Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Are fundamentals gone from the game?

I had an interesting e-mail in my inbox when I arrived at the office Monday morning. I hadn't been in all weekend, so I needed to dedicate a few moments to catching up on missed messages. Sandwiched in-between e-mail advertisements, and forwards that did not pertain to me was a message from a reader bemoaning the lack of fundamentals in today's basketball. 

Unlike a lot of messages that end up in my inbox, the author of the e-mail made some good points, and was extremely articulate about his angle. 

Without including the author's information for privacy purposes, I have copied the original e-mail, and my response, below. 

The loss of fundamentals in today's game is certainly an interesting topic, and makes for good conversation, regardless of personal opinion on the matter. It is a topic that could be dissected and debated from several angles. 

Here is the e-mail exchange: 

Dear Michael,

    After watching many of the summer league NBA basketball games both in Orlando and Las Vegas, I had to write and ask you, "when did the playground game come into the gym"?  I am shocked by the lack of fundamentals of these kids who grew up playing AAU and college basketball.  In my opinion, the John Calipari philosophy of basketball has ruined the game.  The high-ball screen with the ballhandling guard penetrating to kick out to two or three players standing stationary, with no movement on offense, awaiting the almighty "three" point shot has destroyed the concept of teamwork in this great game once known as basketball.

Although I am not a basketball coaching expert, I do have a resume of coaching high school basketball, and also, coached professionally in Stuttgart, Germany, once coaching a championship game in Wuerzburg, Germany, against a young, skinny kid named Dirk Nowitzki.

Allow me to explain my comment about the lack of fundamentals.  Remembering numerous fundamentals of basketball stressed at the Lefty Dreisel coaching clinic at the University of Maryland, these are a few of those fundamentals which have not been taught to players in today's game:

       (1) never jump in the air to make a pass....the defense moves.

       (2) always run a cut off the hip of your teammate after running a "V" cut...never seen in today's game
       (3) when setting a pick, always come off the pick facing the ball, never turning your back to the ball....the big men in the NBA summer camps have no clue about the proper fundamental.
       (4) always attempt to block a shot with your inside hand preventing fouls when your outside hand comes down on the shooter.
       (5) when going to the basket with a one-on-one move always jap step to the defender's back foot and attack the defender's front foot after your crossover with your dribble.

 Now, Michael, I know you are very knowledgeable about the game of basketball.......please watch the remaining  summer games from Las Vegas and let me know how many fundamentals are being taught to today's young players and how many ignorant John Caliparis we have coaching basketball.  (OBTW...I did sit with John Calipari in 1987 in the ZeldaDome bar near the U of Pittsburgh when he was an assistant for Norm Evans.)

What really gets me is how the announcers rave and praise dunks, jumping ability, and athletic ability and never mention the fundamentals of the game........perhaps, the announcers don't know the fundamentals of basketball.

Finally....ESPN and the NBA channel are JOKES....since the finals of the NBA championship, how many words have been spoken about the TEAMWORK of the San Antonio Spurs versus all the nonsense with LeBron James??

Thank you for reading this e-mail.............George Mikan and Bob Cousy where are you?

It seems safe to assume that the writer is not the biggest fan of Coach Calipari. 

In response, I replied: 

     Thank you for sending your thoughts over. I appreciate it, and I have to say that I don’t disagree with many of your points. There is certainly a lack of fundamentals in the game today, especially amongst many of the big guys who have no grip on the proper footwork or positioning to maximize their impact.

A lot of it, I think has to do with the background of the players, many of whom were brought up playing on playgrounds with more of an emphasis being placed on dribbling, shooting, and dunking, more so than the fundamentals of the game.

I also think some of it has to do with increased athleticism in today’s players. Most of the players in the league today are hyper-athletic, especially compared to their counterparts of yesterday. I think more and more we see players relying on their raw athleticism and abilities rather than their IQ or fundamental aspects. Players get away with doing things based on their athleticism early on, become accustomed to that approach, and use it throughout their careers, or at least until the right coach comes along.

The increased athleticism of the game is exciting and makes for some enjoyable watching, but not necessarily in the place of the fundamental aspects of the game. It is no coincidence that the players, like LeBron James, who are able to combine athleticism with intelligence and instinct, have found such success in today's game. 

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