Twenty years ago I started training with the Melbourne Tigers in hope of making the under 20’s side. It was tough, I got beaten up and it was a shock to my system. I have never played against players at that standard before. I had played rep basketball players but not as good as the players I came across at that time with the Tigers. Prior to going to college in USA, I wasn’t a good defensive basketball player at all. I was a liability on the court.
Early days playing basketball before college
One of the things I still remember was everyone at the Tigers giving me grief for not being able to stay in front of someone. Playing D wasn’t something I knew how to do, I wasn’t coached. Basketball in the early days for me was self taught. None of the coaches I had spent time to teach me the basics. A good defensive basketball player to me was someone that blocked shots.
Scrimmaging with the boys was tough because everyone I was guarding would go after me as they knew I was a weak defender. Coaches yelled at me and said that I wasn’t making an effort but it was quite the opposite. I actually was trying, I just couldn’t stay in front on my man.
Playing for Coach Miller and the Solano Falcons
Coach Miller was the only coach I have ever had that took the time and taught me to play the game of basketball. He showed me the importance of playing hard defence and changed my mental approach.
Coach Miller taught the whole team the foundation of playing defence physically but the most beneficial lesson he gave me was showing me the mental approach to tie in the physical learning’s.
What I learnt is defence is a state of mind; you have to take it personally when a player scores on you. Stopping a player from scoring in your mind should be about life or death. You will lose your life if the player you are guarding scores.
My mentality on defence
After my time at Solana I had a new found pride for my defence. It soon became the favourite part of my game behind passing the ball. I made it a point to always guard the best player on the opposition team. This same mentality continues to this day. Even though I am now approaching my 40’s when I play a game or scrimmage I always guard the best player on the opposition team.
What changed? Well, it was my mindset. When I play defence now I say to myself:
“You are not going to touch the ball”
The energy I get is generated by me face guarding a player and not having them even touch the ball. I enjoy the frustration a player has when they have been taken out of the game. This motivates me and I always repeat to myself “You are not going to touch the ball”.
This mentality has taken my game from not being able to guard a tree to now, even at my age, being able to guard professional basketball players.
How do you become a good defensive basketball player
Let me put my coaches cap on! Firstly, let me start off by saying being mentally defensive minded isn’t going to make you a good defender. If you have poor conditioning no matter how tuned your mental state, you are just not going to keep up. Fitness is key to becoming a good defender.
Secondly, you need to know good defensive principles. Yes, there is such a thing as defensive principles. I’m lucky I had a great coach to show me how to position myself and how to react. Even though I have my coaches I think there are a lot of people out there that are better coaches than I. So head on over to YouTube and check out some clips as there’s hundreds of them. Here’s a good start though https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdgDJGavvoE.
Finally, and the reason for me writing this article. The way to become a good defensive basketball player is your mental state. A coach once said this to me and my teammates in a huddle “Play the game for meat, if you don’t win, you don’t eat”. In other words play the game hard as you can. Play hard D and never give up easy baskets. This is how Matthew Dellavedova made a name for himself at Cleveland.
With the game today so many up and coming kids couldn’t care less about playing defence. I see it a lot when I scrimmage on the weekends. They all want to play offence and pull up and shoot. Players need to switch to becoming a good defensive basketball player if they want to make basketball a career. In the pro’s players with poor defence don’t lasts long. They will be benched if not cut from the team totally.
My advice if you want to play pro. Hustle and make becoming a good defensive player your priority.