align="center">Innovative ways to sharpen rebounding skills
By Jake Thomases
The Journal News
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(Original publication: January 23, 2007)
In 16 years of coaching basketball, Kelly Thompson remembers three games where her team got outrebounded and still won the game. She knows as well as anyone how rebounds produce possessions, possessions produce points and points produce wins. Her Putnam Valley Tigers are riding an eight-game winning streak in no small part because they're one of the best rebounding teams in Section 1.
Thompson just isn't sure she has much to do with it.
"I've ordered videos on it, I've talked to college coaches," she said. "Other than doing the basic skills on getting position, there's not much they can learn."
Most basketball players will have learned the basics of boxing out - make contact with your man, release as the ball comes off - by junior varsity. How much better they can become after that, and how much improvement is based on practice and drilling, is a matter of debate among players and coaches.
George Gaine, Tappan Zee's varsity boys coach, thinks he still has a major impact. Why else would he risk players during a maniacal drill he's still experimenting with?
"We've had our most intense and heated practices when the bubbles come out," he said.
"We only do it four times a year because it's so intense. We don't want to lose kids on injuries or anything like that."
"The bubbles" are domed pieces of hard plastic that fit over a hoop. Each is covered with lumps and ridges. When placed over a rim, not only can the ball not go through, it caroms off at irregular angles.
They were made famous by former Oklahoma men's coach Kelvin Sampson. Gaine combines Sampson's drill with one authored by Michigan State coach Tom Izzo called "War."
Gaine puts a bubble over both rims and has the squad play a normal game of 5-on-5. Instead of points, he keeps track of offensive rebounds. First team to 10 wins. Without the finesse concerns of scoring, success is based on a combination of ruggedness and rebounding fundamentals.
He also runs a 2-on-2 version where there are no fouls and nowhere is out of bounds.
"We've gone to the hallway and the bathroom before," senior Pat Casey said. "That's one of the main reasons we have no problem diving on the floor, taking charges and rebounding, because we've seen it all already."
Without acclimating themselves through the drills, the Dutchmen wouldn't display the kind of acumen on the boards that they're known for. Pearl River's girls also receive instruction on the topic, but senior Kaitlyn O'Keefe isn't sure how much it can transform a player.
"I really think rebounding is all about heart," she said. "If you want it, you're going to get it."
It's tough to tell if that's true just by watching her. Her glass-work is equal parts technique and tenacity. Even she's not sure how much developed through instruction.
At only 5-foot-7 she's one of the best rebounders around. She'll scratch and claw for boards inside as well as chase down the longer ones, lending credence to her theory about heart. But look closely and you'll also see her stick her backside into her opponent and keep it there, subtly sliding laterally as she try to move around her. For those power forwards taller than her - as most are - she'll sneak an elbow into her opponent's chest to give herself an extra few inches of space. Watch her read where the bounce is probably headed - her coach Lorraine Moylan calls it "playing the percentages" - and release in that direction.
All that is about smarts, not guts.
"I think sometimes when guys have that, like a Dennis Rodman, you can't teach it," Stepinac boys coach Tim Philp said. "It's just basketball instincts."
There are more than 20 widely used drills, drills that don't involve lumpy plastic bubbles or scrums in the janitor's closet. Moylan doesn't employ any beyond the traditional, along with some individual pointers. Her assertion that, "It's just like a sixth sense kind of deal," suggests that she doesn't believe any of them can remake a bad rebounder.
Philp has seen how much athleticism and instinct play into it. Stepinac junior Rashaad Slowley gets after it like someone much bigger than his 6 feet. He recently pulled down 22 boards against St. Agnes. Philp stressed that his ferocity has always been there, that no amount of instruction can pass it to someone who hasn't got it.
And yet, go to a practice and there's Philp rolling balls across the court and telling two kids to box each other out and then dive after them. Part of it, he must think, can be taught.
Every coach, regardless of his or her philosophy, runs rebounding drills. Even the best players need a refresher sometimes.
Briarcliff junior Shelby Coon averages almost 13 per game. She knows all about boxing out and using her height to her advantage. She has a passion for muscling others out of her way. But even she sometimes forgets a step, and once that happens, the whole machine breaks down.
"You get position but you almost forget to go get the ball," she said. "You have your man behind you and you think you're set, but then a little guard will come in and get the rebound from right under you."