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Are You a Ball Handler or a Bouncer?

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In 1964 legendary John Wooden won his first of many NCAA Championships while coaching at UCLA and a couple of years later published an extremely detailed book called "Practical Modern Basketball" that became an instant coaching classic. What's amazing to me is that even though the game has changed in many ways in the last 50 years (terminology, shot clock, 3 point line, better athletes, etc.) some things are exactly the same! For example, in his chapter on Individual Offense, Coach Wooden states that "Entirely too many players have a tendency to fancy themselves as dribblers when in reality they are only bouncers of the ball."

He then goes on to list some of the effective uses of the dribble and his top three uses include: 1) Short drive for the basket when in the open 2) To advance the ball when the defense is back and when teammates are covered and 3) For a quick getaway after an intercepted pass. One use that Coach Wooden DID NOT mention was to stand there and take five or six dribbles and not go anywhere!

How about you? Are you a dribbler or just a bouncer of the ball? Or to put it in a little more modern terminology - are you a ball handler or just a dribbler?

One day some guy came to our school and put on a dribbling show that could've been on America's Got Talent. He could do figure 8's, go behind his back, between his legs, use one ball, two balls, dribble one ball while spinning the other - you name it he could do it - all while standing in the exact same place.

From a fan's point of view was pretty impressive! However, when I walked by the gym later I saw the exact same guy playing in a pickup game with a few of the students. He wasn't a bad player; but he wasn't a good one either - and I noticed that he couldn't use a single "move" with somebody guarding him. (Even though the word "guarding" might be over exaggerating as it was a lunch time pickup game!)

I'm not exactly sure when young players started to fall in love with being "bouncers of the ball" but if I had to guess it's about the time when the "And 1" street ballers started to show up everywhere. Guys like Hot Sauce, Skip 2 My Lou, and the Professor started doing some unbelievable things while dribbling a basketball and the game hasn't been the same since. Kids started spending hours perfecting dribbling routines and moves and couldn't wait to show off their new skills even though most of them were useless. Dribbling became the new break dancing! Now years later, too much dribbling has almost become an epidemic and I see way too many players who catch the ball and immediately go into a predetermined dribbling sequence before they do anything else.

Dick DeVenzio was another very successful old school coach who went on to start the nationally acclaimed Point Guard College. Legend has it that whenever Coach D would walk into a camp session and see a player just standing there dribbling a ball without going anywhere he would yell out "What are you doing? It looks like you're getting ready to pee!" From then on coaches and staffers at the Point Guard College would refer to any non productive dribble as a "pee dribble."

One of the keys to being a great ball handler is to eliminate all pee dribbles. Sure, there's some value in spending a few minutes of your workout doing some two ball stationary drills to improve your off hand, your dexterity, and your vision. However, come game time if the dribble is not advancing the ball down court, improving your angle to pass to a teammate, or taking you closer to the rim then don't use it. That was good coaching advice 50 years ago when John Wooden said it and its still good advice now!

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