Playing Hard: Maybe a player wasn’t the fastest, the tallest, or the most athletic person on the court. In the course of any given game that was out of his control. But each of them could control the effort with which he played. “Never let anyone play harder than you,” I told them. “That is part of the game you can control.” If another team played harder than we did, we had no excuse for it. None. We worked on it in every practice. If a player didn’t give maximum effort, we dealt with it right then. We stopped practice and had the entire team run sprints for the offending player. We played a style of basketball that was physically exhausting and made it impossible for a player to go full throttle for forty minutes. When he got tired, he flashed the tired signal, a raised fist, and we substituted for him. He could put himself back in the game once he had rested. We didn’t want tired player on the court because they usually tried to rest on defense. That wouldn’t work in our plan. Therefore we watched closely in practice and in games to make sure player played hard. If they slacked off, it was important to catch them and get them out of the game, or if it occurred in practice, to have the entire team run.
Playing Together: Basketball is a game that counts on togetherness. I pointed out that seldom, if ever, did the nation’s leading scorer play on a ranked team. He certainly didn’t play on a championship team. I made them understand that our plan would fall apart if they didn’t take care of one another: set screens; play team defense; box out; pass to the open man. One man who failed to do his job unselfishly could undermine the efforts of the four other players on the court.
Playing Smart: The only way to have a smart team is to have one that is fundamentally sound. We didn’t skimp on fundamentals. We worked on them hard in practice and repeated them until they were down cold. Our entire program was built around practice. If we practiced well and learned, we could play smart. It was another thing we could control.