My basketball coach likes to press and run. Some players think we would be better off if we didn’t press, but my dad says we should focus on throwing the ball down to the block and trying to score from close to the basket. Then I keep hearing about Dribble Drive Motion, which I guess is what a lot of good teams run now. What’s the best system for high school basketball?
G. T., Santa Cruz
Simple answer: There is no perfect system, in basketball or in life. There are deeply complicated philosophical reasons why this is true, even in the most structured situations. So in a fluid, constantly changing environment such as high school basketball, no collection of Xs and Os is going to work for every team every time.
There are a couple of constants, however, and no good team — or at least very few — can be without them.
1) The players must play hard. There’s no substitute for this, and Phil Jackson could come in and install the triangle at your high school, but if the players don’t play hard, it won’t matter. Even the most talented teams have to be substantially invested in success.
A perfect example is last year’s CIF Division II boys state championship game, which matched Long Beach Poly and its 4,500-person student body versus Serra-San Mateo, with fewer than 1,000 boys. Poly was uninterested, and Serra thumped them pretty bad — but had you gone by talent, depth and skill, you would’ve expected Poly to win, perhaps even easily.
2) The coach must understand his system and believe in it. Sometimes high school coaches decide to adopt the flavor of the month (whether it be the triangle, flex, or any number of successful systems) without fully understanding it. The nuances of any system are the key, and it takes time to fully grasp them. A coach who adopts the system because he thinks it will work, and hasn’t spent a lot of time studying it, could be in for a rude awakening.
3) The players must believe. The coach must communicate his commitment to the system, and his commitment to the idea that it will be successful, to his players. However, whatever system the team runs likely won’t work against a superior opponent. So the players are faced with a choice: blame the new system, or blame themselves for the loss. It doesn’t take a Ph.D in psychology to know which way that’s going to go…