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Thread the Needle: Individual Fundamentals Fundamentals comprise the basic building blocks of any sport. Individual fundamentals are acquired through intense, repeated intelligent practice. The genetic ability to successfully master basketball fundamentals is out of a basketball player’s control. However, the player’s attitude, sincere passion and motivation are definitively within his or her control and largely determine an athlete’s success along with that of their respective team.

Being a selfless player within the TEAM concept is also critical to one’s personal as well as the team’s success. Selfless basketball play is playing smart to match your abilities to TEAM needs. Specifically, passing up a wide open shot when you are the TEAM winner playing HORSE isn’t selfless play. Your TEAM expects you to “spot up” and make that shot. Likewise, if you are only a fair 3 point shooter, the TEAM wouldn’t expect you to shoot a 30 footer in crunch time unless the shot clock is winding down with no better “looks” available. The flow of a basketball game is just as important for a TEAM as are fundamentals. The style of play is dictated to a large extent by your personnel. Launching a shot within 7 seconds after a change in possession–as the Loyola Marymount collegiate TEAM did repeatedly in the late 1980s–is an impossible goal for most teams. This team however, had the personnel to accomplish this with Gathers, Kimble, and a supporting cast of well conditioned transition–style players. Paul Westhead, the Loyola Marymount coach, perceived a major offensive advantage with his personnel employing this approach. He pushed his TEAM to basketball excellence offensively in many ways. All players, coaches, and fans love offensive hoops. A TEAM needs a potent offense to win games. Let’s get to the bare bones of individual fundamentals within offensive basketball: the shot.

Athletic competition affords participants an opportunity to display their skills in a contest against an opponent in any given sport. Basketball has innumerable physical and mental components at both the team and individual level. A player’s “game,” which we might define as a sense of the game’s dynamics at any given moment combined with mastery of its overall fundamentals, is critical to both him and the TEAM since most games are won or lost based on the basics. Through rigorous practice a player’s conscious volitional moves on the court become instinctive and to a degree, subconscious. Practicing game situations through thoughtful intelligent repetition develops confidence in one’s ability to perform the skills needed for success. In many situations the more athletic basketball team doesn’t win the game. Rather, consistent basketball success is more often achieved when practice and mastery of the fundamentals coalesce. Anticipation, conditioning, mental preparedness, nutrition, sleep, coaching and TEAM chemistry all come together on game night.

SHOOTING A basketball shot must be an extension of your mind requiring a subconscious memory move by repeated practice. A player cannot think for more than an instant what he’s attempting. The shot is instinctive from multiple highly similar game and practice situations. This isn’t dissimilar from a concert pianist relying on memory and instincts in a stressful concert situation. Shooting is essentially a natural motion with a simple instinctive thought of concentrated relaxation and flowing stroke motion. The shot is created by a crease in the defense (baseline cut, coming off a screen, great ball movement versus a zone finding a forecourt or post opening/ crease). A basketball shot requires confidence, commitment, and trust in your practiced ability. Simply what you have done in TEAM and individual practice needs to be repeated at the rim/glass in game situations. The shot is always a brief setup 1

followed by a smooth flowing movement. The ball must roll off the fingertips waving at the basket. The index finger is generally the last digit to touch and gently release the ball. The proper basketball shot has a steady balancing non dominant hand. The dominant hand cups the ball with fingertips on setup with the shooting hand. The shooting hand is square to the basket. The elbow is square, relaxed, and drawn in as comfortable as possible towards the chest. The shot launch flow must be smooth with proper arch near 45 degrees and have reverse spin. The rest is up to God whether it is air, rims out, banks in or swishes. God however likes high percentages from enormous amounts of repeated fundamental shooting practice.

the controlling factor because there are thousands of nerve endings in the palmer side of the hand extending into the distal fingertips. Many small muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones underneath the skin synergistically work together to provide a harmonious fluid motion within a basketball stroke. Any interruption in shooting flow and basics generally leads to a miss. Thus shooters typically mentally go through basic fundamentals in warm-ups and stress the bottom line basics when in a shooting slump (common). A shot in a competitive basketball game isn’t like a shoot around session in solo or TEAM practice. Within a real game there are multiple distractions, defenses to exploit, foul situations, fatigue, and playing within the context of your TEAM’S style of play decided by the coach. There are very few situations where one obtains the perfect “look” at the basket to put the ball through the net. The perfect look gives one time and the sense to gather in his mind the proper fundamentals or basics to shoot the ball and thereby score. In essence shooting is a statistical event. More attempts equals more points generally. A TEAM however, doesn’t count attempts but only made shots. It is well said that you are quite near your practice mean when playing. Thus if you shoot 50% in all out practice scrimmages, you will statistically shoot 50% in game situations—all things being equal. An opponent placing a bloodhound defender upon you or within your zone may cause your percentage to trickle to 25% shooting with fewer attempts. Within a difficult defense a true scorer will need to wear the defender down moving without the ball, fast break, get your teammates involved in every way, play great defense, and block out/rebound. Your numbers may go from 20:4:5 to 12:9:8 (points/ rebounds/assists). Despite not scoring as much, you need to contribute strongly to your TEAM’S overall effort. Your shot must be “spot on” when you get the opportunity in a closely defended game.

The shooter must always have his body square to the basket. Classical square shooter’s stance is slightly staggered feet shoulder width apart. “Square to the basket” however is a relative term, and thus only a guide to improve shooting percentage. Square to an experienced shooter may be a fade away with only the final ball movement leaving his fingertips squarely with reverse spin aiming directly over the front rim. This seemingly off balance shot to a shooter in rhythm, in a zone, or “feeling it” may be a much better shot than a wide open six foot jumper in a bricklayer’s hands. A young player preparing to shoot is properly instructed to cup the ball firmly yet relaxed with his dominant hand and five fingers. The propelling hand is underneath the ball. This is highly similar to holding a tennis racquet or golf club. Fingertips are 2

The basketball shot requires the shooter to be open to complete the attempt. An open shot may mean well guarded with a move you know works, a height or speed advantage, or the ability to draw a foul. Thus if one has 6 inches on his opponent, he may not need a fake and can directly launch a statistically high percentage shot attempt. In all game situations where one is open or has the advantage (half step), the shot must have reasonably specific positive successful basics to go through the net. All hoop fundamentals require repeated positive meaningful practice–especially shooting. Players can never practice too much shooting. Once a shot has been decided upon by the shooter, everything else in his body and mind needs to 100% focus on making that shot attempt. Critical in every sport and especially basketball shooting is the ability to instinctively complete your shooting motion without thought and focus with your eyes on the target. The more time (even milliseconds) obtained from eye focus leads to exponentially higher shooting percentages. The target for shooting a basketball is a precise point on the front rim or backboard.

Shooting a basketball against a good defense is akin to hitting a curve ball in baseball or passing to the off shoulder along the sideline in football (not easy). Shooting practice with substantial defensive interference is required. The side non-shooting (or guide) hand assists in holding the ball steady and comfortably with balance. The basketball requires complete control prior to a shooting stroke. The guide nonshooting hand is rarely discussed in shooting; however the author feels it’s far more important than general understood. The shot pocket, or preparation to shoot, all happens within a second including the decision to shoot, stance, grip, gathering period and initiation of the shooting stroke. This is why it requires so much practice to score in a game with so many other factors concurrently at play, including fatigue, tight defense, emotions, confidence and crowd noise.

the non-dominant hand is critical to steady the ball for proper flowing set up, delivery, launch, and shot release. The instinctive shot generated by the shooter’s mind is undoubtedly taught by excellent coaches to be a definitive balanced square up to the basket by the body in all ways from the toes to the elevated shooting waving fingertips upon release. The shooting arm is highly fluid and not rushed in its forward motion. The stance is on the balls of the feet which are at shoulder’s width. The knees are bent and in the typical triple threat position (shoot, dribble or pass). The dominant shot propelling arm has the elbow in (backwards L), square to the shooter’s body and basket and is relaxed. The cocked wrist flows and waves with the fingers at the basket upon release–whether a free throw, jumper, set shot, hook, lay in or fade away. The non-dominant hand releases off the ball as the final aim and shot are completed: no different than a rocket booster falling away in space as it advances a spacecraft into orbit. Many theories of fundamental shooting have been written and coached. None of these shooting theories leave out the flow or proper sequence necessary to shoot a basketball. Most of the theories and practical aspects of shooting vary minimally. The delivery of the basketball shooting stroke is essentially an uncoiling of the energy within the legs and trunk of the body. Most coaches watch and teach the final stroke; however, not unlike any athletic activity, the final launching of the basketball begins with the feet through the legs and trunk which imparts the exact amount of energy required to deliver and swish a shot instinctively. Once initiated the basketball stroke never descends. It begins as high as comfortably possible and finishes even higher. The forces that allow a more precise shot with consistent smooth flow require the shot to be released just prior to attaining the maximum height of your jump. Excepting layups, floaters, jump shots, etc., a shooter should return to earth where he started his shot attempt.

The side hand in shooting off the dribble, layups, hooks, and catch and shoot is steadying the ball no differently than the non-shooting guide hand in a rifle match, holding a tennis racquet or golf club. It is critical to stop any spin, momentum, or movement of the basketball prior to a shot attempt. The shooter must absolutely control the basketball 100% with both hands to initiate a successful shot attempt. Both hands play a major essential role in netting a shot attempt. Maybe the most important point of this entire chapter is that a player under pressure shooting a lay in, free throw, or jumper has to have a “still” ball under his control. The ball necessarily isn’t ready for a shot after you receive a pass, loose ball or rebound. There is considerable momentum and forces from a different direction. Dribbling is a much different motion than the potential upcoming shot, and therefore the ball must be steadied and under immediate control of the shooter coming off the dribble attempting a jump shot. The basketball carries momentum just prior to the “gathering” period of a shot attempt. The ball having ever so slight of movement or momentum from another direction may cause a miss. Thus 3

The ball must smoothly roll off the fingertips squarely towards the hoop or back board. The shooting dominant hand’s thumb is 45 degrees lateral to the square hand direction of the other 4 fingers. The actual shot and final aim and release require looking at the rim or back board and not at the ball. The final release requires the elbow to have minimal lateral flare while the forearm fluidly extends through the shot attempt. Finishing the proper basketball shot is instinctive with flow through the cocked and subsequently released wrist. The finishing shooting motion flows through the dominant hand and fingertips, waving at the rim/backboard finishing as high as comfortably possible. The final just released photo of a picture perfect shot is square bodily alignment in tandem with the arm, elbow, wrist and waving hand. Reverse spin allows a shot to sit on the rim and possibly fall through thanks to gravity. If the ball hits the front rim with reverse spin it carries

forward by momentum and may positively stay on the rim and ultimately drop. These are commonly known as shooter’s shots. If the back rim is hit with reverse spin, the ball will fall directly into the net (Michael Jordan’s patented jumper). A brick thrown like a baseball will only carom off the board or rim. Soft touch means a gently arched shot which falls just over the front rim and nets in while possibly touching the back iron. Likewise if the backboard is used, the ball must “touch” the backboard with reverse spin to have the highest percentage chance of netting. Reverse spin stops the forward momentum of a basketball shot, thus allowing a much higher percentage of rim and bank board shots to fall. Based on simple physics, a flat shooting arc decreases the shooting percentage considerably. No great shooter becomes a great shooter without practice. Larry Bird practiced endlessly for hours by himself in a Terre Haute private gym. Jordan lived around the corner from my cousins and the ball bouncing on the driveway could be heard in the early AM as well as late at night. Shooters are not born. Basketball marksmen become great shooters only through the repeated hours of practice shooting requires. Magic Johnson and Julius Erving were fabulous high school and college basketball players but not great shooters when they entered the NBA. I doubt if anyone practiced on their own as much as these players and they left the league being very good shooters. Great shooters have practiced thousands of repetitions from every angle and length. An off balance shot to a good shooter is square to a sharp shooter because of the practice and mind /body adjustment he or she instinctively completes. A shooter wants the ball and will be ready to attack off a screen, dribble, defensive mishap or coming off a V cut. Shooters make split second decisions after receiving the ball following immense effort to get open within a man or zone defense. Split second instinctive shooting decisions within any defensive crease are required for successful basketball. Basketball requires skilled offense. Competitive offense requires great high percentage shooting. And high percentage shooting requires endless passion for the game with the guts to trust your shot throughout a competitive game and at crunch time (end of shot clock or timed period). A shot loaded with stressful baggage is much less likely to fall than a player playing in rhythm without a care that he or she has missed the last few attempts. This is difficult to coach, but players and coaches have to understand that everyone must play within themselves. Playing within themselves means intelligent shooting decisions. Open looks will come with offensive work and defensive miscues (usually from fatigue). Ultimately this means shooters must trust their shots in the first quarter similar to the last 30 seconds of the game. Shooters therefore must continue to trust their shot despite misses. The easiest method of ending a slump or a few misses is to go directly back to fundamentals and crave the ball. Reestablishing your shooting rhythm is critical; and nothing short of shooting will break the ice and return your proper form.

The variations in shooting a set shot, layup, hook, reverse lay in, tip, runner, leaner, dunk, free throw (short set shot), jump shot or bank shot all have in common the mechanics previously described. Game situations dictate the shot required. Again what is “open” to one shooter varies. Many players can pull off shots repeatedly, even with the defense in their face, while others require a complete uncontested layup or open look. Likewise, the ability of a player to come off screens and shoot, shoot off the dribble, or catch and shoot is player dependent. The comfort zone of a shooter extends with solitary and TEAM practice. Practice with hundreds of shot repetitions with varying situations is required—so called “grooving” your shot. Practice builds confidence in any endeavor. Shooting is no different than riding a bull, passing and scoring in lacrosse, obtaining the perfect set in volleyball or any athletic activity. The repeated, intelligent, focused practice of shooting leads to a winning basketball offense, a high percentage of shots traveling through the nets and an exponential surge of energy to repeat the shot rather than shy away at the next opportunity. Great shooters are known to shoot up to 800 shots a day. The exact number of practice shots may not matter. Rather, it is the time invested leading to repeated positive feedback in completing a high percentage of shots. Practice shooting as little as five minutes before or after school is valuable because it enhances rhythm, leads to the conscious becoming subconscious (instinct) and builds critically needed confidence. A great shooter makes shots at times even while thinking of other matters because the mechanics of shooting success have been engrained within his or her mind and body. The shooting mechanics have been so implanted mentally that great shooters mechanically block everything else from their 4

mind during shot attempts and concentrate just on making the shot at present–nothing else.

scious to the relaxed unconscious instinctive mechanics of the shooter.

Countless drills to enhance shooting success have been developed. Game type situations within the drills allow better preparation for athletic competition. Penetration, floaters, jump step, catch and shoot, spot up shooting, defensive pressure, dribble drives, curl moves with short shots, pivoting and shooting, off the dribble and coming off screen shots, jab steps and fakes followed by drive or jump shots, conventional and reverse layups, standard jump and set shots and speed shooting drills all enhance a player’s shooting acumen. TEAMS and players individually need to perform multiple drills while fatigued thereby simulating competitive game situations.

Common sense and fundamental offensive concepts within basketball require repeated use of the triple threat position. Offensively you are on the court to score. If a defender is giving you space and not respecting your offensive abilities, your TEAM should recognize this and get you the ball for the shot. Inner confidence to continue to shoot with or without misses is a must. The defender’s specific physical and mental state when you have the ball requires instinctive moves. As note earlier, if there is space, stroke the shot if within range. However if you are closely guarded but still need to shoot, perform a jab step and then pull up for a jumper. A complete fake requires close similarity to your usual shot. If you can effectively perform this maneuver then proceed. Closely guarded players in the triple threat position with the ball need to pass if there is a TEAM advantage; shoot as described above or drive with a dribble to the hoop. The forward foot of the defender is the side your drive should preferentially take depending on other defenders, etc. If your opponent cannot stop your move (shot, drive, pass or dribble), bleed this move until the opponent stops you by changing defenses or defenders.

Free throw shooting is both an art and science. There are multiple theories regarding what is the best method. A few true fundamentals apply. Free throw practice when you are fatigued makes much more sense since it mimics game type situations. Allowing yourself to relax and dribble the ball a few times places the free throw shooter in a positive frame of mind. High percentage free throw shooters (>90%) essentially focus well and pull this shot off subconsciously. A “gathering” period is required for the proper focus prior to the shot attempt. Being square to the rim in a balanced triple threat position with both body and arms/hands relaxed is essential. Allowing the shot to flow similarly to the standard shooting mechanics described previously inherently leads to high free throw percentages. Raising the arms with the ball, cocking the wrist, and with the non-flying dominant shooting elbow relaxed and fluid, the shooter may gently roll and release the basketball with reverse spin off the fingertips. The proper aim is just over the front of the rim. A soft free throw shot with reverse spin has a substantially higher percent chance statistically of falling through the net-not dissimilar to other shots discussed. The bottom line of the basketball free throw isn’t dissimilar to fore court shooting. Successful free throw shooting requires fundamental mechanics taught by well schooled coaches, incessant TEAM and personal practice, and the development of complete trust of your shot. A free throw is no different than a 3 foot putt in golf, a bunt in baseball or a center snap in football: repeated successful proper fundamental mechanics at the free throw line lead to a high percentage of successful shots. The first quarter soft free throw shot that rolls in with a shooter’s touch may be the point that essentially won the game. A pure shooter isn’t bothered if he or she misses the first three free throw attempts because he or she may convert by confidence and fundamentals the next 15 line shots. Free throw shooting is critical and fundamental to successful basketball from pickup games to the Olympics. Frequently game critics and coaches observe they would have won if they would have dropped their free throws when presented the opportunity. High percentages of made free throws come only from focused effort and the repeated practice of making a free throw flow from the con5

Finally I distinctly remember a high school playoff game in the first round when the highly non-favored TEAM had a superb shooter who had just become streaky going into overtime against a very highly ranked TEAM. The underdog TEAM set up a play in their half court for the shooter with a good opportunity to win the game, trailing by one with 10 seconds left on the OT clock. After inbounding the the ball

came back to the sharp shooter. Though triple teamed he launched a miserable shot attempt with 6 arms in his face. His teammates in the weak side forecourt and just off the low block couldn’t have been more wide open. The play was either a skip pass to the weak side immediately (which was there), or a bounce pass to the key and then to the weak side or low block. A 4-on-2 offensive “numbers” situation was present and the higher ranked TEAM on defense was obviously not allowing this sharp shooter to beat them. Sadly, the weaker TEAM’s best player failed to pass the basketball to the open man, especially since the better scoring opportunity was to the weak side. Thus offense isn’t just about being a great shooter; rather it’s about TEAM chemistry, intelligently taking what the defense allows your offense and executing plays/shots within a TEAM context. TEAMS win games–shooters do not.

Outlet passes well coached require the retriever to come to the ball, be aware of defensive pressure and take what the defense gives you. If your TEAM is quick and has numbers heading north, exploit the situation. Likewise, if your TEAM isn’t a break TEAM and wins by controlling pace, then get the ball to the offensive court quickly and set up your offense. However if the defense is confused and creases or open men are immediately apparent, then exploit the offensive advantage immediately. Waiting until the defense sets causes your offensive advantage to slip away. Oregon’s college football team wins games offensively by exploiting the defense: snapping the ball while defensive subs are entering the game. This induces confusion and disrupts the defensive set. An outlet pass is still the standard. TEAMS should use it to gain an offensive advantage.

PASSING Passing is the ultimate offensive feat of basketball. A player is credited with an assist when a pass leads to a scored goal. Assists come from great passes. Great passing begins with an understanding of how very critical passing is to superb offensive ball movement. “Thread the needle” passing is needed following an opponent’s score, loose ball, rebound, steal, jump possession or out of bounds play. Whether a fast break or a set play is planned, an outlet pass is required 99% of the time following a changed possession. I cringe watching hoops at any level when an outlet pass doesn’t occur following a change of possession (unless the uncommon clear solo break occurs). Hoops is the ultimate TEAM sport requiring involvement of all five players on the court. All five players on the court must work well together and score as a TEAM. Setting up the offense with an outlet pass to obtain TEAM involvement isn’t an extinct fundamental basketball play. Outlet passes are rarely the wrong play. Apparently in the present “me” generation, the outlet pass is perceived as old school. The outlet pass may not be well stressed; is too simple–too fundamental–or just taken for granted. Usually with an outlet pass there is no immediate turnover. The retrieving player accepting the pass generally instinctively comes to the ball relaxed and ready to advance the ball up the court at the necessary speed. The retriever of the outlet pass makes an instinctive decision to break, delay break, or set up the offensive set. In a close game where one turnover may decide the outcome, an outlet pass serves to nearly guarantee an offensive possession by a break or established offensive set. The outlet pass is nearly universally effective because the retriever of the pass generally doesn’t have a defense draped around him. The outlet pass builds team unity; allows players to see the court better with statistically less defensive pressure; and moves the ball quicker by Naismith passing instead of dribbling. Any coach that repeatedly allows a player to travel “coast to coast” through New York City traffic after a rebound should turn his/her locker key in.

Passing can be two hands from the chest, a bounce, overhead, behind the back, baseball style, wrap-around, dribble pass, hook pass or even backwards. All passes should be with two hands for security with thumbs pointing down upon finish. One handed shoves are a quick, effective pass when there’s little time for the passer to get both hands on the ball. Backspin on conventional passes provides an easier bounce and subsequent catch. Stepping into the pass assures more accuracy and timeliness. A baseball-style pass achieves what Naismith desired: moving the ball quickly up court preparing to score. This long distance pass is accomplished without much spin by essentially passing the ball from the ear, akin to a quarterback’s football pass. Passing is the ultimate in Naismith’s game because the defense cannot react as quickly to a pass as to a dribble, rebound or shot. Invariably when a player passes the ball, his doing so exceeds in speed the ball movement required for a successful offense as compared to moving 6

to end this misguided offensive tactic is running laps after or during practice. If this doesn’t break the bad habit, hard pine most certainly will.

the ball by dribbling. When a dribbler makes an offensive move the entire defense can shift with him or her. Coaches that allow players to endlessly dribble generally lose games. Passing out front requires the ball handler to get to the entry line (a line extending from the basket to the corner of the free throw line with continued extension to the 3 point line and onto the key/half court). This assures the least chance of a steal by the defense. Obviously a skip pass across court requires a wide open sagging defense and is very effective against tight zones and man-to-man defensive pressure if the defender is double teaming, over playing the help line (mid court where defensive players shift with the ball) or allowing substantial space on the weak side. The basketball pass may be the most athletic and simple, yet most under appreciated technique in sports. Players that have a real feel for hoops get the ball to the open player when he is open, not waiting for the defense to recover. Coaching and playing basketball for years have led me to believe that most basketball coaches are OK with missing a pass if there is no turnover. I strongly disagree because the missed pass is a missed opportunity. Generally a player who misses a pass (to an open teammate) will find a way to force a pass to someone who is covered, leading to a turnover. Not passing to an open teammate is also poor fundamentals even if the passer feels the other player isn’t a good shooter. We all have variable skill levels and the open pass doesn’t necessarily lead to a shot from that player. Moving the ball with proper offensive spacing is the key. An honest, trusting relationship among teammates is vital to success. Completing open passes to teammates will result in many scoring and assist opportunities in return within a TEAM concept. The retriever of the pass must be open and expect to receive the pass. A fundamental TEAM offensive flaw occurs if the ball handler passes the ball to a teammate who is not open or expecting the ball. These offensive flow mishaps are reduced through TEAM chemistry enhanced by practice. The chemistry in ball movement is not an ethereal or abstract concept. Ball movement by passing as the mainstay requires hard unselfish TEAM work. TEAM chemistry, as it relates to offensive ball movement, comes directly from game and practice experience. No-look passes are actually subconscious looks with TEAM chemistry and court vision admixed. Successful crisp passing among teammates is at the very root of a successful offense leading to layups or open looks at the hoop. Players need to “thread the needle” with efficient crisp passing, always thinking of attacking the rim. A player breaking open towards the top of the key with a V cut without a pass being given disrupts the offensive scheme. Again I cringe at the thought of an offensive player who stares at a V cut open player who has just executed a great move to be open and doesn’t receive a pass as he or she hits the top of the cut. Coaches and players alike need to instruct teammates who waffle on open passes or pass late. Coaches who look the other way when it comes to poor TEAM passing usually have losing records. An easy way

The retriever of the pass must get open to successfully complete the pass. Simple straight, V, or Z cuts with the pass moving to an open area of retrieval (top of the cut) must be on time. A pass cannot be late and must hit the teammate on time and in rhythm. If the pass retriever has ended his cut move and the pass then arrives, the pass is considerably late. Statistically a late pass allows a defensive steal and a reasonably certain offensive break for the opponent. Good coaching requires instruction that a player holding possession within an offensive set–or break–get the ball on time to the open man. If he or she cannot pass on time, then religious, hard core discipline by the coach is needed. One of the very best coaches I knew instructed his players in practice that TEAM laps doubled each time a break pass was missed or ignored. “Getting rid of the ball” is a common expression by coaches who instruct players to pass the ball to an offensive player who has a greater offensive advantage to score (i.e. fast break). Coaches who fail to stop practice for proper instruction and discipline regarding poor passing lead to the ”me” concept within sports instead of emphasizing needed TEAM play. It takes many players, coaches and parents a long time (if ever) to understand that successful basketball is a selfless sport. Passing the basketball is required for unselfish winning play. Individual basketball statistics mean little compared to winning or losing. Teams must do what it takes to win. If a team passes poorly, they generally don’t win.


Drills to accomplish successful passing are highly effective in developing the confidence and needed chemistry on all basketball teams. No-dribble 3 or 5 man weaves leading to a layup or jumper is a superb drill to enhance passing efficiency. Transition (fast or delayed break) drills, alley oop, no look, V cut, pivoting moves, defensive pressure, two ball, back door passes, penetration with kicks, behind the back, and perim-

eter and post dribbling passing drills enhance the confidence and proficiency of ball handlers. Efficient passing in competition emanates from repeated practice situations of passing against strong defensive pressure. A defense fatigues and is frustrated with excellent ball movement by Naismith styled passing. Higher open looks with better percentage shots accrue from TEAM ball movement through efficient offensive passing. The most fundamental offensive weapon at any level is the simple well executed pass. If players are looking at their stat sheets instead of perfecting passing skills, you have a losing TEAM. Easily the most important stat offensively is the assist. Setting up teammates with open looks/layups/tactical advantages is the mark of an excellent TEAM basketball player. An assist is a pass that leads to points for the TEAM. Great hoop players relentlessly get points for their TEAM through assists. A balance amongst all the basketball skills is required for one’s best game within the concept of TEAM play. Watching your teammate come off a screen with an open lay in without the ball isn’t winning hoops. Passing leading to assists or setting up an eventual assist is the golden aspect of winning basketball. Instruction in learning how to “thread the needle” properly repeatedly is a TEAM and individual requirement for winning basketball.

manner (backhand, shove, tip, fist, or even an illegal kick) to avoid easy baskets by the opposition. Since most teams shoot less than 50%, greater than half of all shots taken by either TEAM will have a rebound. The basketball skill, knowledge, determination and instincts of a player’s game will determine his or her rebounding stats. Much of the time in close games it is not the shot that wins the game. It is the TEAM rebound which secures the win. Let’s get to the very bottom of rebounding skills.

Finally it is said that superb basketball passing is a God given skill. I differ to some degree on this point because I feel players at a young age are poorly instructed and fail to develop court vision with the skills to anticipate their teammates moves leading to assists. Coaching players for years has led me to come to the conclusion that offensive confidence is eroded when players consider it a success to get the ball to the TEAM’S scorer no matter what the defense. Offensive basketball requires intense concentration, subconscious moves and the ability to anticipate and obtain creases within stingy defenses. All five players on the court are involved and the pass and score may come from an excellent outlet pass, double screen, or lazy/weak defender creating the crease needed for a successful open look at the basket.

Fundamentally a rebounding defensive player must be square to the basket, block his opponent out forcefully, time his jump and grab and squeeze the ball. After securing the rebound, the rebounder directs an outlet pass efficiently. Here a pivot without moving one foot may be required. If the wings are covered, the center may not be. Pass the ball where your teammate anticipates the ball arriving in stride. If you don’t get the defensive rebound and your opponent does, get two hands straight up in the air to provide shot interference because the opponent from short range will most probably attempt to score or obtain a foul. The fundamental keys to defensive rebounding is to be aggressive and disallow offensive players to slip around you for better rebounding position. The defender can gently feel with his body and hands down low where their player is on the court. Since today’s basketball has long rebounds from three point land, the defensive player must block out his man wherever he is on the court without exception. Blocking out requires a firm shoulderwidth, square athletic position leaning forward with your buttocks directly into the offensive player you are guarding. Your arms and hands are liberally outstretched, making it very difficult for an opponent to front you without fouling. Some expected bodily contact is allowed in any league. Failure to block out leads to your man slipping around the defender and

REBOUNDING Rebounding is the most underrated of all fundamental skills. Offensive and defensive boards win games because rebounds stop opponents on defense (as well as initiate breaks) and create endless opportunities to score on offense. A player must have an eye for the ball and do what he can legally do to grasp a missed shot attempt. His play must be within the confines of how the game is being called. Avoiding lane violations on offense (or defense within the NBA) is vital. Statistically short shots have short rebounds, and 3 pointers have long rebounds. If a player cannot catch a ball he may tip it away from the basket to a teammate. Tipping a loose ball on defense towards the basket may cause a layup for the opposition. If a defensive rebounder cannot grasp or “squeeze” the ball, the player should get the ball away from the hoop in any 8

possible without flying fouling elbows is a huge key. Opposing players struggle to get around you on both ends of the floor with great rebounding position and technique on your part. This leads to frustration and exponential success under the boards. One possession decided by a rebound may be the actual reason for the win.

obtaining better rebounding position for a statistically high scoring opportunity. Anticipating the jump and securing the board is critical. But the jump is worthless if proper defensive rebounding position isn’t obtained. Finally, securing the ball with a squeeze is required after all rebounds. The outlet pass must occur instantly. A pivot and occasionally a dribble may be required to be able to complete an effective outlet pass. Many attackers seeking to strip the ball away will come from all directions. Depending on the situation the rebounded ball will gather immense attention. Thus a squeeze, pivot and outlet pass are your immediate goals without exception after securing a defensive rebound.

Finally the author feels that rebounding is so critical to the game that board drills should be the start and end of every practice. TEAMS cannot control unusually hot shooters but they can control the rebounds. McHale tips and bangs, block out and get the ball drills, clasping the ball with two hands underneath the chin followed by a pivot and use of football blocking dummies on both ends of the court allow players to develop the skill, knowledge, determination and instincts required for great rebounding. Remember that other than an overt over the back foul, basketball officials are quite liberal in allowing contact underneath the basket.

On offense with a defender usually between you and the basket, one must slide or swim around the defender to where you anticipate a missed shot is heading. This is accomplished by rolling around your opponent, taking a different course towards the hoop, or staying within your space if you are a good jumper and your defender is too close to the basket. Offensively, if one cannot secure a missed shot, tip it to an open teammate or softly back into the cylinder hoping for a gentle bounce into the goal. Most leagues allow contact with the body but minimal arm contact while rebounding. If you have an advantage of size, position or speed, use it aggressively and wisely with your body to effect a higher percentage of rebounds on offense or defense. All players need to rebound without exception. The best rebounding teams generally win because they allow only one shot by the opponent and obtain multiple offensive attempts from boards by their own TEAM. Height plays some role in rebounding; however fundamental skills in blocking out your opposing player when the opportunity is present may win the game based on that very one possession. Many undersized teams in all leagues have won championships due to rebounding skills. Coaches never forget which of his players actually block out. I have witnessed countless (not well coached) teams which repeatedly do not block out on defense as a shot goes up–or make any offensive rebounding move to obtain a rebounding advantage. Rebounding is hard work and a war of attrition. It is also easily the most fundamental skill to not become instinctive for most players. It is coaching along with knowledge, determination and developed skill and instincts that enables TEAM rebounding to win games. The knowledge of where shots fall off the rim or backboard is speculation to some degree. Studies have shown however, that frontal shots come off the rim in front of the basket nearly half of the time. Shots from the sides have a much higher percentage of falling off either side of the rim. Thus positioning yourself for a front court rebound from a side shot decreases your percentages of spearing that rebound. Long shots have longer rebounds while shorter shots stay closer to the bucket. Without an over the back foul, the rebounder can position himself much better by making meaningful moves to obtain a higher percentage of boards. Boxing in or out and going after the ball is the key. Making yourself as wide as

DRIBBLING Dribbling a basketball is the most important fundamental required in overall ball handling skills. A dribble advances the ball with a controlled repeated bounce by one hand. If the ball is possessed by dribble interruption and then a dribble sequence beginning again, a double dribble violation occurs. If the ball is cradled at any moment during the dribble hand touching phase, then palming the ball or modernly a carry violation occurs. Dribbling a basketball requires immense practice- such that essentially one needs to in essence dribble a basketball to and from school to become competitively proficient at a young age. Fundamentally it is vitally important to utilize both hands equally while dribbling. The dribbling player must not view the ball to enhance court vision. Various drills have been established through the years to perfect offensive skills through dribbling including: blindfolded player dribbling, various forms of keep away through traffic of a ring or line of defensive players attempting steals, dribbling two balls at once, behind the back and through the leg drills, spin dribbling drills, drop and jab steps, speed, and non dominant hand dribbling in a full practice setting. Other dribbling drills include spider drills, figure of eight, chair drills, drop and catch, and an array of Maravich ball handling/dribbling drills. Obviously it is well established in fundamental basketball that passes accomplish far more than a dribble because a pass accomplishes ball movement much quicker and avoids dribbling violations. The dribble is however immensely important offensively. A TEAM will not win without good ball handlers. Dribbling is at the very heart of fundamental ball handling skills. Dribbling shouldn’t be overused however. The goal of the dribble is to advance the basketball towards the basket (North-South) when a pass or shot isn’t available. Aggressive, purposeful, and instinctive dribbling leads to open looks for yourself and other teammates, layups, and closer higher percentage TEAM shots. 9

Once the dribble has stopped, only one foot can move while the other serves as a pivot. Moving both feet off the ground without dribbling is a travel violation. The two hand dribble began in 1906. It was replaced in 1920 in most leagues by the one hand dribble. Players then and now dribble from feel, and every basketball has a slightly different feel. In 1916 the shot off a dribble began. Nothing has changed this maneuver through the years because great basketball players are able to find creases through dribbling and create shots just as they did nearly 100 years prior. Dribbling off a screen without a turnover is a must for competitive basketball. This allows a brief offensive advantage leading to a shot off the dribble, assist, pick and roll play or possibly a free lane to the hoop. The dribble must be forceful for optimum control and more contact time with the hand. The head always remains elevated unless ball control is compromised. Fingertip control is critical since the rules of basketball prohibit palming or carrying the ball. Fingertip control allows the body’s plentiful nerve endings to assist with optimum control of the dribble. Excellent dribblers used wisely in competitive situations lead to winning hoops.

performance by Curly Neal is not within the confines of modern TEAM basketball. Advanced dribbling skills such as behind the back, through the legs and spin moves with the ball however, can accomplish meaningful offensive advantages. Repeated practice of dribbling skills individually and within TEAM practices is a priority for successful competitive basketball. A major example of dribbling to excess is attempting to dribble through a defensive zone press. Statistically speaking, passing the ball with short crisp passes increases the ability of a TEAM to create an offensive advantage no matter the defensive set. Very good competitive basketball TEAMS have great dribblers invariably. The essence of the dribble is to use it effectively, wisely, instinctively and only when needed.

LOW POST PLAY One of the keys to a complete basketball TEAM is to effectively train and perfect all players on low post play. Fundamentally players on the low block require all basketball skills with significant emphasis offensively on footwork including pivots, sweeps and drop steps. Shots with special emphasis include lay ups, jump hooks, conventional hooks, turn arounds, face up jumpers, catch and shoot and up and under opportunities. Counter moves require finesse and footwork training to essentially counter an opponent who is tightly guarding you and thwarting your move to the bucket. Positioning is critical. Optimal offensive positioning is usually at the first mark from the basket horizontally up the foul lane. One should receive passes at the post where they are least well guarded. This allows immediate opportunity for quick scores using any of the moves mentioned previously. If the defender is fronting you, then maneuver yourself to receive a pass further away from the basket, or block in and accept a pass behind the defender for an easy score. Height isn’t determinative of low post success. Many of the best post up offensive players are guards that have been well schooled in the art of low post hoops. Drills to perfect offensive skills on the low block include varying chair drills, pivot drills, drop step and shooting/rebounding drills discussed previously. Finally, after accepting the ball on the low post offensively, think of the other four players. Mix your moves up to keep the entire defense confused. Always remember if tightly guarded or double teamed that a kick out 3 may be your best option. Defensively on the low post one must always be mindful of playing between the basket and the offensive man. All the skills discussed under individual defense apply (see successive paragraphs). Occasionally a low post defender will front the low post offensive man he is guarding. Use of the hands to sustain a feel for the defender is a must (without hand checking). Some contact is allowed on the post. It is critical to keep a positive attitude and stiffen in a guarding defensive mode when the ball is down low. Obviously denial of your opponent the ball and position is crucial. Aggressiveness, passion, knowledge, and purpose are all needed. Anything less will

The offensive dribble however, is both a weapon and a drawback. This concept applies to fundamental team skills with individual players displaying court vision instinctively. Therefore teams and individuals must use the dribble effectively within the context of their offensive breaks and sets. Showboating dribbling such as a Harlem Globetrotter 10

allow a good low post offender the ability to score and cause you to foul out of the game. Your arms and hands are crucial in providing interference to the offensive player holding possession. Pressure on the offensive player’s back and hips is needed. Bending of your knees and being always ready to move quickly (forward and laterally) in response to the offensive player’s low post move is required. The key is to hold your ground, staying out of the defensive contact circle (allowing fouls on defenders for low contact). Keeping your feet moving is work but this assures your readiness to respond to the ball and offensive players on the low post. Maintaining yourself out of foul trouble is also critical, and begins with the center jump at the start of the game. Blocking out and rebounding is crucial in close games. An easy basket for the offense on the low post from a failed box out may decide the game. Down low it is attitude that wins games.

opportunity or a way to reset the offense. One can also burn clock if needed by the use of a ball screen or conventional screen. Double screens simultaneously within offensive sets create opportunities at and away from the ball. Plays designed to open up tight defensive pressure are enhanced by fundamental screens. Sequential screens at and away from the ball also are confusing to a defense, thereby leading to offensive opportunities. The basic fundamental use of the screen is a standard pick and roll. As the offensive player dribbles past and brushes the motionless screener, the screener breaks toward the basket or to an open area to obtain an offensive advantage. Typically a layup or open jumper occurs due to finding a crease in the defense. This is part of every offensive set in modern basketball. Not employing screens within an offensive set is poor coaching. Progressive offensive schemes utilize double screens simultaneously in tandem as noted, or stagger screens on the wing, low post or front court to further confuse a defense. There are endless offensive plays that occur with screens. Fundamental basketball requires superb screens to obtain offensive advantages at all levels.



Screens are a way to open a shot, passing lane, offensive break to the hoop or even fake a screen with both players separating causing defensive confusion. The old term is pick and the modern term is screen. The screener cannot use his hands on the defense and must stay put. The screener cannot move with either the feet, hands or body. Otherwise, a moving or illegal screen violation occurs leading to a turnover. Players can screen away from the ball or on the ball. Screens occur on the low block, forecourt, back court and also against presses in the deep back court. Ball screens are the actual dribbler setting a screen by dribbling into a defender and immediately turning and handing the ball off to an open offensive teammate. Passing the ball immediately as the screener sets his pick with a ball screen avoids a turnover or steal by the defense. Most screens however, conventionally lead to a pick and roll to the basket, shot, off the ball screen leading to a pass, back door

Defense within basketball is an individual and TEAM fundamental. It is the absolute grind of the sport. There is nothing easy about basketball defense. Playing defense causes extreme fatigue, and in many cases the defender can only control an offensive threat without shutting him down. I have yet to witness or read about a competitive basketball TEAM that wins repeatedly without strong defense. Defense allows a TEAM to win games they normally wouldn’t. Strong defense permits a TEAM to be competitive and stay in the game even with an off night of shooting. Most good coaches do not allow players on the court unless they put the difficult effort into playing defense. Let’s move on to the basics of individual defense.


A relaxed but firm crouched posture with knees bent similar to a triple threat offensive position is required for hoop defense. The defensive stance is an athletic preparedness to prevent your opponent from scoring. The wider you are with the body and hands with the ability to react makes it difficult for an offense to score with passing, shooting, or obtaining offensive boards. The shoulders and knees are aligned with the knees inside the feet and the back crouched. The buttocks are behind the defender’s heels. The defender must be always ready to steal a pass, block or interrupt a shot, block out and rebound and be the first to a loose ball. Your feet are not still but moving on the balls as your responsibility heightens when your man receives a pass, dribbles, screens, ball screens or attempts to score in any manner. The key to defense is to be ready to work at preventing your man or an opponent in your

key is keeping your feet moving, staying between your man and the basket, maintaining awareness of where the ball is in its offensive rotation and allowing little offensive space against your man or zone. Frustrating a very good basketball TEAM with defense is difficult, but highly rewarding.

zone from being an offensive threat. Good defense frustrates players to the point that they are willing to give up the ball more readily, not shoot well, perform offensively out of character or turn the ball over to your TEAM. With your feet moving in response to the opponent, keep the hands cupped to effect a steal (less likely to draw a foul with an upward hand motion than a downward slap on the defender as one attempts to steal the ball). Hands are always up and moving except when attempting a steal. This provides assurance of extra interference against the offense. The feet are never crossed and are balanced on the balls with quick movement maintained. Maintain the offensive player’s belly button in front of you. As the ball moves across court away from your man or zone, you must maintain yourself between the hoop and the offensive player by sagging off to the help line (mid position between ball and your player responsibility). Remember: if the offensive player isn’t a threat (based on being a substantial distance from the hoop) you always move closer to the help line to assist with TEAM defense. Players on defense must move with the pass and not the catch. All players must know who they are defending at all times, whether in man or zone defense.

FOOTWORK In virtually every sport footwork is highly critical. Defensively the feet must not cross and move with the offense quickly, maintaining shoulder width separation. Offensively the feet must move quickly to get to an open area with or without the ball. Offensively, back and Z cuts to get open require quick coordinated agility to find separation from defensive pressure. Offensive low post moves and perimeter play require specialty skills of pivoting, coming off screens, reversing directions, and jump stops–coordinated legal two foot simultaneous stop prior to a pass or shot. Many drills with and without the basketball have been designed to enhance footwork. Specifically the actual drills allow a player to perform a reverse pivot, drop foot and lay in, or even a legal screen and potential successful roll to the basket. Repeated practice can make these moves essentially an unconscious individual and TEAM tactic. Jab steps with body fakes and direction changes require moves perfected through practice. Confusing a defense or offense with superb footwork can be highly productive but it requires intense work. Defensive shuffle and slide drills that allow quick, no-crossing of the feet defensive movements in response to the ball’s changing position are a must. Footwork is not born. Great basketball footwork is an acquired skill through repeated practice, again becoming subconscious and instinctive in game situations.

A few specialty situations such as a prolific scorer with constant offensive movement, demand close defensive pressure continuously. The frustration created from being well guarded is evident from hundreds of great defensive performances throughout basketball history. Placing pressure on every shot wins games by affecting the offensive player’s technique, rhythm and timing. Having a hand in the face always makes an easy shot far more difficult. Blocking a shot isn’t necessary—only affecting its course slightly is all that is required. Of course if one can sky straight up and block the offensive shot attempt, then this is great defense if the ball can be maintained in bounds and blocked to a teammate. Blocking the ball away from the basket is always a must to prevent cheap offensive baskets from close range. Typically coaches want players to deny the ball to specific players, especially off the block. Maintaining slight contact with your offensive man with your hand by brushing or feeling with the hand is the key to avoid fouling. The steady laying of hands on a defender is illegal in many leagues (hand checking), and leads to cheap fouls far away from the rim. Waving a hand between the ball and your man always makes for a difficult pass. A defender’s hands are usually in the air to allow less court space for the offense. Placing a portion of your body in front of the offensive player is an extreme move, but will work if you are confident the opponent cannot pass over your head leading to an easy path to the hoop. This move depends on your jumping ability and help TEAM defense. The defensive 12

Thread the Needle: Individual Fundamentals  

In chapter 4 of Glass Backboards, Dr. Charles Ripp provides insights into the fundamentals of TEAM focused basketball. Great stuff for both...

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