Saturday, September 21, 2013

#015 The "Dream" Is Back: The Evolution of Post Play, Part 1

It seems that you can't go 3 articles on any of the basketball blogs and NBA websites these days without someone referring to a player working with Hakeem Olajuwon or asking the question about why they haven't worked with the Dream.

What I cannot understand is why it has taken so long.  Post play from the youth level through AAU and into small and big college has become near obsolete.  Coaches either have no idea how to integrate a post player or they have simply given up trying to teach bigs how to play big.  I have watched too many high school practices lately where the post player on the floor looks like the skinny, nerdy kid at the dance who nobody is talking to and everyone wishes would just get out of the way.

If you are a true post or a "stretch" post, there is a good chance that you will feel like you are not being utilized like you should, and you will probably spend most of your career with people asking you why your coach doesn't use you more.

The problem doesn't necessarily fall on the respective coach's shoulders.  Most big kids are already given unrealistic expectations.  People assume that because they are taller than everyone else that they are tough, confident, and unskilled.  What a terrible perception for any kid to absorb or defend!  Moreover, the perception can be just the opposite for all three characteristics.  The more big teenagers I work with, the more I see soft, afraid-of-contact but highly skilled clay to mold.  The big kids today, and as far as I can remember, dream of shooting three-pointers and breaking ankles off killer cross-overs.  They want to be seen as the skilled kid just like the guards who float below them.

This is why almost 10 years after his retirement, Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon () is as popular as ever.  Hakeem was the big kid all other big kids dream they could be.  He had incomparable footwork, fantastic handles and body control, and he could flat out knock down 15-20 foot jumpers in his sleep.  In his prime he was un-guardable one-on-one, but almost impossible to trap, because he could beat you from so many different spots on the floor.  This is why you are seeing everyone from true centers like Dwight Howard and big guards like LeBron and Carmelo reaching out to the master of the "shake" to improve their overall game.  It is why I also believe Dwight Howard signing with Houston was the smartest thing he ever did.

It is that drive by these superstars to be less one dimensional that I hope will be the beginning of coaches growing their own knowledge of "post" play and opening their minds to the possibilities that have always been there for utilizing their bigs.  I was blessed some 15 years ago to have Coach Thad Matta, the Head Coach at Ohio State and his then Assistant Coach, John Groce, the Head Coach at the University of Illinois, while they were at Butler come to my high school gym to recruit my long, talented twins who were playing for me at the time.  Both coaches were kind enough to stay after my practice and work with me two-on-one teaching the foundation of the post education they had learned from their mentors that went all the way back to the great Pete Newell and Red Auerbach, who had a hand in developing another of the great footwork masters, Kevin McHale (.)  Yes, Dwight Howard's new coach!

What is truly sad about the state of post play in today's youth game is that these lessons have been right in front of coach's eyes for decades.  As good as McHale and Olajuwon were in their hay-day, I still consider the best post player of all-time to be...drum roll please...Michael Jordan (

Yes, I said it, and I believe it.  Go to YouTube and watch the Michael Jordan compilations.  Look where he is catching the ball over and over again.  Yes, you got it, mid-post with his back to the basket. Isn't that post play? Oh, he wasn't 6'11" and 250 lbs?  Charles Barkley is 6'4".  Was he a shooting guard?  Michael Jordan, like Olajuwon, showed all of us coaches our utter failure by limiting the expectations of our players because of the hole we put them into because of their size. The older Jordan became, the less he could out-jump and out-soar the younger players.  When most leapers begin writing their retirement speeches when their legs begin to go, Michael Jordan began putting the exclamation mark on the greatest offensive scoring career of all-time by becoming a great post player.

Okay, so why are Olajuwon and Jordan (in my eyes) at the top of the mountain in regard to the best "basketball" players of all-time?  It's easy.  They are the only two players during my life-time who you could not label, define, or pigeon-hole into a category.  To call Olajuwon a center or Jordan a shooting guard is like calling the Mona Lisa a painting.  She is and they were so much more.

Now you are asking, and you should be if you are a coach who is trying to develop young players, "When are you going to tell us what exactly to teach our post players besides 'Be like the Dream and Mike?'"  Great question!  It all starts with a little thing called the back-pivot.  [Can you hear the angels singing?]  Yes, the back-pivot!  In Part II of this discussion, I will hit you over the head with the basic fundamentals you should be giving ALL of your kids on a daily basis that will make them grow exponentially as players and love you for changing their potential growth path.  And yes, the back-pivot will be the foundation of that conversation.  Just ask Kobe Bryant ( ).  He is one of the few superstars in the last 15 years who really studied what made Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon great, and he simply followed their lead.  This is why Kobe should choose one person and one person only to present him to the Hall of Fame:  Phil Jackson.

Talk to you soon.  Have a great day!
Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary