Wichita State Shockers

MVC coaches use NBA stars as teaching assistants

Wichita State forward Zach Brown fights for a loose ball against Missouri State last week. College coaches are becoming convinced that showing players examples of NBA players’ best techniques create good habits.
Wichita State forward Zach Brown fights for a loose ball against Missouri State last week. College coaches are becoming convinced that showing players examples of NBA players’ best techniques create good habits. The Wichita Eagle

Zach Brown watched Golden State’s Klay Thompson score and score again. Smooth jumpers, layups, curling off screens.

Lots of movement. Lots of shooting and passing. Little dribbling.

“He used something like 19 dribbles to score 53 points,” Brown said. “It’s said that with two or less dribbles, more points are scored than in any other way. It shows that you don’t need to do too much. There’s a lot of people that have to go through the flow of the game and not chase it.”

College basketball coaches know their players watch the NBA. So they use that by showing their players the best of the NBA to encourage good habits and hard work. Spare time is dominated by iPhones and hoops. Coaches want a chunk of that channeled in productive ways.

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“It’s inevitable,” Bradley coach Brian Wardle said. “You might as well take advantage of that somehow and help get a point across or teach.”

The message is often about subtle skills such as weak-side rebounding or defensive footwork more than shooting or dribbling. When a coach finds a millionaire willing to take a charge or hurl his body after a loose ball, it’s even better. When it’s an NBA player that a college athlete grew up rooting for or feels a connection to, the work feels like a fun few minutes watching highlights instead of the daily grind of instruction.

A coach can harp on a teaching point daily; sometimes it’s better to let Golden State’s Steph Curry coach by example.

For Wichita State players such as Brown, it is common to receive a text message from assistant coach Greg Heiar sending them to a video or story highlighting skill development in the NBA. Most programs use Internet scouting sites that can produce video clips that isolate skills such as cutting to the rim or shooting off screens for a player to study.

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“Whatever Coach (Gregg Marshall) is practicing on for a particular player, I try to use an outside-the-box approach of how somebody at the highest level is doing it,” Heiar said. “It’s a different perspective.”

Brown, a junior forward, is at his best when he is economical with his ball-handling, shooting off the catch or using a two-dribble maximum to drive to the basket. In Thompson’s 60-point game in 2016, ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh counted 11 dribbles.

The message is that a player doesn’t need to dribble, dribble, dribble to score. Movement, unselfishness and the right decisions can lead to buckets. That applies to Brown, whose role is to score within the offense, not by freelancing with one-on-one moves.

“You learn different ways to create shots and the right shots to take at the right moments,” Brown said. “In the league, your options to be open are very slim.”

Brown, whose favorite player is Paul George of the Indiana Pacers, also studies players such as Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Memphis’ Tony Allen for defensive positioning.

“He can have a vision (of those players) and their (defensive) stance and how active their hands are,” Heiar said.

Curry uses his left hand effectively and WSU’s Conner Frankamp is also good with his left. Frankamp — a huge Kobe Bryant fan — is a voracious consumer of NBA games and pays special attention to point guards. The trend in the NBA is for point guards who score big — Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, John Wall — and Frankamp learns from how they set up defenders on screens that are similar to ones used in WSU’s offense.

“Maybe I can take a few things from (Curry’s) game and put them into my game,” Frankamp said. “I think I’ve always been a little bit better going left, having the ball in my left hand. Steph’s kind of the same way … he has a really good in-and-out dribble with his left hand and that’s one of my key moves.”

Shocker point guard Landry Shamet said Heiar used the way Golden State guards ball screens as a guide for dealing with Missouri State’s pick-and-roll offense before Saturday’s game.

“How they defend it and control it and where the ball screen goes,” Shamet said. “It’s giving us insight on how they do all that and giving us insight on how it works at the next level.”

Thompson, one of the NBA’s elite shooting guards, also serves as a role model, even though they play different positions. They share a similar smooth, quick shooting form and the knack for finding open spots where teammates can pass to them for a good shot.

“I love Klay, that’s one of my favorite players and I try to do a lot of the same things he does,” Shamet said.

Earlier this season, Southern Illinois guard Mike Rodriguez, after a game in which he made 7 of 9 foul shots, told reporters he channeled Harden, Houston’s high-scoring guard known for his ability to lure defenders into fouls.

SIU coach Barry Hinson rarely talks about those types of NBA skills. Most of his NBA references involve the San Antonio Spurs, coach Greg Popovich and the unselfish, efficient offense.

“I think the world’s greatest coaches are in the NBA,” Hinson said.

He wants his players to learn from the hustle plays.

“I talk about guys diving on the floor for loose balls, guys making big plays at the end of games, big rebounds, defensive stops,” Hinson said. “If it is on the offensive spectrum, it’s about how they’re sharing the basketball.”

In early February, Bradley coaches compiled rebounding clips with NBA centers demonstrating proper techniques for keeping the ball high and scoring on put-backs for freshman center Koch Bar.

Sometimes Wardle will compile five or 10 highlights at his home after watching an NBA game.

“They get tired of watching themselves or their opponents,” he said. “In the offseason, you ask them who they like, because then you know they’re going to pay extra attention to it and focus.”

Wardle likes to use travel time on the bus to send his players stories about the NBA. He likes to show his players how NBA players work in practice, train and stay healthy with diet and sleep.

“Our guys don’t understand how great of workers those guys are,” Wardle said. “They look up to those guys, and I think any time you can use those examples it hits home.”

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop

Wichita State’s quarterfinal

  • When: 6 p.m. Friday
  • Opponent: Thursday’s Bradley-Drake winner
  • Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis
  • Radio: 103.7-FM
  • TV: FSKC (Cox 34, DirecTV 671-1, Dish 412-32/444, U-Verse 750)