Immediacy - The Forgotten Fundamental

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The evolution of basketball marches on. The game is a living, breathing entity that, like a shark, must keep moving ahead or it will die. Those of us that have been watching for decades can readily see the changes. Those too young to remember the game in the 60s, 70s, 80s and even the 90s will see the changes from now forward.

Today we watch the wonder of LeBron James. Whether you are a fan of his or not, a supporter or a detractor, there is no denying that he is a great player. The discussion of LeBron James usually does not center around his greatness, but more often whether he should be compared to Michael Jordan. Certainly he should be, but he he will always come be considered less than His Airness until he accomplishes what Jordan did in regard to championships (one wonders where Bill Russell is in that discussion, seeing that he has won as many as Phil Jackson. Russell even won as a Player - Coach). Before it was LeBron it was Kobe Bryant. But yes, there were players before Michael Jordan. When Jordan entered the league, he came up as the next Dr. J. (Julias Erving) and there were the same questions about him as there was about Lebron. Before Erving entered the league there was Connie Hawkins.

Before all of them, there was Elgin Baylor. Those who watched Baylor's career, which spanned the 50s, 60s and 70s, still consider him one of the measuring stick and the prototype NBA forward of his time. At barely 6-5, he was not as big as the others but he possessed the same athleticism, skills, creativity and mentality as the great players that came after him. Though usually outsized and out-muscled, Baylor translated his skills into one of the greatest NBA players ever.

Way back when I was a young coach, too many years ago to remember, I heard an interview that was given by Baylor that really stuck with me. I still use the principal in my teaching today.

Baylor was asked what the most important aspect of his wondrous offensive game was. His answer was short and quick, "Immediacy," he said. "I don't want to stand and hold the ball and wait for the defense to load up. I want to get to my strengths as quickly as possible. I want to act immediately."

There was a time where everyone was yelling pass and move. In the post Michael Jordan era, the game has evolved to mimic Jordan's strengths. It has become wait, control the matchup, isolate and then go. Now there is a lot of ball screening and waiting. While that might be Jordan's strength but it is not the strength of most players.

When we teach, we are into options, read, react. I rarely hear the word act. I am a big believer in what legendary coach John Wooden taught, "A player will only be good at a few things... better to do a few things very well than do a lot of things, poorly..." and "Don't let what you cannot do get in the way of what you can do." As we are teaching our players 101 moves for all occasions (I see it every day in practice and in what players are practicing by themselves), in our desire to see players be perfect in everything they do, too often we forget to teach "Do what you do best."

I believe in doing what you do best and doing it immediately. Every player has more confidence in some things and less in others. Why force him to do things he is not comfortable with. That is what defenses try to do. If you watch a player who is comfortable going to his right get forced to his left, what do you see. He stands and studies. He will go left, trying to "set up" his defender (which really doesn't happen) and then when under pressure, return to his right to try to make a play.

I prefer to teach players that when they catch the ball, go to their strength, immediately and decisively. Attack with your strength. If they do, more times than not, they will be successful. That is what makes it a strength. Giving them too much to think about in an attempt to prepare for every situation leads to confusion and indecision. It can lead to "analysis paralysis."

Again, I want players to act immediately and decisively to their strengths. Just to draw an analogy, if you wanted a hamburger and time was a factor (without considering the quality of the product), where is it easier to decide what to order? At McDonalds or at a restaurant that has 50 different types of hamburgers. While the variety of tastes might be attractive and the second restaurant, it will take lengthy consideration before you order. Too much to consider.

I also teach, if you can't make your shot, how are you going to make your defender wants you to take? Try your shot first. Do what you practice the way you practice it. Rhythm, timing, etc. all figure into your success. When you change those things due to game situation or defense, it will contribute to your failure. When defending shooters, great defenders don't try to block shots, they try to disturb shooting rhythm. If that is what the defense wants to do, why would you do it to yourself? Take your shot, in your rhythm, live with the result no matter what the result is. In the long run, you will have much greater success.

Practice counters, what to do when your shot is stopped. But, the basis for the offense is still go to your strength first, then counter if you are defended, but don't defend yourself.

By using that mentality, players, when they catch the ball, are in a position to attack immediately, catch the defense in recovery, and create some really good offense.

Don Kelbick

Coach Don Kelbick has had 27 years of coaching experience, 25 at the college level including 14 years as a head coach and 10 years as a Division I assistant including stops at Hofstra University, Marist College, Keene State College, and Florida International University. In 2 years as a high school coach, his teams produced 6 Division I players and was ranked #1 in Florida 28 out of a possible 34 weeks. In addition to coaching he has scouted for NBA teams, including the Knicks and the Hawks, and served as a general manager in the USBL.