Women’s Basketball and Skill Development
Clay Kallam wrote an interesting column after the Cal vs. UCLA women’s basketball game that set a record for first-half futility with a 14-8 half-time score.
Clay, a passionate women’s basketball fan, writer and coach, and I have argued on this topic for years. His stance remains consistent, as he expressed in his column:
Recruit athletes, regardless of skill, and run them like attack dogs against opposing offenses. The superior athleticism will render the offense hopeless, and eventually the superior athlete will score off some offensive rebounds, get some steals for easy layups, and now and again, deliver an actual basketball move.
To put it another way, athleticism erases skills. A 6-1 athletic wing who can’t make a jumper, can’t really dribble with her left hand, and has more turnovers than assists, will dominate a skilled 5-10 wing who isn’t as quick, as strong, as fast or as tall as the defender.
I see a different problem: why can’t we develop athletic players with actual basketball skills? Why is it one or the other? Of course, there are the exceptionals like Maya Moore, Jayne Appel, Tina Charles, Skylar Diggins and others. However, generally-speaking, why does one have to sacrifice skills to recruit athleticism or athleticism to recruit skills? The depth of talent is very shallow.
The problem is not that college coaches recruit athletes over skilled players. The issue is that these athletes have played year-round basketball for six years and have developed virtually no technical or tactical basketball skills.
What are we teaching during practice when players reach the college level without any footwork, ugly shooting technique, no left hand and no general understanding of how to play the game?
I watched a nationally-ranked high school point guard, and she lacked any sense of running a team. She’s reasonably quick and has decent shooting technique, but she did not make good decisions in transition or when trapped and she did not know how to run a pick-and-roll.
I watched a top 25 future Division I small forward who caught the ball on the wing, immediately dribbled and jumped into the air when she reached a defender to pass or shoot. She had no fundamental skills – poor passer, poor ball handler, no shot – but she was athletic and played hard, so she’s coveted at the next level. Why can’t a player like this who plays year-round develop well-rounded skills? What is inhibiting this development? She plays for a respected AAU program and a respected high school team. What’s missing?