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How to Win the Big Game: "Nothing Off-balance" and "Complete Passes"

by Dick DeVenzio Founder, Point Guard College

Dick DeVenzio gave his life to sports and to a set of beliefs, ideas and convictions that were related to the intelligent pursuit of excellence. Although Dick was only 5'9', he averaged 30 ppg. at Pennsylvania's Ambridge High School and led his team to an undefeated state championship. Dick earned first-team Academic All-American honors at Duke University, and later founded the nationally acclaimed Point Guard College. Dick's books, including STUFF! Good Players Should Know, and basketball programs have inspired countless coaches and athletes. Dick DeVenzio died in 2001 at age 52.


Imagine your reaction if, before a big game, the referees got all the players together from both teams and announced that, in addition to the usual rules of the game, they were going to call every player for a violation any time he or she got off-balance. An off-balance shot, a pivot against a double team, a pass not thrown with authority, a lunge on defense, and so forth.

Only mediocre players would have to object to this new set of rules. Good players don't do off-balance things. They don't want fade-aways; they don't want to throw a pass when they are leaning backwards or the wrong way; they don't like the feeling of lunging and getting off-balance on defense and having to recover. Good players are constantly on balance-not because they have better balance, but because they don't do things that throw them off-balance.

Think about the "new rules" the next time you play. Think that "nothing off-balance counts." When you learn to play a whole game and play hard and not do things off-balance, then coaches will say you can play.


There is a simple way to beat any opponent: Complete your passes. How often have you heard players say things like, "Geez, we could never beat them. They're too good." Have you ever stopped to think what it takes to win a game? If you did, you would probably never go into a basketball game with a negative attitude. Football is different. In football, if you are playing a bigger, tougher team, they will push you around and beat you up, and they can make themselves win. But in basketball, no one can make his team win. Everyone has to hope that the other team makes themselves lose. In basketball, you aren't permitted to tackle anyone or hurt anyone or roughly grab the ball from anyone. Even the great coaches of great teams can only say, "Keep the pressure on them, and they'll make mistakes."

Yet, if the other team doesn't make mistakes, if the other team concentrates on completing passes until it gets an easy shot, it is going to be a close game, perhaps decided at the end on a last-second shot and on luck. Of course, this doesn't usually happen. Good teams force other teams to get nervous and to try to throw passes they shouldn't be throwing or to try to make shots that they can't make. But it will be the other team that makes the mistakes, not the good team.

When you go into a tough game, your job is to complete passes. That's all. If all of you do that each time, eventually one of you will get a layup or an easy shot that any fourth-grader can make. You complete passes, and your team wins. However, that's not all there is to it, is it? It can be difficult to complete passes. And it can be difficult to make your shots. Therefore, it pays to become a good ball handler and a good shooter. And yet, it also pays to realize that all it takes to win is the ability to complete passes until one of the ?ve players on the team gets a shot that she can make. When you look at it that way, you realize that it doesn't take miracles. In most games, it takes merely a little precision, a bit better judgment, a shade more concentration. "Don't throw that pass." "Don't take that shot." Hold onto the ball until you get a shot you are excellent at, or until you can make a sure pass to a teammate. A sure pass, not any old pass. Not a "maybe" pass.

In most games, the losing team could have won if they had just concentrated on completing passes and not trying stupid plays and shots. If you concentrate on completing passes, especially against a good team that is pressuring, you won't need to think about ?nding scoring opportunities. Complete passes will create those opportunities for you, and somewhere along the way, someone will ?nd herself with the ball in position for a fourth-grade shot.

Do you know why this doesn't happen more often? Because players don't sit around thinking up ways to complete passes. They go to a playground and work on 360's and behind-the-back passes, and in games they wait and hope that the passer makes a good pass to them, instead of moving to make a pass to them easy to throw. You may not initially like the idea of putting your concentration on completing passes. But in a tough game, the effort will pay off.


1) Be Available

Good players ask themselves constantly, "Can the ball be thrown to me now with no problem?" Good players always expect to facilitate things by being available for a pass-an easy pass, not a great, needle-threading pass. A player who is constantly available defuses a lot of potentially troublesome situations and prevents a lot of teammates' turnovers.

Don't wait for the ball to come to you. Always be in a position where the ball can be thrown to you easily. Get in a passing lane in a seam in the defense. Never stand 40 feet from the ball and watch the action.

2) Beating Double-Teams

If, at the moment you see a double-team form, you think, Oh no, a double-team, you are likely to panic and throw a lob pass somewhere that someone can intercept. Your thinking should be, Oh, here's a 4-on-3 opportunity. All you have to do is be strong with the ball, be patient, stay low, pivot and look. If you think "tough" and protect the ball, one of your teammates will have time to get open for an easy pass, and your team will have a 4-on-3 scoring opportunity.

A trapping team cannot afford to use up all ?ve defenders within six feet of the ball, and they won't, which is precisely the reason that going to the ball makes sense. One of the players near the ball will be open as long as two teammates don't stand next to each other and let one defender guard them both.

To beat a double-team, bring three players into prime receiving position, spread out, six to ten feet from the ball. With two men on the ball, the defense cannot bring three men up to guard all three receivers or they will be leaving a player wide open under the basket.

3) Bounce Passes Go Slowly

Everyone knows that bounce passes are good passes to throw inside to a man posting up, or to a cutter going backdoor, or perhaps on a 2-on-1 fast break, but a lot of players don't seem to realize that a bounce pass on the perimeter is a careless pass. A bounce pass takes longer to arrive and, therefore, gives a defender a better chance for an interception. Yet, stars often drop a bounce pass to a teammate for no reason. Don't do anything for no reason. If there is no one between you and the man you are about to pass to, don't throw anything other than a crisp, straight pass to his chest. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, right? Lobs and bounces are used to throw over or under people; otherwise, don't use them.

Simple geometry should make it obvious that bounce passes take longer to arrive than straight passes. Throw bounce passes only when you need to pass under a defender's arms.

4) The Bent-Elbow Pass Another name for the bent-elbow pass might be "the greatest pass in the world," and yet few players use it. By using this pass, you can get the ball past a defender immediately, every time, without delay, without having to fake a lot or waste valuable time.

The pass is begun by putting the ball at your side, just above the waist, and then leaning a bit to that side and stepping to that same side. Your arm is not extended but bent. And bent is the key. Because then all you have to do is check the defender's hand on that side. If no hand is there even with the ball, you throw the bounce pass right past him. If the hand is there, you roll your wrist over and ?ip the ball just over your opponent's ear. The pass, though it doesn't sound like much, is like magic, because it works again and again. A defender simply can't get his hand up to his ear in time.

The key is the bent elbow. If you extend your arm and cannot throw the bounce pass, you have to cock your arm for the pass over the ear, which gives the defender time to react. But if the fake is made with the elbow bent (with the arm in a cocked ready-to-throw position the whole time), the pass over the ear can be thrown immediately and won't ever be blocked.

The usefulness of this pass can not be overemphasized. This pass can be learned in a few concentrated minutes and used against anyone over and over for a lifetime. This pass is a great, great weapon. The world is ?lled with good players who have trouble passing a ball by a defender. With this pass, your troubles are over.

Dick DeVenzio's legacy lives on in the programs at Point Guard College, a series of basketball camps that use classroom sessions, video analysis and specially designed competitive drills and games to teach individual development, smart basketball, and a complete package of leadership skills.

PowerBasketball was contacted by Point Guard College director's Dena Evans and Mano Watsa about reprinting this article.

NOTICE:All material on this web site is copyrighted. No article may be reproduced or redistributed in any form or manner without the expressed written consent of the respective author. Commercial reproduction is not permitted without the written permission of the Coaching Staff at PowerBasketball.


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