Big Players

This article is a joint effort between Steve Jordan (Introduction and Project Player Story) and Kevin Reilly (Developing Your Big Player). Coach Reilly is also the author of "Using Your Bench" in the Coach's Notebook.


People just assume big players are good at basketball. When seeing kids for the first time in a tryout session, coaches are often "blinded by the height". The tall player is all they can talk about. Fundamental shortcomings that would cause them to write off a smaller player are overlooked. The coach is thinking, "A few drills, a few tips, and we'll have a dominant player!" Now, I will be the first to agree that a well-coached player of height can make a huge difference to a team, but consider these points when you finally get the big prize on your roster:

  1. Not all tall kids can play basketball and may be very self-conscious about living up to expectations.
  2. Big kids need to work just as hard as small kids to get good at their sport.
  3. Taller doesn't mean older. Inside that big body is a child the same age as your little point guard.
  4. Big kids often have a harder time mastering motor skills due to their rate of growth. You may need to work long and hard on such things as catching a basketball.
  5. Conditioning applies to everyone. A player isn't very tall when walking or jogging down the floor.
  6. Expectations of the coach are raised accordingly. You may have spent three hours in the last week practicing footwork with your project player. Then, in the next game, he/she is called for traveling. After the game, folks will come down and say things like, "Man, someone needs to help that kid with footwork!".
  7. Big folks need to accept their role as a big person. There may be no interest in learning post play. Perhaps all your tall guy wants to do is shoot threes. He'll justify that by saying he's only tall enough to be a guard in the pros. Besides, it isn't like the player is being sentenced to the post for life. Post skills will be a beneficial no matter where one ends up playing (or coaching).
  8. Sometimes, the entire team must adjust to take full advantage of the new post player. If the tall player is inexperienced, prone to turnovers and the team is compromising their style, it may seem like a poor trade-off at first.
  9. Big players take more punishment than small players during the game. Just because a person is tall doesn't mean roughness is enjoyed. In fact, in an environment where fouls aren't called much, the entire experience may be too frustrating to continue.

A Project Player Story

by Steve Jordan

The first years of my coaching experience were with my son and his neighborhood friends. While the kids were fun and coachable, they certainly were not big. Each season we had difficulty with teams that had taller players. So, one year, I decided to go find my own little mountain man. I wasn't optimistic. After all, I live in a small town and the talent at every age level in our basketball community is heavily recruited. There was an open spot on our roster, though, and I went to the YMCA open tryout to see what was "up".

And there he was. A 6' 2" 12 year old that never played before. He wasn't just tall, he was huge - and slow. But he had nice hands, catching the ball consistently and making his close shots. Perfect! In our YMCA league, the players are drafted. Coach's names were drawn to determine the pick sequence. I got choice number  .... 4.  I worried and fretted as the first three coaches nabbed some talented guards. Then he was mine.

At our first practice, it became obvious how much work was ahead of us. He had only shot around in his driveway, and didn't have a clue about rules or plays or fundamentals. The other players were 3-4 years ahead of him. How could we take advantage of this wonderful resource?

The first thing I thought of was rebounding. The lesson was catch the rebound and hold it over your head as high as you can. When he did that, because of his height and girth (~220 lbs) only one of my other players could even jump high enough to touch the ball. His parents were right behind that particular principle and reminded him constantly. The second thing he had to learn was to stand still. He would catch the ball, hold it high, and because he was so excited, his feet would go pitter-patter as he turned in circles. Oh, my.

Defensively, the lesson was simple. When anyone near him wanted to shoot, he would hold his hands high and not try to block the shot. In games, smaller players would drive in the key, take one look at him, and drive back out. Sometimes they would shoot the ball off of his arms.

On offense, we ran the easy plays listed on this site. Where our big man really helped was setting screens. He would establish a position and just be there. The ball handler steered the defender into him and eliminated that little problem.

The big guy was great at posting up. Not great at post up moves, but at posting up. He was an easy target for the guards. Pass the ball in, the defense caved in, pass the ball out and we had a three point shot. Whenever he grabbed an offensive rebound, the plan was to bank the ball in using the backboard - clean and simple and strong. It was hard for him to win the sympathy of the referees (mostly smaller than him) about the kids dangling from his arms.

Near the end of the season, we played an exhibition game against an older, advanced team. We played out of our heads and had a small lead in the last few minutes. The other team was pressing with all they had. But we had the big fellow. The in-bounds pass went to him and he stood tall with ball high in the air, feet firmly planted on the court. The point would get the pass back from above and the press was history. Any time the traps were a risk, we passed back to the big guy walking up the floor.

He moved away shortly after the season ended. I don't know that he played basketball again, although he wrote once saying he made a football team. But for one season, he learned a little about basketball, a few things about using his body to his advantage and he made a lot of new friends. Hopefully, if you find a raw, big person for your team, this story will be of some help. For development techniques and drills, read the following by Kevin Reilly.

Developing Your Big Player

by Kevin Reilly

Hall of Fame Coach Lou Carnesecca once said "You can't teach height". Since this game originated in Springfield under the watchful eye of Dr. Naismith tall players have been a valuable commodity. No pun intended, big players have a "tremendous upside" for themselves and the coaches and teams they play for. In fact over the years rules have been made and/or adjusted to limit the dominance of the tallest players on the highest levels.

First Steps

Due to the more than likely fragile pysche of younger and taller players the building of confidence is essential. A youth who has grown head and shoulders above his peers needs motivation and encouragement to develop into an important member of your team. The smallest of gains on a daily basis warrants acknowledgement.

Your big player will usually need to become more aggressive in an attempt to have him dominate the competition. Basketball has become a overtly physical game. The inside game resembles a war as players try to acquire an edge over their opponent.

As a coach you must be prepared to play your big player as much as possible. The more playing time the better they will become. At times it may seem like you are "feeding them to the lions" but in the long run the mileage that they build up in the formative stages of career will only lead to a more polished and confident performer.

The average child who has grown taller than their peers may need additional work on conditioning. The more running, jumping rope and agility drills the better. A quick, fast and agile big player will be a force to be reckoned with. Drills that incorporate skill development along with conditioning serve a dual purpose and will be much better endured.

The psychological and physical prowess of your improved big man will serve to help your team see the big player as the main cog of their team. Looking inside for the big kid and rewarding the center for trailing the break and crashing the boards will result in better team chemistry and quite possibly a few more "W's".

Post Up Skills

Positioning - Your big player will need to learn how to use their size to gain and maintain effective position on the court as they become an offensive target for your squad.

The low post player should seek out position above the block (or first marker on the foul lane). This will allow for the best shooting angle upon execution of a move especially if it is toward the baseline when the player would be left without a good view of the rim and more importantly without the use of the backboard. They could actually end up behind the backboard.

Stance - Teach the player to assume a similar stance as if they were boxing out. The body should be made to be as wide as possible. You have probably heard some big men referred to as "space-eaters".

The low post player should seek to make contact with their defender without fouling. Arms should be bent at elbows with hands up above shoulders. Staying low with knees slightly bent makes the post player ready to move and catch ball before executing an offensive move.

Achieving post up position is a physical confrontation. Who wants the ball?? Low post- players must be on their toes and never caught flat-footed. To get open the post player must attack the defender's feet and refuse to get fronted. Constant motion and reaction to a defender's efforts is critical.

The Finish ( Catching, Locating, Making a Move) - The post player must be able to react to any pass. Not all passes are John Stockton-like. Anticipate a bad pass. Move to the ball . Again instruct players to be on the balls of their feet.

After catching the ball, it must be secured. Many young post players catch the ball and then drop it fumble it or just plain get their pocket picked by usually a much smaller opponent. Remember you can't score unless you have solid possession.

When the catch is made the ball should be chinned. That is held securely about chest high under the chin. Elbows out to ward off defenders. When a defender runs into an elbow he may think twice, next time, about being over aggressive in defending the post pass.

Before initiating a move to the hoop the post player should look for the defense and quickly see how he is being played and also watch for cutters.

Nowadays, the low post pass is often double-teamed so a smart passing big man can add some easy baskets to his team's arsenal.

Low Post Moves

Drop Step - When the post player is played on either side the big man catches the ball and drops foot furthest from the defender right to the basket. He will pin his man, keeping the defender on his back. The move is finished with a power dribble and power lay up.

Turn Around Jumper - When the post player catches the ball, he gives a hard ball fake and head fake one way . He then makes an outside pivot in the opposite direction. He is now in position to shoot the turn around jump shot.

Up and Under Move - This move starts the same as the turn around jumper. However, after the turn and face to the basket , the player shot fakes and makes a quick crossover step past the defensive man for a power lay up or jump hook shot off two feet. The player should take one hard dribble after the crossover step to get to the basket. The fake should be hard and strong.

On the shot fake, keep the body low and the ball high and look to the rim to make it look like a turn around jump shot. This move if done well is certain to draw fouls.

Big Man Drills

Catching the Ball - The player will stand on one low block of foul lane and toss ball across lane. They will then run to the ball, catching the ball on a jump stop and chinning ball in preparation for a low post move. Concentrate on catching ball , securing possession and readying for attacking the basket.

Mikan Drill - An all-time favorite named after the legendary center. The player stands under the rim and proceeds to alternate jump hook shots from both sides of the basket. This drill helps player use both left and right hand. Correct form should be stressed. This includes leading with opposite shoulder which protects the ball and draws fouls as well as releasing ball at highest peak.

Rebound /Follow Drill - The player will throw the ball off the basket from a position in the lane about three feet from the hoop. He will then attack the glass grabbing rebound at highest point. Upon landing the ball will be kept high and then will be put back off the glass again protecting the ball with the non-shooting shoulder. This can be done for time or for a certain number of made baskets. A coach may provide token physical contact and contesting of the shots to simulate the possibility of the old fashioned three point play.