Dave Benter, Head Coach at Brownstown Central High School, Brownstown, IN
It’s really simple to win basketball games when you have multiple talented players who are athletic and have the ability to score or create shots for others. However, at some point you are going to run into teams who are equal or superior to you in talent and you have to be able to be prepared for how you are going to beat those teams. I think the best teams I have coached in my 22 years at BCHS are the ones that control the simple things.
I was fortunate to play for a college coach, Mike Beitzel, who was very big on fundamentals and he was great at simplifying the game for our college team. I still remember him talking about simple parts of the game such as “the team that makes the most lay-ups in a game usually wins.” At Brownstown, we try to talk a lot about “controlling what we can control.” Some things a team can control are mental and some are physical. We as coaches often will talk early in the season about things our team can control, but we have to reiterate these things often throughout the season.
First, we need to discuss some things you can’t control during a game. Officiating is one of the first things that comes to mind. No matter how good an officiating crew is, there is always human error that comes into play, and good players and teams do not let this affect the way they play. It’s always easy to fall into the trap that an official costs a team a game, but once the film is dissected, there will be many mistakes in the game that one will realize could have changed the outcome of the game regardless of the officiating.
Next, there are some nights when shots are falling for your team, and there are nights when even the best players don’t shoot particularly well. We talk with our team about what we have to control to still be able to win on those nights. If one has been in this profession long enough, he or she has fallen victim to a banked in 3 at the buzzer or a 25% shooter on the other team destroying your scouting report and getting hot.
Injuries and illness are another aspect a team cannot control. We often talk about the “next man up” mentality when we have to deal with injuries or illnesses on the team. These are just a few of the parts of a game that sometimes we feel we cannot control.
I think the following parts of a program and team are what we as coaches can have a great amount of control over. I hate to simplify things so much, but I think it comes down to defending, rebounding, not turning the ball over, having the right people taking shots at the right places/times, and the chemistry and attitudes of your team and players.
First, let’s talk about controlling the game from a defensive standpoint. At Brownstown, we start working with our players on defensive positioning at a very early age. We continue this in high school as we do some sort of shell almost everyday in our practices. However, most teams once they get in the half court are hard to score against. Go back and watch all of your films from the season before and see how successful your team was offensively in the half court vs. transition and secondary situations. Because of this, we spend a large amount of time on transition defense and recoveries/rotations. At Brownstown, we try to ingrain in our players that if we take transition baskets away and have good recoveries and rotations, then teams will have a hard time scoring against us.
The next part of the game we feel we can control is the backboard. For the last four years, we have not been blessed with a lot of size, but we have been able to control the rebounding advantage. We do not spend a lot of time in practice on rebounding drills, but we do give a lot of reward points in our competitive drills for offensive rebounding. I believe doing this along with continuing to preach the importance of rebounding helps in this component of the game. Think about the number of games that you have coached that have come down to one or two possessions, and how having an advantage on the offensive glass can help win those games.
The third part of the game we feel we need to control is limiting our turnovers and having the right people taking shots. No matter what pace your team plays, I believe these two facets are crucial. We categorize our turnovers as “live” ball turnovers or “dead” ball turnovers. We compare “live” ball turnovers to a “pick six” in football. They are almost impossible to overcome against good teams. We also sit down with our team early in the season and have open communication regarding who our best scorers and shooters are and who needs to be taking the largest number of shots. I think this is crucial for kids understanding what his or her role is and accepting that at the beginning of the season.
Lastly, controlling your attitude and chemistry is vital. Players have to want to be coached, and we try to have many short talks with our players in the season and off-season to talk about their roles and what they have to do if they want to change those roles.
These thoughts all came to a head for our program this past season. We had less than five points per game returning from the previous season and we as coaches knew that points may be hard to come by for our team. We really tried to talk about controlling everything that we could throughout the season and not worry about wins and losses early, but try to improve so that we were playing our best basketball of the season by the sectional to give ourselves a chance to become sectional champions. I believe a lot of offensive skill is God-given talent and the amount of time a player puts into his craft. However, even if a player is not blessed with God-given talent, if he “controls what he can control,” there will always be a place for him in our Brownstown Central program.