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There's Only One Way to Win: Coach DV's Four Rules of Basketball
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.
Basketball coaches are typically fond of talking about all the things they do to get an advantage over other teams. Coach DV stayed out of these conversations. They irritated him. "Coaches don't do anything," he would say. "Players do. If you have good players, everything works; if you don't have good players, nothing works. There's no secret: you get good players and just play BAS-ketball." His teaching consisted of four simple rules:
1. Always 'MOOOOOVE!'
For Coach DV, the essence of basketball could be encapsulated in just one four-letter word: "M-O-V-E!" This loud command jolted all of his players at once. It was an urgent, incredibly forceful order. "You make it impossible for the other team to stay with you," he would say. "You never stand. You move. MOVE! MOOOOOVE!" The word seemed to gather momentum as he boomed it out and grabbed you with it. To Coach DV, basketball was ridiculously simple. "There's no secret," he would say in a husky, admiring tone, while watching a good NBA team at work, "they move. If you're gonna play basketball, you gotta move."
The average coach just could not convey the sense of urgency that Coach DV could. Anything done without a sense of urgency (more like desperation) was lackadaisical in Coach DV's mind. And if his team failed to show the urgency that he wanted, there would be an immediate confrontation. He would walk onto the court and make everything come to a complete halt.
A player once said that a whole construction gang came to a complete, silent stop when they heard Coach DV yell "HOLD IT! inside the gym. (Some of the workers had played for Coach DV, and they took his words seriously!) "Do you want to play this game?" Few players had ever encountered such intensity, so they had little problem recognizing the importance of the moment. When the kid indicated that, yes, he did want to play basketball, then Coach DV saw no reason to hold back. There was only one way to play the game, and the kid wasn't doing it. "Well, then son, if you want to play this game, you gotta PLAY it. You gotta MOVE. You gotta WORK . . . HERE's the way you play basketball. You get down. No, DOWN! You're down, you're ready, you move. You move, son, you gotta MOOOOVE!"
If necessary, after demonstrating it himself and probably showing more intensity than the kid had ever seen, he pushed and pulled the kid back and forth to help him get the idea. And then he complimented the player with the same intensity: "Yeah, that's it. You CAN do it. You see. You DO understand. Now THAT'S basketball. If you want to play this game, that's what you have to do. There's only one way to win: You gotta move."
2. Always Throw the Ball to Your Own Team.
Whenever Coach DV offered this rule at a coaching clinic, the response would be laughter: "There he goes again, the colorful old coach, claiming that one of his basics is to throw the ball to your own team." However, that was indeed one of his four rules, and it was not said for amusement: "Yeah, you laugh, but the problem is, I've seen your teams play. You got all those offenses and special plays, but then your team gets in a game and meets some kids playing good defense, and your guys throw the ball to the wrong team. That's how you lose games.'' He just hated throwing the ball away. Not only did you lose a chance to score, but it usually resulted in a scoring opportunity for the other team before your defense could get set. "The ball is 20-carat gold. You gotta guard it with your life. YOU JUST CAN'T THROW THE BALL AWAY!"
In a state championship game, midway through the final quarter, our team led by 35 points, and I threw two consecutive passes away. Coach called an immediate timeout. He stuck his ?nger an inch from my face, screaming in total anger, completely serious: "If it wasn't for you, we could've broken this game wide open!" He laughed about that comment later on, but he was furious at the time. You NEVER throw the ball away.
3. Take Only Very Easy Shots.
Another laugher. Everyone knows it's good to take easy shots. But again, the problem is that in games, coaches don't require it and teams don't do it. They take difficult and bad shots. "You can't just THROW the ball at the basket. You can't just throw it up there. You gotta PUT it in." The idea was to move fast and pass to each other until someone got an easy shot that anyone can make. Coach DV didn't want anyone making difficult shots. He wanted all the shots to be easy.
4. Never Give the Other Team an Easy Shot.
This was Coach DV's one rule that covered everything that he really cared about on defense: "Get your man and get on him." If he called a timeout because the other team was scoring some baskets, he was unlikely to change defenses. He was a lot more likely to succinctly review each player's assignment.
"Who's your man? Well then get him!" "Who's your man? Well then get him!" "Who's your man? Well then get him!" "Who's your man? Well then get him!" "Who's your man? Well then get him!"
Just a lot of foolish repetition? It never seemed like it. In fact, as he looked each player dead in the eye from just a few inches away, each kid had only one thing on his mind: to tell Coach the name and number of the player he was guarding and to nod that he sure as hell was going to get him. "You can't give them any easy ones. If you do that, you might as well just give them the game. What's the point of playing if you aren't going to make it tough for them? YOU CAN'T LET 'EM SCORE. YOU GOTTA MAKE THEM WORK FOR EVERYTHING THEY GET."
When someone did score an easy one for the other team, they could expect to hear it again: "GET ON HIM!" "But Coach, that wasn't my man." But Coach? A kid could get away with that only once in his career. There weren't any But Coaches. A player free to score an easy basket was EVERYBODY'S man. "Son, this is a TEAM. You see the scoreboard up there? It just says US and THEM. This is US. There isn't anything up there that says Joe-Joe-Bean. It's just US. And when someone scores on US, Joe-Joe-Bean, they score on our TEAM. Do you understand that? This is basketball. It's a team game. When they score on one of us, they score on all of us, so it's ALWAYS your man, Joe-Joe-Bean. Do you understand this? You gotta make them work for everything they get.''
Man-to-man, zone, or his famous matchup defense-it didn't matter to Coach DV. It was the way the defense was played, and the basic rules were always the same: Don't give 'em anything easy. Never let a shooter shoot without a hand in his face. Never let a ball be passed to someone near the basket. And never let a guy dribble in for a lay-up: "You can't give them lay-ups. If you're gonna do that, you might as well not even play the game. How can you ever expect to win if you let the other team shoot lay-ups?"
So there you have it. Coach DV's remarkable rules of basketball. Hardly a clinician's dream. Move, pass to each other, shoot easy shots, and don't let the other team shoot any easy shots. Doesn't sound like much; but it formed the basis for 40 consecutive winning seasons!
Dick DeVenzio's legacy lives on in the programs at Point Guard College (www.pointguardcollege.com), 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. (Copyright© 2006 by Dena Evans.)
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.
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