Back to the basics: Free throws and layups

Make your free throws and layups and you will win a lot of games. I offer this simple piece of advice to my players every year, regardless of their age or skill level. As a coach, one would hope and expect players to practice these fundamentals on their own time. Unfortunately, the evidence is pretty clear throughout youth basketball — they just don’t do it.

To guarantee improvement, we must allocate practice time to work on these basic but crucial skills. Coaches should design a part of every practice to simulate game situations. Just making layups in a layup line does not really help the players who struggle to follow through at the basket when under pressure.

I have started making my players dribble approximately three-fourths of the court with a defensive player on them, providing pressure without blocking the shot. It quickly becomes a multi-skill drill, teaching them to speed dribble, focus on layups and defensively apply pressure without fouling.

The more I work with players, the more I am convinced of our First Easy Pass mantra: simplify the game. My good friend, Bill Winfrey (of, and I were talking recently about shooting, ball movement and game strategy. We both — not surprisingly — agreed that better shots are found when the team reversed the ball on offense at least twice. Changing sides of the court is another lost art in the game. I am determined next year to chart the number of times we score after reversing the ball. My bet is that it will show a significantly higher percentage of success.

Coaches, as the summer comes to a close and you begin to prepare for the upcoming season, I encourage you to think of ways to simplify the game for your team. First Easy Pass is here to help. I hope you will reach out with both your ideas and questions, and I look forward to an ongoing dialogue.