Let the Pigeons Come Home to Roost

Big Man Physical Play

I often hear modern day basketball philosophers say they don’t believe in “pigeonholing” players; meaning they don’t want to force anyone to play inside just because they are tall.  The successful outside shooting of Steph Curry and other Professional Basketball Players recently has created a love affair with the 3-point shot for high school players and coaches alike.  So now it seems more and more teams are shooting up 3’s and ignoring any semblance of an inside game using Post Players.  

Two of the more popular ways to use Bigs now-a-days on high school teams seems to be:

  1. Let them stand outside, avoid contact, and shoot 3’s, or, if they can’t do that,
  2. Sit them on the end of the bench.

To me, that’s what’s known as “Shrinking your assets.”  A tall player on the bench is certainly not much help to his team.  And a tall player who always stays outside and never takes advantage of one of his best assets isn’t used properly either.  As a career long Big Man Coach and author of the first book on post play, I have always been able to find ways to use my taller players on my teams.  Without their contributions, we certainly wouldn’t have had the success we did over the years.

With the recent popularity of 5-out offenses, it often means no one ever has to play inside.  So, the Bigs have to shoot outside well enough to play or they sit on the bench.  I don’t buy that philosophy and never have.  Taller players have so much that they can do to help a team win.  They intimidate with the threat of shot blocking.  They can reach rebounds that shorter players may not even be able to jump and get.  They can score over shorter defenders.  They can see over defenders to make passes that lead to assists. And that’s just a few of the bonuses that taller players can give a team.  So this begs the question, how can a coach not take the time to develop his Bigs and use them in his system?  

A taller player without a good outside shot can be taught to score with inside power shots, short bank shots, and close in jump hooks. This can all be accomplished in much less time than developing a consistent 3-point shot.  All it takes is a little direction by the coach and a 8-12 minute session each practice to work on some inside skills.  I have always found it much easier to develop scorers at the low post position than from outside the 3 point arc.  And taking an excellent shooter and putting him at the low post once in awhile, to use his touch for shooting over shorter defenders, is a high percentage option that should not be denied.  Actually, if a coach is not working to develop all players into tough, inside finishers, he is doing a disservice to them, whether tall or short.

I have used three drills for years that have helped me develop tougher inside players.  These same drills are the beginning of my teaching progression at every Big Man Camp I do. The Drills are simple, but very beneficial for getting kids to toughen up and even enjoy the physical part of basketball.  By repeating often, good habits can be established and a foundation for inside play is laid.  Here are the three Drills:

  1.  Sit Down Drill – Two players pair up, one represents the defense and the other is the offensive player.  The offensive player puts his back to the defender and backs into him until they touch.  Both players are in an athletic stance, knees bent, both hands up slightly above and outside the head.  The offensive player then sits on the defender’s thigh/knee area and holds that contact for 5 seconds.  Phase two of the drill has the two players starting at a low block, outside the key, then sliding across the key to the other block and back again.  In this action, the defender and offensive player must maintain contact the entire time.  Basically, you want a “butt on thigh” contact, with head up, hands up, no reaching back to find the defender.  Feel the defender with butt and body.
  1.  Go Get Drill – This drill can be an extension of the Sit Down Drill or just a one on one free-for-all.  Again, two players are paired up.  In the Free-for-All version, the players stand in the key and the coach has the ball at the top of the key.  Coach throws the ball into the key area, anywhere he chooses, and the two players go get it.  The drill can also be done from the Sit Down Position and the offensive player is expected to get the pass every time.  The defender tries his best to bat the pass away from the defender.  Meeting the pass aggressively and pulling it in with both hands to the chest area is the goal of the receiver.
  1.  Put Back Drill – Again, two players, one tosses the ball up on board and rips down a rebound.  Then he takes it back up and scores as his partner leans on him or pushes him a little.  Sometimes this drill is done with a blocking pad used by the second player, after everyone toughens up some.  Eventually, the defender holding the pad is allowed to pound on the offensive player even harder, to distract the shot.  The offensive player learns to “finish to contact” and not shy away from defense.  If a shot is missed, the offensive player gets his rebound and continues until he finally scores.

As the toughening up process progresses, some basic footwork and finish drills are added in too.  These include the baseline, drop-step, power shot; the face up with a lift fake; and the jump hook to the middle.  Eventually, all drills become combined to give players a basic, inside game.  They can sit down on an opponent, go get a pass, and then drop step or face up to attack the basket while seeking more contact.  The jump hook is considered advanced and only used when a player is comfortable with it.  Some never do use it, but have the ability to if ever needed.

In my training, Bigs also spend time shooting 3’s from the top of the key.  I want them to learn to shoot outside too, no matter what their scoring potential might be from that distance.  The Delay Man (4) on my fast break stops at the top of the key and if he can’t hit a shot from there once in awhile, his defender will just back off and jam the high/low play that I like so much.  Bigs also do ball handling warmup drills and other perimeter skills along with the guards.  I believe in well rounded players who can play inside and outside.  But often times, a young Big has very little experience or skill from the perimeter, so he learns the game from the inside out from me.  Learn to use size inside and gradually build the perimeter game is my plan.

So, what does a good outside shooting, taller perimeter player do when he is having a poor shooting night?  Some coaches would say, “Keep shooting.”  A shorter player might drive to get some inside, easier scores.  But a Big might not be able to beat a shorter, quicker defender on a drive.  That’s when I believe it is important to send the Big inside, post him up, and get him going with some inside scoring.  Maybe he will get a power shot on the baseline, or a quick turnaround bank shot, but he will also have a better chance of getting fouled and have the opportunity to score at the free throw line.

All players need to learn how to accept contact and play inside.  If a coach never teaches his shorter players to play inside, that is no different than someone who never teaches his Bigs to play outside.  So I say to you 5-out coaches, stop “Pigeonholing” your perimeter players by keeping them outside to shoot 3’s and never teaching them to be threats inside.  Toughen everybody up and you will have a more versatile, tougher, and better team.  And when it comes to the Big Man, Don’t Shrink Your Assets.  Let the Pigeons Come Home to Roost – in the Low Post.

For more information on Post Player and Big Man Development, check out my website: http://coachbattenberg.net/

Or get my book, Power Post Play, at http://coachbattenberg.net/books.htm




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