There’s nothing to compare the feeling and attitude in the air on October 15. That marks the first day of practice for all NCAA schools. I will try to give you an inside look at the first five days of basketball practice for this year’s women’s basketball team. Sometimes, you will see the practices from my point of view. Other times, I will try and read the minds of my players.
DAY 1: Sixteen basketball players and all of them have dreams of great plays ahead of them. Each individual is absolutely sure they are starting material. Each individual is positively sure that not a single team on our schedule can beat us. National championship, here we come!
The coaches put in one simple play and the players run it over and over and over again. Even the slowest learners have got it now. I know what they all are thinking, “How tough can this be?” We finish the practice with a scrimmage and everyone scores. The defensive part of practice may not have been absorbed quite as well as the offense.
DAY 2: The players aren’t walking as well as they did the first day. There is a lot more concentration on stretching. Then, all hopes of a national championship is dashed as the first dozen shots brick so badly the big, bad wolf couldn’t help out.
I add another offensive play and a few more rules for the defense. I know the freshmen think I’m nuts asking them to remember all those defensive rules. “Wouldn’t we be better off sitting in a zone,” I read on some of their minds. We may not win a game.
DAY 3: Finally, the pain of walking upright has subsided for the most part. Here comes another offensive play and another defensive rule or two. I now see a few blank stares on the faces of my players. Even a few veteran players are a little unsure of themselves.
This is the point when you can really tell the smart players from those who may not be as bright. You can see the confused players always hanging around the smart ones. When one of those new plays is called, they look at the smart ones for help. It’s a good thing they are generous teammates, or the confused ones would never get to the correct spots.
DAY 4: This is a really tough day. Thirty minutes before practice begins, Joe Quinlin, our strength and conditioning coach, runs them through a pretty tough workout in the weight room. Now they’re expected to pick up that basketball and throw it in those 10-foot tall baskets when the basketballs feel as light as eggs. As hard as they hit the rim, they may break like eggs.
As a coach, I have the audacity to put in yet another offensive play. Also, a full-court, zone press is added. More rules and more places to be at just the right time. I can tell this is like a calculus class to someone who doesn’t know the multiplication table. I can just read their minds, “Not only can’t I shoot after the weights, but now I don’t know a “Husker” from a “Tiger.” (Those are the names of two plays)
DAY 5: Now, I really pile it on. I have to put in an offensive press break to beat the defensive press I installed yesterday. We really have them coming and going. If a player has a turnover, I’m all over them. If the press break works, Coach Hopkins is all over them for bad defense. Who can win?
I really pile it on and add a fifth play to our playbook. You would have thought I would have asked them to interpret the Odyssey that had been printed in Italian. Also, we get serious about what to run with 10 seconds on the shot clock or an alternative offensive play if one of my five plays don’t work. The players wonder if I expected them all to be Rhodes Scholars.
I use the same philosophy on my players as I did for myself during my college days. I always crammed in all the information at the last possible second before test day. Then I slept on the textbook, thinking all that knowledge was filtering right into my starved brain. We are cramming like crazy, but I don’t think anyone has slept on their playbook. If I put in another offensive play tomorrow, they may burn their playbook.