A Tale of Two Halves: Lessons taught/learned...knowledge gained...(hopefully)

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Let's see...we're known as the Jilin Fighting Tigers, once proud team that competed for Championships one era, but through time and age, has fallen dramatically over the last 3 years...After our 3rd Preseason game, I now know why...After the 1st Qtr. we were down 30-16, missed 5 FTs, 2 layups and only gave up 4 points on transition layups...I was happy with the effort, not so happy with our Captain's defensive effort and consistency...Time and again he allowed 1st pass entry and would wave to me as though he "knew" he was suppose to be "up" and contact deny...The reason for his consistent mistakes here is simple: he has only practiced 4 hours total time out of 23 hours total team time, which is really difficult to learn how to trust your teammates "help" defense when you haven't been through the repetitions like them...This was his first game back...He's 6'7" goes about 230 and is strong, although when I took him out in the 1st Qtr. to give him a blow, he quickly reminded me that he is a "3" and not a "4" (the man I had him match up against was ONLY 6'9" and maybe 240lbs., playing the "3" for the Russians...), and I replied: "Cannon, YOU ARE PLAYING against the "3" on the Russian team..."...He then realized that he ol coach here was NOT going to allow him to get out of playing man to man vs. a bigger, stronger opponent at the same position, that he was going to have to ADJUST, as were his teammates doing right now also...I started our 2/3 player, DuJuan Tate at the Point, experimenting and seeing how he matched up vs. their pressure and his ability to get the team into any type of Early Offense or set plays...He didn't do too badly, as he ran several sets very well and for the most part I was surprised at how he handled playing against another American on the Russian team (J.R. Brewer, from Ohio), who was their Point guard...Steve Castleberry was once again a formidable presence inside, getting bumped, banged and mugged by the Rooskees both ends, but he never complained once, and just played...I really like this kid, my type of Post...We gotta figure out how to get him the ball better though in the early part of our offense as we break down too quickly and look him off once we see pressure...That's my job and we'll learn how to implement the "drop step" for Post Passing vs. pressure on the Wings when our Post players have established position for advantage...Between Qtrs. I reminded the players that we must "match" their physicality and stay strong, don't back down, they're hitting us with forearms and "crosschecks" like the Aussies did a week ago and we adjusted well, same thing tonight: make the adjustment...don't keep pushing down, step aside, pivot, use your footwork and balance to offset the physical disruption...Let's see, we went down 19 with 8 mins. to go and then we started playing defense the way we practiced...we forced a shot clock violation; we switched on all Side Pros (Pick/Rolls); we forced bad passes to the Post ups in lane, we were realizing that our Disruptive Pressure Defense in the Halfcourt WAS INDEED working...It was fun to watch, because it made us score in transition, set up our Offense quicker as the Rooskees were getting upset with one another and before you knew it, we were only down 4 with the ball, under 2 mins. left in the 2nd Qtr. and then we force a really bad 3 point shot from Tiger, that had about as much chance of going in as a Josh Brown field goal from 70 yds...That one shot was the shot that stood out more than any other the rest of the game, because to a man, each player looked at him like "why"...and it was that momentary "mental pause" that allowed the Rooskees to get the long rebound and transition for a layup and foul at the other end...down 7 under 1:20 left in Qtr...DuJuan Tate calls "5 Down" which is a double high 4/5 pick outside the 3 point area, spotting up a shooter in the corner and giving DT a chance to take his man 1 on1 coming off the 2nd High Post pick...He came off well, but had his head down on the dribble drive and didn't notice that X4 Defender was switching out on him and ready to trap or block his shot...Our screener, Wong Bo, slipped down the middle wide open and DT missed him and ended up going up for a contested layup that was blocked off him out of bounds...Lesson learned by DT on that play as he looked at me, motioned like he should have passed, and we both nodded in agreement...I love lessons learned by students of the game...saves timeouts during the game, no? Anyway, the first half ends and we're down 47-42, we missed 8 FTs, gave up 16 Offensive Rebounds, and turned the ball over 10 times...I am pleased with the effort as again we showed resiliency and courage on a foreign court, their Officials and fans and we competed to the end of the half...

My "reflections" at halftime: "I am really happy with our effort, fellas...we stayed together despite being down by 23 in the 2nd Qtr., and found a way to fight our way back into this game...We NEED to make immediate adjustments, however on our Defensive Rebounding...Our frontline is NOT anticipating the rebounds, expecting someone else to go get it, and Steve is not going to get every rebound...we talked about their size and strength inside and allowed them to get 2nd and 3rd shot opportunities after playing so well on the perimeter...WE MUST BLOCK OUT FIRST and THEN REBOUND...our sets are developing, so be more patient with your shot selection, please...we can get any shot we want, they are ball watching on the weakside..."...Then the Asst. Coach, YoYo spoke, and he repeated what he said before the game: "We must not allow them to push us around on the Offensive Boards...the stats say they have 16 rebounds on Offense...that means we are not doing a good job blocking out...they will continue to go to the Offensive Boards this half...we must be stronger...and rebound..."...I was happy to hear my assistant coach say these things, because up to this point I wasn't sure if he was ever going to say anything of substance to "awaken" this team's mistakes..."Lessons learned is knowledge gained..."...tnewellism... So, I draw up an option play out of our "5" play figuring the Rooskees would be ready to Jump out and try to Trap DT on it in the 2nd half, and I was going to counter that thinking quickly...I had Steve come out a little further and Wong Bo higher meaning all DT had to do was come off the first screen with a crossover dribble between legs, wraparound dribble and take off down the middle for a clean dunk/layup...It sounded good, looked good too on the whiteboard, and even when we saw it again before taking the floor the start of the 3rd Qtr...NOTICE TO ALL BASKETBALL PLAYERS READING MY BLOG: "If a Coach draws up an Option Play for you to FOLLOW...then PLEASE follow his/her directions to a "T", as HE/SHE KNOWS better what the defense is doing than you do at any given point in a game...Back to beginning of 3rd Qtr.: Rooskees ball, we "trap" their Pick Roll right out of the box and have the first possession in hand to start the Qtr...PERFECT setup...or so I thought...DT comes down, leftside with his opponent in a loose defensive position and not forcing DT one way or the other, which means a perfect setup for "centering" the screen with the crossover dribble and changing speeds going down middle for layup/dunk...DT does the opposite: because the defender is "loose" he thinks that he can shake and bake him on the leftside without using screen and spin to basket...WRONG decision...as soon as he overdribbled on one side of the court, the X5 Defender on Steve showed help/trap presence and collapsed on DT when he spun and blocked his shot, starting a fastbreak going the other way, layup AND foul and now we're down 8 with less than 40 seconds gone in Qtr...That hurt...DT looks at me, sees my disappointment in his "choice" and not following directions, and comes over and says "didn't I have him beat on the left side though...?"...I then asked him if he ever saw the X5 show help presence when he started his dribble drive and then spin? He said, nah, Coach, I didn't...was he there all the time? "Yep...ALWAYS run the play that the coach has confidence in you doing, otherwise he may never run a "special" for you again..."...I think this was a "lesson learned..." indeed for DT...and the other players as well...

As for the rest of the 3rd Qtr. and game itself...let's put it this way...by the end of the game, I "know" where the mothballed "Sputniks" were put after the clinic the Rooskees put on us following DT's back to back turnovers and their layup transition plays off a block shot and steal from a bad decision pass after DT left his feet and no where to go with ball...We were outscored 54-3 second half and "all" the "spots" on this "Tiger" showed up very well for me and the team to see and experienced...I now know why, Sun Jun, former National Team player, most respected Chinese National Player, even ahead of Yao Ming, hired me as his coach...I think he saw the movie "Helen Keller" with Anne Bancroft, as a kid, and thought maybe I could be Helen Keller to his team this season...Whew, when I put in "Pops" (29 year old player on team who is married and with a 2 year old son), the game was so fast around him it wasn't fair to him, so I moved him over to the 2G and brought in Hip Hop (he "chose" that name because he LOVES AND1 mixtapes...I have since renamed him "Hic Cup", cause that's the only 'hop' to his game that makes any sense to me as a Point Guard...Keep in mind, that we practice passing every day in the halfcourt...we establish all Triangle positions and make all the passes that would considered normal and fundamental when initiating an offense...Hic Cup comes in and the first pass he enters to the Wing is a behind the back direct pass to DT, who was so shocked to receive it and the Rooskee guarding him so shocked to see it, that for a nano-second, the game floor FROZE like, "why?", when you could have passed a two handed chest pass...More to come...I leave him in for 5 mins. in the 3rd Qtr., believing the aberrations I'm about to experience firsthand will erase immediately once the ball gets out of our end of the court...WRONG...He drove 4 times baseline with the ball, no where to go (we have NO PLAYS designed for this "move" at all), and steps on the line twice...gets his reverse layup blocked off his head by a 7'er AND leaves his feet to make a perfect pass to the opposing Center who steps in front of our Center for another turnover...Cyanide anyone? Now I know that the reason Rogaine is such a popular hair loss drug is because coaches all over the world use it more than any other subject...Don't let anybody ever tell you that the most "important" player on the team is the Center...It's the lead guard, the point guard, hands down...Magic, Dumars, Wade, Kerr, Paxson, Parker, Mo Cheeks...you go back in college and pros and the Point Guard has been the key element to any team's success and identity...and the hair "extensions" of most coaches and their careers...So, we give up 101 points...score 73...total forced turnovers vs. the Rooskees> 19...we had 18...probably 11 of which were unforced...They had over 26 O Bds. to our 16 total...We shot as a team 40%, they shot 49%...We missed 15 FTs...they went 24-28...we 15-30...Most disappointing reflection from game: "Calling for Spider Monkey (his actual chosen nickname) to go into game with 4 mins. left, mop up time (keep in mind, I told players that I am experimenting and looking for players who can "fill roles" in various positions, and to "be ready..."...Well, like most teams, you always have those players who believe they are better than the players playing ahead of them, and that they deserve to play based upon "previous" experience, not merit or work ethic...Back to Spider, he stands up slowly, taking his time to get his tearaway pants off, top (mind you, I am watching my watch...45 sec. and counting), then walks slowly to the scorer's table never once looking at me OR the Table for substitution...Keep in mind, his body language at the age of 25 is similar to a 14 yr. old with And1 individual thoughts of greatness and no quotient for the team game, pouting and reluctantly going into the game at this time...lessons learned and hopefully knowledge gained...not sure if the Spider Monkey is "game" for any lessons learned from me or his teammates...Once into the game, he immediately plays his opponent wrong, after being taught the proper mechanics of 3/4 deny, full front on deep post ups by taller opponent, and literally both arms "grabs" the opponent's arm to hold him IN FRONT OF THE OFFICIAL...I didn't have to say a word, as his teammates, Chinese let him know about it...progress: communication and peer pressure is slowly coming around...The next 2 mins. of his defense reminded me of someone in a big room with music playing, no lights, trying to find a young lady to dance with...yeah, that bad...Everything that we established as Team Defensive Rules, he chose the opposite, and in fact, played similar to the type of defense that led the team to an 11th Place finish last year...Larry Brown and "Pop" would need acupuncture on their grossly inflamed tongues if they had this type of "experienced" point guard to manage...Wow...So, I have a Pops, a Hic Cup and a Pastry Chef as my backcourt to work with over the next 4 weeks in preparation for the CBA season...I ordered candles for my room to "light" every night before I go to sleep...

Team Meeting after Breakfast, Saturday morning: Much to my chagrin, and disappointment, the Asst. 'Team Manager took it upon himself to decide NOT to practice today, this morning after breakfast, which means we have no "walkthru" in preparation for the Korean team LG that we play at 5pm, Russian time...I pull my rubberband, and say we will then have a team meeting and "air" out the areas that we need to address with this team...It was a terrific team meeting...I spoke and shared about our Positives in the game overall and then the Negatives from a team standpoint, from not communicating on switches, to not trapping when we were in a trap situation, to not getting back on defense when we were down by 20+ in the 2nd half (no excuse EVER for not hustling in ANY GAME or TIME and SCORE left on clock)...After I spoke, I asked the Asst. Coach to say what was on his mind, and he was terrific...He reflected upon how similar behavior happened last season also, players were not happy having to come off the bench, sitting there complaining and then when given the chance, not ready to help the team...I was so proud of YoYo, the asst. coach, saying this, as he was really embarrassed to see two players act this way towards the end of the game, yet remembering my prediction at the start of the 3rd Qtr. that indeed we would have players put into the game who will NOT respond, nor be happy in that role...He asked me how I "knew"...Told him I learned from some great mentors, Bernie Bickerstaff, Bill Fitch, Ernie Woods and Tex Winter, as well as Pete Newell and Coach K...He probably never heard of most of them, but he knew now what a "mentor" is in basketball..."lessons taught lead to knowledge learned..."...After YoYo spoke, I asked DT and Steve to share with us their thoughts on what they've exerienced so far...Both were very honest and terrific with their candid reflections...DT said it best: "Hey, I was like Spider, I didn't want any coach telling me how to play basketball as a Team Player and how to play Team Defense, I didn't like coming off the bench, or being benched, but I finally "learned" that IF I wanted to play, start and contribute, I needed to listen to the coach and do what he says...or we wouldn't be successful...I learned late, after high school, and have been winning ever since...this is my job, this is all I am responsible for, showing up for work and doing the best job with my effort that I can..."...Steve also was "open" and said, "I was a late bloomer, didn't really have much success early with basketball and then because I was so tall, realized how hard I had to work and keep training to improve my skills and abilities to become better as a team player and that has been my key to have this job..."...I was hopeful that Pancake translated this well enough so that each player understood exactly what came from their teammates hearts and experiences in this game...I was so proud of Steve and DT...so proud...told them both also of same...Next, I asked one of the two team captains, Cannon, if he had anything to say and he shook his head no...then I asked Wong Bo if he had anything to say, hoping in my heart that someone with "kahonees" would step up here and speak freely...Lo and behold, GLORY, Wong Bo did have something to share: "I respect our two American teammates and how they say how they had to work hard to reach success and how they come to our team to help us get better and win in the CBA and how coach tom is teaching us to be better team players, we are lucky to have these Americans want to be a part of our team, and we should be willing to accept whatever the role the coach tells us to accept and work hard like he asks us to do everyday, it is our job...we have conflicts that happened last season between us, not with the foreign players or coaches, but between us, and that is why we were in 11th place and have not been well in 3 years...until we put aside our conflicts within, we will not be successful, we must accept our roles and play to the best of our abilities..." Wow, I said to myself...thanked him, and then went to "Pops" and asked him if he had anything to say...This WAS and IS one of my better moves since arriving to coach this team: "I am one of the older players, and I would like to know that in these last two years of my CBA career, I could be on a winning team here, as it would make me proud to remember my career at the end as being successful, so I please hope that we can work together and you help me to achieve my dream..."...Well, ol coach here waxed sentimental, and ended up getting goose bumps and almost had a "Vermielisque" type of emotion happen...It was THAT inspirational...So, that was the gist of our meeting...

Pregame vs. Korean LG Team: They are a good team, well disciplined, excellent guard play, and one of the best pure shooters I have ever seen and coached against in my career...He played on the National Team vs. Japan in the Jones Cup 2000 when I was the Men's National Coach of Japan...He remembered me, and of course I ALWAYS remember a shooter...They will come at us hard, trap full court (yea!!) and throw a Zone at us, which we haven't faced yet...So, again, we are ready to have "lessons taught/learned...knowledge gained (hopefully)..."...Will file a Post Game report...

Post Game Scouting Report on 19 yr. old 7'2" Russian Post player...He didn't play much against us but when he did, he went right at Steve and banged pretty well and scored on a great pick roll, finished and drew an and one on the play...Before the game, I met the Russian Post Coach, former asst. National Coach Mikhail who is 6'10" himself, still looks like he could get double double but is in his 40's now, and complimented him on his teaching skills with the Post players on his team...He was so appreciative of me taking the time to actually say something like that BEFORE they put a "Sputnik" where the sun don't shine on us...Told him to keep working with his upper body strength and balance...He says he's a hard worker, doesn't "yet know" how good he could be...Told him something that my Dad said many times over the years, "Post players take more time to develop solid Post Move skills because they do not get the same opportunities to "touch" the ball as Wings or Guards, so you must me patient with their development..."...He knew of Pete Newell and the Big Man's Camp...and thanked me for sharing that with him...Coach tom

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