(Editor’s note: Marvin “Automatic” Johnson is a former University of New Mexico basketball star who now is director for Southwest Basketball Camp, which holds camps throughout the state. This is the first in a series of articles by Marvin that will appear in the News-Bulletin periodically during the summer.)
Learning the basic fundamentals of basketball is an individual’s responsibility. Coaches can’t be expected to teach players how to dribble, pass shoot, etc.; coaches just don’t have the time for that. They have only two hours or so of practice each day, and most of that time is spent covering team concepts and strategies. So if you want to make the team you are trying out for, you should already know and be well on your way to mastering the individual fundamentals of basketball: ball handling, dribbling, rebounding, shooting and defense.
The best way to learn the individual skills is by going to basketball camps or being taught by a relative or friend you knows the game well. A good age to start is between the ages of 5 and 7.
Once the proper instruction is found, there is only one thing left to do: practice. Always practice correctly. The following statement is a powerful one; it will serve you well throughout your life:
You will play the way you practice and you practice the way you play.
In summary, develop good habits on and off the floor.
We’ll start with the “triple threat,” since it is a foundation position.
What is the triple threat?
What the “triple threat” means is from this position you can do one of three things: you can drive to the hoop, shoot a jump shot or make a pass. Whenever you receive a pass in your front court, you should always assume the triple threat position. When you assume this position, you make the player guarding you respect you as an offensive threat.
Who has the advantage? The defender or the person with the ball? Of course it is the person with the basketball because he or she knows what they’re going to do and the defender must react. Whenever you are reacting to something, you are at a disadvantage.
From the triple threat position, you have the option of pivoting before you drive, shoot or pass.
Pivoting is the ability to turn away from pressure applied by a defensive opponent to protect the basketball.
When you receive a pass from a teammate, be sure to always jump and land with both feet hitting the floor at the same time (this is called a jump stop), especially in the lane area. This will allow you to have a choice of which foot you use as your pivot foot. Of course, your choice of pivot foot is determined by where and how the defense is playing you (an important tip: a smart offensive player takes what the defense gives). You should always turn away from defensive pressure, keeping your body between the basketball and the defensive player. In order to pivot effectively, use the jump stop. Your feet should be shoulder width apart. Again, crouch down like you’re sitting in a chair; the weight of your body on the balls of your feet. If you are going to be a good basketball player, you must learn to master this position. From this position you dribble, rebound, pivot, play defense, shoot jump shots, etc. From this position, you have your best balance, power, quickness and speed.
The quick first step
As mentioned, whenever you receive a pass in your front court, you should always assume the triple threat position. A quick first step is going to allow you to beat your defender instantly. A quick first step is a powerful weapon in your offensive repertoire. Let your first step be a lunge of about four of five feet from the triple threat position. Your first dribble is where you are going, not where you are. A quick first step is not only going to break down the defender guarding you, it’s going to cause a defensive crisis for the entire defensive structure of the opposing team.
That’s enough for now. Next time we’ll talk about dribbling and passing the ball. In the meantime, remember: Always practice correctly. You will play the way you practice and you practice the way you play.