Category Archives: Coaching

June 4, 1976 – Possibly the Greatest Game Ever Played

PlayoffsSome basketball purists have called the June 4th game between the Boston Celtics and the Phoenix Suns in the 1976 NBA Finals one of the greatest games ever played!

Despite being down 18 points at the end of the first quarter and 16 points at halftime, the Suns fought back and briefly held a one point lead with just seconds to go in the game.

With time winding down, the Suns fouled the Celtic’s John Havlicek who could’ve won the game if he had made both free throws but since he only made one the game went into overtime.

In the first overtime both teams scored six points and were once again tied when the buzzer sounded.

In the second OT the Celtics led 109-106 with about 20 seconds left to play but the Suns scored, stole the inbounds pass and scored again to take a 110-109 lead with six seconds left.

The Celtics inbounded the ball to Havlicek who banked in a jump shot off the dribble to seemingly give Boston the win at the buzzer.

However, the official (no, it wasn’t Joey Crawford) ended the victory celebration said there were actually two seconds left on the clock when Havicek scored.

What followed was one of the smartest plays in the history of the NBA.

Instead of taking the ball the length of the floor in two seconds, the Suns’ Paul Westphal called a timeout even though his team didn’t have any left.

A technical foul was called and the Celtics Jo Jo White made the free throw to give Boston a 112-110 lead. But since they had inbounded the ball and called timeout Phoenix now got the ball at half court.

They inbounded the ball to Garfield Heard who then hit a turn around jump shot at the buzzer to send the game into a third overtime!

The Celtics went on to win the game in the third overtime 128-126 but after nearly 40 years it still remains as possibly he greatest game ever played!

Here is a clip showing Garfield Heard’s buzzer beater.

If you get the chance do yourself a favor and watch a replay of the entire game.

Alan Stein’s “Great Players”

AlanHere is an awesome list compiled by Alan Stein who is one of the most respected teachers of the game in the entire country:

  • Great players… can pivot both ways off of either foot and can dribble, pass, and finish around the basket with either hand. They don’t have a ‘weak’ hand.
  • Great players… love and respect the game of basketball. They don’t play for money or fame; they play for love.
  • Great players… are unselfish passers. They hit open teammates. They know the goal is to get THE best shot; not THEIR best shot.
  • Great players… don’t commit stupid fouls.  They know their greatness is eliminated if they are on the bench in foul trouble.
  • Great players… are students of the game. They watch film. They study opponents. They study themselves.
  • Great players… value every possession.  They aren’t careless with ball.  They make smart passes and take high percentage shots.
  • Great players… don’t wait for the workout or practice or game to start… they prepare for it! They prepare mentally and physically.
  • Great players… are super competitive. They hate losing more than they enjoy winning. They compete in everything they do!
  • Great players… always know the time and score. They know how many time-outs they have as well as who is in foul trouble on both teams.
  • Great players… log the game in the mind. At any point in time, they can tell you exactly what happened, on both ends of the floor, the last 3 possessions.
  • Great players… are assertive with the ball, welcome contact when driving to the cup, and get to the free throw line.
  • Great players… immediately think ‘Next Play.’  They don’t dwell on mistakes (missed shot or TO)… they make up for it on the other end.
  • Great players… make plays, not excuses. They don’t care if the refs suck, if the floor is slippery, or if they have a cold. They get it done.
  • Great players… are the first ones in the gym… and the last ones to leave EVERY day.
  • Great players… don’t worry about getting exposure.  They focus more on never getting exposed!
  • Great players… elevate their teammates to become great players too!
  • Great players… know that their legacy will be judged on their ability to win championships.
  • Great players… would rather play ball than anything else.  They truly love to play.
  • Great players… are well rounded and have a complete game.  They can ‘hurt’ you in a variety of ways.
  • Great players… are top notch communicators.  They talk with a presence on both ends of the floor.
  • Great players… want the ball in their hands when the game is on the line because they know they have put in the work to DESERVE success.
  • Great players… train with a purpose. Their workouts are focused, intense, and progressive.  Nothing they do on the court is casual.
  • Great players… give back to their program and are humble and grateful for what basketball has done for them.
  • Great players… are responsible for tone and effort of the entire team… every workout, practice, and game.
  • Great players… are always thinking two plays ahead.
  • Great players… hold themselves, their teammates, and their coaches accountable. They believe in collective responsibility.
  • Great players… play in straight lines and sharp angles. They make hard basket cuts and set solid screens.
  • Great players… love playing and competing against other great players.
  • Great players… know that no detail is too small and that the smallest of details can make them even better.
  • Great players…have high values. They value their teammates, winning, and self improvement.
  • Great players… are never content and never complacent.

How many of these traits do you have?



Takeaways from Calipari’s “Players First”

Players First John CalipariThe University of Kentucky’s John Calipari is one of the most polarizing figures in basketball today as fans across the country either love him or hate him.

The most important and interesting thing to me, however, is that Coach Cal’s players all seem to love him and that tells me he must be doing something right.

Not too long ago Calipari wrote a book called “Players First: Success from the Inside Out.”

Here are 35 quotes from that book that were originally posted at

What do you think of the very first quote? It’s definitely a different twist on the traditional “play for the name on the front of the jersey” quote.

Notice Coach Cal isn’t telling his players to play for the names on the back (their own) but that he is going to coach the team as a whole and individually.

  1. I coach for the names on the backs of the jerseys – not just the front.  My players.”

  3. “In almost all cases, their (the players) dream is to play in the NBA as soon as possible.  The more who achieve that goal, the more who want to come here.  That’s the way it works.  Success breeds more success.”

  5. “None of my players are as ready as they think they are for how we play at Kentucky – let alone ready for the pros – because they have rarely if ever been really pushed.”

  7. “As I became more secure, I liked that I could make my life about everyone but me.”

  9. “Institutions serve people, not the other way around.  So as a servant-leader, I measure my success by the success of those whom I’m serving.”

  11. “The art of coaching at this level is about convincing great athletes to change.  First we have to get them to accept what they’re not good at…Surrender to our instruction.  Surrender to physical conditioning.”

  13. “You want to know what delusional is?  I’ve had to say to kids, ‘You’re listening to your barber instead of listening to us.’”

  15. “Practice is where we work on our players’ weaknesses; games are where we show their strengths.”

  17. “A player who is looking for excuses doesn’t want you to put the responsibility on him.  It robs him of his best self-justification.”

  19. “When you bring in great players to play with other great players, there’s a multiplier effect, and they up better than they would have been individually.  They drive one another in practice.”

  21. “When players combine elite athleticism and great determination, you don’t worry too much about position.”

  23. “If you need someone to be Superman at the end to win games, you’re going to lost games.”

  25.  “Thinking about how you would try to beat your own team goes with the job of being a coach.”

  27. “If I’m forced to choose between talent and experience, I’m taking talent every time.  You can gain experience and you can add skills, but what’s sometimes called God-given talent is just that.”

  29. “The best players I’ve coached have a demeanor about them that never moves.  They have a calmness…Physiology-wise, rage and anger are related to fear.”

  31. “Part of coaching is acting.  It’s true of any kind of leadership, whether you’re a CEO, an army general, or a father.  Part of the job is that you don’t reveal your own apprehensions.”

  33. “You’re going to make mistakes, just play through them.”

  35. “I had truly gone from the business of basketball to the business of helping families.”

  37. “During the season it’s about team.  From the moment our last game ends until the draft, it switches over to being about individual kids.”

  39. “You don’t know if you will win or lose until you do.  I don’t give up on kids.  I don’t give up on teams.  I don’t give up on seasons.”

  41. “Even when we won, I wasn’t fully satisfied, which is how you’re supposed to coach.  You’re happy, but you ask for more.  You try to get up to the next level.”

  43. “Competition gets you out of bed in the morning.  It makes you alive and it makes you better.  It reveals the best and the worst in us.  You learn whether you can stand up and respond to being challenged, or whether you back down.  When you start getting beaten, you either change or you fail.”

  45. “Nothing in my Players First philosophy says that I should protect kids from competition.  It’s just the opposite.  I serve them by giving them competition.”

  47. “Recruiting is sales.  It’s persuasion.  But a salesman who’s a fake isn’t a very good salesman – or at least he’s not good at selling to intelligent people.”

  49. “My players have to have the intellect to absorb coaching and the emotional intelligence to be good teammates.”

  51. “The quality I’m looking for in a kid is respect.”

  53. “Classroom smarts and academic achievement relate to what we often call basketball IQ. I always want a kid who’s a good student.”

  55. “The one thing no one on my staff can do is add stuff to my plate…If you’re piling more things on, I may have to let you go.”

  57. “I need people who look at adversity as a challenge and failure as a learning opportunity.”

  59. “If you’re a coach who truly respect the profession, you have to allow yourself to be coached.”

  61. “I’m a collector of coaches, teachers, and mentors.  The ones from my younger days I keep in contact with and never let go.  And as I get older, I keep finding new ones.”

  63. “You must love the thought of pushing through your comfort level.”

  65. “Do you want to read about history or make history?”

  67. “Honesty and its related quality, trust, are at the very core of my coaching philosophy.”

  69. “Just because you’re a year older doesn’t automatically make you a year better.”

3 Tips for Drawing up Game Winning Plays

Time is expiring and your team gets the ball out of a timeout. You’re down by one and you need a bucket to win the game.

What type of play do you run?

You run what you saw Rick Pitino run to beat Duke a few years back right?

The problem with many basketball coaches is they think that’s always the right answer. They think that running something they saw a big name coach run will give them the best open look in every situation.

The reality is, the same play doesn’t work for every team in every situation. There are a lot of things that go into what type of play will work best in the situation you are in.

In this video, Coach Stricklin breaks down how to go about determining what type of play to draw up when you are in a tight game down the stretch and you have to have an open look.

How to Defend Baseline Out of Bounds Plays (BLOBS)

Offenses have gotten better and better over the years at creating open shots on out of bounds plays.

If your team isn’t 100% clear on what your overall strategy is for defending these plays, the offense will always win.

Here’s some tips on how you can better defend out of bounds plays and make it very difficult for your opponents to score. If you win each of these battles during a game it could mean the difference in 4-10 points going in your favor and ultimately determining the outcome of the game.

Using a Screen Away from the Ball

ScreenThe cutter has the best chance of getting open if he waits for the pick to be set before cutting
tot he ball. Cut shoulder to shoulder off a screen to eliminate any chance your defender can slash through the screen. There are four basic options depending on how your defender plays the screen.

  1. Go over the top and continue to the basket when your defensive player trails you around the screen

  3. Curl over the top for the quick shot if the screener’s defender allows your defender to slide behind the screen one man removed.

  5. Pop Out or Step Back for the shot if your defender attempts to go completely behind the screener and their defender two men removed.

  7. If your defender cheats and jumps high in front of the screen before it can be properly set you can either flare away from the screen in the opposite direction your defender has jumped, or you can go back door to the basket if your defender gets caught high side by the screener.

The above ideas were taken from one of Alan Lambert’s “Playground Pointers.”

Dean Smith – Loyalty Above Everything Else

Loyalty By now most basketball fans have heard that legendary UNC coach Dean Smith passed away
last night at the age of 83.

Throughout the day today former North Carolina players have been interviewed on television to share some of their experiences with Coach Smith.

Every single one of them mentioned their off court relationship with their coach and how loyal they were to each other.

Several years ago former UNC player David Chadwick interviewed Coach Smith and asked him why it seemed that he valued loyalty over success.

I loved to win and hated to lose. Yet for years I struggled with something internally. We would play poorly and win and I’d feel great. We’d play well and lose and I’d feel terrible. That didn’t make sense to me.

If two of your children were playing tennis against each other, would you really care who won? Is winning all that important in the scheme of things? No. That’s why I have ultimately placed compassion above competition. I want to win but caring for people is much more important to me. I finally concluded that success is not defined by winning or losing but in doing the best you can, where you are, with what you have.

Coach Smith was a teacher, an innovator, a winner, and a champion. But he will long be remembered as much for his loyalty and compassion and friendship as anything else. That would be a great goal for the rest of us too!

My Coach Sucks

Here is a great video that demonstrates how hard it can be for coaches having to deal with all the outside influences their players have around them.

Players: Please watch this and internalize how important it is for you to be accountable for your own actions. The more you push blame aside in your life the less likely you are to be successful in whatever path of life you choose!