By: Adam Hutchinson
Head Men’s Basketball Coach
The holiday season is an interesting time for college basketball players. The semester break offers a much needed respite from preparing for and surviving finals. It also offers a break from the practice routine, which given the length of the season, can become monotonous. While it may offer a break from practice, for most players it is not a break from basketball since while at home they generally work out with their high school teams, and watch the division 1 holiday tournaments on ESPN. And while they may not be practicing during the break, this time away seems to offer fertile growth opportunities for diligent athletes.
First semester freshman year can be an EXTREMELY frustrating time for most basketball players. They go from ruling the roost in high school and thinking they know the game, to quickly feeling like novices at a sport they have played all their lives and wondering when the ball developed corners. Passes that used to get through are now turnovers and shots that used to swish now rim out, and many players enter Christmas break mistakenly believing they have regressed tremendously as players. The break offers an excellent opportunity to correct this belief.
When we return to campus for practice, I ask all of our first year players what stood out to them when they worked out with their high school teams. They usually think for a moment, but almost to a person, they remark how SLOW the play was. Many of these guys played for excellent high school programs, often with future division 1 players on them, so they are not referring to the foot speed of their former teammates. Rather they are noticing how much quicker the decision making is at the college level, how much better the help defense is, and how much more you have to see and process in a shorter span of time.
I have a theory that this is due to the presence of a shot clock in college, and the absence of 15 and 16 year olds on the court, most of whom are just not mentally or physically ready to play college basketball. Whatever the cause, I notice that the focus, decision making and execution of most of our first year players is infinitely better when they return from Christmas break. It just seems that they think the game quicker when they come back. In short, they may still be 1st year students in school, but they no longer play like it.
The break has an equally profound, though seemingly paradoxical effect on seniors. Most seniors have long since adjusted to the pace of college basketball, and are familiar with the system of play, and the types of offenses and defenses they will face. At some point before or during their senior season, oftentimes over Christmas break, the game SLOWS DOWN for them. Watch senior players closely during games, and you will see that they are often fulfilling their role on the court while simultaneously directing the efforts of their less experienced teammates. This is incredibly difficult to do while playing full speed. Perhaps most entertaining is when seniors make a decision or rotation to cover for something a freshman didn’t do, while telling the freshman what to do next, what he should have done before, and what’s going to happen next if he messes it up again, all without a break in play.
So here’s to a safe healthy holiday to everyone out there. May everyone enjoy the time with their family, get what they want from Santa, and most importantly, come back to campus ready to win the ODAC!