Good practice habits don't just happen

Feb. 29—The one constant that has never changed is if you don't practice hard the 'Basketball Gods' will not reward you. The bottom line — you just can't cheat the game.

Remember, this is competitive athletics, and there will come a time when you must demand much, maybe even more than a kid has ever given. This can be what separates greatness from mediocrity.

Chances are there are some who read this that don't relate because they've never reached that commitment.

I have a number of times, both as a competitor and a coach. This may even carry over to Life 101 when you go to ultimate lengths to save a marriage, a job, or your soul.

I ALWAYS think of 1986 when we played a great Hugo team in the Area Finals at ECU. They had us outmanned with the winner going to state. In regulation, Hugo had a four-point lead AND the ball with 20 seconds left, and this was before the 3-point shot.

We ran a special defensive play called 'Gamble' that worked, and it was the only time we ran it that year. Marcus 'Scooby' Nelson made two free throws with 1 second remaining in regulation to tie the game, and we ended up winning in THREE overtimes. If we lost that game, it would've been hard to win the Saturday game, because we were spent. Instead, we advanced and won a state championship the following weekend.

I never had another team that overcame that much in one game, and WE all gained much from Life 101. It literally took every breath and ounce of energy to win that game. Thirty-eight years later, and even today at age 74, when I think of that night I must retreat to my recliner.

More on practice.

Literally every high school player wants to win, but let's stop right there for a moment. Most kids (and some coaches) don't want to do the intangibles to PREPARE to win. It's not the same, trust me. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. The harder I work, the luckier I get.

Good practice habits don't just happen, they require discipline and repetition. Whether it's shooting a basketball, executing the proper handoff in football, or playing the trumpet, repetition will always be the ultimate and consummate taskmaster. Trust her.

The great players are made in practice on a daily basis, and I refer to them as the 'blue collar' players. There's no such thing as a great game-day player who's a poor practice player. Occasionally, I'll see a player who's a good shooter but doesn't get his nose dirty and do all those great things not seen in the scorebook. This is the Prima Donna, and he's cosmetically superficial and thinks everyone paid to watch him play.

The Prima Donna is not someone I want in my foxhole if we're in a war. Just give me Sergeant York.

The successful coach is active and shows much enthusiasm in practice. Every player should hear his voice when he speaks, and when he speaks, nobody talks. I always told my players that the court was our classroom.

When critiquing, try to utilize the words "We, Us, Let's and Our'. Try to stay away from the word "You" when used in a negative way, unless saying something like, "You are better than that, aren't you?" Got to admit that sounds better than, "What's wrong with you!"

I feel strongly about the following: at the end of the day you compete against yourself and you compete against the basketball and how it's passed, caught, dribbled, rebounded and shot. The ball will be relatively the same every night, and it's never biased.

Some of the best basketball coaches don't complicate matters, after all, you don't want your players to be

discombobulated. Here's a simple formula for young coaches — rebound it, don't turn it over, make good shots and guard people and don't let them make shots.

Some coaches have too many offenses but aren't proficient at any. I know this, your man offense must be efficient. One of my favorite Western movies is Shane and when little Joey asked Shane," Shane, why do you only have one pistol instead of two?"

And, Shane's answer, "If you know how to use it, one is all you need."


— Alan Simpson