February 20, 2014 • FeaturesFrom the BenchWinning Hoops

Get your team ready for the stretch run

Winning Hoops asked some of basketball’s best coaching minds to offer their game-tested tips for finishing the season strong. Here’s what they had to say.

“Run short, intense practices. At this time in the season, it’s important to motivate your second team to play harder than ever.”

“Have quick starts to your practices — not long, leisurely ones. Keep your ‘coach talk’ to a minimum, and make the players do most of the communicating during these practices. Get them out of the gym fast after practice.”

— Dick Bennett, head men’s coach, Washington State University

“Here in Canada, our boys’ Provincial Championships are a weekend event. After coming to the end of a long regular-season schedule, league finals and regional playoffs, if we are still in a position to compete in the championships, we prepare just as hard during this week as with any other game.

“One season, however, my assistant asked if I’d consider taking Wednesday off during this week of preparation to give the kids a physical and mental rest before our final Thursday practice. After some hesitation, we finally tried it. Without telling the players, we worked really hard Monday and Tuesday and then surprised them with an off-day that Wednesday. We came back and worked on fine-tuning things on Thursday. As our team left for the championships that season, the kids were rested, morale was high and we came home with a tournament championship!

Is taking off a key practice day risky? Very. But since then, we’ve been to the championships each season and have instituted this ‘day-off’ into our preparation plans with continued success.”

— Gib Hinz, head boys coach, Caronport High School, Saskatchewan, Canada

“Spend extra time on special situations at practices. Many playoff games come down to one or two critical offensive or defensive possessions. Your team will be better prepared to handle these situations if you have recently practiced them.”

— Dave Fuhrman, boys varsity coach, Bradford Area High School, Pennsylvania

“When the postseason approaches, normalcy is the key. Prepare for the games as you would any other. Don’t underplay or overstate the importance of the upcoming events. The goal is to win the whole thing, so celebrating the first win as if it’s the championship exhausts critical emotion that your team will need at the end. Play the game one possession at a time.”

— Carolyn Peck, head women’s coach, University of Florida

“If you’re going to use a press in the tournament, it’s important that you spend time working on the press and you should do some pressing in the final games of the regular season. You need to be ready to press if you get down in the postseason and have no other options. And if you aren’t ready, then it’s game over — and season over!”

— Eddie Andrist, head men’s coach, University of Wisconsin-Stout, Menomonie, Wisconsin

“Prior to the tournament, make time to fine-tune your offense and set plays. Execution is the critical key that time of year. More importantly, make sure that everyone, including the coaches, has fun!”

— Kristy Curry, head women’s coach, Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana