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History of Basketball Coaching 1922 to 2006

From the day Dr. Naismith invented the game in 1892 there has been a gradual changing of the rules. This was done in order to make the game exciting. Somebody said, "this single sport attracts more player participation than any other sport in America."

The offensive skills have vastly improved since my birth in 1922. In my opinion, this has been due to better nurturing, coaching, and facilities. This, coupled with improved coaching techniques, has put a heavy burden on the defensive part of the game. Over the years, defenses have change out of necessity, to keep up with these improved offensive skills. This still continues in 2001.

The early offensive skills, compared to todayís standards, were crude. Ball handling, dribbling, and shooting were far behind that of today. Most of us, in those earlier times, honed our skills in front of a barn door, with a basketball so lop-sided it would have been impossible to cross-over behind your back. In our shots, we had to allow for the wind, too.

Since the lay-up and shots at short range were the only good percentage shot for most of these early players, it was necessary to execute the pass exceedingly well. Most coaches discouraged dribbling because it took away team play and was often called "showboating."

Almost every player shot a two-handed underhand free throw that started from around the knees, or lower. Medium and long-shots were even taken in this manner into the early 1930ís; however, the shooter had to be 8 to 10 feet away from his defender to get the shot off. In the 1930ís some players began to develop an accurate outside two-handed set shot that started from the chest. The taller players were using hook shots within 4 to 10 feet of the basket in the late 1920ís. Defense dominated the game until the middle 1920ís. A good straight man-to-man drawn back into the lane made penetration difficult. Most game scores were low, usually in the 30ís. Each defensive playerís responsibility was to keep his man from scoring. He could expect to receive no more than token help from a teammate. Those were the days when you saw a true man-to-man defense.

Structured Basketball Offense

Straight man-to-man defense began to lose its effectiveness when coaches began to structure offenses using screens and set plays. Since outside shooting and dribbling was discouraged, passing was the available skill that produced the desired lay-up or high-percentage shot. In those days, passing was considered the most important skill. In 1920, the rules committee even considered making the dribble illegal. The New York Celtics, World Professional Champions at that time, endorsed the action. They felt the dribble was a poor substitute for the pass and hurt the game.

In the late 1920ís, as players began a gradual improvement in shooting and dribbling skills, the pass to get the close-in shot became less important. In the past 70 years shooting and dribbling skills have vastly improved; however, the skills for a penetrating pass has little or no improvement. This deficiency has a lot to do with the great successes of coaches using multiple defenses, today. Coach Dean Smith is a perfect example.

The Initial Passing or Motion Offenses

It may surprise you young coaches to know that the popular passing and motion offenses being used today were initially used in the 1920ís. They were used then for the same reasons coaches use them in 2001: to get a high percentage shot against a tough man-to-man defense. In the 1920ís a high percentage shot was a lay-up. In 2001 it is a shot without a hand in your face. Those early pioneers spread the offense more than is used today. A 1-2-2 set was often used with screens taking place in the lane. If the screen was successful, he could get an uncontested lay-up. You see, weak-side help had not yet been perfected. When a defensive man could not fight over a screen his man would be open for an easy shot. Back then, the defensive man was taught to concentrate on his own man. In 2001, a good man-to-man defense sags on the weak-side and is always ready to help defend. If the defense tried to use a switching type of man-to-man, the offense with its constant motion and screening, without the defensive weak-side help, eventually caused a mix-up. This, of course, frees somebody for an open lay-up. This was the ideal offense for those times. Good outside shooters were a rare breed. Even the best college teams never had more than one good shooter. A good field goal percentage for those days was around 33 percent and nobody but the best shooter was allowed shots beyond 12 feet.

Zone Basketball Defenses Became Popular

In the mid-1930ís and 1940ís this type of offense led to zone defenses becoming popular. The zone was the answer to taking a team out of its offense. Lay-ups were more difficult and most of the shots came from 10 feet or more. Usually this shot was from a set position. Most zones, then, were the lay-back type forcing more outside shots. Good outside shooting always forced the zone farther out on the floor, opening up to more penetration for closer to the basket shots. The use of zones made it necessary for coaches to improve and encourage outside shooting skills.

Basketball Rule Changes Usually Favors the Offense

Spectators always have enjoyed successful offensive play than defense. It is more exciting. Even most players enjoy offense better than defense.

Over the years, if you have paid attention, most rule changes of team sports in America have favored the offense. This is especially true when it comes to basketball. Popularity of the game has increased in the same proportion as has team scores. The rules committee did its part by implementing the 10 second rule in 1932. Five years later, in 1937, they took away the center jump after each score. These two changes changed the game dramatically.

A basketball injury removed me from any participation from 1936 until 1939 and I hardly recognized my favorite game once I recovered. With the ball being taken out-of-bounds at the end of the court after each score, a new offensive threat came on the scene. It was called the fast break. This created more action and the game became increasingly popular in high schools here in Indiana. Now it was possible for teams to score before a defense could set up at the opposite end and protect the basket area. Teams who adapted scored 50 to 70 percent of their points from the fast break.

One-Handed Basketball Set Shot

Perhaps more significant than the rule changes was two new offensive fundamentals: the one-handed set and the one-handed jump shot. Until then, only the two-handed set shot and hook shots were being used on the perimeter. There were exceptions, but these were not good percentage shots for most players.

The one-handed set shot first began appearing in the early 1940ís. Coaches and players, alike, soon began to discover this shot to be more accurate and could be released much quicker. A few years after that players added a jump to the shot, which gave birth to the one-handed jump shot that was even more effective and accurate from 10 feet-out. It was even more accurate than the hook shot being taken from the 4 to 12 foot range and much easier to get off in close quarters than the one-handed set shot.

By the 1950ís many players, from the high school level on up became very effective with these shots. This improved outside shooting soon took away much of the advantages of a packed-in zone defense. This forced such tight defenses to move out. This then made the penetrating dribble a more effective offensive weapon. Many players became more skillful with their dribbling abilities and we began to see a resurgence in a one-on-one situation. This gave the offense another way to penetrate the defense for a high percentage shot or dish off to a teammate for a like shot.

Defensive Changes

Coaches who had long been disciples of man-to-man defense began to apply more pressure on the ball and instructed the weak-side defensive players to sag more toward the basket. This was the very beginning of the help and recover defensive tactic seen today. These man-to-man coaches would only use a zone defense as a last resort or a change-of-pace tactic. There were many coaches who preferred the zone as their primary defense, but resorted to man-to-man whenever their zone failed.

A new type of defense began to appear in the 1950ís called a match-up zone defense. It was great at slowing an offense when properly executed, but difficult to teach. The match-up zone had players match up with the various offensive sets, then attempt to defend a certain area of the court. Each player would use a combination of zone and man-to-man tactics in guarding a defensive player in his area.

A few man-to-man and zone presses were used during the 1950ís. Up until then, pressure defenses were usually used in late stages of a game by the losing team trying to change the final outcome of the game. It wasnít until the fifties that teams started using pressure type defenses at different times during a game. Defenses were becoming much more aggressive out of necessity in efforts to combat ever-improving offenses. About this time, some coaches believed a player must hit at least 40 percent of his shots, or he would hurt the team. A team averaged around 45 to 50 percent then. Iíve heard coaches say, and Iíve even said it myself, "45 percent wins and 30 percent loses games."

When I started in college after World War II, basketball really became popular in all areas of the United States. It was no longer limited to Indiana high schools and became a great spectator sport. Basketball gyms were filled to capacity and newer and larger arenas were built to accommodate this increased interest.

A National Major Sport

In the late 1940ís a few talented athletes began playing basketball the year round to hone their skills. Such coaches as John Wooden at Indiana State gave the first black athletes the opportunity to showcase their talents; however, Jim Crow laws hampered travel accommodations and delayed fullest implementation for many years to come. Many southern universities refused to play teams with black players. The black athlete soon proved to the entire nation that he had the ability and skills needed for the modern day game of basketball. I believe this, more than anything else, became the most dominate force in improving the basketball skills of modern-day players.

Experimentation with Multiple Defenses

There was a was some experimentation with multiple defenses during the early1960ís. All this came about because the weakest link in the offensive skills was the pass. The basic premise of these stunting and combination defenses was to mold a defense to take advantage of this weakest link of that day. Only a few coaches used multiple defenses, but those who did became quite successful and books began to appear dealing with the subject.

In 1963, while serving as volunteer coach for St. Benedict School in Evansville, Indiana, I read an excellent book dealing with this subject. This text was written by Wayne Dobbs and Garland Pinholster, entitled, Basketballís Stunting Defenses. Prentice-Hall out of Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, published this text and surprisingly it is appropriate today, as in 1964. The knowledge gained from reading it took me from man-to-man and straight zone defenses to Stunting Multiple Defenses. My team went from mediocre to one that completely confused the opposition and led to many championship trophies.

In 2001 there are many coaches using multiple defenses in one way or another. The successful coaches have found this to be a way of slowing down improving offenses. Just as the zone defense was the answer to slowing down free-lance motion offenses in the1930ís, the multiple stunting defense is the answer to slowing it in 2001. In case you do not believe, former North Carolina Coach Dean Smith had used multiple defenses to confuse opposition for years. Nobody alive would doubt his success. It is obvious to me that Coach Smith found that combining half-court, three-quarter-court, and full-court defenses, and changing from man-to-man to zone and back again frequently in the course of a game keeps the offense off balance. Not only does this disrupt patterns, but reduces shooting accuracy as well.

Coach Smith was not the first coach to use such a system. There were many before him. The famous Everett Case, Forrest Allen, John Wooden, Frank McGuire, Jack Ramsay, and Del Harris lead the pack, but there were many lesser known coaches as well. A few of these were: Bob Abelsett, Neil Baisi, Aubrey Bonham, Glenn Brown, Bob Davis, John Egli, Bob Fuller, Harry Harkins, Bill Harrell, Burrall Paye, Garland Pinholster, Bud Presley, and Charles Ward. All were successful coaches at all levels of the game. Now, that the NBA has legalized zone defenses, it will be interesting to watch "Shaq Defenses" evolve. I predict the old master, Del Harris, now a Portland assistant, will come up with an effective beginning.

Coach Dean Smithís way of using the multiple defense might be the most sophisticated, and when executed properly makes it difficult for the offense to determine the defense being used. Smithís defense constantly interweaves man-to-man and zone principles. I think Coach Smithís ideas are a combination of most of the defenses employed up to this time, plus a few new wrinkles and are adaptable at all levels of play.

Favorite Style of Defensive Play

My defensive philosophy comes from experience. As a youth, I believed only in man-to-man defenses; however, this changed in 1942 when I saw Cabby OíNeil use the zone with great success as a high school coach at Jasper, Indiana. At that time, World War II interrupted my education and forced me to forego basketball interests for the next four years.

At the end of the war, it became my good fortune to serve as student assistant to Hall of Fame Basketball Coach, Arad McCutchan. This was 1946, in Coach McCutchanís very first year as a college coach. The next few years were learning experiences that formed a basic mold for my philosophy of the game. During these early stages of his career, Coach McCutchan exposed a shifting man-to-man defense and a free-lance passing game very similar to that which Coach Dean Smith describes in his book. McCutchan learned this effective game as an assistant coach to Harry King, renowned player on the 1921,1922, and 1923 Indiana High School Champions dubbed the "Franklin, Indiana, Wonder-Five." Coach King coached at Bosse High School in Evansville, Indiana. Herman Keller, another King assistant coach, using this same offense and defense won back-to-back Indiana High School Championships in 1944 and 1945.

During my years at Evansville College, now the University of Evansville, Coach McCutchan, while adjusting to the collegiate level, was moderately successful. He stuck strictly with his shifting-man-to-man as a half-court defense. He was no advocate of zone defenses, but it became my observation, much like those in high school, that it was a type of zone defense that generated most of our losses.

In 1949 I took a job as head basketball coach at tiny Western Grove High School in Arkansas. The Western Grove Warriors, the previous year had lost in the State Championship finals. I inherited only one player from that team and had to beg to get enough players to fill the Junior High and High School rosters. Coming from Indiana, where basketball was king, I was horrified at the lack of fundamental basketball knowledge of my players. They had never heard the word, "screen" let alone how to set one, or use it to the teamís advantage. Their idea of a team offense was strictly one-on-one. That is to say, you passed the ball to a teammate, then stood and watched as he maneuvered against his defender. I later learned this was not confined to Western Grove players, either. Seeing so few screens, even Arkansas referees didnít know the difference between a block and a screen.

Western Grove, Arkansas High School Basketball Team 1949-1950

It took a few games before the players began to grasp the fundamentals. When they did, we picked and rolled them to death and began to win games. Soon, thereafter, we saw nothing but zone defenses.

Treatment for an old athletic injury interrupted my coaching career and led to a change of occupation; however, working as a mining engineer for Peabody Coal Company never completely erased my involvement with the game.

Think about this, the football coach does not have to worry that his players put more effort in offense than defense. The two platoon system eliminated that many years, ago. The defensive group has a single purpose. Success is measured on their ability to shut down the opponentís offense. Offense and defense in baseball is separated by half innings. The defensive team stays on the field until the third out. Their defensive concentration is not distracted by anticipation of a fast break.

The defensive goals in both football and baseball are clear. A great effort by the defense of either sport could hold the opponent scoreless; however, this is not a realistic possibility in basketball.

I believe basketball players need to work as hard, if not harder on defense than they do on offense. The value of every playerís awareness of the importance of team defense can not be overestimated. Scoring in basketball happens quickly and more easily than in other sports. Because of this, basketball players tend to sometimes think a letup on defense can always be compensated on their next possession. Perhaps it is more convenient to rationalize poor defense with the old saying, "the best offense is a good defense." At St. Benedict we started taking the offensive on defense. It is human nature to become more aggressive and exuberant on offense than defense. It takes a good deal of dedication and commitment to constantly exert initiative on defense. Therefore, as a coach you must constantly sell defense and stimulate pride in defensive performance. You must constantly praise, both publicly and privately, good defensive play.

One thing that Iíve found to stimulate good defensive play, is to substitute for a player who allows his opponent to score two goals. Try itÖ it works.

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