The quality of practice is very important because in practices you can fix things. In practices, you can come to perfection in terms of automation. In practice, you can have a real bond with the players and all the personnel. Practice is a holy part of our job.
Unfortunately, with the schedules and the number of games and national teams going on, players do not have the number of practices required for a body to establish a good base and to build all the elements needed to go through such a tough season. That is why players do have some individual workouts during the summer and they almost need to come prepared to the first practice.
"A coach must structure practice according to the needs of his team"
During the season you cannot have long practices. During the season practices will be one hour and 15 minutes or one hour and 30 minutes. Of course, that is just collective time on the court that we practice as a team, for example, five-on-five. But everything is practice. There are another 30 minutes of video session, another 45 minutes of treatments. You have another 30 or 45 minutes of individual workouts with assistant coaches.
A coach must structure practice according to the needs of his team. As the season goes down the stretch, you realize you need to fix your pick-and-roll defense or fix defense on screens, or post defense, or transition, or development of speed, or fixing spacing. Maybe you add some ideas and you work accordingly.
Deep down the stretch, when you have already formed your character and identity as a team, you have to go through the scouting reports and prepare and you don't have that much time with back-to-back games and a trip in between, so you must prepare for the next opponent. That forces us to modify our practices, time-wise, quality-wise and drill-wise, because drills now might include five-on-five, because that's basketball.
"There are about four or five hours of practice activities altogether"
If hypothetically, there would be an ideal day of practice, I would have players come one hour before practice, maybe even an hour and 30 minutes. Have treatment, after which they come in and work with assistant coaches on things they need, like spot shots or some post moves, ball-handling. Also do stretching or some conditioning. Then, they have to be ready to come to film session, 20 to 30 minutes of video session to see what we are going to work on, certain things we are doing well and certain things we are doing poorly and we need to develop. Then, we would come to the court, have a good warm-up and some other preparation drills, followed by some work in groups, maybe split by guards and bigs. Depending on the period of the season we are in, we would go five-against-zero, or do close-out drills, or one-on-one drills, or shooting drills.
Then we would come to the main emphasis of the practice, where we would be five-on-five with a lot of correction and a lot of competition in it, but in certain situations. For example, one team down 5 points with 2:30 to go; or 6 seconds to go in a tied game; or a drill where you have to defend at least three times if you want to go to offense, or you have to rebound the ball twice if you want to go to offense. Situations that require concentration and motivation. And we would need a good ending, bringing the players to a normal heartbeat, having some shooting competition or some free throw shooting before bringing it to the end.
During the season, athletes usually come 30 minutes before practice. After practice, a lot of guys stay on the court, shooting, getting the amount of shot-making they want in order to fulfill their task. Other players who do not play in games that much might come in the morning and do an individual extra practice to stay in shape. So, there are about four or five hours of practice activities altogether.
"A day off, rest, is also part of practice"
Situations during the season will determine what is required to be done in certain moments. When we are on a winning streak, sometimes we need a fictional crisis or I try to motivate or provoke my team. And I do use that a lot of times, where I try to provoke a certain individual in practice to see how he can handle the pressure of me being on his shoulders. It is because you need to be focused, you need awareness, which is, for example, required at the Final Four with all the media and other distractions.
For similar reasons, a lot of times we practice with sound. When we go to play Zalgiris or Panathinaikos or Olympiacos or Baskonia, those are crowded gyms. We ask video technicians to put sound on. That is real life, and that is how we work.
And for the end let me stress that a day off, rest, is also part of practice. And it is a very important part of practice. Rest is quite important. Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing 100 other things. I am a fan of that because clearing your mind is really important to come back more motivated and ready to go.