Wednesday, October 29, 2014


The question today is what are your defensive standards?  What is that you need your defense to do for it to be successful.  I'm a big believer that offense is principle-based while defense is more rule oriented.  At Texas A&M we refer to these as our "non-negotiables."  While your list certainly doesn't have to mirror ours, you need to give some thought to what you standards are going to support your defense.  Make sure you share those with your team on a constant basis.  They should be a part of your breakdown drills and whole method work....point them out in practice.  Make them part of your defensive culture.

Here is another great list via Del Harris from his book "Winning Defense."

Commit to Defense
To instill our philosophy, we drill our team defense to be able to accomplish the following items which we call The Defensive Seven- on a consistent basis:

Have a great transition from offense to defense. Don’t give up fast breaks with quick, easy offensive shots. Make the opponent score five-on-five against a set defense most of the time, not two-on-one or three-on-two.

Push the ball to a sideline in order to establish a good weakside defense as early as possible. A good weakside helps fortify the entry side, puts them in positions to attack penetration, and makes better defenders out of the players on the strong side.

Keep the ball from reversing easily from side to side. To allow the ball to swing easily creates defensive problems for the weakside people, preventing them from giving adequate help angles.

Concentrate on stopping penetration via the dribble and pass. Setting the defense early helps accommodate this.

Prevent a consistent low post attack. Do early work to prevent good positioning inside; challenge cutters and post up people. If the ball does get to a good position inside, it is vital to have a system of attack in terms of helping, trapping, and rotating to reduce the damage.

Rotate to assist a teammate who has gotten into trouble by getting beat on a drive, cut, post-up or by losing his man.

Rebound and pick up loose balls.

Monday, October 27, 2014


By in large coaches never admit to having a favorite player or a favorite team.  It's probably the politically correct route to take.  When I talk to my teams I let them know up front that I have favorite players -- and I'm not ashamed of it.  They are the players that are the first on the floor for practice...the players that work hard...the players that care about their teammates...the players that take pride in their preparation...the players who understand the importance of an education...the players that want to pass it forward to the community.  You bet I have favorite players.

But until now, I've never shared my favorite team.  God knows I've been blessed with some great teams -- some can even be labeled as special.  But I'm going be honest -- my favorite team without question is the men's team I was blessed to be a part of at West Virginia State College in 1987.  From the outside-in many would say it was because we achieved so much -- winning the regular season WVIAC title and the WVIAC conference championship before losing in the National Championship game 79-77.

But it wasn't the championships that made that team special -- it was the champions that played for it.

They are college graduates...husbands and fathers...they are business owners, administrators, educators, worked in city government, one on Wall Street and another for NASA.  These are student-athletes, many who came from difficult backgrounds and certainly battled financial hardships.  We didn't have scholarships at West Virginia State College -- their Pell Grant money went to cover what work study didn't.  There were no charter flights, but beat up university vans with bald tires and windshield wipers that didn't work half the time.

We played in a dingy gymnasium that wasn't quite regulation in length.  During Christmas break, the college turned off the heat which meant our practices usually were held in 50 degree temperatures.  In the morning, as you felt your way across the floor to get the light breaker, there would the occasional crunch of a cock roach.  Meals during the holidays were at Shoney's...over and over and over.

And they played...and played...and played.  We found out several were playing intramural basketball during our season (and running away with the league until we halted that).  We once called off practice because we thought they looked tired after a sloppy win only to later found out that our captain called a night practice himself and that went for three hours.

Too often in sports, terms like family, brothers and sisters are utilized far too easily and undeservedly so.  But this group of men meet the criteria and beyond.  We just recently passed the 25th anniversary of our NAIA run and for many teams that gather for such occasions it's incredibly special because they haven't seen each other in a decade or more and it's a chance to catch up on what's going on with each other's families.

But that just isn't close to the case with this team.  Each year they meet in Institute, West Virginia at homecoming and have their own private reunion.  But it's not really a reunion -- because they are constantly in touch with each other.  They visit each each other...and certainly social media is helpful.  They are already planning next year's fall trek to West Virginia State. No team I've ever coached has been more loyal to each other and had each other's back -- for 25+ years now!

I'm blessed to be a part of this unique family.  They keep me involved as well.  Doug Hobson came to visit us in Baton Rouge as did Wayne Casey.  James Washington brought his daughter to our summer basketball camp.  An east coast game allowed me to spend some time with Larry Gaines. West coast swings gave Ruben Noles and Jeff Woods a chance to attend some games.  While at UCF, Omar Booth attended our game against Seton Hall and last year while playing in Madison Square Garden I got a big bear hug from Ron Moore who was there to see us play.  And there's phone calls -- I especially love the ones from Ronnie Legette who's gonna get a few cracks in on me.  Or the note from Joey Oden who still loves to tease me about my fear of flying.

This was a team that averaged over 100 points a game during 1987 but is still one of the best defensive teams I've ever coached.  But my favorite time with them was at practice because practice was an all out war -- they came everyday and competed at such a great level.  My second favorite time was driving the van after a win and listening to them crack on each other -- and me at times.

And still I know I can't fully appreciate everything they overcame to achieve greatness.  It was not easy being an all African-American team in the late 1980's.  I saw and heard things directed at our team that disgusted me.  But they got closer and played harder -- something they have continued to do in life.

I could mention some great games -- monumental wins...there were some amazing individual performances...outstanding season stats for players and the team...but I want to keep the focus on these men...these men who remain close to each other almost 30 years after coming together.  They came from New York (Brooklyn, The Bronx, Harlem and Syracuse)...they came from Pittsburgh and Seattle...New Jersey...and of course West Virginia.

And they bonded -- like no other team I've ever been associated with and in a fashion I've never been a part of -- at a strength I've never seen. 

And not all of us are still here.  We lost Andre Burrell unexpectedly and far too soon.  But he's still with us in spirit because these brothers constantly remind each other that he is still a part of us.

For me, as a coach, you hope that some of what you taught rubs off on your team -- but this team has taught me more than I taught them.

And today, to the best team I've been a part of, I just want them to know how proud I am of them and how honored I was to have been their coach.

I love you guys!

Friday, October 17, 2014


I came across a good website today -  And I came across a great post by Kyle Gilreath -- you can read the entire post here.  What I love about this motivational technique that he describes is that it gives a strong visual with the physical presence of a prop.  We have used various props in the past and it makes a big difference.  Here is what Gilreath was a part of at Florida.

During my time at the University of Florida I was very fortunate to be part of two of the best teams in college basketball history. After winning the 2006 National Championship, three amazing men (and lottery picks) decided to return for their Junior seasons. After running through the regular season with only a few minor bumps in the road we received the overall #1 seed in the 2007 NCAA Tournament. However, at the same exact time the “Distractions” started coming out.

As soon as the morning practice was over before we headed to New Orleans for our First Round match-up vs. a very good Jackson State team, Coach Donovan pulled out this enormous yellow rope. He handed one end of the rope to one of the players and told everyone (players, coaches, & staff) to form a large circle; then he instructed everyone to get on the inside of the rope and take hold of a small area. By this point, the rope was just large enough for everyone to fit inside…then Coach Donovan said, “This is our family inside this rope, don’t let ANYONE else inside our family, don't let ANYONE inside our rope, STAY INSIDE THE ROPE!"

This was one of those goose bump moments I will never forget for the rest of my life. This phrase became the motto for the rest of the season and was preached 24/7. “STAY INSIDE THE ROPE”! This message became such a meaningful part of the team that it was inscribed on the 2007 NCAA Championship ring.

Every team typically has a motto each year and they are printed on the back of their shirts or practice shorts, and more times than not they are “Hard Work”, “Toughness”, “Play Hard”, “Defense Wins”; these are all great and wonderful but if you have to preach to your kids about working hard everyday, that is taking time from your practice. Implant something into their heads like “Stay Inside the Rope”, make it something unique that applies to them and will keep them focused and ignore the distractions.


The following comes from the book "Monday Morning Choices" by David Cottrell:

1.       They do what they say they’ll do because they have made the commitment to do it. You can count on them every time. When they tell you they will do something, you can consider it done.

2.       They believe so strongly they can achieve a goal that they can envision themselves crossing the finish line. They can vividly see success.

3.       They write and verbalize their commitments. This doesn’t mean sitting around talking about what they plan to do. They put their goals into words and then get busy.

4.       They’re realistic. They don’t over-promise and under-deliver. Whatever they say, you can believe it.

5.       People who choose commitment invest in achieving their goals. They may invest the classroom time necessary to earn a college degree, energy on the basketball court practicing three-pointers, or hours at the computer pounding out that first novel. When they commit, they invest.

6.       Committed people don’t beat themselves up for falling short. They use that experience to learn and continue the process.

7.       People who choose to commit always plan their lives around what it takes to achieve a goal. They are focused, and they make their success a top priority.

8.       Most committed people don’t understand the term “fail.” They think it means “one step closer to success.”

9.       People who commit themselves to a goal have an impact on the lives of those around them. Enthusiasm and commitment are contagious.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


One of my absolute go-to blogs to read  is written by Michael Hyatt.  It is hard for me to believe than anyone, no matter their occupation, could not improve their craft by regularly visiting Michael's site.  He deals with everything from organization, time management, motivation, teamwork and much more.  He should also be a must-follow if you are on twitter.

Here is an excerpt from one of his blog posts (you can read the entire post here) titles 4 Ways To Keep Inspiration Alive:

As a leader, here are four ways you can keep inspiration alive in your organization:

1. Connect people to the larger story. People want to know the organization they work for matters. They want to know it is making a difference in the world. For this to happen, you must connect them to the larger story.

Why was your organization founded? Why does it exist? What would happen if it disappeared? What is really at stake? You can’t talk about this too much.

2. Remind people why they matter. It’s one thing to understand the organization matters. It’s another thing to understand they matter—and they do. But they must be reminded and affirmed.

They must understand how their actions contribute to the overall mission. While this might be clear to you, it is probably not clear to them. Your role as a leader is to help them “connect the dots.”

3. Resist creating new policies. I have seen this over and over again in organizations. Someone makes a mistake. Rather than dealing with the problem—which is likely an exception or an anomaly—the leaders create a new policy.

Over time, these policies slow an organization down, like the ropes that rendered Gulliver immovable. The better tactic is to deal with problems and people head-on and only institute a policy if the behavior happens repeatedly or spreads beyond the original situation.

4. Set the pace for what you expect in others. This is ultimately your most important leadership tool. You cannot create an inspiring organization without being an inspiring person.

If you want people to be positive and upbeat, you must be positive and upbeat. If you want people to be flexible and embrace change, then you must be flexible and embrace change.

Like it or not, your people will mimic your priorities, values, and behavior. To quote Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Monday, October 13, 2014


A well written column on Gregg Popovich by Williams Scott Davis for Business Insider.  You can read it in it's entirety here.  I love Pop's thoughts on communication and honesty in dealing with his players:

“They are different. I just try to be as honest with them as I can. I just think blowing smoke at guys and trying to manipulate guys or trick guys into thinking this, that and the other, it doesn’t work. And it’s tiresome. You got to remember what you told somebody last week. And this week, I can’t do that because I did that, and now I got to do this. That doesn’t work. So if you’re just brutally honest with guys, when they do well, love them and touch them and praise them and if they do poorly, get on their [butt] and let them know it and let them know that you care. And if a player knows that you really care and believes that you can make it better, you got the guy for life.”

Friday, October 10, 2014


The following comes from the book "You Haven’t TaughtUntil They Have Learned: John Wooden’sTeaching Principles and Practices" which was written by one of Coach John Wooden's former players, Swen Nater.  Chapter 4 is titled "You Can’t Teach What You Don’t Possess" and this is an important lesson for all coaches, especially young coaches.  You have to be a student to teach!  You have to know your subject matter.  In fact, the better you know your subject matter, the more you can peel back the layers and present it in it's simplest form.  Here are some things Nater learned from Coach Wooden:
v  Student interest is directly proportional to the depth and breadth of teachers’ knowledge; and student interest is vital to effective teaching.

v  The close games are usually lost, rather than won. What I mean by that is, games are mostly won because of the opponent making mistakes during crucial moments.”

v  Here is the interesting and strange part- failing to fulfill a role is not limited to a lack of ability to perform. Failure can also come from a physically gifted player who tries to do more than his role requires.

v  How did Coach Wooden come to possess deep subject matter knowledge? He took it upon himself to create his own research and development system.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


The past three days I have posted a lot of tweet via my twitter account.  In case you missed them, here they are all compiled:

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: "It is not the system, but the execution of the system, that counts." -Tex Winter

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “Run a play out of timeout that is a wrinkle of your normal offense and your players will be able to execute it.” –Doc Rivers

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “Shot discipline and role identification go together.” Coach K

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “Encourage team play -- achieve results through cooperation and unselfish effort on the part of every player.” –Dean Smith

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “Spread defense allows you to get offensive rebounds.” -Brendan Suhr

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “If you had two things, and only two things, you could have a decent offense. They are good shot selection and spacing.” –Kevin O’Neil

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “Design you offense so that your players get shots where they can make the most shots.” –Sonny Smith

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “Maintain spacing: Is your team maintaining spacing on the 3rd side of the floor after 2 reversals.” –Rick Majerus

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “You have to win inside regardless of your post game.” –Jim Crews

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “Cutting is the most important way a player can contribute to our offense.” –Bob Knight

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “The habit of watching a teammate's opponent when making a pass should be developed." –Clair Bee

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “The toughest thing to guard is a great shooter that screens.” -Roy Williams

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “Don’t do drills in practice that don’t represent a portion of your system.” -Gary Williams

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “The key to posting is do your work BEFORE you catch the ball.”

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “My emphasis is not on running an is on teaching my team offense. We want players who can play offense, not run an offense.” -Coach K

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “You have to win inside regardless of your post game.” -Jim Crews

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “Repetition is the key to success — doing what you have to do over and over and always doing it right.” -Pete Carrill

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “Find good things to break down a defense.” -Pete Gaudet

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “The best attitudes in the world won’t help win ball games if they’re not accompanied by a fundamental competence in the game.”
-Dr. Jack Ramsay

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: ”I am literally a fanatic of spacing.” –Tex Winter

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “Shot selection – I’ll stop practice and ask how many of you liked that shot?” -Roy Williams

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “Play the Man on Offense…Play the Ball on Defense” -Coach Knight

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: ““We don’t ask any kid to do something he is not capable of doing. Don’t put players in roles that they can’t be successful.” -Jim Crews

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “If you don’t have anything to complain about, you can always complain about screening.” -Jim Crews

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “Bad shooters are always open” -Pete Carril

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “It is an axiom of basketball that the better a player screens, the better the chance of a good close shot for the screener." –Pete Newell

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “The toughest thing to defense is movement and the toughest movement to defend is screening.” -Coach K

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: ““In all my years of coaching, I have never been successful using somebody else’s plays.” #Lombardi

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: "Offense is spacing...spacing is offense." –Chuck Daly

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “The best drills work on both offense and defense at the same time.” -Bob Knight

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: “Only take shots that have over a 50% chance of going in.” -Bob Knight

OFFENSIVE CONCEPTS: "Concentration leads to...Anticipation, which leads to...Recognition, which leads to...Execution, which leads to ...Completion." -Bob Knight

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


 “The best attitudes in the world won’t
help win ball games if they’re not
accompanied by a fundamental
competence in the game.”
-Dr. Jack Ramsay

Monday, October 6, 2014


Several years ago I ran a series of three blog posts on the philosophy, components. and development and thought it would be a good time to share all three as we starting installing our offensive schemes with our teams. We spoke of philosophy, development and strategy.  We got a lot of great feedback at that time so I thought we'd list all three parts below.

In the first part of our series we talked about why it is important to execute in your half-court offense. For teams to be consistently efficient offensively, they must be taught and coached to execute their half-court offense.  We could certainly debate the advantages and disadvantages of the various half-court offensive approaches from motion to continuity to quicker hitters and beyond but we will skip that instead just to stress the need to be good in the half-court. Click on the link below to read the entire post on our thoughts on half-court execution:


In the second part of our series we talked about the key components that go in to the making of a good half-court offense.  What are those components of good half-court offense and how can we give you some things to consider when your are putting together your offensive system of play?  Click the link below. 


In the third part of our series we asked what are some of the things that promote the best teaching of half-court offense. Though years of coaching and, more importantly, watching some of the best teach in their programs, I have noticed a few common denominators and share them in the link below:


Friday, October 3, 2014


There are some great books that I think can help coaches and teams, and as I've mentioned before, one of the best I've read in recent years is "How to Build & Sustain a Championship Culture" by Jeff Janssen.  One of the areas that Jeff gives great detail to is the standards you set for your team -- your non-negotiables.  Do you have a set that you have developed with your team?  Have they been discussed what they are and more importantly why they are significant to the success of your team?  How do you evaluate these standards?  How you holding each other accountable?

Here are just a few thoughts on standards from Jeff's book: 

“A major part of becoming a team, then, is the establishment and collective acceptance of your standards, based on your team’s makeup and centered on your unique goal. Once a group of individuals formulates and agrees to their standards, they become united, single-minded in purpose. Standards are not the things that we ought to do, they are the things that we already do- they compromise who we are.”
-Mike Krzyzewski

“There’s probably not enough attention paid to this issue. I learned a number of valuable lessons from Parcells and Belichick when they came to the Jets. Everyone was under evaluation. The doctors, trainers, equipment men, travel department, security, public relations and groundskeepers all were under the microscope. Too often, people who are in contact with the players have little or nothing at stake professionally breed a losing culture in the building.”
–Pat Kirwan, Former NFL Assistant Coach

“Ideally you want your standard of performance, your philosophy and methodology, to be so strong and solidly ingrained that in your absence the team performs as if you were present, on site. They’ve become so proficient, highly mobilized, and well prepared that in a sense you’re extraneous; everything you’ve preached and personified has been integrated and absorbed; roles have been established and people are able to function at a high level because they understand and believe in what you’ve taught them, that is, the most effective and productive way of doing things accompanied by the most productive attitude while doing them.”
–Bill Walsh


I have spent the past few nights re-reading "How Lucky You Can Be," the outstanding book written by Buster Olney on the life of Coach Don Meyer.  This weekend we will have our 3rd Annual Gary Blair Coaching Academy.  I designed the Academy in a format extremely similar to the legendary Academies put on by Coach Meyer.  In fact, one of my speaking topics this weekend will be: Coach Don Meyer: Lessons Learned and Leaving a Lasting Legacy.  Buster's book gives great insight into who Coach is and what he stands for -- it's a great read for all coaches of any sport on any level.

There has also been a lot of banter on twitter the past few days on the importance of process over results in the development of players and teams.  Here is a passage from the book and how Coach Meyer was also a process-oriented coach:

Meyer's strength as a coach, (Randy) Baruth thought, was in the daily intensity that he imparted to his team -- an intensity level that his players mostly learned to match -- as well as his ability to identify the smallest fundamental flaws that prevented players from executing.
Jerry Meyer thought his father loved the process of finding solutions to basketball problems more than the games; it was if Don Meyer were a musician who preferred the practice sessions in the garage to the concerts.
Don Meyer focused on the process and taught his players to think more about the process than the results -- but of course, he understood that a preponderance of correctly executed plays would almost inevitably lead to victories.  A rival coach thought this was a brilliant method through which Meyer took pressure off his players: He relieved them of the big-picture worries about potential wins and losses by relentlessly training them to think only about what they could do better in any given moment.
What Meyer did far less than other coaches was focus on major in-game adjustments of tactics.  If an opposing player got hot and was wrecking Meyer's team with his shooting, Meyer did not usually make  significant alterations in the defense by switching to a zone or to some sort of specialized coverage designed to slow down that player as many coaches would do.  This was partly due to Meyer's belief in his own system, Baruth thought.  A rival coach once stood next to Baruth and said about Meyer, "You know what I like about Don?  His attitude is: "This is my team, this is what I do.  Find a way to bet me."