I got some great stuff from a close friend and trusted source who attended the Rick Barnes coaching clinic on Sunday, November 14th. This is a must read if you have any interest in Longhorn basketball.
I gleaned myriad insights into the program and feel good about our long term direction under Barnes. To say we're undergoing major changes is an understatement.
Here is how the day was structured:
Facilities tour both Cooley and Erwin
Scott Howard from Charlotte Bobcats
Rob Babcock from Minnesota Timberwolves
One reason I love Barnes is his candor. Rick Barnes opened with 45 minutes of brutal self-appraisal that should have gone to a priest or rabbi as much as a basketball audience. He talked about last year's collapse and how it motivated him to put everything he believed about basketball under the microscope. He said that he was stubborn and selfish for believing that just effort, toughness, and defense could take the program to the very highest levels and he decided he wanted to make a change. He was the problem and he needed to humble himself to people that he trusted to tell it to him straight.
So he did.
Barnes related - in a very self-deprecating manner - that he spent several hours conferring with Bobby Knight about the need to commit to an offensive system and Knight told him some pretty harsh things that he needed to hear. His failure to commit to an offensive system was the main thing holding him back from making the move from good to great as a coach. He wants to be great. He wants Texas to be great. He doesn't care if we have short term hiccups if that means making the changes necessary.
Equipped with feedback from mentors and friends, Barnes contacted every NBA team and asked the scouts, coaches, and GMs who the hardest team in the league to prepare for was offensively and the universal answer was the Utah Jazz.
So Barnes and his staff spent six weeks in Utah learning the Jazz system over the summer and decided to make that the base of our new offensive identity with a simultaneous commitment to pushing the ball in transition. All rebounders who can handle have carte blanche to initiate the break and any big man who can't or won't run or slows down the break will not play. The offense is simple enough for college, but it also can be sold to elite recruits as a NBA system that makes them ready for the league. They are committed, the team is drilling the offense every day and though they are still extremely primitive in their understanding, they are getting break throughs and when the big one occurs, it will transform Texas basketball.
Barnes, the staff, and players are bought in and I think we all saw glimpses of it in the first two games. It will be rocky at times though - this is all new. There is no program culture to draw upon for this offense.
The Texas Offense
First, transition. Barnes wants to push, push, push. He's still convinced that a Rick Barnes player is tougher and in better shape than anyone they will play against.
In half-court, heavy use of motion, ball screening, intermediate jump shots, and a focus on minimizing over-dribbling. Good shots are everything. The focus is on getting shots in the lane off of motion and screening, getting guards down low, entering the post only off of motion to establish position, and outworking people inside with activity, hustle, and energy on missed shot short rebounds. We've been settling for way too many three pointers and driving the lane with no plan for too long. That leads to easy transition baskets the other way. The first 45 minutes of practice was dedicated to screening and defending screens and hitting mid-range shots off of the screen or finishing around the basket. The pace was frenetic, intense, and Barnes was unrelenting in making them do it correctly.
The next few hours of practice were spent on halfcourt offense and defense: 1 on 1, 2 on 2, full team. Mental errors were rewarded with horses and sprints. The pace was brutal. Dogus dinged his knee halfway through and had to sit out practice.
Difficulty of Practice
My source played high school basketball for a coach in Austin with a reputation for tough practices and conditioning and he said he'd never seen anything like what our guys went through. Because of the off week until Illiniois, Barnes wanted a tough, brutal practice for conditioning and preparedness and that's exactly what they ran. Todd Wright estimated that the calorie burn in this practice was between 3,000 to 5,000 for each player. Three hours of practice, full speed, puddles on the floor, guys cramping from dehydration and oxygen debt.
The guy is just outstanding and never quits learning. He explained his core philosophies, what they were working on, and discussed why functional movements are so crucial. Todd Wright's offseason project was to learn everything he could about the human foot as he was tired of the toe and high arch injuries that plague basketball teams and rob players of explosiveness and speed. He became convinced that this was the seat of many injuries throughout the body (compensation injuries) and improper stretching and development there was hurting team performance. After talking to every expert in the field, he devised a series of foot specific stretches and you now see Longhorn players before every game and practice standing on small foot balls to stretch and strengthen their feet. All stretching is dynamic (you won't see anyone on their back stretching their hamstring, because your hamstring never does this in real movement) and the focus is on feet, hips, and back.
Todd Wright conducts a 30 minute team "warm up" and the attendees were laughing that the warm-up was much harder than any of their practices.
The speakers made a plea to the AAU and high school coaches in attendance to teach fundamentals. The fundamentals of basketball have been in steady erosion since the 1980s and it's the main reason Europeans can hang with Team USA. No one can hit a mid-range jumper, no one understands screening or offensive sets, and basketball literacy is at an all-time low. They talked about what they're looking for in players and urged the coaches not too shy away from teaching fundamentals.
Talked about a bunch of stuff, but made a big point of asking coaches to coach and practice tough love instead of trying to befriend and baby their players. Young players are being warped by co-dependency with their AAU coaches and it needs to stop. Recommended some drills and offensive sets that were run by Texas walk-ons, Jai, and Clint Chapman. Spoke harshly of skill sets of current NBA players. Loves Kobe Bryant for his dedication to total game.
He's not hurt. He wants to redshirt so that he can work on strength and power. He knows he doesn't have the anchor to play inside and the coaches agree that it's a good idea. If any big men are lost, he burns his shirt.
The (Former) Problem Children
Jordan Hamilton is reformed. He realizes that he played like a jerk last year and he's committed to playing real basketball. He is bought in on offense and defense and he understands his role. He's playing hard, he knows he'll still get his scoring-wise in the new system, but he now understands how defense can fuel offense, particularly with the commitment to transition. He's a happy camper with a totally rebuilt body, courtesy of Todd Wright.
J'Covan Brown is a work in progress. Rebuilt body - yes. Better attitude - well, yes, in the sense that it has gone from the worst ever to now just being bad.
He still sulks, turns his back on coaches who are correcting him for an error, and loves to bully the weak. One example? At the beginning of practice he had gum in his mouth. He screamed for a napkin to put it in and when the young ball boy - sprinting - was too slow coming over, Brown spat it at his feet. Later, after he was removed from a half-court drill for making stupid decisions he ran to the bench in a sulk and screamed for a towel. As kids hustled over to bring it to him, he shrieked,"RIGHT NOOOOOOW!" The majority of the horses that the team had to run for punishment were because of J'Covan's mental errors, yet J'Covan finished dead last in every one of them.
"Don't be last, JB! Don't be last!" echoed through the practice rather often.
Barnes has saved a lot of guys like J'Covan Brown, but he's dealing with a brat. If you think Barnes is being too hard on J'Covan, consider those little vignettes. Jai Lucas will continue to play because he gives consistent effort and always works his ass off.
The big difference this year is that Hamilton is no longer buying into Brown's poison, they're no longer feeding off of each other, and he's on the bus. J'Covan is isolated by himself.
Tristan Thompson has just scratched the surface. Probably the most gifted guy on the team. Skilled, strong, smart, runs like a gazelle, excellent conditioning, surprising shooting touch.
Cory Joseph is really good and tries hard. Finished every sprint or drill first. His shot will come along as he adjusts to the faster pace of college basketball. He gets the transition game intuitively and Barnes loves him as an initiator of the break. Takes coaching.
Consider what we learned about our new offensive direction and then look at the 2011 class. These guys fit exactly what we're trying to do.
Happy to answer any questions. I took a couple of pages of notes from my chat.