Back when coaches allowed practices to be open to the public, I learned something about Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and his toughness.
Nowadays, Izzo and his coaching brethren may command respect and have the authority to shield players from fans and media during workouts, but they can’t protect their guys from social media.
“I think this new modern day, with the social media, I think it bothers kids at all levels and players at all levels because there’s only so many times that you can hear positively or negatively how good you are and how bad you are,” Izzo said on the Jim Rome Show on Thursday.
Dealing with social media has become as challenging as coaching against the on-ball screen.
Izzo was an assistant to Jud Heathcote when the Spartans participated in the Fiesta Bowl Classic at McKale Center in 1987. The Spartans’ practice the day before they lost 78-58 to Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr and Co. was more like a football training session because of the physical routines Heathcote, Izzo and the Michigan State staff put their players through.
The coaches held body-sized pads for players to run through during screen drills. The only things missing were the shoulder pads and helmets. If a player was stopped by an on-ball screen and was not aggressive enough maneuvering through them — not around them — Heathcote stopped the practice and let the entire team know his displeasure.
UCLA used its double-screen well Saturday night against Arizona’s man-to-man defense in which a Bruin went from one side of the court to another past two screens on each side of the lane. That freed UCLA’s perimeter shooters for uncontested shots. The Bruins were able to connect on jumpers when they effectively used on-ball screens and ball movement.
They shot 41.2 percent from three-point range in the 74-69 victory. UCLA reserve forward David Wear made two three-pointers in the second half because of the effective double screens.
UA coach Sean Miller undoubtedly spends plenty of time on defense in practice, especially with how critical he is of Arizona’s execution after some games. It must be a focal point. The UA coaches must tell the players to use their instincts, read the screens and play aggressively.
Coaches like to say great defense consists of three R’s — read, react and rotate — and how that is learned is through practice, practice and practice.
This season has been a grind for Miller and his staff despite a 14-0 start and top 10 ranking for most of it. Despite the overall success — Arizona is still projected as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament — the Wildcats have dealt with adversity and plenty of criticism.
Fans and media have mostly been critical about the UA’s offensive execution, Mark Lyons playing out of position as point guard, slow starts, the use of the man-to-man defense, turnovers, and perimeter defense breakdowns. Miller has led the chorus over Arizona’s defensive lapses.
Lute Olson created this monster. Arizona basketball is a brand name. It is to the Pac-12 and west coast basketball what programs like Duke, Syracuse and North Carolina are to the east coast and Michigan State and Indiana are to the midwest. Gone are the days when Arizona fans are content because Olson built a program from nothing.
UCLA’s Ben Howland was on the hot seat earlier this season. His team is in contention for a Pac-12 title. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who has more than 900 victories, has his critics over the Orange losing six of its last 10 games, including three consecutively.
West Virginia’s Bob Huggins and Texas’ Rick Barnes — coaches who have led programs to the Final Four — are coaching teams with losing records this season. Their fans are not happy and they have let it be known through social media.
Arizona fans have voiced their displeasure on Twitter, Facebook, radio call-in shows and blog commentary sections. Note Miller’s Twitter feed at the top of this blog.
“I think that (social media) is the one thing that I’m trying to adjust to,” Izzo told Rome. “With the new social media way of doing things, kids are seeing things a lot more, a lot quicker. So I think we as coaches have to adjust to it some way. If you got a good way, send me a note, would ya?”
Here’s a note: The best way is to develop thick skin and remember what basketball is, a game. Coach the heck out of defending the on-ball screen and keep showing us why college basketball is a tremendous game to follow. Barrel through the noise like it is a body pad.
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner