Our second Zero Gravity tournament of five was this past weekend in Wayne, New Jersey, and we were looking to rebound from starting our season 0-3 with a couple of flat efforts in our first two games. To that end, we had spent our two practice days last week (which involved working around both the Maryland primary elections - which knocked us out of our regular practice space - and some mid-week rain) refocusing on defense, rebounding, and toughness. I don't know how many of you are NBA fans, but perhaps you caught this segment on TNT's studio show, with Kenny Smith illustrating good team defense through the use of actual connective bands between players that broke if they did not move as a unit. I was inspired, and after a trip to the hardware store, I came up with a very similar teaching tool, using rope, Velcro, and lanyards that come apart.
Now, two hours of practicing playing team defense on a string obviously was not going to turn us into the San Antonio Spurs, but after a first weekend full of drivers and cutters barreling to the rim unmolested, I was at least hoping that we would start eliminating some of those easy opportunities. Offensively, my goal was for us to do a better job finishing through contact and to keep attacking the basket before settling for jump shots. So that is what we worked on this past week in practice.
How did that turn out? Rather than take even a small step forward, we reverted to our issues from the previous weekend, namely that we didn't start the game ready to play, and were in a twenty-point hole before we broke the seal on our rim (or "basketball ring" for those of you who speak Ted Cruz). Why? Because all it takes is one person not doing their job on defense to give the other team a wide-open look, and we have yet to find five people who can consistently apply themselves, possession after possession, on that end. I also suspect that our players readily underestimated a team that showed up in cheap-looking practice jerseys, without paying attention to the fact that they were a good team that, moreover, played as a team, and demonstrated in warm-ups that they could put the ball in the basket.
While our defense was hemorrhaging points, our offense was being too passive against their defense. To be fair, this was a team full of kids in the 6'1" to 6'5" range, whereas only four of my eleven players clear six feet, and two of them didn't make the trip this weekend. We have been at both a height and weight disadvantage against every team that we have faced thus far, usually by a significant degree. In a sport like basketball, where size matters a lot, you can compensate for that disparity by working your butt off, which is something we have not done on a consistent basis, nor did we in any of our three games this weekend.
We wound up losing all three games by roughly thirty points, and just once did we face an opponent who definitely had a Division 1 prospect on the floor. It was a reality check in every way, and hopefully the lessons will sink in this time. It is discouraging to get blown out time after time; we have thus far played in six games and been competitive in just one of them. I wanted to challenge my team because I had initially thought that I would be coaching more or less the same core as last year, but that hasn't been the case. Five players from last year's team played for their high school varsity this past winter, and another one should have; none of this year's team can say that, so we need to work even harder to make up for the talent we lost. To that end, we have to go back and drill down hard on some basic fundamentals, things like defensive footwork and layups, and everybody has to demonstrate a positive attitude. Our issues are not endemic to the program; all three of the other Team Endless teams registered wins this weekend, with the ninth graders earning a championship at their tournament in Chantilly, Virginia. Clearly, I need to fix some things specific to my group.
We also pretty clearly need to practice more; I work most evenings and cannot give up any more of my paycheck to spend time at practice, but my assistant coach will be running an additional practice or two outside starting this week, because we have to get better, fast. We have two weeks until our next tournament (I didn't want to schedule anything over Mother's Day), so hopefully we can use that time to get a lot better. Until next time...