One of the hardest things … perhaps the hardest thing of all … for big men (especially younger big men) to learn is how to deal with contact, how to take the hits and keep on playing. That means working for position to catch the ball; that means catching the ball while people are banging on him; that means taking a beating while driving to the basket; that means putting a body on a body when boxing out; that means knowing how to fight for inside position when going for an offensive rebound; that means knowing how to set a hard screen.
Most of all, though, the big man has to know how to take hard contact when he has the ball in his possession and he’s in a position to score, right there in the lane, right there on the baseline, right there under the basket. He has to KNOW the contact is coming. He has to EXPECT the contact. He has to KEEP HIS BALANCE. He has to KEEP HIS PIVOT FOOT. He has to KEEP HIS POISE. He has to know how to USE that contact in his favor, to SCORE while drawing a FOUL. He has to be able to make the 3-point play: basket + free throw.
To teach this skill, I used the most basic of drills: One-on-one … with NO DRIBBLE. How does this drill work? In the simplest of ways. I am on the free throw line. The offensive center is IN THE 3-SECOND LANE, back to the basket, at the level of the dotted line. A defender is behind him. That is, the offensive big man is just a step or so away from the basket. I simply pass the ball to the center, with a soft underhand pass. After that, he is on his own but HE CANNOT DRIBBLE. He must develop inside skill and smarts.
One might think, “But he might be in the lane for three seconds.” Well, I don’t care about three seconds. We’ll get to that later. One might think, “But he can’t do anything because he can’t use his dribble.” Well, I’m like any other coach: the LAST THING I want is to see my center dribble the ball in the 3-second lane, in a jungle of arms and legs and hands. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. He can still use jump hooks, turn-around jump shots, step-around moves, one long step. And, he learns to use fakes to use those moves.
With the drill, I can vary the starting point. I can put the big man low post left side or low post right side. I have even put them on the baseline, facing the baseline. Let them get used to dealing with all sorts of trouble. Once they got pretty good at that, I’d throw in a second defender, a little guy that is coming at them to strip the ball. I’d tell the defenders, “Bang on him. Slap him. Hold him. Grab him. Hack him.” That way, the big man knows he’s going to take a beating. That makes him mentally tough.
Below are four photos of my Hall of Fame center, Dino Meneghin, the absolute master of inside banging. On offense, we see him taking contact and never taking his eyes off the basket. He’s not trying to avoid the blocked shot or the contact. He KNOWS the contact is coming and he DEALS with it. He gave away inches to each of the players we see guarding him. He didn’t care about that. He knew the answer was position, timing, fakes, poise, going up strong, expecting the contact and making the play. The Rule: Take a licking and keep on ticking.