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Coaches Corner: Q&A with USA Basketball Coach Kevin Sutton

By adam.warner - Last updated: Wednesday, April 6, 2011

In this week’s edition of Coaches Corner, Championship Productions’ editor Adam Warner sits down with USA Basketball and Montverde Academy head boys’ basketball coach Kevin Sutton. On April 9, the longtime college and high school basketball coach will lead the 2011 USA Basketball Men’s Junior Select Team against the World Select Team at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Oregon.

In this exclusive interview, Sutton talks about his expectations for the ’11 squad, dishes out advice for players and coaches, and even reveals his rise as a prominent basketball coach from his days growing up in the Washington DC area and playing with the likes of Johnny Dawkins and Billy King.

Talk about your background and the transition to becoming a head basketball coach.
“I grew up in the Washington D.C. area of Falls Church, Virginia. I grew up in a basketball family. My uncle taught me the game and I loved it more than any other sport. I played against some outstanding players growing up, including Johnny Dawkins and Billy King. I grew up playing against some great talent and have always had a passion for the game. Including my father, who was my first coach for football, I’ve always been surrounded by coaches and they’ve all had a great impact on my life. They were great teachers and taught me life lessons through the game. After playing for Montrose Christain, I went to James Madison on a basketball scholarship and eventually became a student assistant coach in 1987, and that’s where it all began.”

How did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in basketball?
“Like everyone, you want to play at the highest level and I wanted to play pro. But that wasn’t a reality, so I wanted to stay and be part of the game. I thought that through coaching I could have an impact on players and on the game of basketball. I’ve been a student of the game. When I became a coach, I tried to impact the game as much as I could positively and give kids a chance to become productive students, athletes and citizens.”

How would you define your coaching philosophy and how do you implement the key parts with your teams?
“It stems from five coaches: Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, John Thompson, John Chaney, and Stu Vetter. As for Coach K, it’s about his relationships with his players, to be fair and demanding and yet hold them accountable. As for Thompson, I watched him build that Georgetown program by doing things the right way and standing up for what he believed in. As for Pitino, he’s influenced me through his system and style of shooting. I took into account what I liked and I implemented that into my own style. Meanwhile, Stu Vetter for his defensive ability. They have all had a lasting impact on my life and the philosophy of making my program the best it can be.”

You’ve put dozens of players into college basketball from the high school ranks. What’s been the key to sustaining talent over time, rather than just a year or two at a time?
“It’s all about consistency. In life, you have to be consistent. You must define who you are and what success is to you. I try to offer this advice to as many coaches who are willing to listen. What’s the definition to you? It could be different. To me, it’s about doing the right things over time and impacting lives through basketball. For other coaches, it may be winning titles. Then from there, try to implement your philosophy and the things you are most comfortable with as a person.”

With so many added distractions these days for high school athletes, particularly for ones who are hoping to make the college leap (with media, rankings, etc.), what’s the key to maintaining focus and discipline at a young age?
“Today’s student-athletes have a lot of outside distractions, so what we try to do is create a culture and environment where everything we do is the most important thing. We work hard as a staff at defining the culture and growing the culture. We do a great job of getting to know our players and we do our best to make sure they are comfortable and we eliminate as many distractions we can. Focus is key and we expect it on a daily basis.”

This year you were named head coach for USA Basketball’s 2011 Junior National Select Team. What does the position mean to you?
“It’s an honor. I was the assistant coach the past two summers for the U-16 team that won the gold medal in Argentina, and also for the U-17 team that won the world championships in Germany. It goes back to the byproduct of doing the right things over time. I think my body of work speaks for itself. I am passionate about the game and I think it was important that we kept continuity with the team and the overall initiative. I take a great deal of pride in the position.”

You will lead Team USA at the Nike Hoop Summit April 9 at the Rose Garden in Portland. What are your expectations?
“I have high expectations. I have been in communication with the players all year long and I continue to develop a relationship with our new players. I think the guys are going to come out and work hard in preparation for the event and play to their potential in the game. This event will put an exclamation point on their high school careers. It’s their final game as high school students, so I tell them how it’s a great way to go out and for them to leave it all out at Nike before opening a brand new book at college.”

What’s some of the best advice you can give to a new coach at the youth or high school level?
“Define who you are as a coach. Define what is success and try to use the game of basketball to continue to teach life lessons to impact lives, and go out and develop young men into quality people. I believe that winning is a byproduct of doing the right things over time. Don’t sacrifice the fun just to win games and pad your record.”

What’s some of the best advice you can give to a young player who’s trying to improve his game?
“Develop a positive work ethic, allow yourself to be coached and become students of the game. I believe that basketball IQ is the newest talent. It’s not enough to be physically talented any more. Players must respect and study the game and respect the players before them. This will allow their own game to continue to grow. Make sure that you surround yourself with good people. You will be better served in the long run. Love the game and be passionate about it and don’t forget to give back to the game, too.”

What’s one of your all-time favorite drills?
“My all-time favorite one is the two-ball basketball series of drills. It’s where you use two balls and dribble in place. It’s a good drill that incorporates your ability to dribble and handle the ball with both hands, plus speed dribbling and using proper footwork. It’s practical and really improves a player in a number of areas.”

Do you have any other goals as a basketball coach left to accomplish? What can we expect in the years to come?
“It’s to continue to grow the game and impact it in a positive way and hopefully, leave it better than I found it.”

Kevin Sutton has partnered with Championship Productions to produce a number of basketball videos. Check out Coach Sutton’s entire catalog by clicking here.

3 Last-Second Plays to Deliver Your Team a Victory

By adam.warner - Last updated: Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Touchdown Full-Court Score

Submitted by Greg Bass, Head Boys Coach, Sparta High School, Sparta, Illinois

Don’t be desperate for a score in the final seconds even if you find yourself 94 feet from the basket. This play frees up a player for a long pass and gives your team a shot before time runs out.

The Set-Up: 1 should be your best passer and takes the ball out of bounds beneath the opposite basket. 4 starts out on the near block while 2 is on the opposite low block. 3 starts out at the top of the key and 5 is a few feet behind him.

The Action: 4 runs to the top of the key to set a screen for 3. 3 then uses the pick to get open on the near side corner. Meanwhile, 5 moves toward the wing area of the far three-point arc and sets a pick for 2. 2 uses the screen to go long.

The Finish: 1 hits 2 in stride with a long pass. Depending on how much time is left on the clock, 2 looks to take an open jumper or drive to the hoop, even if there’s another defender back deep.


Bama Back Door from 1-4

Submitted by David Offerle, Basketball Coach at Arlington High School, Arlington, Tennessee

This play utilizes a backdoor cut from a 1-4 set to provide the offense with a close-in shot at the basket.

The Set-Up: 1 starts out with the ball at the top of the key. Meanwhile, 3 and 2 are situated on the opposite wings just beyond the three-point arc. 4 and 5 begin on the opposite elbows of the free throw line.

The Action: 1 passes to 2 on the wing. 1 then closes the gap with 2 and receives a quick pass back. All the while, 4 springs to the ball-side corner and 3 steps to the weakside elbow. Next, 1 dribbles toward the free throw line area and 3 steps out hard before cutting backdoor.

The Finish: As 1 makes his move to the free throw line, he hits 3 with a pass after the quick step-out and then backdoor move.


Side Box 2

Submitted by Tim Trotter, Head Boys Coach, Jonesboro High School, Jonesboro, Texas

This play is perfect for a quick and close basket with less than two seconds on the clock.

The Set-Up:  4 takes the ball out of bounds on the sideline. 2 begins on the near low block while 1 is on the far low block. 5 and 3 start out on the opposite elbows of the free throw line, with 3 being on the far elbow.

The Action: The play begins when 5 sets a down screen for 1 in the lane. Meanwhile, 2 breaks to the near corner and 3 pops out toward half court. 1 uses the pick and loops around to the three-point line near the top of the key. Then, after setting the initial screen, 5 turns to receive a lob pass.

The Finish: 4 fakes to a decoy and then lobs a pass to 5 right at the rim for a close-range basket.


The previous plays can be seen on Championship Productions’ DVD titled “Over 50 Game-Winning Last Second Plays” produced by Winning Hoops. For more play-specific videos, check out our exclusive catalog here.

6 Rebounding Drills for the Complete Post Player

By adam.warner - Last updated: Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This week’s rebounding feature focuses on a half-dozen drills designed to help forwards improve their overall post play. Kevin Sutton — Nike Skill Academy Instructor and Montverde Academy Men’s Basketball Coach — leads viewers through the workout sessions.

Sutton believes that in order to have post success, every player must possess these five key attributes: 1.) Passion (pure joy of the game and drive to be the best); 2.) P. I. G. (Passion for the post, Intensity to compete, and Guts to go after rebounds); 3.) Great feet and balance; 4.) Great vision in the lane; and 5.) Great hands.

These simple and effective drills — which work on improving overall technique, balance, passing, hand-eye coordination and footwork, among many other areas — will help players develop the necessary post skills needed to become elite rebounders.

1.) Backboard Pounds

Set up two lines in front of the basket on both sides of the glass. Two players will start on both sides of the glass, each with a ball. Each player will hold the ball and pound the glass by jumping up and down continuously. After six pounds, make the layup and then have the players rotate and switch sides.

2.) Backboard Pounds With Shot Fake

This time, players will pound the ball off the backboard, come down with the ball and gather themselves before making a shot fake. Then, players will step across under the hoop with a low power dribble and go for a layup on the opposite side. Shoot for six of these per player before rotating. Only player will go at a time with this drill.

3.) Tipping Drill

Next, players should tip the ball off the backboard six times with just one hand. The tipping should be continuous and players should remember to keep their inside hand up while tipping.  After six tips, players should finish things off with a layup. Two players can go at the same time and work on opposite sides of the glass. Remember, the ball should never touch the floor.

4.) Tipping Drill With Alternating Hands

This time, players should tip the ball off the glass and alternate hands used to tip the ball. Continue six times before finishing with a layup.

5.) Rebound & Outlet

In this drill, players should begin by throwing the ball off the backboard before rebounding the ball at its highest point. Then, players should pivot to the outside and outlet the ball to a designated teammate before sprinting to half court and receiving a pass back from them.

6.) Rebound & Outlet With Variation

The actions of this final drill are essentially the same as before, except now players have two outlets to use. Whichever side the ball goes off the backboard, players should use that outlet man before taking off down the court. Coaches, remember to rotate leaders in each drill, too. This way, players learn to lead and follow during drills.


The drills mentioned in this week’s rebounding feature can be seen in Championship Productions’ DVD “30 Drills for Building a Complete Post Player.” To view additional rebounding videos in our extensive catalog, click here.

Exclusive All-Access Pass: Duke Men’s Basketball Practice

By adam.warner - Last updated: Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In this week’s edition of All-Access, we take you to Durham, North Carolina for an exclusive look at a Duke men’s basketball practice. Watch as head coach Mike Krzyzewski leads his squad through two-man drills, a consistent and instrumental part of Blue Devil basketball practices.

Two-man drills are typically used at the onset of a Duke basketball practice and are aimed at getting players moving around the floor and warmed up before more demanding elements of practice are implemented.

The workouts being performed — which include a variety of fastbreak and transition break segments like baseball passes and stop & dish plays — are influential in developing game-like communication and “real situations” between teammates as well. They are also helpful in sparking player communication and awareness during practices set at odd hours, such as early morning sessions that may find athletes rather groggy.

It’s also a good time for the coaches to talk with the training staff to see if there are any new injuries, updates or other developments with particular athletes. For instance, at this time, Coach K can observe a player early on in the practice who may have a lingering injury and will be able to deduce whether they may be restricted from any upcoming drills or particular activity.


This video is featured in Championship Productions’ DVD “All-Access Duke Basketball Practice with Mike Krzyzewski.” To view more videos featuring Duke men’s basketball and Coach K, click here.


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