Buffalo, N.Y. "It's not so much the offense. It's him teaching how to pass and catch and dribble with both hands. He breaks (players) down as well as any coach in the country. He will break down the simplest type of chest passes. A lot of teams don't teach it. There is a base there."