Know Your (Basketball) Enemy

Broaden the Scope of Your Basketball Knowledge

Last week’s post, Learn the Game, had a huge reaction from out our Elite Basketball Training community. Many players and coaches were intrigued by the thought of elevating their game by studying books, film, and drills concurrent with basketball skill development and sports performance training. This was great to hear and know that players are interested and willing to broaden the scope of their knowledge when it comes to basketball. It also reminded me of a story that I read in Ganon Baker’s Skill Development book. The story, about Michael Jordan, is as follows:

Tim Grover said Jordan would visit the opponents training room before a game. He would talk to the opponents and pretend to be social, asking them how is the family, friends, etc. but what he was really doing was measuring them up. Seeing which body part was injured on them, thinking of ways to expose that (weakness) during the game. For example, if a player had a hurt ankle, he would run that player around more. If a player had an injured back, he would bang him around more. Whatever he could do to get the edge, he would do.

Michael Jordan and Sun Tzu

This story takes learning the game to another level and includes knowledge of your individual opponents and their weaknesses  which are crucial to your success on the basketball court. In fact, this concept far exceeds Michael Jordan’s era and dates back as far as the 6th century BC when in The Art of War, Sun Tzu states, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” In other words, learn not only the game but also your opponents. Study film on them and find out their tendencies. Learn the both the individual players’ and team’s weaknesses and strengths. Then come up with a plan to expose their weaknesses and neutralize their strengths.

Basketball Knowledge is Greatness

Knowledge of your opponent is just another example of studying the game and elevating your play. It is a character trait of great players, coaches, and teams. This knowledge makes what them better because it allows them to know what their opponent will do before they even do it thus demoralizing the opponent and making you into a better player.

Learn the Game

A Student of the Game

The phrase, “a student of the game” comes up quite often in my circles mainly because I am constantly bringing it up to parents and players in order to get them to understand that there is more to basketball than just being a great athlete or having great skills. Don’t get me wrong, great players have both. They spend countless hours in the gym with coaches honing their skills and developing their athleticism. However, what separates the great players from other mediocre players is their basketball IQ. They understand the game on a level that other players do not even dream of reaching. How does this happen? They become “students of the game,” meaning they are constantly studying the game and learning from it. These players pour over basketball books that discuss philosophy and tactics. They write down notes when coaches instruct them on basketball concepts and then go home and study them. They watch basketball on television and in person, not just for the amazing dunk but for what got that player so open for the dunk. All of these examples enable the player to learn the game of basketball and then apply their skills and athleticism to it.

Tom Brady and Basketball IQ

They all times greats, no matter what sport, understand this mentality and know that they need to put in work both on and off the court or field. Take Tom Brady for example who, in last week’s game against a very good Jets team accounted for 99.7% of the Patriots offense in their victory. Just as an aside, 99.7% is not a made up number. The Patriots had one rushing yard that was not from Tom Brady, every other yard was either him running the ball or throwing the ball to a receiver. How does something so ridiculous happen? Tom Brady has tremendous physical ability and skills as a quarterback that is only elevated by his understanding of the game and knowledge of what the other team is trying to do on defense. Leading up to the game, Brady spends countless hours in preparation watching video and studying plays so that he can read the defense and know exactly what needs to be done when he sees it at the line of scrimmage. It truly is incredible.

Lebron James and Basketball IQ

From a basketball perspective, there is no one better at this right now than Lebron James. I don’t always agree with everything that Lebron does or says but as far as his knowledge of the game goes, there are very few rivals in today’s era. Take for example the fact that he averaged five assists per game last season from the forward position, and that the Cavaliers were 13-1 when James averaged 10 assists or more per game. This makes him one of the league leaders in that category and comes as a direct result of him knowing who to pass to and when. Oddly enough, it is also a category that Lebron gets crucified for at times because he involves his teammates too often and does not take enough shots himself. A notion that is absolutely ridiculous, because since when has drawing the defense to you and passing the ball to the player that is open for the shot, taboo? The answer, its not. In fact, Lebron finding the open player on the court is not different that Tom Brady calling an audible at the line of scrimmage and throwing the ball to the guy with the best match up. This is intelligent play and comes with knowing where your teammates are on the floor based on defensive reads, something you can only achieve through countless hours of preparation on and off the court, making Lebron James a student of the game.

How you can become a student of the game

Often times, I see players at my New Jersey based basketball skill development program that are highly skilled and crazy athletic. However, when they get into small sided game play, they often cannot use their skills and athleticism to make the correct play and the correct time. Why? Their overall basketball IQ is low; they are not students of the game. With this in mind, I encouraged the players training with me at my Saturday Skills basketball training group to study the game. Listen to how we break down the drills and relate them to actual game play. Go out and read about basketball history, offenses, defenses and make connections with what we are working on at our basketball training. With the NBA season starting this week, watch as much basketball as you can and make connections to what you are learning at your workouts. All of this will help grow your basketball IQ tremendously and you will see that your game play with become that much better as a result.


“Put Him in Jail”

Initiate Then Separate

We spend a lot of time at our training sessions talking about and practicing initiating contact with your defender as you are going by them. I often times use the phrase, “initiate then separate” in order to describe the process of going by a defender. When doing so, the offensive player should initiate contact with the defender using their shoulders and hips. This will put the defensive player in an off balance position and allow you to separate past your defender on the way to the basket. Great players initiate then separate. They absorb the bump and finish through it. They do not avoid contact by shifting and contorting their bodies in a way that causes them to take their eyes off their target and miss the shot.  This weekend at our Saturday Skills basketball skill development group, my trainer Brian pulled out a new phrase regarding initiating contact that I also liked a lot. That phrase was, “put him in jail.”

Put Him in Jail

One of the focuses of our basketball training on Saturday was one pivot and two pivot finishing moves. Having previously worked on form for these finishing moves, then run them in an actual basketball drill, we were finishing up the training segment by running a one on one drill that I call the Ball on the Back Drill. This drill requires the defensive player to stand in front of the offensive player facing the basket at any angle near the three point line. The offensive player must start behind the defensive player with the ball on their back. Once they remove the basketball and begin to attack the basket, the defensive player moves with them. This drill put the defensive player in position where the one pivot and two pivot moves could be practiced.  As I was moving from basket to basket, I heard coach Brian instructing his players to put the defender on their hip as they go to the basket. Realizing this was a great teaching point, I immediately stopped the entire gym and had coach Brian explain what he meant to the basketball players working out. As he demonstrated what he meant by, “putting the defender on your hip” he used the phrase, “put him in jail” to describe the action. Brian further explained that getting the defender on your hip as you initiate contact is like putting him in jail because the defender is locked up in a bad position defensively. They have to either reach around or over you to attempt to get the ball which will usually result in a foul or they have to let you go by them on your way to the rim. The defender is truly in jail here with very few good defensive choices to make and thus beaten.

Keys to Putting Him in Jail

  1. Initiate contact as you go by your defender whether off the dribble or out of the triple threat.
  2. Maintain contact with the defender throughout your drive using your hips and shoulders.
  3. Absorb the defensive bump and separate past the defender at the right moment.

Three Tips to Help You Make Your Travel Basketball Team

Make More Layups and Jump shots

With the fall in full swing and basketball back on the minds of parents and players in New Jersey, I am often getting asked, “Coach, can you give us some tips on how to make the basketball team? He’s got tryouts next week.” This may be as simple as making your layups particularly with your weak hand, knocking down some jump shots, and throwing sound passes to potential teammates.  However, that is way too obvious and I think parents and players know that those are key points in their success at a tryout. That is why I am going to give you three tips you may not have thought of that will help you make your travel basketball team this fall and winter.

Don’t Sit Down

As a former high school basketball coach, I was constantly aware of what was going on with my players in the gym during tryouts and practices. That is to say, I could tell which players were ready to work and which ones were constantly looking for an excuse to take a break.  Anytime that I saw a player sitting down during a drill or during a demonstration of a drill, I took that as a sign that this player really wanted to be good at doing just that, sitting down. So he often times found himself sitting on the bench while other players who were more involved logged minutes in the game. Even to this day, as a basketball skill development coach, I see players always looking to take a break and sitting on the ball, sitting on the chairs that we have set up as defenders for a drill, or my personal favorite, leaning against the wall or as I like to say, “holding the wall up.” This does not constitute work, it shows laziness and disinterest and those are definitely two characteristics a coach that is running a tryout does not want to see in players on his team. So if you are sitting down at tryouts, chances are you will be sitting this season out.

Pay Attention to Instructions

Another important characteristic a coach at a tryout likes to see is a player who is paying attention to his every word. This type of player is actively involved mentally in the demonstration of drills, asks relevant questions when the time arises, and executes those drills perfectly on the first repetition and every one thereafter. This is not the player who is staring off into space in the opposite direction of the demonstration or the player who is tossing the ball off the wall and catching it, or even the player that is hiding behind all the others talking to his friend. It is that player that does not know what is going on in the drill, does not execute the drill correctly, and has to ask question, not because he needs to learn a concept, but rather because he needs to find out what he is supposed to be doing. Paying attention to the coach is a crucial characteristic because it shows the coach a player that is willing to learn throughout the season and one who, when it’s crunch time can be called upon to execute a play to perfection that a coach draws up in the huddle.

Don’t Get Caught Walking

One last tip on how you can catch the coach’s eye during tryouts and make the team is to never get caught walking. If a coach calls the group to half court, you better be one of the first ones there. If a coach sends you off to a drill, be the first one there and start organizing that drill. A player who moves at their own pace when a coach has expectations of much more is bound to find himself looking for another team. This type of “I’ll get there when I get there” attitude shows the coach that you are not the type of player who is going to give it his all the entire practice and more importantly, game. It also shows that when it’s crunch time and coach calls a timeout that only lasts 30 seconds or a minute, he is not going to have to waste time waiting for you to walk over to the bench because you will have already sprinted there and are ready and waiting for him.

Make Your NJ Travel Basketball Team

Yes, coaches at tryouts look for players who make shots but what is going to separate you from the rest of the players in attendance are these three tips:

  1. Don’t get caught sitting down. That shows the coach that you are tired and not ready to give it your all in the drills.
  2. Pay attention to coach’s instructions. This shows you are interested in what he is saying and in actually making the basketball team.
  3. Sprint to your spots. This shows enthusiasm and a willingness to give it your all and get more reps in since you will always be the first one there. 

Your Fall Basketball Training Plan

Putting the Finishing Touches on Your Basketball Training

Fall is upon us, kids are back to school, and basketball season is right around the corner.  With that in mind, it is time to start buckling down and really preparing for your winter season.  Maybe you are someone who worked their butt’s off this summer to elevate your game or maybe you are someone who didn’t do much at all.  Either way, you are going to want your skills to be on point and your body to be in the best shape possible when basketball season begins in a couple of months. The Fall is the time to put the finishing touches on your training regimen that you may or may not have been working on all off season.  This includes getting in the gym for extra ball handling and jump shooting drills and ramping up your conditioning while continuing to develop power in the weight room. Game play should be a small component of your training at this point because you will be playing plenty of games during the season in the very near future. So hear is your comprehensive basketball training plan for the fall.

Basketball Skill Development

Basketball skill development is the number one component of what you, as a basketball player, need to be doing this fall.  This should take up the bulk of you basketball training regimen.  Basketball skill development includes getting in the gym or on a basketball court somewhere and getting up 200-400 jump shots per day with a goal of making 60% to 70% of your shots from mid-range and long range.  These shots should be game shots at game spots at game speed.  You should also be getting shots off the catch, off the dribble out of the triple threat using jab series and shot fake moves to create space, and off a live dribble using dribble moves to create space. Furthermore, your skill development needs to include ball handling and finishing, ensuring that you are not just a one dimensional catch and shoot player but also one who has the confidence to put the ball on the floor, attack a defender, and finish in a variety of ways in the paint.  By doing this you will be putting yourself in the best position possible to make shots during tryouts and practice this winter and in doing so, catch the coach’s eye.

Sports Performance Training

Sports performance training is the second essential component to your fall basketball development plan.  Sports performance training during the fall should be focused on three components: injury prevention, developing power, and increasing your aerobic capacity.  Injury prevention should be the number one focus of all basketball players’ training and needs to be included in each and every performance training session.  Training to prevent injuries should include all sorts of mobility exercises for the ankles and feet, shoulders, hips, etc.  The ankles and feet are of particular importance since they are often injured by basketball players and can cause further injuries on the knees and the back.  At this point in your training, you have spent the spring and summer putting on size and strength and now it is time to turn the focus to power development. Raise the number of sets and lower the rep scheme on your major lifts like the squat, deadlift, and push press.  With the lower reps, you need to think speed and maximum effort.  Finally, it is also time to get your conditioning up to speed. This should not include, running cross country to get in shape. Running cross country is a detriment to your training as it builds slow twitch muscle fibers and decreases muscle mass. Sure it may increase your aerobic capacity but at what cost? Instead, include sprint intervals, speed and agility drills, and basketball specific met cons in your training.  This will not only increase your aerobic capacity but also continue to build/maintain muscle mass and fast twitch muscle fibers.

Keep Game Play to a Minimum

Game play should once again be the smallest component of your basketball skill development this fall. Those of you who have read my blog consistently know that I am not a fan of playing on multiple teams and playing a ton of games as part of your basketball training plan. Doing so occupies a player’s time with team practices and games and leaves little time for the player to get the repetitions that they need to become a good ball handler and jump shooter. My stance is no different during the fall. Remember, your winter season is about two months away and you will be playing a 20 plus game season in no time. For that reason, the fall is not the time to play more games. Give your body the time it needs to rest. Playing on a fall AAU team after having played a spring and summer AAU season can lead your body to break down. In the end, it will lead to a youth player having played more games than an NBA player and a youth player’s body is not ready developmentally to handle that. As stated in previous paragraphs, get your skills in order and focus on injury prevention, power development, and conditioning, not game play

Your Three Components to Fall Basketball Training

  1. Focus on basketball skill development in order to get your jump shot, ball handling, and finishing ready for the winter basketball season
  2. Transition your sports performance training regimen to include power development, focus on injury prevention,  and increase your conditioning with sprint intervals and met cons, NOT cross country
  3. Keep game play to a minimum. Don’t join as many teams as possible. This will take too much time and not get you the reps you need to get your skills in order for the season and could lead to overuse injuries.