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Friday, June 26, 2015

GREAT OFF-SEASON CHECKLIST VIA MITCH COLE AND AGGIE BASKETBALL

Another great email newsletter from Coach Mitch Cole of our men's basketball staff here at Texas A&M!  I've posted a couple before but I strongly encourage anyone that has not signed up to get these monthly emails from Mitch to do so -- everyone is packed with great information.  Email Mitch and request to be on the list and you will regularly get stuff that will help your program.

Here is a sample from the one that was sent out today -- timely because it's about summer improvement:

SUMMER THOUGHTS

More and more, coaches are finding that the summer is when the most improvement can occur for our players and our teams. Every level from High School, to AAU, College, and the Pros, there are limits to what coaches can and cannot do regarding time spent with our athletes. Regardless of the limitations, coaches need to find the best approach within the rules to insure that the players are developing and improving throughout the summer. 

Below are a few Categories with questions/ideas that staffs should consider regarding PROGRAM GROWTH in the summer:

Skill Instruction
Do we have a plan for our players Development this summer?
If we can’t work with them, have we effectively communicated which areas they need to grow in and improve?
Is there a way we can get our older players to initiate time in the gym with the rest of our team?
Recognition, awards and charts can be a good way to provide incentive for improvement in the summer.
 
Strength and Conditioning
Are we measuring improvement from our athletes? Do we have checkpoints every 6-8 weeks? (Recognition for summer improvement could be a way to keep them motivated during the off-season.)
 
Are the methods we are using productive, but still interesting and fresh to avoid burnout?
Do our athletes understand the importance of rest, nutrition and safety in training?
Send them interesting articles on pro athletes and their testimonials on how they achieved greatness through hard work!
 
Open Gym
Is there a regular time for the players to shoot and play pick up games? 
 
Are the pickup games competitive? (Lost are the days when you played in a packed gym of players dying to get on the court, but knowing if you lose, you may sit 3 or 4 games waiting to play again!) Can we create that environment?
Most pickup games hardly resemble a real game. How can we make open gym more game-like? Consider shooting Free Throws for fouls, starting possessions at half court, extra points for put-backs, etc. 

Basketball Camps
Do our camps provide a healthy balance of fundamental skills teaching, shooting competitions, and 3v3 or 5v5 games?
 
Are our older players engaged in camps, willing to participate and impact the younger kids in the area?
Are we working to build our camps and promote the program in the community? 
T-Shirts and gear are natural Billboards for your program. Buy T-Shirts in bulk and provide as many as possible!!!

Academics
Are we aware of the “at-risk" guys in our program that might need to recover classes or get ahead in the summer? Losing a player due to grades can be a program killer!
 
It’s been said that most students fall behind in the summer in Math and Reading. Can we incorporate a plan that might stimulate our players to read, write, or be engaged academically? 
Weekly communication with links to articles, or book suggestions followed up with conversations could be useful.
 
Team Building
Is there a time in the summer to get together as a team and cast a vision for next season? 
 
A short trip to a baseball game, a Team Camp, a mid-summer “Weekend of HOOPS,” a Sand Volleyball game, BBQ? 
Weekly communication with positive messages or articles on TEAMWORK and STRONG RELATIONSHIPS
Are we thinking through how to eliminate distractions to our team’s growth? 
 
Staff Development/Rest
Are we growing in knowledge as a staff each summer? 

Challenge each coach to think through a few new ideas that might help in each of the above categories. Have someone on the staff take different categories like Motivation, Offensive and Defensive Concepts, new and improved Strength and Conditioning ideas, work a different basketball camp, or read a few books on leadership development, etc.
Lastly, is the staff taking time to get away? Sometimes great ideas begin to form when we have removed ourselves from the day to day activities. Recharge the batteries before the fall arrives! 

Monday, June 22, 2015

AND THEN SOME

Absolutely love this -- good for everyone in your organization: staff, players, managers, trainers -- everyone!

And Then Some

These three little words are the secret to success. They are the difference between average people and top people in most companies.

The top people always do what is expected...and then some...

They are thoughtful of others; they are considerate and kind...and then some...

They meet their obligations and responsibilities fairly and squarely...and then some...they are good friends and helpful neighbors...and then some...

They can be counted on in an emergency...and then some...

I am thankful for people like this, for they make the world more livable, Their spirit of service is summed up in these little words...and then some!

Carl Holmes

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

THE BEAR ON CREATING "ONE HEARBEAT" WITH YOUR TEAM

The following comes from "Developing the Leaders Around You," by John Maxwell:

Coach Bear Bryant expressed this same sentiment when her said: “I’m just a plowhead from Arkansas, but I have learned how to hold a team together—how to lift some men up, how to calm others down, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat together as a team. There’s always just three things I say: ‘If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes real good, they did it.’ That’s all it takes to get people to win.”

RELATIONSHIPS LEAD TO MORE EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION

During an interview for a job he was then seeking as a minor league manager in the Oakland organization, Bob Boone was asked to speak about the reputation he had as a catcher who so effectively “handled” pitchers. Boone, now having managed in the major league for a number of years, responded at that time, “I didn’t handle pitchers, I established relationships with them.” His point was that he intended to do the same as a manager.

Good relationships are established through effective communication. Boone’s use of the term made a distinction between manipulation and arbitrariness on the part of the message sender and the mutual respect and understanding between the sender and the receiver of whatever is being communicated.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

EFFECTIVE PASSING CONCEPTS

The following guidelines for effective passing comes "Coaching Basketball's Blocker-Mover Motion Offense," written by Coach Kevin Sivils.  I've known Kevin for many years.  He is a student of the game and in fact, the teachings of Coach Don Meyer and Dick Bennett are major part of his inspiration for penning this book.

Use Hand Targets to Communicate With the Passer

Passing requires communication between the player in possession of the ball and the player who desires to receive the ball.  Verbal communication can be misunderstood or not heard during the chaos of game.  Visual signals with hands cannot be misunderstood and for this reason is a more effective method of communicating a cutter's intent to the passer.

Three basic hand signals must be learned buy all players, allowing the cutter/shooter to communicate intent and the passer to anticipate where to pass the ball way from the defense.  The first is an extended open hand, indicating the direction away from the goal the cutter/shooters intends to cut towards.

The second hand signal is the clinched fist, indication the shooter/cutter intends to cut "backdoor," in the direction of the goal.  This cut is used when the defense is applying intense overplay denial defense, a common tactic used against excellent 3-point shooters in the desire to prevent the shooter from receiving the ball beyond the 3-point arc.

The third and final hand signal is used to indicate the shooter is open and ready to shoot upon receiving the ball.  This signal is indicated by the shooter having hands in the shooting pocket, knees bent ready to shoot and being squared up to the goal.  The shooter needs only to catch the pass in order to shoot if the passer makes and accurate pass directly into the shooting pocket.

Pass Away From the Defense

Turnovers due to intercepted passes are usually a result of passing the ball to a teammate.  Sounds silly, but it is true.  Unless the teammate is wide open for a shot, the ball should never be passed directly to the teammate.  Instead, the ball must be passed away from the defense.

Shorten the Pass

Not only must the passer pass the ball away from the defense using a frozen rope, the cutter/shooter must "shorten the pass" by stepping the direction of the oncoming pass to meet the ball.  This decreases the chances of the defense intercepting the pass and increases the likelihood of a foul on an aggressive defender.

Pass the Ball Where it Can Be Caught

It is not enough to pass the ball away from the defense.  The ball has to be passed to the receiver in a location the receiver can safely catch the ball.  Passing the ball where it can be caught entails two different concepts.  The first concerns the receiver physically being able to catch the ball.  The second involves court and defender location.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

COACH SUMMITT ON TEAMWORK AND MENTAL TOUGHNESS

In honor of Coach Pat Summitt's birthday, here are a few of our favorite blog posts on Coach:

Great Thoughts On Teamwork from Pat Summitt
This came via Greg Brown's book "The Best Things I've Seen In Coaching."

Ultimate Coaches Clinic: Pat Summitt
A great list of philosophical thoughts from Coach Summitt comprised by Pat Williams.

Coach Summitt on Mental Toughness
An excerpt from her book "Reach for the Summit"

KERR'S LISTENING SHOWS TWO LEADERSHIP LESSONS

A column by Monte Poole for csnbayarea.com showed two great leadership messages from the Golden State Warriors Steven Kerr.  You can read Poole's entire column here, but this is what made an impression on me in regard to Kerr.:

With his team losing two straight games to fall into a must-win situation, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr on Thursday heeded the advice of a trusted member of his staff to put the club back on track in the NBA Finals.

The advice came not from veteran assistants Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams, nor did it come from young assistant Luke Walton. It did not come from player development coaches Jarron Collins and Bruce Fraser.

No, the advice came from further down the organization chart, from video-scouting specialist Nick U’Ren.

He suggested that Kerr change his starting lineup, replacing 7-foot center Andrew Bogut with 6-7 forward Andre Iguodala, who hadn’t started a game all season.

“It was his idea,” Kerr said of U’Ren. “He brought it to us this morning. We had debated some other things the other night after Game 3, but you always want to let these things simmer before you make a decision.

The first lesson in leadership is to utilize all the resources available.  You have to respect the fact that Kerr listened to his video-scouting specialist and obviously listened emphatically.

The second lesson in leadership is that Kerr didn't hesitate to give credit where credit was due.  This makes an incredible healthy working environment for those in the organization.

Friday, June 12, 2015

THE BEST PLAY IN THE PRESENT, NOT IN THE PAST

One of the terms we utilize with our players comes from Coach Don Meyer.  We tell them we want them to be NBA players.  NBA stands for Next Best Action.  In other words, we want them constantly player in the future and not in the past.  Great shooters have poor memories.  They never remember their last missed shot but instead, work to get their next make. 

It is the process oriented teaching that Coach Nick Saban drives home to his players.  He is not interested in his players checking the score or time on the clock as that information has nothing to do with them "dominating their opponent" on the next snap. 

While at LSU, baseball coach Skip Bertman had a small toy toilet in the dugout.  When a player had a bad at bat, a fielder committed an error, or a pitcher had a bad inning, they came in and "flushed" the toy toilet as a physical symbol that it's over -- it's gone -- time to focus on the here and now.

Of course this isn't an easy habit to develop -- especially for great competitors.  In his book "How Champions Think," Dr. Bob Rotella recalled a conversation where Dean Smith spoke to Michael Jordan about letting go of a bad game:
 
I remember hearing Michael Jordan speak some year ago about a lesson he’d learned from Dean Smith about dealing with failure. Michael had left the University of North Carolina and player a couple of years in the NBA. But he returned to Chapel Hill in the off-season to play pickup games with other Tar Heel alumni and talk with Coach Smith. 
 
On this occasion, he was talking to the coach about how hard it was for him to accept the seemingly cavalier attitude of his Bulls teammates toward losing. After a loss, he said, he would stay in the shower for an hour, replaying everything he did wrong as the hot water pounded over his body. Or he’d sit by his locker with a towel over his head, marinating his brain in images of mistakes. His teammates, on the other hand, would shower and get out of there. Michael thought they didn’t care.
 
Dean Smith disabused him of that notion. He told Michael that if he wanted to become the player he could be, he ought to give himself no more than ten or twenty minutes to reflect on a bad performance. That would be enough to learn everything that could be learned from it. After that, he advised Michael, he ought to think about playing great basketball in the next game—or do something else and not think about basketball at all. “If all you do is keep reliving your mistakes, you’re going to destroy yourself,” Dean said.

BO SCHEMBECHLER ON WHY IT'S IMPORTANT TO SIGN THE RIGHT PLAYERS

Yesterday I posted a blog on an amazing article written byJen Sinkler  on rugby coachJack Clark.  You can read the post here.  Still, I'm going to repeat a small portion of that blog dealing with Clark talking to Sinkler about something he learned from Bo Schembechler.  For all of us that recruit, it's a great reminder of the importance of not just recruiting the best players but recruiting the right players -- and there's a big difference:

There was a legendary football coach that died about 10 years ago named Bo Schembechler at Michigan. He has this quote that I think is the greatest quote. It has to do with recruiting and who you want on your team. He says, “Well, if you ever really want a guy and you don’t get him, that’s OK. He’ll only beat you once a year.” I think that’s kind of catchy. Then this old boy clears his throat and says, “On the other hand, if you get the wrong guy on your team, he’ll beat you every day.”

Thursday, June 11, 2015

JACK CLARK'S 8 POINTS OF TEAM CULTURE

A few weeks ago I tweeted the link to an article on Jack Clark, the legendary rugby coach.  It was written by Jen Sinkler as part of her Thrive series at her websiteIt is the best thing I've read in sometime.  It is lengthy and detailed and worthy of the time it takes to read by any coach who wants to improve.

As we see from the great ones such as Nick Saban and Bill Walsh, it is process over results.  As Sinkler writes:

Clark’s coaching style includes almost no scrimmages, and very few drills that involve full contact (i.e., there isn’t much tackling). So, how do they dominate so completely? They drill culture above all else and, put simply, they know how to win. 

“I think our winning percentage is probably 90 percent or close. We’ve been chasing excellence for a long time,” he says. “We have a performance culture where the byproduct is winning, versus ‘We’re all about winning.’ That’s not really how we think.” 

The rest of Sinkler's article goes into Clark's development of that type of culture and she lists eight areas Clark believes is important to creating his teams.

The first one was LOVE CONDITIONALLY.  I've never seen this worded in such away.  Clark was interested in a "family atmosphere" but in a higher level of team. Sinkler quotes Clark:

"You and I could go to the sports page today and open it up and see some sports team calling themselves a family. It’s what everyone does nowadays — they call themselves a family. In reality, it grates on me a little bit because my concept of family is unconditional. There’s my screw-up brother down in Huntington Beach. I love him, but you don’t want him on your team, I promise you. Family means unconditional, whereas high-performance teams are highly, highly conditional organizations." 

This is also a recruiting philosophy.  Another profound story that Clark shares with Sinkler is one about Bo Schembechler and the importance of getting the right people on your team:

There was a legendary football coach that died about 10 years ago named Bo Schembechler at Michigan. He has this quote that I think is the greatest quote. It has to do with recruiting and who you want on your team. He says, “Well, if you ever really want a guy and you don’t get him, that’s OK. He’ll only beat you once a year.” I think that’s kind of catchy. Then this old boy clears his throat and says, “On the other hand, if you get the wrong guy on your team, he’ll beat you every day.”

The second ingredient is BE THOROUGHLY ACCOUNTABLE.  As Clark told Sinkler:

"After the game Saturday we kind of know what the injury toll is, but things do get worse overnight sometimes. So we do a med check straightaway on Sunday morning, followed by a regeneration strategy, followed by this long meeting."

There was another interesting comment made to Sinkler:

"When we get caught up in our coaching, we’ve got to force ourselves to talk about what we’re doing well. But it has become part of what we do — we open every meeting with what we did well. We never cut that list short — we always build upon it. It’s got to be real, though. It can’t be stuff that is kind of halfway true. It’s got to be real stuff. Make that list as long as we can. Spend so much more time on your strengths."

This speaks to two great pieces of coaching.  The first one is to be process oriented.  Be more concerned with what you are doing as opposed to the result.  The second, and one that many coaches overlook, is to never lose sight on what you team is doing well -- both individually and collectively.  Not only must you recognize this as a coach, but share with your team and continue to work on those strengths.

Ingredient #3 is a SHARED VOCABULARY.

Clark made a point that this is as much taught as the fundamentals of the game and made mention that he didn't think teams in general had enough team meetings.

The fourth point of emphasis in developing a great team culture according to Clark would be to PRACTICE RESILIENCY.

Clark told Sinkler: "I think what matters most — outside of talent — would probably be the culture of the team: developing a really resilient, embedded team culture around performance. It’s like anything else: You’ve got to rep it. You’ve got to talk about it on day one and day five and in the middle of the season and at the end of the season."

I think this is an underrated and overlook part of culture.  I once heard Doc Rivers say, "You have to protect your team culture.  This battle is waged daily."

In other words, culture, to be successful must be intentionally thought out, planned and executed by all those involved.  Another thing Doc Rivers spoke of the "buy in" of players into the culture.

Fifth on the list is EXPECT EVERYONE TO LEAD.

This is a form of shared ownership where everyone is contributing to successful elements of a culture.  Successful people work at making the right decisions within their priorities and strive to properly manage those decisions daily.  The first and most important person that you lead is yourself.

Sixth on Clark's culture building list is IMPROVE RELENTLESSLY.

I absolutely love what Clark told Sinkler in this regard: "We believe in constant performance improvement. We say it’s not just enough to win. That’s kind of an old thing. If you go back to legendary basketball coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, you can get some performance over results. It’s there. We believe that and we believe that we should be getting better. We think that we should accept that burden. If we’re going to work at this as hard as we’re working at it, then we should be getting better from week to week, month to month, match to match. There should be improvement."

GET A GREAT COACH is never on the list.

Two things resonate here.  The first is Clark's understanding that teaching must be a key ingredient in successful/teams and organization.  Talent is never enough alone and it takes the right kind of coach or staff to build on that talent and then mesh the individuals together.

Clark also speaks to coaches being able to understand and properly utilize technology for ultimate results.  Part of that formula for him is to continue to grow and improve as coaches if we want to continue to grow our players and teams.

Last, but certainly not least on the culture creating checklist is VALUE TEAM.

Clark told Sinkler: "We celebrate team, talk about it and build on it. I talk to a lot of our teams on campus. I guest-lecture in the business school, so I have a lot of opportunities to talk to groups of people, especially in a team setting. Most of them don’t cherish that they’re an expert in team. They get lost in the fact that they aren’t an expert in their sport yet. They confuse that with being an expert in team."

I tweeted that this was one of the best things I've read in sometime and I sincerely mean it.  I strongly encourage you to read the entire article here.  Sinkler went in great detail with Clark regarding each of the eight components of his team's culture.




VANDY'S SWANSON LEAVES SUCCESS CLUES

On Monday, Dansby Swanson was selected as the #1 overall selection in the Major League Baseball draft.  It was not an accident or a stroke of luck for the Vanderbilt shortstop who has been intentional in his growth and develop as a baseball player from a very early age.  We are constantly telling our team that success leaves clues and Swanson's story certainly bears that out.  Ironically, Lipscomb coach Greg Brown has forwarded me an article last week on Swanson that was written by Adam Sparks of The Tennessean.  It was very well written and you can read it in it's entirety here.  Below are a few of my take aways from Adam's article to share with our team.  My comments will be listed in gold-bold-italics:

The large majority of success stories and a strong vision of where they go.  They also are locked in on that vision to the point that they can become tunneled vision.  As Vince Lombardi said, "Success demands singleness of purpose."   Adam's wrote of this part of Swanson:

Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson had no plan B for his life other than baseball.

Dansby opted for the one-track career path.

"I never had another one (besides baseball)," he said. "I couldn't even tell you a different one right now."

Another characteristic of high achievers is that they set goals -- goals that are specific and lofty.  Then they make a plan and go about working on achieving those goals.  I absolutely love this part of Adam's story on Swanson meeting with Vandy Coach Tim Corbin:

Swanson's goals were always set high. As a freshman, he told Commodores coach Tim Corbin, "I want to be the best player that's ever played at Vanderbilt," and that was before he even played a college game.

Earlier this week, the two-time All-American was named, along with teammate Carson Fulmer, one of four finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, given to the top amateur player in the nation. This weekend, he leads his team in the NCAA Super Regional against Illinois for the chance to defend the Commodores' college baseball title.

Goals are not enough to get you there however.  Once the plan is laid out you have to go about working the plan.  This always includes obstacles and sacrifices.  Adams points out that Swanson not only invested in his dream with hard work but also financially as he paid a major portion of his tuition to Vanderbilt:

But his path wasn't certain. Swanson took out student loans to come to Vanderbilt, supplementing his athletic scholarship and financial aid to pay for the private school's pricey tuition rather than choosing a less-expensive option at a state university.

Swanson did not disclose the amount of his debt, but he recognizes the trust he put in his own talent.
"I was willing to take whatever risk there was – 100 percent," Swanson said. "I knew coming here would be the correct first step in getting where I wanted to be because of Corbs. He's the best at what he does. ... Everyone who comes here excels, and not just in baseball."

In an era of helicopter parents who constantly work to eliminate adversity and obstacles for their children (which ironically become adversity and obstacles for their children), Swanson's parents were the exact opposite:

Corbin said Dansby's parents are ideal for an accomplished college athlete because they step away.

"They aren't hovering over him. I haven't heard from them. It's perfect, perfect!" Corbin said. "... Just give me your son and I'll get him back to you, hopefully a little better than he arrived. He's a helluva kid, something special."

The other part of Adam's story that resonated with me was how Swanson handled himself.  He was a servant leadership which certainly is another piece of Vanderbilt's baseball success.  Any baseball person will appreciate the story of Swanson and the rain delay:

But Corbin said jealousy hasn't bitten Swanson's teammates because he "does everything top shelf … including picking up buckets and serving other people."

At the SEC Championship game in Hoover, Ala., the stadium grounds crew saw that first-hand when Swanson led the team out of the dugout during a downpour to help pull out the heavy rain tarp. Florida players later followed before quickly returning to shelter.

As the rain continued, the grounds crew kept Swanson and his Vanderbilt teammates on the field to shake their hands and thank them for the much-needed help.

"That's our family's Christian background," Cooter said. "The leader is the servant."

And for us as coaches, its important to share with our teams that character still matters as Adam writes:

In draft scouting reports, Swanson's character and leadership qualities are listed in equal portions to his hitting prowess, arm strength and fielding range.

"What you've got on the field is obviously what you see, but he's even better off the field," said Fulmer, the SEC Pitcher of the Year and Swanson's roommate.

Ten minutes after his team was eliminated from the SEC Tournament by Vanderbilt, Texas A&M coach Rob Childress called Swanson "a superstar human being … (who is) going to play for a long, long time — not just because of his great talent, but because of his great character."

Monday, June 8, 2015

COACH MEYER'S CAMP PHILOSOPHY

I thought this would be appropriate since it is "Meyer Monday" and we are all in the beginning phases of running/attending summer camps.

The following is the camp philosophy utilized by Coach Don Meyer and his staff to run one of the greatest camps in the sport of basketball. Coach Meyer's camps went beyond the mas-sive numbers they accumulated each summer but also impacted the institution where they were located. Elite coaches would travel the country to watch Coach Meyer teach and oper-ate his basketball camps. The philosophy is simple but imagine if you change the word "campers" to "student-athletes" the impact it would have on your basketball program.

1. Our campers come first.

2. We will give our campers and their needs our highest priority.

3. We treat campers and each other as we wish to be treated.

4. We provide excellence in teaching basketball to all of our campers.

5. We continue to evaluate and improve our efforts.

6. We will take personal responsibility for finding or creating a solution to any problem or complaint that a camper or family member may have.

7. We will do our part to ensure the success of the Wolves Basketball Camp.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

LIN DUNN: 3 KEYS TO SUCCESS

This past spring at the A Step Up Assistant Coaching Symposium, the "Legends Speaker" was Lin Dunn.  She gave an outstanding keynote address which included three things she thought necessary for success:

1. Strive everyday to be the best you can be
Make sure that you are all in in all you do.
She loves coaches that our gym rats.
Goals: Have short, medium and long range -- write 'em down

2. Expect failure
Know it is a wonderful opportunity to improve
Be better, not bitter
Hold yourself accountable...No excuses
Maintain a positive attitude

3. Know what real success is
What are you striving for
Health, happiness, friends and family

Friday, June 5, 2015

KEYS TO WARRIOR'S SUCCESS: CHARACTER, DEFENSE, LEADERSHIP

The following is some excerpts from an article written in the San Francisco Chronicle by Ann Killion.  You can read the entire article here but below are some take aways from Killion's piece that delves into a philosophical decision that Golden State made in developing a championship contending program:

The most successful path to a championship seems to be when owners hire smart people to run their teams and then let them do their jobs. When leaders, as in the coach and general manager, are able to put aside their individual egos and collaborate. When teams acquire high-quality athletes and astute coaches push them to become better.

The Warriors made a conscious decision a few years ago, before Joe Lacob and Peter Guber bought the team, before head coach Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers arrived, before executive Rick Welts and consultant Jerry West came on board. Former general manager and current director of scouting Larry Riley decided to make character a priority. To acquire players you could be proud to have wearing your jersey. After knuckleheads like gun-wielding Stephen Jackson or scooter-crashing Monta Ellis, the Warriors wanted something different.

And they found a high-character guy in Stephen Curry.

That doesn’t always work. The Warriors, after all, drafted a super nice player named Todd Fuller once upon a time. The key is the right talent packaged with high character.

The Warriors’ path is similar to the direction the Giants took after the team’s reputation was tainted by Barry Bonds’ steroid scandal, and its clubhouse had been a divided, unhappy place for years. The Giants wanted a leader, a new face, a “rock-solid guy,” in the words of general manager Brian Sabean. So they drafted Buster Posey. And now everyone has three rings.

A high-character leader sets the tone. As Warriors forward David Lee said this season, if your best player isn’t a jerk, no one else is allowed to be. A high-character guy won’t pout if his coach is replaced, won’t make trouble about his salary, won’t stiff the media or the fans. Won’t stop working to get better on both ends of the floor.

A close relationship between the general manager and the coach is useful. We’ve seen that with the Giants. The Warriors have it as well.

Kerr calls Myers a facilitator.

“He generates a lot of conversation,” Kerr said. “A lot of calm, healthy dialogue in a really productive way. In a business where things can become very emotional, Bob is kind of the soothing hand.”

Ask Kerr, who has five rings and a Ph.D. in championship teams, what such groups have in common and he doesn’t hesitate to answer:

“Defense.”

Luke Walton, who won two rings with the Lakers, agrees.

“At the top of the list is defense,” Walton said.

Hard-working defensive teams are, by their nature, unselfish and collaborative.

“It all ties together,” Kerr said. “If you can really count on your defense, it probably means you have guys who are high character. They care about winning and about each other, so they’re going to make the sacrifice. Maybe it’s their points, maybe it’s their shot attempts, maybe it’s their minutes.”

Walton said that having the right leadership is important.

“It’s really hard to win an NBA title,” Walton said. “It’s the coaches’ job to keep everybody calm and level. Character comes into play in the rough times. When guys can count on each other and know their teammates are still going to do the right thing, even if they’re down by 15. You have to be able to trust people.

“Guys on a championship team sacrifice their own personal talents or success for the better of the team. A lot of people in the NBA pout when that happens. But on the top teams, they embrace it.”

Make no mistake: Jerks can win championships. Stupid and selfish players can get rings.

But what we’ve learned in our petri dish of Bay Area sports is that the path to a championship is easier — and arguably more rewarding — when you have talented players but can also add brains, collaboration and quality character into the mix.

That’s the best way to change a team’s history.

 

THE VALUE OF DEFENSIVE COMMUNICATIONS

Thanks to Point Guard College who tweeted this story out on the importance of communication on defense that ran on The Cauldron.  It was written by Jared Dubin and is the best thing I've seen in my 30+ years of coaching on defensive communication. It's a lengthy and outstanding piece and you can read it in it's entirety here.  However, here are some key take aways I got from the article:

Ask any coach or player in the NBA what the most important aspect of a good defense is, and without fail, they will give you the same answer: communication. Gasol, one of the league’s best defenders himself, understands the paramount importance of talking while defending.
 
“Communicate early. That’s one key that I think basketball is losing, is how important it is to know, not just to know what action is happening, but to let your teammate know where his help is at,” Gasol said. “I think that we don’t practice that enough as basketball players. Not only as a team, but as players. Knowing where your help is, and knowing what’s happening, really helps.”
 
Defensive chatter sounds simple enough, but it often eludes NBA teams, especially the younger ones.
 
“Communication, it boils down to, as much as anything, just understanding what you’re doing,” Flip Saunders said. “If you’re talking, you’re not worried about what you have to do. Young players, many times, they’re thinking about what they have to do because it’s new to them.
 
“It’s probably the biggest thing with young players, is their lack of communication. They don’t come out [of college] as good communicators. That’s something we all try to instill. KG (Kevin Garnett) will try. I believe that when they see him practice, and when they see how much he communicates and they see the impact it has, they’ll try to do it. But it’s one of those things that sometimes it takes a long time. It takes a year. It took KG a long time to get (Kendrick) Perkins to be a communicator, and he wound up maybe talking too much at times.”

 
The Timberwolves’ acquisition of Garnett at the February trading deadline reeked of nostalgia for a floundering franchise, and Minnesota gave up 26-year-old forward Thaddeus Young to get him, but there was a huge reason Saunders wanted Garnett beyond giving the fan base a throwback to the team’s greatest era: He might be the most legendary defensive communicator in the history of the league.
 
Shaun Livingston spent the 2013–14 season playing with Garnett on the Brooklyn Nets. He’s played with nine teams in his 11-year career.
 
“Garnett was the best,” he said about defensive communicators. “At all times, no matter what arena, no matter what atmosphere: you’re gonna hear him.”
 
Glen Davis also played with Garnett on the “Big Three” Celtics teams that were consistently among the best in the league at point prevention. Right from the jump, Big Baby said, Garnett hammered home the importance of always talking on defense, always letting your teammates know what’s happening, where you are, and where they should be. Communication was one of his biggest things [with the Celtics],” Davis said. “We really figured out that had a lot to do with our success. Everybody started buying in.”
 
Ask anyone involved with the Clippers (who isn’t named Glenn) about the team’s defense, and they’ll name three catalysts for the success they have on that end: Chris Paul, Matt Barnes and DeAndre Jordan. Together, they form the backbone of a stingy starting lineup. Paired with Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick, that trio allowed just 100.0 points per 100 possessions this season. That’s the full-season equivalent of the Wizards’ No. 5-ranked defense. When even one of those players sat down, the Clips’ defensive rating jumped to 104.8 — or, the NBA’s 22nd-best defensive unit.
 
Within that group, Paul is the first line, the advance unit. His job is to relentlessly pressure the ball, shaving precious seconds off the shot clock and forcing poor decisions. He helps in the post, swipes at drivers who pass too close to his area, and Richard Shermans his way into passing lanes for steals. Barnes is the stopper, sinking his teeth into the opposition’s best perimeter scorer on any given night. And Jordan is the back line maestro, standing tall and getting his KG on, using that baritone voice and those gargantuan arms to conduct the action from the back line.
 
“Calling out screens, calling out plays, calling out situations late in the shot clock where we’re gonna switch,” Jordan said. “I’m usually in the back, so I can see everything that’s going on or that’s about to develop. So I try to give us a head start on plays.”
 
“We all talk, but myself and DeAndre are kind of the anchors of our defense,” Barnes said. “We just try to quarterback everybody, cover for each other’s mistakes and play hard. DeAndre knows every play. I take my hat off to him. He really studies the scouting report, and whenever they call a play, DJ calls it out. We all go with his call and get ready to play defense.”
 
There may be no team in the NBA that talks more than the Golden State Warriors. For the Dubs, Andrew Bogut is the man the middle, the anchor, the last line; he’s responsible for both deterrence and disruption should any opposing player dare venture into his paint. But above all of these things, he’s responsible for letting his teammates know what’s happening around them.
 
“I think it’s an important role for me,” Bogut said. “I need to be loud and verbalize everything that’s going on because otherwise the guards are going to get hit by screens and our defense will break down. That’s one of my main roles defensively, to make sure guys know what’s going on.”
 
Bogut credits the veterans he played alongside early in his career with teaching him the importance of studying sets and tendencies off the court. By being mentally prepared for his opponents, he would see a play starting to develop and know what was coming. Perhaps more importantly, he’d be able to clue his teammates in, too.

“It’s easier [to communicate a switch when you know you’re going to be doing it],” said Shaun Livingston, now a backup guard on the Warriors. “You’ve got to communicate it anyway though, because if you don’t, then that’s how breakdowns happen.”
 
The Dubs don’t just talk to make things easier on themselves, though. Livingston, like many other players around the league, feels it plays a role in gaining a psychological edge over your opponent.
 
“You learn, as you get in the league, communication can become contagious and also it can be intimidating for other teams,” he said. “If we’re playing cards and I already know your hand, then it’s like I already know your next move.”
 
Sniffing out actions before they develop is the kind of thing that can happen when you spend a long time executing the same system, with the same players. If you see the same plays from opposing teams over and over, and you’ve reacted to it — together, as a unit — hundreds, if not thousands, of times, you can cultivate a sixth sense not only for where the opposition wants to go, but where your teammates will be, and when. Five guys who have been through a lot together and know each other’s tendencies can even develop a system of communication that goes beyond words.
 
The San Antonio Spurs are the model organization when it comes to stability. They’ve had the same core of key players — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili — for what seems like forever, Gregg Popovich has been running things since George Bush was the Governor of Texas, and R.C. Buford has been with the organization almost as long. Even the “newer” pieces, like shooting guard Danny Green, have been there for a couple years and have picked up on the Spursian language.
 
“It’s easy with communication or with the look of an eye, or a facial expression, of what we want to do or where we want to be,” Green said. “It’s easy to communicate without having to talk every play or every possession. We can use gestures or communication with hand signals for us to be in the right places.”
 
Green knows that if he points a certain way when guarding a pick-and-roll, Tim Duncan will help him ice the ball-handler into the short corner and away from danger. That kind of “corporate knowledge,” as Popovich calls it, is the key to the Spurs’ success on both ends.
 
“Corporate knowledge is always good if you have a group that’s been together,” Popovich said. “You need to have that to have the trust and the rhythm. Everybody talks about rhythm offensively, but defensively it’s just as important to have that same crew who knows how to react to each other.”
 
Gasol: “I always try to get the call as soon as we can. If one man is really close, especially on the free throws, the coach will tell the opposing team, and Mike is right there to listen and pick it up.”
 
Conley: “I normally relay the play back to him. I yell it back to him and he’ll start putting people into position.”
 
Gasol: “And once I hear it, I know what the play is and I try to get my teammates ready for, not just the play call, but the action that they want to score off. After that, it’s reads and reactions.”
 
Gasol is not blessed with the physical gifts of a Dwight Howard or Nerlens Noel. He’s not what you’d call a springy athlete. He doesn’t jump out of the gym. His high-level defensive play is, first and foremost, a result of intellect and communication. He relies on copious film study, play recognition, and communication from his teammates to put himself in the right position for every play.
 
“There’s other guys, they have athleticism that I don’t have. They don’t have to foresee the play or try to get ahead. They are so athletic that they can wait, and let the play happen and still get out there and block it. I can’t do that,” Gasol said. “It’s not my game. I have to get there before the other guy gets there or I’m going to get a foul. I have to get there before the play even happens.”
 
And unlike most big men, Gasol said he’s been drilled on the importance of defensive communication for nearly his whole basketball life. “I was brought up that way. I was always taught basketball that way. How important it is.” Gasol credits his coaches and the development staff in Spain for teaching him the game like that.