Program Progression – Part 4 – Freshmen

In this step of our program progression, I will be discussing the most vital step in a player’s basketball career at White Oak.  I say this because it was normally at the beginning of this season or, hopefully, at the end, that our players decided if basketball was something they wanted to pursue.  I always hated to see potential players make a decision about whether or not basketball was for them prior to their 9th grade year. However, as I mentioned in other entries of Coach With A Purpose, sometimes this happens.  It’s during a player’s freshman year that he found out the level of commitment that was expected for high school players. The philosophy, as far as playing time, shifted from an emphasis on participation to a more competitive approach.  Consequently, in many ways, this was a make or break year and an appropriate time to decide if you wanted to potentially be a varsity player.

Freshman basketball was the introduction to our high school basketball program and a critical transition step from junior high basketball toward becoming a varsity basketball player.  It was at this level that our players were introduced to the major staple of our program – pressure man to man defense. Freshman basketball was also the year in which we begin to focus on the players that would most likely become varsity players.  With this philosophy in mind, the following goals should be obtained:

1) Understanding of White Oak pressure man to man defense including philosophy, terminology, drills, and attitude.

2)  Basic understanding of our overall offensive philosophy including the execution of transition offense, man/zone offensive sets,  and set plays.

3)  Playing time is performance based with a player rotation of as many players as the coach considers to be capable of performing at the freshman level with a goal of 10. Player rotations will be determined upon consultation with the Head Coach.

When we dropped to class 3A (old 2A), one of the biggest challenges with our 9th grade program was finding games because most of our district teams only had JV/Var teams.  Consequently, this required us to be very proactive to find games to complete our 9th grade schedule. Fortunately, there are a few other teams our size in our area in the same boat so we normally scheduled home games for our freshmen when the JV/Var was at home and road games when JV/Var was away.  

In the event that we had too many open dates, we had to get creative to find games.  On one occasion, we put together a team of juniors and seniors who were no longer in our program to make a club team to play against our freshman.  Fortunately, a couple of the players on the club team were sons of one of our coaches so he coached the team and all went well. Obviously, team selection for the club team involved kids with character that we could trust to not make a mockery of the game.  Sometimes, it meant thinking outside the box and being creative to fill the 9th grade schedule but, in my opinion, it was much better than cutting players or combining into one team.

Some years, we have also had 2 sub-varsity teams instead of a strictly 9th and JV team.  The advantage of this was 2 fold. It allowed some sophomores who would not get to play much on the JV to get more playing time on the 2nd sub-varsity team.  Many times this was the boost in confidence they needed to motivate them to invest more in their game in order to progress in our program.

Secondly, it allowed some freshmen who had the potential to play on the varsity as a sophomore to participate in more competitive practices since we normally practiced the JV and varsity together.  The negative to moving up freshmen was they had not gone through our normal progression so they were usually behind defensively unless they had been in offseason. My preference was to allow our players to go through the usual progression of our program unless they were exceptionally talented or we were lacking at their position in the grades above them.  Over my 25 years, the vast majority of our varsity players went through this progression.

With the freshman year being such an important transition step to our high school program, I would normally put my most experienced coach with our 9th grade team in the event that I did not have 2 strong assistants.  I have listed our 9th grade coaching duties at the end of this entry. Our freshmen normally practiced in a gym by themselves (we are blessed to have 4 gyms on campus that are available after school) or share a gym with our 8th grade so I needed a coach I could trust to be with them by himself.   

Fortunately, I was blessed for most of my tenure to have 2 qualified basketball assistants which I know is not always the case for most small schools.  If I had an assistant who didn’t have a strong background in basketball, I would assign them to the JV since they almost exclusively practiced with the varsity.  This allowed me to work more closely with them and to make sure they were growing as a basketball coach. Again, fortunately, most of our coaches at White Oak worked just as hard in their secondary sport as they did in their primary sport so accountability was not been much of a problem.  

However, as the head coach, it was my responsibility to our players, school, and community to hold myself and my assistants accountable for doing our best.  I could not expect someone else to do it if I wasn’t willing to. Consequently, as far as the basketball program went, the buck had to stop with me when it came to making sure our coaches were doing their role.

Our freshman practices would start off consisting of 60% defense, 30% offense, and 10% fundamentals.  After Christmas and the implementation of our defensive system, the break down would be 50% defense, 30% offense, and 20% fundamentals.  At the conclusion of a player’s freshman year, they should have made their greatest strides on the defensive end of the court. In their end of season evaluation, one of the questions I asked was, “In what area of the game do you feel you improved the most?”, if they did not answer, “defense”, then something went wrong with the process.  If this was the case, the first place I looked was myself. Did I make clear the objectives to our 9th grade coach and did I do my part in making sure he was prepared to do his role?

Secondly, as coaches, did we not put the proper emphasis on our defensive schemes and teach them in a way in which learning took place? In other words, did we do our part?  Finally, if the majority of our players responded in the anticipated fashion and a few did not, it comes back on them. This could possibly mean the player was behind in a certain offensive skill in which he improved or because he was not engaged during workouts which is probably an indicator that he didn’t intend to continue in our program.  Whatever the case, if the ball was being dropped in a certain area, I believe we had to hold ourselves accountable first then proceed from there. For any program to succeed, there must be accountability.

Once a player completed his 9th grade year, he should have had a pretty good idea on whether or not he wanted to continue to invest his time in our program.  Many times, it’s obvious a kid has bought in and is well on his way to being a varsity player. If I believed a player was debating his decision, I would talk with them and explain where I believed they were at this point in our program and whether or not I thought they are wasting their time.  

Many times, players just needed to hear from me that they were on the right track and with a willingness to make an investment, they had a future in our program.  These were tough conversations at times, but I always did my best to be upfront and honest with my players.

Some coaches believe in always painting a rosy picture but I believed players prefered coaches to be honest with them.  I’m wasn’t going to paint a picture that was not there…for their sake as well as our programs. That’s how I want people to deal with me, so I tried to do the same. They may not have always liked what I had to say but they knew where they stood and they knew it came from the guy most qualified, as far as White Oak basketball went, to give them an opinion.  

Conversely, I may not always have liked their decision, but as long as it was their decision and not influenced by someone else, I respected the fact that they may have wanted to spend their time on something else.  We would part ways with no hard feelings and I’d support him in whatever he chose to do. The bottom line was White Oak basketball was demanding, the standards on and off the court were high, and it was definitely not for everyone. In my opinion, if everyone could do it, the bar wasn’t high enough.

In summation, every step in our program progression was valuable but the freshman year was especially crucial because of the jump in the level of expectation and the competitiveness for playing time.  The emphasis shifted away from participation to finding out who really wanted to play for White Oak.

Also, at the conclusion of the 9th grade season, players should have had a strong fundamental base and an understanding of our offensive and defensive schemes.  At this point, there should have been a small learning curve in the future and an overall familiarity with our program.

Next week I will continue with our program progression and discuss the goals and philosophy for our JV program.  

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!




  1.   Be loyal to the head coach and the basketball program.
  2.   Introduce and execute our defensive philosophy.
  3.   Introduce and execute our high school offenses.
  4.   Drive bus on trips
  5.   Run the drills and procedures required by the head


  1.   Help with scouting if needed.
  2.   Aid with 9/JV tournament and Junior High tournament.
  3.   Assist with summer basketball camp.
  4.   Be responsible for 9th grade laundry and equipment.
  5. Fill out end-of-season report.
  6. Prepare a written workout for each practice.
  7. Assist with Little Dribblers if needed (pays extra)
  8. Assist during varsity home games.
  9. Perform all other duties assigned by head coach.
  10. Sell the basketball program.


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