Wednesday, February 18, 2015


       What qualifies me to write about basketball? Not a whole lot, compared to long-time coaches, big-time players, and serious analysts.
        But I did play basketball in high school and college, and in between jobs one year I worked as a Math and English tutor and assistant basketball coach at McDonogh School, of which I am an alumnus. The head coach was dealing with a serious leg injury, and I was called upon to help. We had a winning season in the Maryland Scholastic Association’s A Conference, that included the major public high schools of Baltimore.
        Since then I have continued to be a fan of the sport. Before she died Margie urged me to continue ordering our two season tickets to the Princeton University basketball home games, and I have being faithfully attending the games, usually with my son Woody or occasionally with a friend, when Woody can’t be there.
The Princeton women's basketball team is currently ranked
 No. 16 in the Associated Press poll
        It has been a special joy to watch the 23 and 0 Princeton women play. As I write this they are currently the only undefeated college team in the nation and are ranked sixteenth by the AP and 17th in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll.
        I like watching games with Woody, because we both focus on the game and our conversation is all about what is happening on the court. We both are distracted by fans at sporting events who talk about everything else but the game. Woody is comfortable with my analytical observations, and I am with his.
        All that said, I have come to some conclusions about the sport that if I were coaching I would stress with my players. I don’t know whether or not today’s coaches would agree with all or any of my “basic rules for basketball players,” or if they even think about them. I would have to conclude that some coaches must not, because their players seem to violate one or more of these rules in every game I have ever watched.
        So for the record, here are Dick Armstrong’s eight Do’s and Don’ts for Basketball Players:
        1.  Never foul an opposing player who is in the act of attempting a three-point shot. The percentages are against his or her making the basket, and it is not worth the risk of sending the shooter to the foul line for three free throws if the shot is missed, or for an extra free throw, if the shot is made. Defensive players who leave their feet in jumping toward the shooter are likely to foul a savvy three-point shooter, who can easily draw the foul.
        2.  Follow up your own three-point shots. The shooter has an advantage on a long rebound, because he or she is in the best position to gauge how the ball is going to bounce on a missed shot. Too often the shooter stands there momentarily holding the pose or even turning away and heading back down the court, instead of thinking “Rebound!” One of the other back court players can guard against the other team’s fast break.
        3.  Don’t commit a quick foul after a turnover. So many players become overly aggressive after making a mistake and they commit a reach-in or some other needless foul. It happens all the time at all levels, high school, college, and professional.
        4.  Don’t hold for the last shot at the end of a period, especially when you are behind. Hardly anyone agrees with me on this, but if I were coaching I would tell my players to try to score as quickly as possible, in hope of getting one or more offensive rebounds if you miss, or a defensive stop and another chance to score. Too often teams hold the ball until there are about nine or ten seconds left and end up having to rush their shot or failing to get off a good shot. I disagree completely with that strategy, except in very specific (and infrequent) situations, before which I would call a timeout to discuss the strategy.
        5.  Don’t try to dribble through a zone defense. The defensive players are usually collapsing on the ball. So move the ball. Use head and hand fakes and pass to an open player, as the offensive players should be continually moving to the open areas. When you are being double-teamed  or triple- teamed, somebody has to be open!
        6.  Be aware that the team that is behind will start pressing. It seems that teams with a large lead are often slow to recognize and adjust to the stepped up defensive play of the other team. They commit turnovers and sometimes fail to get off a good shot, and suddenly the other team is back in the game. The team that is ahead at half time should anticipate that the defense is going to tighten up, and the team with the lead must do the same, at both ends of the court.
        7.  Avoid unnecessary and meaningless fouls away from the ball. Too many fouls are committed by players who are not figuring in the immediate play. Most happen when players are jockeying for position. Learn to do that without fouling, or at least to reduce the likelihood of a foul.
        8.  Beware of cross court passes in the back court, especially against a zone defense. They are susceptible to being intercepted, and the result is usually a fast break and a quick lay up by the other team. Pass quickly to an open player, of course, but the best way to avoid an interception of a pass is to fake somewhere else first.
        There are exceptions to almost every rule, but as the saying goes, “It is the exception that proves the rule.”

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