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Posts Tagged ‘Harvard Basketball’

Out of Bounds Under the Hoop (Patience!)

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on October 29, 2014

At our NTL camps and clinics, we eschew the old playground tradition of checking the ball at the top of the key after fouls and after the ball goes out of bounds. Instead, we take the ball out underneath the hoop. The idea in our camps and clinics is to make the basketball as real an experience as possible and similar as possible to game and game-like situations. Friday night, Harvard at Princeton, Jadwin Gym, ball rolls out under the hoop off a Princeton player: Harvard ball.

Different teams have different takes and philosophies regarding the out of bounds play. Some look to run a play to score; some are content to get the ball in and let their half court offense do the work. At NTL, the idea is to teach and help players see and recognize what they hadn’t seen and recognized before. Left to their own devices, players always pass the ball to the first open player, usually someone who has popped to the wing or corner. This, to me, misses a great opportunity. Inbounds passers, the player passing the ball from out of bounds, should always look to pass the ball into the lane before making that pass to the perimeter. You can make that pass to the perimeter anytime; look for the layup or easy finish play in the lane for 3 or 3 1/2 seconds before passing the ball out.

All it usually takes is a player to screen away in the post, say block-to-block and then shape up after the screen. It’s that easy.

I remember playing a summer league game in Swampscott, MA long ago with Tom Thibodeau when we were assistants at Harvard. Thibodeau, who was a pretty tough player, better than his DIII all-league status suggests, scored 32 points, many of which came from OB Under plays; me passing into him, of course! We’d make eye contact; he’d fake away from an opening and come back (sealing strong) or he would do the aforementioned screen and shape. Easy as that! (When I was at his apartment a few days later, he had cut out and hung the local paper’s league write-up on his refrigerator, circling “Tom Thibodeau, 32 points”. I scribbled in below it: “Steve Bzomowski, 16 assists”.)

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Posted in ballhandling, beautiful basketball, general improvement, passing, team offense | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

A Basketball Confession

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 26, 2014

A dozen or so years ago, before Steve Nash’s NBA MVP seasons, a former player of mine at Harvard, Keith Webster ’87, said something to me that I still think about every now and then. Keith was a great player at Harvard: all-Ivy; 1000+ points scorer; came within a whisker, actually someone else’s guaranteed contract whisker, of making the Utah Jazz; son of a legendary coach and a student of the game. Keith also has worked the vast majority of our NTL Santa Barbara Weekend Camps the past 20 years. I consider him a very good friend.

So, circa 2000, just around the time people were really starting to be wowed by Steve Nash’s play, Keith, during a break at one of the camps, said, “you know, Coach, Steve Nash’s game reminds of me of your game, except you lack his toughness”. My first thought was: “I’m a better, more creative passer than Nash”. Second thought, the one that has stuck with me: “What’s he mean ‘lack his toughness'”? Keith is probably 3 inches taller than me and he’s got me by at least 30 lbs but I grabbed him by the neck anyway, and threw him to the ground. Well, actually, I didn’t, and couldn’t have, but would that have proved him wrong about my toughness? Didn’t I have a reputation, formed after college and in the million pick-up games I’d played since, of the guy most likely to get in a roll-on-the-floor, need-to-be-separated-from-the-other guy scrape? Furthermore, did I not utter a word, in the last pick-up game I played against Keith (a few years after he’d graduated and when I, at 39 y/o, was at my peak as a player), when he poked my crossover away and I separated my shoulder while diving for the ball so he wouldn’t get it? Not a peep came out through pain. (That shoulder still bothers me.) Wasn’t that tough? And how many times did I have to break my nose (2 and counting) to prove my toughness?

I admire Steve Nash’s shooting form. I’ve studied it and that form is what we teach at the Never Too Late Basketball Camps and Clinics: Elbow under the ball, opposite elbow up and out, shooting forearm straight as the walls around you. Up and out and follow-through. Here’s one question I’d have for Nash: did he start fights on the court in high school and college? Fights that he had no intention of finishing or continuing? I confess: My high school team had a center named Uriah Richards. He was 6’4″ maybe 6’5″ and with the hair, the ‘fro, looked 6’8″. I knew whatever I started, he’d finish; pick me up off the heap, toss me aside, and step in. Could this be what Keith meant? If so, Keith was right; I wasn’t tough but I sure liked everyone thinking so.

(He actually has said many things to me over the years that I think about every now and then – like once telling me that I had “the ugliest shot of any coach he’d ever known” to last year saying I had “perfect form on my shot from the waist up”. Note: I haven’t changed my shot since 6th grade.)

Posted in beautiful basketball, general improvement, high school hoops | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Harvard’s March Madness Win and the NTL Weekend Camps

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 22, 2013

Though I coached at Harvard for seven years, since then I haven’t always been a fan of the team or rooted for them, after all, by not giving me the head coaching job way-back-when, they essentially fired me. (Thereby waiting much, much longer to get to the NCAAs then the should have!!!) But after they gave Tommy Amaker the job, a guy I knew from when he was an assistant at Duke and I at Harvard, I started to warm up to the program again. His top two assistants have run many NTL clinics in Boston the past few years and do a great work. It’s been fun to reconnect.

So, other than liking Amaker and his assistants what made me excited about Harvard’s great win last night? (You did watch it, didn’t you?) Not their mascot; they don’t have one. Not their pep band; they are more like a chamber music ensemble. Nope, it was the way they played and the way they played is exactly what we preach and teach at the Never Too Late Basketball Camps. They won because of strict adherence to fundamentals, the same fundamentals that can help you play better and enjoy the game longer: excellent floor spacing and ball movement on offense; understanding and executing roles and responsibilities and goals on defense. Plus they’ve worked on sills. Plus they shot well, but a big reason they shot well is they shot in rhythm, never forcing a shot or taking a shot they don’t practice. It was beautiful.

After drills and skills and getting players to pay attention to the small stuff during those practice sessions, we run four sets of “coached scrimmages” at the weekend camps. By the time the Sunday morning scrimmage rolls around, we expect to see some of what we saw from Harvard last night: patience; spacing; a willingness to trust teammates and to move the ball; a belief and understanding of what you are trying collectively to accomplish on defense.

Plus we have a cool NBA style Three-Pont Shooting Contest, the winner of which this year will get the “Laurent Rivard Award”! (That kid can shoot!)

Posted in beautiful basketball, defense, general improvement, notes: college & pro, shooting | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Harvard FT Shooters (NCAA History’s Best)

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on December 22, 2008

I know the answer to great team free throw shooting; learned it from Frank McLaughlin (my freshmen coach at Fordham), head coach at Harvard when the ’83-’84 Harvard men’s basketball team set the all-time NCAA Division I Free Throw record (that still stands today): 82.2%. 

Coaches employ many different methods to improve their teams’ free throw chances: every player has to come to the gym at 7am twice a week to shoot a hundred (which coaches then chart and post); make ten straight before you leave the gym at the end of every practice (got that one from Jim McDonald, former head coach at Kent State); shoot FTs when players are tired after tough drills (to mimic game conditions); pluck a player and make everyone run a suicide if the player misses; shooting games like S-W-I-S-H (+1 for a swish, -1 for a miss, 0 for a make that isn’t a perfect swish; +6 wins, players shot 2 at a time and switch). Harvard used none of these strategies.

How did they do it? Well, Harvard’s all-time leading scorer (1,880 points) and certified stud (30 pts versus Duke in the greatest loss ever at Briggs Cage), Joe Carrabino, tied for 2nd in the nation at 90.5% (with Chris Mullin, “Dream Teamer”, Basketball God who everyone in Boston saw play in his high school days in the old Boston Shootout long ago). Bob Ferry (who taught little brother, Danny, future NCAA Player of the Year at Duke  everything he knew) was 4th at 90.3%. Arne Duncan (everybody’s favorite Obama Cabinet hoopster) and Duncan’s co-captain, never-say-die cohort, Keith Webster, each shot 86.7%. (Pat Smith, point guard, and for whom career stats seem elusive, got to the line rarely but never missed.) At season’s end, a writer from a national concern called Coach McLaughlin wanting to write a story on how they did it. He asked what secrets there were, what magic applied, or at least what special or innovative shooting drills they used. McLaughlin answered, “we didn’t do anything, nothing at all; they’re just great shooters.” The writer wasn’t buying it; maybe it has something to do with the innate intelligence of the players, you know . . . Harvard??? “Doubt it”, Frank said, “there have been plenty of Harvard teams that didn’t break free throw records or even shoot particularly well. Sorry, but the answer is these guys just happened to be great shooters.”

So, there it is. Frank McLaughlin, an innovative, smart, schooled-on-the-NYC playgrounds coach who had been a great player (and great shooter) at Fordham could not and would not take credit for a great thing his team had accomplished. But thinking back on that group over the years, and witnessing other teams, college and pro, go through their ups and downs at the line, during games and over the course of a season, I’ve often wondered what else came into play that year. This: I think it was all in the collective head of that team: the psyche, the ego, the competitive spirit, the unique motivation each player possessed, and the intuition McLaughlin applied. 

Nobody wanted to be the guy who missed. Just as missing in games is contagious, making them was contagious for that team. It all started with the big guy, Carrabino. Joe Carrabino had an ego the size of the centuries old campus and nerves of – well, no nerves as we know them. How’s this for proof? He made 50something straight free throws in the last 4 minutes of games over his last 2 seasons. (Let us pause for a moment to consider that . . . carve a spot for Joe Carrabino at Mount Rushmore.) Ferry, low-key and fun-loving was a close second fiddle, if you can imagine being recruited by Dean Smith and UNC and then be the sweet second option at Harvard. Smooth, perfect shooting form/stroke, my take is he was quiet about it, but he had things to prove and one of them was: if Carrabino could make all his free throws, so could he. Duncan, of course, had lots to prove, like whether he belonged there in the first place. (That’s what happens when you play JV your freshman year.) Miss your free throws and your spot becomes suspect. Plus it would be just embarrassing, wouldn’t it? Webster, the youngster of the group, was like the kid brother trying to prove he could play with the older kids in the neighborhood. Competitive, tough and tireless as a dog on the hunt, son of a 600+ win college coach, Webster wasn’t going to miss many. And Pat Smith, tenacious defender, ball distributor, like Ferry a proud product of Dematha Catholic, the “fifth starter” had no choice but to uphold his end of the bargain. Okay, maybe he wasn’t going to score as much but if he made his free throws he would once again prove his worth. In the end, they made their free throws because the other guys were making their free throws. Sure they had the strokes, the good technique, but they also, individually, had the critical mindset: that at this one simple doable task, they would not fail. It was pride, ego, competition, individual and collective desire; it was contagious and important. And it was record breaking. And McLaughlin knew enough to let them be.

Note No. 1: how many coaches in the past 24 years have challenged their teams to break Harvard’s record, set that very specific goal? I think that simple step, that simple clearly defined motivation would get some team in the record book pretty fast, plus help win some extra games. 

Note No. 2: I think the presence of Ray Allen and his career 90%+ free throw percentage proved motivational for Paul Pierce last year. Pierce went from 76% in ’05-’06 and 79% in ’06-’07 to 84% last year, the year that Ray Allen and his gaudy numbers showed up. Pierce changed his set-up: a more methodical, more one-foot-directly-in-front-of-the-other, Jeff Hornacek type set-up plus an exaggerated follow-through to get the results he had to have to be in the good company of Allen.

Posted in notes: college & pro, shooting | Tagged: , , , , | 15 Comments »

Arne Duncan, Sec’y of Ed, The Basketball Player

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on December 16, 2008

Arne Duncan at Harvard HoopsIn every newspaper and blog announcement, in President-elect Obama’s introduction and even in a question in the press conference following the naming of Arne Duncan as the new administration’s choice as Education Secretary, there has been mention of Arne as a basketball player, a “co-captain at Harvard” and a former overseas player in Australia. What doesn’t come through in any of this is 1) how good Arne really was (and, to some extent, I’m sure, still is) and 2) what that means, if anything, in his new position. That’s a point, after reading my brief (and incomplete history) I will let you decide on your own.

I came upon Arne when he was entering his junior year at Harvard, so what I know of his first two years I learned from others. He apparently came to Harvard, unrecruited, as a gangly, thin, weak 6’2″ player with no chance at making varsity. Most Division I schools don’t even have tryouts and if they do, it is pretty much pro forma. Arne played where he could, which meant JV. According to Julio Diaz, then the 2nd assistant (and now an assistant athletic director at Fordham) and thus in charge of the junior varsity, Arne was a “gym rat” and averaged something like 30+ points per game is freshman year. Harvard then under head coach, Frank McLaughlin, was on something of an upswing and after Arne’s freshman year, he was given no promises – and might have even been discouraged – regarding making the varsity squad the next year. (Here’s a funny story: Arne, it should be noted, spent all his basketball playing time in inner-city Chicago, seeking out  and playing with the best. Inner-city in Chicago means Polish-Americans and African-Americans. Let’s just say Arne wasn’t playing with the Polish kids. Hanging in those neighborhoods, Arne developed a manner of speaking that belied his ancestry. He sounded like “a brother”. Following his freshman year, desperate to prove he could play Division I, Arne, having grown now to 6’4″, got on the phone with a bunch of Ivy league schools and their basketball coaches. Sometime later, pre-season, Tom Miller, head coach at Cornell was talking with Coach McLaughlin about this and that and, as an aside asked, “who’s this, Arne Duncan, who called asking to transfer?” McLaughlin apparently gave his description of Arne and Miller said, “but he’s a black kid”. And McLaughlin said “no, he’s a white kid”. And Miller said again, “got to be a black kid, I talked with him”. And McLaughlin had to explain, “no, he just talks like that because that’s where he’s from”! Later in his career, Arne dropped 26 points on Cornell at Cornell, letting Coach Miller know exactly who he was.)

Arne came back sophomore year and made the varsity. By the end of the year, he was 6’5″ and starting on a team that finished very strong, winning 8 of the last 10 and finishing 9-5 in the Ivies. The next year (my first year on staff), with all the players returning, Harvard started out strong (swept Penn/Princeton at Penn/Princeton, the only time that has been done by any Ivy team EVER) but faltered badly down the stretch; Duncan meanwhile had emerged as a solid Ivy player. With a head coaching change and a bevy of new players, Duncan took the next year off to – take your pick: 1) go back to Chicago to work on his Senior Thesis (which even elicited a mention by Alex Wolff in SI) or 2) give his body another year to mature, allow the young players a year to develop and, finally, play his senior year with his best friend on the team, Keith Webster (future Utah Jazz draft pick).

When Arne and Webster came back in the fall, somehow they got the keys to the gym. Many a night I’d come back from being on the road recruiting, midnight, 1, 2 am and they’d be in the gym working out, doing all-out, game-speed shooting and ball handling drills. This was not something that you’d see at Harvard. You know, libraries open 24/7, all-nighters every night. But down in Briggs Cage working out? Nope. Another thing I remember is in pre-season pick-up games, Arne never called a foul when a defender fouled him. Never. I think he saw it, calling the foul, as an excuse he did not want to use if something had gone wrong – missed a shot, lost the ball or something. No excuses. Play through it. Get the job done. Overcome the obstacles, nobody bailing him out. Excuses equated to failure and he just did not see things that way. He was a brilliant player, smooth, crafty, unfettered by any defensive scheme or outside pressure (he was the top practitioner of what I call “The Sixth Principle of Zone Offense”), teaming with Webster to sweep Penn and Princeton early season in our gym; even pummeled a Pete Carril Princeton team 78-54! Earlier in the season, Arne led The Crimson to a near upset at Boston College, a game in which we had a 9 point second half lead, but faltered in the end, 87-86. During one stretch, Arne scored 14 straight points by himself. I mean no one else scored from either team (one being a Big East team). Somehow, on our last possession, we neglected to run the play for Duncan. Our bad.

The season sort of went downhill from there; it was too bad. We lost a couple of games and the coaching staff didn’t/couldn’t figure out how to get the players going in the same direction as the coaching staff thought it should go. Duncan grew much closer to Assistant Coach Tom Thibodeau (now regarded as the top assistant in the NBA, with the Celtics, and seen as the “guru”  behind their defensive schemes). Duncan worked hard in the off-season with Thibs (as we called him) to prepare for CBA tryouts but ultimately played four seasons in the top-tier Australian Pro League.

The reason Arne Duncan was/is (after pro ball, he teamed with Craig Robinson – Obama’s brother-in-law and a great, great Ivy league player at Princeton – and two others to win multiple Hoop-It-Up National titles) a great player is because the game and what the game requires suites him to perfection. It’s cliché, but it’s team game; no way Arne Duncan gets any good at golf or tennis or, god forbid, downhill skiing. It’s the perfect game for someone who understands what working hard will do for you and is ready then to do that work. It’s a game that if you can see the possibilities where maybe others don’t see it – in the angles, in the subtle change of speed and change of direction, in the gaps and openings, in the beauty and satisfaction that comes with a shot made or a pass completed, in the pulling together, in the belief of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, in the knowledge that there are lots of ways to get the job done. Arne Duncan was not a great talent, but boy, did he understand and see deep into the game. I think he believed in the game and in his belief that he could be very, very good at it even while others might not have thought so. Isn’t that what great teachers, what great educators possess? The unwavering belief that their pupils can and should and will succeed.

Posted in notes: college & pro | Tagged: , , , | 27 Comments »

College Hoops In Beantown, 12/10/08

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on December 11, 2008

Northeastern vs Harvard. A low-major collegiate basketball game. A drizzly Wednesday night. Why was Bob Ryan there? Why were we there? I asked someone who Ryan talked to for most of the half-time, “What’s Bob Ryan doing here?” Turns out he considered Bryant at BC – “interesting because of the Timmy O’Shea  thing (local product, played and assistant coached at BC) but not going to be a game”. Thought about Yale at BU – “not going to be a game; Yale (2-6) is off to a bad start this year – ehhhh”.  So, as it was for Commissioner Ryan it was for me and my wife and a couple basketball friends, a nice little crosstown collegiate basketball battle. A phone call to get the tickets, a quick drive and an easy park to see what promised (and proved) to be a very interesting game between two teams that really, really wanted to win.

The Northeastern Huskies came in 4-4 including an impressive win at Providence. The Crimson, meanwhile, were presenting evidence stating that the long road back to respectability was about to begin, 4-2. A good effort at Colorado and two road wins gave that notion credence. Northeastern is coached by long-time BC Assistant, Bill Coen, and Harvard, of course, by the big-time, big-name, Dukie Tommy Amaker; a couple of guys looking to build (in Amaker’s case) or resurrect (in Coen’s) programs. Northeastern is led by a nice scoring junior two-guard named Matt Janning who scored his 1000th point last night. (Fourth quickest to do so in illustrious Northeastern Basketball history.) They also have some nice big rebounders. Harvard is blending new talent (four frosh saw considerable time, two of who were pivotal actors) with some talent left over from the Frank Sullivan regime, primarily their leading scorer, Jeremy Lin (he of the undeniable first step) and a guy who looks like he’s in an Amaker doghouse, the previously effective, and de facto team leader point guard, Drew Housman.

Harvard played man-to-man the whole game and, surprisingly, never pressured the Huskies in the backcourt. Northeastern mixed defenses up by going 3-2 (3-2 match?) with mostly man-to-man. They spaced most of the Harvard perimeter players in the halfcourt. Offensively, Harvard ran lots of screens and some nice pin downs for shooters resulting in clutch baskets. Lin went strong to the hoop whenever he wanted. (The thought occurred to me that some offensive schemes that created more space and movement for Lin’s drives would be nice.) Freshman, Keith Wright, once toughened, will be a very nice player; had a couple nice left-hand finishes. Likewise, Max Kenyi, gave the impression through his hard work on defense on Janning and fearless forays to the hoop, that he has All-Ivy written all over him.

Seesaw game. Harvard dropped three three-pointers in the last 90 secs or so to force OT. Big Kenyi deflection/steal late got them the ball for the last three. End of OT saw Nkem Ojougboh of NU drop a two footer in over the rim to force the second extra frame with 2.7 seconds left. The 2nd OT had Northeastern get second chance points, take advantage of foul situation and they made their free throws. There was only one dunk in the game: Lin on a baseline drive. It was one of those nice surprise-you sort of dunks. Got the 343 fans’ attention.

Faces in the crowd: David Lang, 6’6″ redhead out of Darien CT who started a bunch of games for us in the late 80s. Had a sweet up-and-under move; Harry Parker, the John Wooden of college crew; Tom Mannix, outstanding guard for The Crimson in the late 70s, early 80s; Fran Connolly, big-time (Elite Eight of the NCAAs) referee and my former landlord who, early in his career did a bunch of our games; we never mentioned to anyone that I lived in the same house as him (and we never got calls from ’em!); Charlie Diehl, former assigner of officials when I was coaching. (Once called the Harvard AD on me, saying I was “out-of-control” with the officials; I was.) The aforementioned Bob Ryan, true basketball historian. My favorite columns of his are the ones from The Olympics.

Posted in notes: college & pro | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Cut From the Team at Harvard

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on September 30, 2008

There’s a dust-up going on at Harvard concerning the basketball staff cutting five of the previous coaching regime’s recruits. Since it may have impacted some players’ thoughts on possibly transferring, hoping to play elsewhere, to them and their families, it probably runs a little deeper than that.

Coaches have the right to cut players, to deny them an opportunity to play or even to be on the team. The ability to make those sort of decisions is part of the confidence that an athletic department and athletic director and university bestows upon a coach when they hire that coach. Now, most Division I schools don’t even have tryouts, and if they do have them, they are pretty much pro-forma, i.e., a bit of a charade. Still, when we had them when I was at Harvard (’85-’91), though it felt like it was costing you a day of practice, it was an interesting exercise and often brought with it a touch of angst or uneasiness. Could you make a place on the roster for someone you did not recruit, thereby displacing someone you did recruit, and to whom, presumably, you had more allegiance? Not always so easy and at times you can make mistakes, or moves you regret.

So, a couple years after we cut a player, a move that drew letters to the editor in The Harvard Crimsom, I’m sitting in a gym at The College of St. Rose in Albany, NY watching an AAU team from that area practice. I was there checking out Greg Koubek (who later went on to four Final Four appearances with Duke) and Brendan O’Sullivan (who eventually starred at Dartmouth) both players with the necessary grades and basketball acumen to have helped us. The only other coach in the gym was Terry Holland, then head coach at Virginia; he was there keeping an eye out on Koubek. Since there was no one else in the gym to talk to, I sidled over to Holland, introduced myself, and he to me. We chatted, then, upon hearing that I was at Harvard, he, citing the one thought he could have possibly had that related to Harvard Basketball (I mean, here’s a two-time ACC Coach of the Year and we were, well, Harvard Hoops), asked me “what ever happened to _ _ _ _ _ _, we had him at our summer camp a few years back and in the staff games, he gave Ralph Sampson fits”. My (and I’m pretty sure I must have half-mumbled this, way-y-y under my breath) reply? “Oh, we cut him.” Holland, thinking for a second, no doubt conjuring up what he imagined an approximation of what he guessed Harvard’s record to be the previous season (6-20), figuratively, if not literally, scratched his head.

Maybe it was a mistake, maybe it wasn’t. We had the tryouts, we weighed the factors that all coaches of good conscience could and should apply: style of play, offseason commitment to program, perceived chemistry with other players and coaches, development potential, was-it-a-good-fit?, etc. I don’t recall whether there was direct communication with that player or other players who, over the years, expected to make the team and didn’t. I hope we did. The point is (and I have no idea what happened most recently at Harvard, other than what I read in the NY Times which – guaranteed – is not the whole story): it seems to me that in this matter, as in so many, difficult as it may be, communication, transparency, accountability and careful consideration of what’s best for the player and the team are, at minimum, required of the coaching staff. As coaches require commitment from players, players and families should have clear communication from coaches. After all, rightly or wrongly, based in reality or not, being a part of a college basketball team, once denied, is a cut that can really hurt.

Posted in notes: college & pro | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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