Flip Saunders (R.I.P.) Impact on Next Level Basketball
With the untimely passing this week of Minnesota Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders, I took the time to revisit my notes from the first time I heard Flip speak as a clinician. As I read them I realized the impact he had on the way we teach the game to our players here at Next Level Basketball Performance Academy.
Back in 2012, I attended Kevin Eastman’s Coaching U Live clinic held at the University of Maryland. While most of the attendees were college coaches, most of the presenters were either current or former NBA coaches. My view of the NBA at the time was that it was great entertainment provided by some of the most physically gifted athletes on the planet. However, as a player development coach for middle school and high school players I struggled with how much I wanted them to emulate their favorite pro players because they, for the most part, are simply not ready to do so. More accurately I guess is that they emulate the wrong things. It seems like every time I walk into the gym there is someone shooting a baseline turnaround, fadeaway jump shot while yelling “Kobe!” Unfortunately for these guys most of them hit the side of the backboard. If I had hair (which I don’t) it would make me want to pull it out!
With that as a backdrop, I was hesitant about even attending the clinic, wondering if my time and money would be better spent attending other clinics. However, I knew there was going to be a lot of discussion on ball screens, which is so prevalent in the NBA, and is becoming more so at the college level, and therefore trickling down to high school as well. I’m a big believer in the value of ball screens done right, going all the way back to watching John Stockton and Karl Malone run it so effectively for so many years at Utah. So I decided to go.
One of the presentations was given jointly by Flip Saunders and Lawrence Frank (then of the Detroit Pistons). Besides all the Iso and ball screen action you see, they don’t necessarily run a lot of plays in the NBA but they do run a lot of sets. The title of their presentation was “The Best Sets in the NBA and How to Defend Them”. The two of them took turns with Flip going through the set offensively and Lawrence saying how he would defend it. Then Flip would counter with if the defense does this then we will do that. Then Lawrence would come back up and say how he would defend that counter. They went point/counterpoint for an hour an a half. It was as entertaining as it was informative.
It was out of this presentation back in 2012 that much in the way of how we go about teaching the game at Next Level was formulated. It is why we prefer to train in small groups so that we can teach both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively, and how to think the game. It was the genesis for our 3 on 3 program where we can put players into ball screen action and still have a help-side defender and weak-side scoring option. Even in our 5 on 5 program Gabby and I will stop the action and get into our own little point/counterpoint with one of us making the defensive adjustments and one making the offensive counters. This is how we develop basketball IQ in our players.
I strongly believe this type of training is what has made us so successful and we have Flip Saunders to thank for that!