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October 13, 2013

Jay Wright's Coaches Clinic (Pt. 1)

The 2013 edition of Villanova Head Coach, Jay Wright's Coaches Clinic provided some interesting insight into how Coach runs his practices, some of his coaching philosophies, his basic offenses and defenses and how analytics are influencing coaching strategies.

In addition to Coach Wright running a Villanova practice, Mike Fratello was on-hand to provide a Special Guest Clinic and provided a vibrant and informative segment of instruction.

Here is a synopsis of the first practice session of the clinic that follows the order of Coach Wright's Practice Schedule. You may want to view a copy of it to help you follow along.

The practice opened up with Sequence drills.

Coach Wright described the basics of his 50, 75, 1, White and 50 Blitz defenses and the drills were design to provide the players with an understanding off what their responsibilities were in each defense and how to convert, or transition, from one defense to another off a missed wildcat FG attempt or a made basket. As the names would indicate, the 50 defense picks up half-court, the 75 at full court, and the White defense is the normal defense.

If you frequently wonder when watching Villanova games why the transition defense often results in 'Nova defenders being mismatched with opposing players it is because the emphasis in transition is to preclude the easy basket, slow the ball and keep the ball out of the middle of the court (which is generally the best position from which to attack the basket in transition). Once the primary fast break has been neutralized, then the Wildcat players will look to switch at first opportunity once they are on the weak-side.

From there, the practice moved to Breakdown drills.

This portion of the practice proved insightful in regards to what Coach Wright expects of his players when defending in the half-court. The schedule lists 5 "Shell" drills. Head on the Ball (H.O.B.) drills focus on getting the players to instinctively get low in a proper guarding position and ready to react. The players are instructed to maintain a triangle in relation to each other as the ball is rotated to either wing - to maintain guarding position on the ball, to cut down passing lanes and to have players properly positioned to provide help and help the helper when dribble penetration occurs.

The "Jump To Ball" drill seemed most effective for emphasizing the quickness and hustle required to get into proper position and attempt to beat your man to spots on the floor. A great drill for keeping up the intensity level of the practice and reinforcing the fundamentals.

The classic concept of maintaining "Ball-You-Man" position was reinforced in the next drill. Players are instructed on how to maintain the proper angles in relation to their man and the ball at all times - most importantly when defending cutters.

Things got a bit more interesting with the Drive - Triangle - Deny" and ReadChest drills that followed. The interesting twist is that in these situational drills, Coach Wright did not dictate hard and fast rules for the players on when to fake help, when to help, when to deny, etc. He asks the defenders on the baseline when a wingman is driving middle to read the situation, make a judgment call in relation to spacing and decide what the right response is. The response of the "helper" in this case has a ripple effect on the response of the player who then has to help the helper and decide to fill, sink or maintain his own position.

This lack of a hard and fast rule in these situations is likely one of the factors in why Jay Wright's teams and players improve defensively as a season progresses and as their career progresses. There is a reliance on basketball instinct, teamwork and on-the-court communication that certainly takes time to mature. From a personnel perspective, this is also one reason why Coach Wright values versatility - players who can guard multiple positions on the floor.

After some stretching, a series of 2-on-2 defensive drills ensued. These were rather straight-forward drills that provided more insight into which players could create offense in 2-on-2 situations, which players were good on the ball defenders and which players struggled a bit in this situations. Players like Darrun Hilliard, Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins showed some ability to create while Daniel Ochefu struggled a bit (as may expected when a big is putting the ball on the deck a lot).

Coach Wright's rebounding drills are always interesting both in their intensity level and what his points of emphasis are. He emphasized to his offense rebounders to spin and stay low and not to swim. When refs see the arms come high on an offensive player looking to break free for a rebound they are likely to call a foul on that swim move (as Wildcat fans most famously remember when Syracuse almost stole a game late from the Cats in Philly when Dante Cunningham was called for a swim move foul). Old school fans that are used to the classic "box-out" move performed by defensive rebounders and wonder why Villanova players don't frequently appear to be in a stationary box-out position should understand that a classic box-out is not the expectation nor what is drilled into players. Coach Wright instructs his players to essentially "tag" the offense player (get a body on him long enough to preclude him getting momentum towards the ball) and then pursue the ball aggressively. Could this defensive rebounding methodology results in allowing offensive rebounds on a greeter number of long caroms? Possibly. But when one looks at the reputation Villanova has as a rebounding team it is apparent that there is something to be said for the aggressiveness that this "tag and pursue" method instills in his players. At the end of the day "wanting the ball more" makes a big difference off the glass.

The next segment of the practice was the "Run Session". This was the part of the practice where players, especially the Frosh Jenkins and Josh Hart, appeared to be running out of gas. These sessions are designed to get players going up and down the court at full speed as a conditioning drill and, more importantly, to get players making decisions in transition and at full speed both as defenders and with the ball or as the fill man on the wing. At one point, Coach Wright stop the proceedings to emphasize that each possession (be it on offense or defense) was to be treated as if it was a possession in the closing minute of a tie game. The defenders had to get stops and the offensive players needed to learn not to force things - if there was nothing there, value ball possession and pull the ball out.

For more detailed break-downs of how individual players have been performing in pre-season practices and some other insider nuggets gathered during the clinic, subscribe to VUSports.com and check out these reports and player notes:

1) This and that with ...

2) another look ...

3) an early look

Check back soon for part two of this article which will discuss Jay Wright's discussion of Jim Boeheim's zone defense, analytics, and Jay Wright's Zone Offense as well as some more detail on Mike Fratello's guest clinic.

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