Making adjustments

March 22, 2023

By Jeff Becraft

Years ago, I was coaching an 11-13 year old basketball team in an inner-city neighborhood. We were a .500 team during the regular season… but that is another story.

In the end-of-the-season tournament, we made it to the finals. Our semi-final was first that day and after we won, I told our players we were going to sit in the stands and watch our upcoming competition. We were pretty sure which team we would be facing… they were undefeated during that season.

They had the tallest player in the league… and he led the league in rebounds – both offensive and defensive rebounds.

As we watched, I said to our players, “You see what they are doing?  They’re cherry pickin’.”  (Cherry picking is when after your team shoots, some of the players on the defensive team take off down court and whoever gets the rebound – usually their tall center – will pass the ball down court for an uncontested layup.)  I added, “We’re going to shut that down.”

And so at our practices that week, we practiced over and over again, that whoever were the two guys at the top of our offensive set would drop back to half court after we took any shot. This went against everything I had told them all season long. We were a smaller team and I had coached them to be aggressive and that I wanted all five guys crashing the boards after we took a shot.

So… at first it was hard for them to grasp. But we practiced it over and over… and then over again.

We also changed our defensive set to a very tight 2-1-2 zone; something we had not run all season long. Every man had to have at least one foot in the paint (this would be the lane). This was to keep their big center from getting rebounds… especially offensive rebounds. Most of their scoring was coming either from put backs by their center or easy fastbreak layups off his rebounds.

The other team also ran a full-court press. We did some of this also. So I took our best player, Chris, and moved him to point guard.  I had had him at forward all season long because we didn’t have a very big team and he was our second tallest player.  But he was highly skilled and he could handle the ball. He had not played point guard all season long.

When it came to the championship game, Chris was bigger than their two guards and so if they trapped him, he could easily pass the ball over them. But half the time, he had the skills to dribble through the defense. So he nullified their full-court pressure. (Of all the coaching decisions I made over the years, I might be most proud of this one.)

Whenever we took a shot, our two guys at the top would drop back to half court. So when their center got a rebound, there were no easy passing lanes down court. Thus, you could say goodbye to their cherry picking.

With the tight 2-1-2 zone, their center only scored two points the whole game. (There is a story behind this that is worth its own Friday email.) They had the talent and athletes to beat us from the outside, but we had taken them so far out of what they were used to that they weren’t functioning at top performance.

To make a long story long… a team that was undefeated, a team that had beaten us twice in the regular season… we beat by 30 points.

So what did we really do?  We…

  • Observed and evaluated what was really going on.
  • We made adjustments.
  • We practiced those adjustments over and over again.
  • And then we implemented the adjustments in the game.

We can apply this to a lot of areas in our lives.


Jeff Becraft is the Interim Director of Our Place of Hope and the Director Emeritus for Youth Corps and has dedicated much of his life to helping shift the vision of people’s lives. Youth Corps is a life-changing leadership development experience that inspires high school students to be leaders in the Midlands and beyond. You can connect with Jeff at [email protected].