This basketball coaching article was written by Chris Mudge, an assistant men’s basketball coach at Sam Houston State. He has been a part of the program since 2010, and before that, he coached at Midland College (NJCAA) for two years. At Midland, he helped the program get into the national top 10 each year.
This offseason, our biggest focus has been skill development. All of our basketball drills in our workouts have been designed to improve our players’ ability to dribble, pass, and score. From footwork to passing technique to finishing and everything in between have focused on our players’ ability to be more fundamentally sound when making plays for themselves and others. One weakness to this approach, when used by itself, is that basketball isn’t played in a drill setting. You don’t know ahead of time how the defense will react, who will be open, what foot you will finish on, etc.
Last season, our basketball team was not good at reading, changing defenses, and making plays based on what the defense gives them. This manifested itself in many ways. We were bad at reading closeouts, bad at attacking out of triple threat, bad at making the right pass when the help rotates, bad at reading ball screens (reading the show, the roll, where the help is coming from, etc.), and reading screens off the ball. To combat this, we have our players play a ton of 1 vs 1 during and after our skill workouts on their own. The only way we have found to improve a player’s ability to make plays is to make them do it over and over and over again.
Work on Game Scenarios
We have given them scenarios that mimic real basketball situations they need to get better at reading. You can change many things about the 1 vs 1 to change the scenario. You can change what position the ball handler is in: triple threat stationary, triple threat off of a cut (straight, flare, curl, etc.), off the bounce, off of a ball screen, out of transition, to name a few we focus on. You can also change areas of the floor (wing, top, elbow, corner). And you can change how the defense is rotating/positioned to stop the ball (closing out, help the helper then recover, on the side of the ball, etc.).
Have a Dribble Limit
We always give a dribble limit to our offensive players to help them become more efficient. It obviously isn’t game like to take 12 dribbles to get anywhere. In every scenario we create, we tell them to focus on reading, attacking the read, then discussing with their teammates. We encourage the defense to say, “I closed out with the baseline open, and you drove middle, you gotta read my closeout better.” Or “I went under the screen, and you curled into me instead of flaring.” We want both sides of the ball to increase the awareness of what the other is doing and how to counteract it.
Work Making Contested Shots
We didn’t foresee going into the 1 v 1 because it would help our players practice making difficult contested shots. In college basketball, most teams play relatively solid fundamental defense for most of the game. Rarely are you able to get wide open uncontested shots, especially late in the shot clock. We executed very well in the half-court last season, but even in the best cases of execution, you sometimes have to make a contested shot by a good player.
1 vs 1 basketball training puts players in positions where they don’t know what shot they will get initially and can’t predetermine what they will do. They may have to finish off the wrong foot or adjust their shooting pocket because of a closeout or shoot it higher off the glass because they got pushed outside the lane line. All these determinations and adjustments are difficult to teach other than in live-action situations.
We have already seen our players get more comfortable taking and making unorthodox shots and finishes at the basket that we had trouble with last season. This is not to say that we want them to shoot bad shots. If a coach is present, we make a bad shot a turnover for the offense. We want to take good shots even in 1 vs 1. It forces players to know how to get good shots, even if they are contested.
Defending the Basketball
The final thing that 1 vs 1 basketball training has done for us is that it has improved our players’ ability to keep the ball in front as an on-ball defender. In 1 vs 1, you have no help if you get beat, you have no safety net to slow the offense down to let you get back in front; it is all on you to make the offense stay out of the paint and shoot a difficult shot.
This is the hardest situation for a defender imaginable, and players begin to learn how to find a way to get the job done. They begin to realize how tight they can be on certain types of players and still keep in front of them. They begin to read who they are closing out to and adjust their closeout, they learn how to fight drives and get back in front to force a tough shot without fouling, etc.
We can teach technique as basketball coaches all we want (which we do heavily during the season), but there is a certain level of instinct, a certain level of learning how to get it done that is learned playing 1 vs 1 that can’t be mimicked in some basketball drills. By putting the defender in situations where they closeout, where they help then recover, where they get under a ball screen and have to stop a drive, etc., they figure out how to play defense 1 vs 1 with no help, which will make our team defense more sound when the season comes around.
Players love to play 1 vs 1, and they have really bought into what we are trying to get out of it. I hope it makes us better next season!