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Prepare to Plan for Crunch-Time Situations

SCRANTON, Pa. – If as a coach you are trying to think of how to handle a special situation as your players approach the bench for a timeout, it’s already too late, according to Binghamton University men’s basketball coach Tommy Dempsey.            

That message was central to Dempsey’s hour-long talk to local high school coaches at the second annual Scranton Prep Basketball Coaches Clinic.

Dempsey provided many tips on how to handle special situations, which are dictated not only by the clock and the score, but also by where the ball will be placed if starting with an in-bounds play. 

“Every win is so precious,” Dempsey said. “You’re going to be in a lot of close games.               

“Certain teams never win a close game. I think there’s a reason for that.”   

Preparation with the team in practice and when a coach has quiet time to think are essential to creating a plan that allows for making the most out of timeouts.

“How are you in a timeout in a pressure situation?” Dempsey asked the coaches. “If you want to build the trust and respect of your players and assistant coaches, you have to be good in those situations.”            

Proper planning and reviewing scenarios in practice also leads to quick reactions that can save timeouts — such as when a team needs a plan to advance the ball to the frontcourt before taking the last timeout with only seconds remaining — or allow a team to function when they are exhausted.           

With the obvious need for adjustments based on the level coached at and the amount of time allowed for working with the team, Dempsey provided specific tips.               

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Dempsey recommended testing players on individual skills that are part of late-game plays.

Time ballhanders in how long they need to dribble the ball from one end of the floor to another. Plays that involve dribbling the ball up court can only be called if more than that time is available. 

Test players to handle the long passes when the ball needs to be thrown from the end line to the frontcourt (or as far as possible). A high school boys coach may have a football quarterback or baseball pitcher on the bench to try as a specialist. A girls coach or youth coach may not have a player who can get the ball as far up court as desired and will have to adjust accordingly the positioning of the player making the catch.

Dempsey said some coaches may rely on simply putting X amount of seconds on the clock and telling the players the game is tied to let them handle the last-second play. He suggests a different approach.

At Binghamton University practices, the team does the “76-76” drill twice a week, putting three minutes on the clock with the score tied and scrimmaging from there. Depending on pace of play and average score, he said coaches may want to change that name to, for instance, 46-46. By playing down from that point twice a week throughout the season, all the special late-game situations tend to develop.

Similarly, two times a week, Dempsey will set the team up ahead by seven points and behind by seven points and play the final four minutes.

“A lot of situations will come from that,” Dempsey said. “Do you have a hurry-up offense? Do you have a press team?”

Over time, Dempsey said he changes up the number of fouls and timeouts each team has at the starting point. He may add to the mix foul trouble or start with a key player already fouled out.

Dempsey said special situations can extend to other areas of coaching. He includes in them having in-bounds plays for odd and difficult positions on the floor, practicing what the halftime routine will be and even practicing the structure of the timeout down to who sits where (he wants the point guard directly in front of him) to save precious seconds under pressure.

From GameChanger and Tom Robinson.

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