Q: What would be the ideal team? How would the players complement each other?
A: You gotta have a super point guard that can handle the press and run your offense for you and be an expert ball-handler and passer and dribbler. He's got to be an adequate shooter, too, but not necessarily a great shooter . . . You need to have a big center who can block shots and do a good job defensively on the opposing team's center . . . I think you do need a good strong physical center in there to keep control of the boards and block shots and get the ball out and get the fast break going. Then, I think as your second guard you need a scorer. You need a great shooter and hopefully he would be an excellent defensive player, too. That might even be more important than being a great shooter.
Q: Because the point guard has so much ball-handling, he has to sit back sit back and take his rest on defense?
A: Right. Preferably. He's gotta play defense, too, because some teams have two good guards, but I'd like to have one guard who's like a defensive specialist who I could put on a real good offensive player and hold him down. And I think the same thing would be just about true with your two forwards. One of 'em would have to be an excellent rebounder, and defensive player. One of em an excellent scorer, an outside jump shooter.
Q: In your years as a college coach, what's been the hardest thing to teach the incoming college players? What are they lacking most?
A: Mostly defense.Because most of the kids that you get in college are high-school scorers . . . one of my biggest weaknesses as a player was as a defensive player because in high school I was the league scorer and I always guarded the worst guy - because the coach didn't want one to foul out.
Q: What makes a great defensive player? Who is the best you coached?
A: Dick Synder (now with the cleveland Cavaliers) is the best defensive player I've ever coached. He was a great football player in high school. Most of the good defensive players that I've coached were high school football players because they were aggressive and tough.
Q: How would you go about teaching good athletes defense? What would be some step-by-atep procedures if he's been a zone player all his high school career?
A: Well, you gotta start out first of all with his stance. A lot of 'em don't know how to stand . . . You gotta start with the stance first, how you put your feet, you know, one foot up and one foot back. It's sort of like if you were fighting somebody, you don't stand with your feet square, you put one up and you put one back and then you gotta teach them - it's the toughest move to make in defense - to move back toward the basket. You gotta teach them to step with the back foot first and then slide the feet, not cross them. It's foot work and balance; balance is the key on defense, and most of the time when you get beat on defense, you're off-balance. You never leave your feet on defense, a good defensive player doesn't. Bill Russell never jumped to bloack a shot unless the ball had already left the guy's hand. He didn't anticipate a guy shooting and jump all through the air, but a lot of players don't understand that. You start with your stance, and balance and where your hands should be.
Q: What should you look at?
A: I like to say just look at the mid-section here. You look at their head, they'll fake you with their head. Some people say look at their pivot foot, but I don't believe that. I think you just look rifht here in the mid-section of the guy and don't get hypnotized by the ball because a lot of the people get faked with the ball. And we try to dictate, make the guy go the way that we want him to go. I don't think you can just stand there and react to the offensive man's moves. I like to take the offensive man's moves. I like to take the offensive player and overplay him. I'm gonna make him go to his left, I'm gonna make him go to his right, whichever way that I would prefer him to go. And the other thing that I teach, - this may not be what some other coaches teach - but you make your man shoot the ball outside. But he better not get a layup on you. If he penetrated by you and gets a layup, that's your fault. But if he shoots a jump shot outside and you get a hand in his face and yell at him and don't let him see the ball hit the rim, then that's my fault if it goes in. And you gotta teach him to block out after the shot goes up.
Q: What are the signs you can look for that tell you if you're playing good defense?
A: The main thing I look at is the opposing team's field-goal percentage. One of your goals has alwyas been to hold people to 39 per cent or 40 per cent. It's very difficult to do. Most people shoot 50 per cent. So I think your fields goal percentage and your fouls are probably your two most important, and layups that our opponents get . . . I don't think you can beat outside very much.
Q: Why don't you think zone defenses win national championships?
A: Just because I don't think that they're sound. There's no individual incentive there . . . If I'm guarding you and you get 10 points, I'm going to be embarrassed. If I can cut you down to 12 or 14 or eight or six, I know the coach is going to praise me. Against a good man-for-man team, there's never been a team to win a national. If UCLA or some of those teams had won a national championship playing zone, then I might change my idea on it. But they've never done it. You see, against a zone if you're patient enough and you move that ball long enough . . . I'll guarantee you that zone is not going to shift fast enough where I can't get a jump shot wide open . . . a good tough man-for-man defense, that's very difficult. You couldn't get a wide-open jump shot against Indiana last year. You mihgt if somebody set a really good pick and the defense wasn't helping the guy, you might. But it's very difficult.
Another reason is that I think you can fast-break a zone team easily because if you get that ball up the court quick enough against a zone they're not going to rebound offensively against a zone. Because if you're playing aginst a good, tough man-for-man team, and a shot goes up and I'm assigned to block you out, I'm going to block him off the boards if I'm any good at it . . . Against a zone, I'm in there and running all around. I'm trying to play the ball, not the man. I don't even know where the men are . . . you try to play both of them but it's very difficult.
Q: Can you teach a player to shoot?
A: Oh, yeah.
Q: How do you do it?
A: Well you teach, in junior high school . . . how to shoot a jump shot (and) you got to shoot a layup. A lot of kids don't know how to shoot layups.
Q: Some of yours don't this year?
A: That's right. A lot of them can't shoot with their left hand. You know they got to work on it. Basketball is a game like golf: you've got to really practice. If you want to shoot a left-handed layup, you've got to practice it: you just can't say, 'Hey, you take off on your right foot and put your hand under the ball and keep your head up and that's the way you do it.' You've got to practice . . . Same way on a jump shot; you got to practice a jump shot a thousand times a day if you're really going to be a good jump shooter. And that's what I try to sell them, instill in them that that's the only way they're going to be good.
Q: What specific steps do you go through teaching the jump shot?
A: . . . Basically, the secret to shooting a good jump shot is when you go up, you should jump as high as you can jump, every time you shoot. It's the same philosophy that I have about whether you shoot with your right hand or your left hand. If you do everything the same all the time, then it's only one shot you've got to practice.
You want to hold the ball the best way. When you shoot you should see the bottom of the ball and the front of the rim. You don't look at the ball, but gaze where you hold the ball. That's about how far over your head you should shoot it. You want to hold the ball in your fingers; your palm of the hand never touches the ball. A lot of people say fingertips, but it's fingers.
You also want to make sure, that when you hold a jump shot over your head that the shooting arm - a lot of people get that arm in front of their eye and they become like a one-eyed shooter - doesn't block your sight. If you close one eye, try it, your depth perception is all screwed up.
A jump shot is shot with your wrist and your forearm. You get your power from your legs, but you don't shoot it with your shoulders; you shoot it just with your wrist and a snap of the wrist and the forearm. It's better the fewer parts of your body that you use; I learned that when I studied kinesiology and got my master's degree. There's a less chance of error. A pure jump shooter on our team this year was (James) Tillman. You watch when he shoots. He doesn't use anything but his wrist and his forearm. He's got perfect spin on the ball and that's what you wnat the backspin for, because then when it hits the rim, the ball goes down . . . The spin is what sucks it down in the rim.
I always teach them that the trigger and middle fingers should be the last two to come off the ball, just like throwing a baseball . . . This hand over here really shouldn't do anything but just be on the ball.
Q: What's the perfect way to run a practice?
A: I try to get some ball-handling drills in every practice. I try to get some dribbling drills, some shooting, some rebounding drills, defense and rebounding, those five things. Always when the team gets to playing poorly I go right back to concentrating on fundamentals.
Q: Do you think preparation is the most important thing before a game?
A: Practice? Oh, yeah. I saw those pro games a couple years ago when they kept those things (microphones) on the benches and picked up the coaches who had drawn up a play. I would never do that. If I had to win a game by drawing up a play right there on the court, I'd never win. I wouldn't think of doing it. Anything we do at the end of the game for a last shot, or if we're doing something defensively, we've practiced it hundreds of times.
Another thing about practices. I think you've got to make them fun if you can. It's very hard to do. Sometimes I think (players) need chewing out and I chew them out. Sometimes I may say very little in practice. Sometimes I may make everything positive if I think they need a very positive practice . . . Some days I make it all negative. It depends on the mood of the team and what I think they need at the time.
Q: Free throws?
A: We shoot 50 every day.
Q: Do you always make them practice free throws after they've gone through a hard drill?
A: Yeah, when they're tired. We usually and do it about midway through practice and after a fast drill or a free-throw shooting is very important. Just about every game I've ever coached, if we had made all the free throws in the game, I'd have never lost a game. Seems like you should be able to do that. Nobody's guarding you.
Q: You said the only book on basketball you've read is Adolph Ruppy's. What were the main points you took to?
A: That coaching wasn't a popularity contest, and that you had to do what you thought was best for the team . . .
Another thing was his defensive philosophy, it was straight man-for-man and not switching . . . In high school, we played straight man-for-man, and when I went to college we switched, and everytime there was a pick or something we switched, which I didn't like, because I think it took a lot of individual incentive away from you, and it always gave you an excuse.