Lucas: Bench Sounds
Release: 01/06/2014

By Adam Lucas

The odd energy of a college basketball game is such that the participants are performing in front of a live audience of thousands...and yet the actual two dozen or so participants only ever really hear each other.

Ask any Tar Heel whether they hear the crowd and they'll tell you that they sometimes pick up a general hum, but very rarely hear individual shouts from the crowd. They do, however, hear very specific words from their coaches.

With that in mind, here's a look at some of the shouts coming from the UNC bench on Sunday night in Winston-Salem. Because Carolina has to play Wake Forest again--the teams have a rematch on Feb. 22 in Chapel Hill--some of the specific details that might identify a particular player have been removed. In addition, the specifics of a key late play call suggested by Steve Robinson that led to a big second-half hoop have been omitted. (Part of being a good coach is a healthy dose of paranoia.)

"Thomas in the post! Thomas in the post!"-Hubert Davis

As Marcus Paige noted right after the game, the ACC is a very scouting intensive league, and teams very rarely spring surprises on their opponents. In fact, coaches--especially the assistant coaches charged with preparing the game plans for a specific game--often know exactly what a team is going to run just based on the way an offense sets up.

That's even more true when a team can scout an opponent in person, as they often do during, for example, the ACC Tournament. As former Tar Heel assistant Jerod Haase once explained, coaches sometimes use that scouting time to try and pick up on hand signals rather than actual plays. By that point in the season, film has already revealed an opponent's three or four go-to offensive sets. The in-person scouting allows coaches to see what hand signal or verbal call cues that set.

On this particular occasion, a specific screen alerts Davis that the Deacons are going to try to get the ball to Devin Thomas. He's right, but Desmond Hubert does a good job of cutting off the entry pass.

"By yourself, Nate!"-Isaiah Hicks

There's been plenty written and said about the development of Hicks, a freshman. He didn't have a strong game against Wake, finishing with four rebounds in 11 minutes.

But he's shown signs that he understands how to play the game, and one of the most encouraging factors is his on-court communication. Hicks was one of the most vocal Tar Heels defensively on Sunday, consistently calling out screens and alerting teammates to what the Demon Deacon offense was trying to do.

In this case, he was talking to fellow freshman Nate Britt, who was out near the midcourt stripe, telling him he was matched up without help on Wake guard Madison Jones. Britt couldn't see behind him and benefited from Hicks' communication--a nice example of the rookie big man "seeing the big picture," as Williams often references, and understanding what the entire team defense was trying to accomplish, rather than just focusing exclusively on his man.

"You've got to help out on that screen, and he's got to do a better job of getting around it."-Roy Williams

Seconds later, Jones beat Britt for a layup after cutting through the lane. Thomas had screened off Britt, and Hubert--who was guarding Thomas--didn't defend the pass to Jones. Hubert didn't leave the floor for almost a minute of game action, but as soon as he did, the head coach addressed the defensive breakdown.

"Whooooaaaaaaaaa."-Entire coaching staff

It's a little comforting to know that sometimes the staff reacts exactly like you do. When Marcus Paige lobbed a 60-foot lead pass to Leslie McDonald near the Wake bench, the entire staff winced almost in unison, then let out a sigh of relief when McDonald hauled in the pass.

"Get him again, Nate!"-Davis

The coaches have been encouraging Britt to intensify the ball pressure on opposing lead guards. Seconds after Britt stripped a Deacon who was noted on the scouting report for being turnover-prone and then swooped in for a layup, Davis was on his feet, encouraging the freshman to increase the defensive intensity even more.

"Easy play!"-Williams

That's the head coach's mantra any time J.P. Tokoto has the ball leading the fast break. Tokoto occasionally wants to make the spectacular play instead of the simple one, but Williams wants him to combine his athleticism with good decision-making. 

In this case, it worked, as Tokoto's ball movement eventually landed Marcus Paige a wide-open three-pointer. The shot didn't go in, but Tokoto followed the ball to the rim and scored on the putback--the perfect example of good choices leading to easy baskets.

"Next pass!"

"Watch 13!"

"Get lower, J.P.!"-Entire staff

The staff tends to be at their most animated when Carolina goes to their 3-2 zone, which requires good communication and awareness of all the required rotations. In this case, they were alerting the wing defenders to the presence of Coron Williams, who attempted half of Wake's dozen three-pointers during the game.

"Hit him! Hit him!"-C.B. McGrath

The assistant coach wasn't providing boxing instructions. Instead, he saw that Carolina was in a specific secondary break permutation and Wake hadn't defended it correctly, which should have led to an easy basket. He was right--Paige found James Michael McAdoo for a quick two.

"Driver! Driver!"-Davis

This was the call almost any time one Wake player got the ball near the top of the key. It also was exactly right, as that player never showed an inclination to shoot, and always took a couple dribbles towards the rim.

Adam Lucas is the editor of CAROLINA.


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