Phil Jackson offers a cool approach that Red Holzmann used to use with his Knick teams when he felt like they were losing focus.
"Red was a strong verbal communicator, but he wasn't that visually oriented and rarely drew diagrams of plays on the board during pre-game talks. Every now and then, to keep the players focused, he would ask them to nod their heads if they heard the word "defense" while he was talking - which happened about every fourth word."
Such a simple idea to make sure your players are staying focused. Pick a word that you use often, that is something you emphasize a lot, and have them respond in some way every time you use that word. We've all been in film and scout sessions where guys are drifting off, and this is a great way to make sure they are paying attention.
There has been plenty of discussion about the new rules in college basketball regarding freedom of movement both on and off the ball. Essentially any contact made with a ball-handler is going to be called a foul on the defense. I'm fine with that.
But one other rule that I think has been overlooked in the past few years needs to be more closely examined, and that is the rule regarding a closely guarded ball-handler. The rule is always referred to as "5 seconds" and is supposed to be enforced as a violation if the ball-handler is closely guarded, either holding the ball or dribbling the ball, for five seconds. The ball is closely guarded as defined in the rule book when a defender is "in a guarding stance at a distance not exceeding 6 feet." So if you are in a stance within 6 feet of the basketball, you are closely guarding the defender and the 5-second count should be on.
But let me ask you this - when you are watching college basketball, do you see officials consistently administering the count when the defender is within 6 feet of the basketball? You don't. More often than not you see the officials holding both arms out wide, signaling that the distance between the defender and the ball-handler is too big for a count. But think about the rule. 6 feet? According to the rule-book, it's 6 feet as measured from the front of the players' feet. Think about how much room that is. Six feet is a pretty significant amount of space to have between two players, yet there should still be a count. You shouldn't have to get up in a player's shorts to get the officials to start a count.
I just watched out game from last night and there were plenty of times where a defender had his lead hand straight out in a stance - close enough to get a piece of the ball if the handler decided to cross-over dribble - trying to get a count started. Yet the official was giving the "wide" signal. I know the distance isn't measured from where his hand is, but if he's close enough to touch his opponent I'm pretty sure his feet are within 6 feet of him. The bottom line is there should be a count a lot more often then there is.
Take a look for it when you watch college games this week. You'll see it a lot with teams that are losing late in games that are trying to create a little pressure and start a count, and most of the time you'll still see the official with both hands out wide. One reason for this is it's a hard call to administer. It's tough to keep a count on all of the time, and to start and stop if the ball gets picked up or if the distance is created to start a new count. It's easier to signal that the defender is too far away, and not too many coaches argue the 6-foot rule because the game is moving so fast and it's such a judgement call. Of course I don't have any specific data to back this up, but my opinion is that the closely guarded rule is not being administered properly - the count is not on often enough. As a team that relies a lot on ball pressure as a part of our defense, I see it in our games a lot.
This is something that really needs to be looked at with regards to the new rules. If a defender is being forced to get up into his opponents shorts to force a count, he has no chance of guarding him. He is being forced to create bad angles in trying to pressure the ball, and as soon as there is contact there is going to be a whistle. If they are going to enforce the new rules with regard to freedom of movement, they need to look at the other rules that are designed to award good defense and make sure they are being enforced properly.
Six feet is a good amount of space between the feet of the offense and the defense, and if the defender is within 6 feet the count should be on. If not it will be impossible to put ball pressure on anyone.
Five years ago on the Sunday after Thanksgiving my father passed away unexpectedly of heart failure. He was 63.
I got a phone call on the Monday afternoon after Thanksgiving from my father's cell phone. I was headed to practice so I didn't answer it, but then the phone rang it again so I picked it up. I figured my Dad must have a quick question he needed to ask me because he knew we were close to practice. It wasn't my father. It was the Tampa police.
I was very fortunate to have a close relationship with my father. The most comforting thing since my father died has been knowing how lucky I was to have spent the time I did with him, to be as close as I was to him, and to have learned to never take those times for granted. I can't imagine the feeling of losing someone close to you who you had unresolved differences with that you could never work out.
My father was very successful, working for 38 years for one of the big 4 public accounting firms in New York City. He was a partner in the firm and was a member of many different boards. He was well-off enough to donate his time and money to many charities, organizations and schools that he cared about. He was friends with many successful and powerful people in the business world. He grew up in an apartment in Parkchester in the Bronx, worked his way through college and made himself very successful.
No one really knows what to do when you lose someone close to you, especially in unexpected fashion. Well the best thing you can do is show up. My father's friends, colleagues and associates showed up from all over the country. His wake and funeral were attended by high powered lawyers, college presidents, vice presidents and CEOs. His great friends from the Bronx were there, so many of the people he grew up with. It felt good to see so many people show up, and it was somewhat startling to see so many powerful and successful people there.
As my brother and I were greeting people at his wake, I couldn't help but notice someone walk in who didn't seem to fit. He wasn't dressed in a suit as most people were. He wore khakis and a collared shirt with an old jacket and a baseball cap. He had a work identification badge around his neck, looking very blue collar amongst a white collar crowd. I felt guilty for noticing him simply because he was dressed differently.
He waited in line to pay his respects and shook hands with myself and my brother. He spoke in a bit of an accent and simply said "I'm very sorry," as he shook my hand. He walked to the back of the room, briefly said hello to a few people from my father's office, than put his hat and jacket back on and walked out the door. I wanted to stop him, to ask him his name, but I again felt guilty. I didn't want to make him uncomfortable because he was dressed differently or didn't seem to fit in. The last thing I wanted was for him to think I was questioning why he was there.
As the night ended I asked a few of my Dad's co-workers whom he had spoken to if they knew him. They said that he worked in the mail room at my Dad's firm, and had for years. They said my Dad always had a great relationship with him and treated him with respect, and they became friends. They mentioned that my Dad was always willing to help him when he needed something, and had helped him with his kids tuition at one point so they could stay in Catholic school. I had gone to visit my Dad in his office on Park Avenue plenty of times and never met him, probably because I was never in the mail room.
He had gotten off of his shift in the mail room that night and taken the subway from mid-town Manhattan to Castle Hill Avenue in the Bronx, and then walked about 8 blocks to the funeral home, to pay his respects to my father. This was a wake that had a number of private cars out front to drop people off and pick them up. When it was over, he walked back to the subway and took the train back into the City, a trip that would take over an hour.
I was completely overwhelmed by the thought of this man from the mail room making a round trip on the 6 train that was almost 3 hours in total just to pay respect for my father and our family. In a room filled with many wealthy, powerful and successful people, he stood out to me. My father was in a position where he never even had to talk to anyone in the mail room if he didn't want to, let alone have a relationship with them. But their relationship was such that this man felt compelled to show up to pay his respects to a family he didn't know, in room full of people he didn't have a lot in common with.
I think about him often, and I think about my father all of the time. What impact am I having in my life on other people who can use a little bit of help?? What am I doing in my own life, every day, to make sure that the guy in the mail room shows up when its my time?
That was the last lesson my father ever taught me.