I got a bit of an inside look at a practice yesterday at the Thunderdome:
First, the disclaimers. The
videos and this report won't have much substance for obvious reasons,
as the Gauchos ran plays in addition to individual and team drills.
of what I am posting is based on running commentary by the coaches, but
most of it is my paraphrasing, so my interpretations may not be
accurate. Plus, I wasn't taking notes, and my memory isn't great, so I
apologize in advance for my stream of consciousness rambling. I'm just a fan, like the rest of you. Here are
my impressions overall:
1) The squad is a full one, with 18
players on the floor, 19 if you include the injured John Green, who is
still on crutches, and most likely out for the season.
allowed 3 teams of 6 players each to rotate in on drills on offense,
defense, out of bounds plays (both base line and side line).
It is obvious that with emphasis on pressure defense, if players aren't
physical on defense--and taking away what the offense wants to do, then
they won't get much playing time. This year's defense will HAVE to be
more aggressive. The good news is there is overall team depth, so
players will be able to go hard and substitution patterns will be more
frequent. Last year's team wasn't able to do that due to a shorter
bench (injuries to Green and Hornbuckle), and lack of team speed. Plus,
there is no way a player can go this hard on defense AND play 34
minutes AND be productive on offense also. So expect frequent
4) All 3 teams (blue, black, grey) were split up
and evenly matched. What many fans consider potential starters didn't
necessarily outperform the others. Unlike teams over the last 3 years,
there is no "star" system, and no one stood out over the others--all
positions are up for grabs (with perhaps the exception of Big Al), and
as a spectator, it was hard for me to differentiate who would start and
who was playing the best, and that includes walk-ons. One team did do
well in drills today, and with each drill, scores are kept. Guys who
consistently do well in the drills eventually bubble up to the top. It
is no surprise that toughness is a beneficial trait (hat tip to Dalante
5) Because the 3 teams were split up talent-wise, team
chemistry was great, with teammates encouraging each other on,
irrespective of scholarship status, with playing time up for grabs.
Coach Williams does 80% of the coaching on the team drills, barking out
instructions, making corrections, and sparing no players criticism,
veterans or freshmen walk-ons--he's alternately teaching individual
fundamental skills, as well as coaching strategy and philosophy. A thick skin
is required, but I will say I've heard much stronger language from other
coaches. After many years of doing this, Coach knows when praise is
needed, and when criticism is required. There are no egos, and the
players were eager to learn, and the veterans directed traffic when
needed. What I liked was the freshmen were vocal in encouragement
also. The phrase "team-bonding" is overused, but I believe vocal
communication really helps build trust among teammates. If a player
gets beat, there has to be mutual trust that other teammates have his
back. That's an obvious comment, but when you see the players run at
top speed, there can be no hesitation and when quick reactions are
7) Because they will get up in opposing offensive
players' grills, help defense is important as our on-ball defenders will
get beat sometimes. And when opponents without the ball cut to the
basket, our defenders won't be turning their backs on the ball (and
switching arm denial). Instead, they will open up, facing the ball, and
covering their man as well as potentially helping out if another
defender is broken down. In other words, peripheral vision will allow
the defender to see the ball and their man in a triangle, with their
back to the basket. It's basic help defense positioning.
the half-court match up zone, weak side wings have to shift and cover
the lane--and it has to be second nature. The goal is to prevent the
entry pass into the middle of the zone, which is normally the "hole"
that exposes weakness. In fact, a lot of these drills are meant to
drill fundamentals into the players until it's second nature. Overall,
Coach may say memorizing plays is "simple," but it was complicated to me
because I don't know the jargon. You cannot be a dumbass to play the
game at this level--your head will spin on a swivel and you'll get left
behind at every turn. Coaching really isn't just rolling the ball on
the court and just letting them play; it's a lot more complicated than
that, and the players have to react instinctively in order to succeed.
And every player is accountable--4 players can be following their
assignments, but if one player breaks down, the whole offense and
defense breaks down. That's obvious on defense, but on offense, if a
player is out of position, it could eliminate an easy scoring
opportunity. That's why spacing is crucial.
9) The nuances of
defending against the pick and roll are intricate. The defender has to
body up his guy setting the pick, so he can't set the pick where he
wants to. It's called a hammer, and involves a folded forearm (vs. an
extended one which will elicit a called foul). Brewe is good at this
because he is so strong. Al has to watch extending his forearm or the
refs will call cheap fouls on him.
10) There are 3 foundational
defenses (with variations), and the Gauchos will disguise them all
season. Generally, in a man-to-man defense, when the ball is on the wing, the on-ball defender
will steer the offensive player a certain direction, but when the ball
is in the backcourt, they will steer the ball towards help (sorry for
being vague, but I don't think I should be revealing the defensive
philosophy). Ironically, we were good at breaking down this defense
last year because Nunally and OJ were good at breaking it down with
dribble penetration, and we ended up with a lot of lob dunks. Hint:
think the curl on the pick and roll. Our defense is meant to prevent
this, because when a player of Nunn's capability can execute it right,
he can pull up for a mid-range jumper, dump it off to the roller,
dribble all the way to the basket, throw a skip pass cross court for an
open 3 point shot (if the defender is sagging on help defense), or to
the weak side post player cutting to the basket for a dunk. That's 5
scenarios which can lead to a made basket. This is based on my
observations--so I could be off-base, but I do recall some pretty
spectacular lob dunks last year.
11) Closing out with HANDS UP was majorly emphasized, and when a defender didn't do it in drills, their whole team was penalized.
12) When a team won a drill, the other two teams had to run sprints.
On defense, there is the match up zone, a man to man, and sometimes
players would switch, sometimes only 4 would switch, and sometimes they
wouldn't switch, depending on the defensive call.
14) On offense,
competing for space in the lane was emphasized, if the defender for
some reason doesn't make contact in the lane in post defense (while in
help position, for instance), our offensive player should immediately
fight for that position in the lane. The paint is considered valuable
15) When a cutting player is open, most fans only
follow the passer and the recipient. But the most important part of the
play is usually the teammate setting a solid pick--at the right time,
in the right place, picking off the defender.
16) Players are
practicing harder this season, as they will be expected to go harder on
defense, with frequent spells. They will play hard in the preseason,
but may not learn how to be competitive in game situations until
January, because they are so young.
17) Coach Stock and Madry
like to run camp-like drills, where basic defensive fundamentals like
help defense, switching, and hands up are emphasized. On offense,
players either pass and screen away, or if a player dribbles towards a
teammate, the teammate cuts away. Sometimes, no screens are set,
sometimes only one screen is set in the post. No on-ball screens were
set in these drills. But it was defense that was emphasized. They are
popular drills run at most basketball camps. It was familiar to me
because it helps players develop a sense of spacing, even though the
drills were geared toward defensive principles.
Williams emphasizes LOUD communication on defense, and even insists team
managers be louder in their communication. There is no room for
introverts among players, coaches, and staff.
19) Big Al has a
bigger repertoire of shots, but NOTHING was given to him in practice.
He will be dominant in league play, but he wasn't dominating against his
own teammates. That's encouraging because we have some beef and length
inside in Brewe and Beeler. Brewe is a bruiser, but has a surprisingly
sweet mid-range jumper, while Beeler has good feet, and is very tough
inside. Yes, he needs to bulk up, but he doesn't back down, which was
unexpected of him coming in. At first glance, he likes like a suburban
player, but he has some "street" in his game.
20) Our returning
perimeter shooters have more solid shots, but then again, this was in
practice and not under the lights of game conditions. Bos doesn't miss
from the 3 range, as long as he takes good open shots, and is squared
up. That's all he took against scrambling defenses, so I was highly
encouraged. You can tell UCSB takes their academics seriously, as he
was scheduling all his labs and classes he will miss for the rest of the
quarter with Coach Campbell after practice to prepare for their road
21) Our guards were hitting many of their 3 point shots,
including Nate, Duke, Taran, TJ, Aamahd, and Michael--even when they
were running defensive as well as offensive drills. When I mean solid
shots, I mean their feet and shoulders were squared, they got lift
vertically instead of being off-balance, and they were open.
22) Big Al and Dalante made some impressive runners off the back board.
After practice, they were off to the weight room. They were doing
weights 4 times a week in summer conditioning, 3 times during this
preseason, but will taper off to twice a week during the season.
24) Big Al will shoot a higher percentage on his free throws. His shooting form is light years better this season.
I also got a little scoop on some of our out of conference and Big West opponents, but my lips are sealed.
On behalf of all Gaucho hoops fans, I want to thank all the coaches for making this happen, especially Coach Williams.