We’re Talking About Practice?

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Written By: Brian Tonsoni 10/2/2018

Years ago, Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers was asked about practice.  His response has been referred to over and over again since:

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We're sitting here, and I'm supposed to be the franchise player, and we're talking about practice. I mean listen, we're sitting here talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, but we're talking about practice. Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it's my last, but we're talking about practice man. How silly is that?

~ Allen Iverson on missing practice

Iverson was the quintessential gamer if there ever was one in basketball.  The question We’re Talking about Practice? is an important question.  The programs that answer that in a productive and serious manner are usually the programs that win consistently.  Talent is important. Being ready to give your all during the games is important. Learning how to compete in practice is the most important.

Why is practice so important?  Habits. Developing good habits in individual play and team play is the foundation of a good program.  What a team makes a habit is what becomes the players’ and team’s default in pressure situations. When the going gets tough, players revert back to the level of their training.  Training is practice.

This week the Indiana men’s basketball program began practice.  So what does that look like? Fundamentals are almost always scheduled into a practice.  This consists of ball handling (dribbling and passing), rebounding, defensive stance and movement, and of course shooting. Repetition of correct skills makes players better. Repeating these skills at a game speed pace really makes players better.  A good program will design fundamental skill practice at high speed and include competition.

Competition in practice adds to each drill.  Competitions serve two purposes. First, it makes the drill more game-like. Second, it creates a culture of winning.  Simple dribbling and shooting is ok. Highly competitive dribbling and shooting is even better.

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Another aspect in a good practice is breakdown drills.  The team will go through 2x2, 3x3 and 4x4 offensive and defensive drills.  This allows the coach to focus the team on specific techniques that need improvement.  On offense, a breakdown drill could be a small piece of the offense. For example, 3x3 ball screen action will help the players understand the movements of the defense and their offensive teammates.  On defense, a common 4x4 drill is called “shell drill” and focuses on defensive positioning and movement. Breakdown drills also allow the coach to see how the team is doing in a specific area. Building in competition in these drills again makes the practice even more intense.

Finally, a good practice has some 5x5 work as well.  This can be achieved with half court play, transition play, or actual live scrimmage.  Playing 5x5 is the essence of basketball and must be practiced. Teaching can take place during 5x5 by stopping action and demonstrating proper technique in practice.  Again, good programs will add competition to these segments as well.

Charting practices is done in many programs. Especially, at Indiana under Archie Miller.  The player that “grades” out the best over a given amount of practices is awarded a gold jersey to wear for a week.  This is competition. Rewarding winning and having consequences for losing built into a practice will pay huge dividends come game time.

One of the biggest issues facing this year’s Indiana basketball team is teaching the young players how to practice.  Many college players are very talented and practice/games in high school and AAU may have been easy for them in a competitive way.  When these players advance to a higher level of competition, they must relearn how to practice. Recently, Archie Miller made a comment about Romeo being a gamer.  This shows that Romeo is very talented but even at his high ability level he needs to learn how to practice. I believe the best example of a player maximizing his play through appropriate practice would be Victor Oladipo.  He was constantly in Cook Hall and working on his game even though he was a talented player.

Current player Jake Forrester is getting a lot of attention from people who get to see practice.  Don Fischer on The Dan Dakich Show mentioned the energy that Forrester brings in everything he does.  That is what practice is supposed to be. Being young and talented is fine. Learning how to practice correctly, learning how to compete in mundane drills, and building better habits is what separates the very best of all the talented players.

So, Archie is coaching basketball this week.  However, he is also coaching all his players. Especially, the freshman on how to compete in everything and how to build great habits.  The sooner these young Hoosiers learn this lesson and build on their awesome talent, the sooner Indiana starts its climb back to winning way, and the season all Indiana fans are expecting.

Practice? We’re talking about practice?  Yes, Allen Iverson, we’re talking about practice.  It’s started in Bloomington. Let’s hope it's productive and competitive.  Let’s hope it produces great habits. Let’s hope the young guys follow their captains, Juwan Morgan and Zach McRoberts.

Let’s go… it’s practice time!