It’s not a part of the game that is generally taught at the beginning, when the fundamentals of dribbling, passing and shooting are ingrained in young basketball players.
In fact, even at the college level, many players are being introduced to the intricacies of transition defense for the first time, and they aren’t always easy concepts to grasp.
“It’s very hard to teach, particularly to young guys,” Texas Tech coach Chris Walker said. “The importance of it is something they don’t learn as much when they’re at the high school level, but it’s paramount when you get to the college level.”
The Red Raiders are learning firsthand — and in a hurry — just how crucial playing solid transition defense is to their success. Against Kansas on Saturday, Tech played its best half-court defense of the season, helping on screens and rotating quickly as it limited the bigger, more athletic Jayhawks to only five field goals in the first half. But in the second, Kansas was able to find space in transition, turning a few Tech miscues into a 12-0 run that essentially spoiled Tech’s upset bid.
“We have to make sure we get back,” Tech forward Jaye Crockett said. “A lot of times they just got two-on-one layups because we didn’t have all five guys back playing defense.”
For Tech, “getting back” will be a major focus as it prepares for this week’s road trip with games against Oklahoma (Wednesday) and Oklahoma State (Saturday). Tech has already been hard at work since the loss to the Jayhawks honing in on their assignments in open court with drills designed to test players in two-on-one, three-on-two and four-on-three situations.
“(Assistant) coach (Jeremy) Cox puts into our heads every game and even in practice,” Crockett said, “Transition D, Transition D. He puts a lot of emphasis on that.”
Part of the growth of this Red Raiders squad is understanding just how quickly teams can be off and running the other way. Midway through the first half on Saturday, with Tech trailing by one, Josh Gray tried to knife inside and lay the ball in past 7-footer Jeff Withey. But Withey rejected the shot, kept it in bounds, and moments later Ben McLemore scored on a putback dunk in transition to spark a 6-0 Kansas run.
In practice one day earlier, Walker had warned his players about the possibility of that exact kind of play. And nearly every other Big 12 Conference team is capable of producing the same kind of quick offense if the Red Raiders don’t find ways to improve defensively in transition — another item on the checklist for a growing team.
“It’s attention to detail, and we just have to keep demanding it,” Walker said. “They just have to learn that, especially when you play against elite teams with really good athletes, you have to follow the game plan to a T.”
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