Ask a Jr. NBA expert a question to learn more about the game! Ball handling basics to fundamentals of a defensive stance, start building your foundation.

Jr. NBA Expert FAQ

Shooting

Question: Can you jump when shooting a free throw?

Answer: There is no rule stating that you cannot jump when shooting a free throw. However, it is less common to see players jump on free throws as they get older.  There are two factors here, 1-the player is not allowed to step on or across the free throw line as they shoot.  Jumping often generates forward momentum and causes the player to step on or over the line.  2-when shooting a free throw, a player should have a consistent routine that they implement every time.  Bending their knees and not jumping can help a player stabilize and limit extra movement and ultimately build consistency.  Please note that not jumping is challenging for younger players.  Consider their size and strength when giving suggestions.  If you watch NBA players shoot free throws, though they do not jump, they get full extension in their legs and lower body as they shoot.

Defense

Question: How do you get players younger than 11 to play defense?

Answer: Here are a few helpful tips for helping young players play defense:

  • Teach them how – If we expect a young player to play defense, we must make sure we are teaching them how to play defense. We must teach them individual defense and guarding the ball, as well as team defense and seeing both the ball and the person they are guarding.  If a player isn’t doing a good job on defense, continue to give them tips to improve.  For example, when the ball gets passed to a player and the defensive player continues to get beat, ensure that they understand what a good ‘close out’ is and try having them ‘close out’ shorter or closer to the basket.  If a player always stares at the ball and loses the player they are guarding, remind them to use both hands to point 1 hand at the ball and 1 hand at the player they are guarding with their head straight ahead and seeing both.  It’s important to note that explaining defensive tips may make sense to the players but they must also practice breakdown drills to help it become second nature.

  • Play Small Sided Games/Drills – Playing 2 on 2, or 3 on 3 requires every player to play defense. Small sided games makes it easier to hold players accountable and for them to understand their responsibilities.

  • Reward Defense – Instead of playing games or doing drills where baskets win, let the team know that the individual or team with the most defensive stops wins. For example, give players or teams 5 possessions of offense each.  Count the stops and the team that had the most defensive stops wins.
  • Remind them that winning and being a great player requires defense! A few good reminders are listed here:
    • Kobe Bryant – 9 time All Defensive First Team, 3 time All Defensive Second Team
    • Michael Jordan – 9 time All Defensive First Team
    • LeBron James – 5 time All Defensive First Team, 1 time All Defensive Second Team

Warm-Up & Injury Prevention

Question: Should I do a warm-up for kids 8 & under?

Answer: Regardless of age, it is important for the players to have their bodies prepared to practice. However, a warm-up for a high school team should look and feel different than a warm-up for an 8 year old team.  Warm-ups for the younger players should be fun, interactive warm-ups that acclimate the players to the idea preparing their bodies to play, even if the warm-up isn’t a traditional  warm-up.

Ball Handling

Question: What can I do for a high school player to improve their ball handling?

Answer: Ball handling is a skill that is developed and honed with practice.  Regardless of age, there are countless drills that can be executed daily to develop ball-handling skills.  It is important that the players challenge themselves during ball handling drills and get out of their comfort zone.  It is good to work on stationary ball control drills, stationary dribbling drills, and progress to moving ball handling drills.  For high school age players it is helpful to put them in real situations in which they handle the ball with a real defender guarding them.  You may also want to mix in creative drills such as using two balls.

Passing

Question: Are there any passing drill that bring energy to practice?

Answer: Yes, there are several passing drills you can use to help bring energy to practice. One tip that can help energy is making sure the players are all talking.  If they are receiving a pass, they are saying “ball, ball, ball!” and if they are passing the ball, they are calling out their teammates name.  If a player isn’t in the drill, they should be clapping and cheering for their teammates.  In regards to drills, it also helps to have some movement and limited standing.

Rebounding

Question: I coach 12 and 13 year olds and I have a hard time getting the guards to box out. What can we do?

Answer: It is often difficult to teach guards to box out on the perimeter because the game happens fast and by the time they start boxing out, the ball has most likely already been rebounded and the next play is happening. It is valuable for players at this age to begin to understand the concept of tag and pursue.  Tag and pursue forces the player to locate the player they are guarding, take a step towards them, make contact and then pursue the ball.  If the offensive player is really trying to rebound, a good tag is needed, but if the offensive player is not trying to rebound, it might be enough to just locate the player and step towards a tag and then go.

Footwork & Conditioning

Question: What are the first things players should learn about footwork?

Answer: Footwork is an essential part of becoming a good basketball player.  There are movements and footwork that are specific to basketball that if done efficiently and effectively, will make a player even better.  A few footwork drills that should be taught first are the jump stop, the pivot and the jab step.  These are fundamental movements in the game that will help the player move and create space without travelling or losing balance.

Offense

Question: Should I run sets with my 9 year old team?

Answer: We recommend limiting teaching sets and focus on teaching concepts.  Rather than having young players memorize plays and stand in specific spots, it will help the players in their development to teach concepts like pass and cut, pass and screen away, or drive and kick.  These concepts will give the players an understanding of offensive movement while helping them feel comfortable reacting in a game that is fluid.  We do not discourage having a simple play to help them understand execution, but they will get more of that as they progress in basketball.  Sets at this level often lead to a couple of players having the ball a majority of the time which stunts the development of others and the team.

Competitive Drills

Question: How can I make my 13 year old’s practice more competitive?

Answer: We believe kids take pride in what they do and positive peer pressure can help make practice more competitive.  Fun games and positive reinforcement of winning with young players is more valuable than punishing losing participants, especially when they tried their best.  Using games, adding a score or timing any drill will easily add energy and competitiveness.  For example, if you are executing the catch, turn and shoot drill below.  Divide the team into 2 groups and time them to see who can finish first.  Record the time the drill was completed in and the next time you use the drill in practice, they will have a time they are trying to beat.

Practice & Other Basketball Concepts

Question: How much time should we be spending on each part of practice?

Answer: Great question. Depending on the age of your team, it will vary.  The first thing to understand is the NBA and USA Basketball Youth Basketball Guidelines.  You will see here that there are specific practice frequencies and lengths of time to follow based on the age group.  Once you have aligned with that, note that our curriculum levels are loosely based on those age groupings.  Align the age of the players with the curriculum level and view the practice plans.  At each level of the curriculum practice plans we have put a percentage of time to the right side of the section to indicate what percentage of practice time should be dedicated to that particular part of practice.  This quick guide will help ensure long term growth in the game.