When Sidney Goldstein talks basketball, people don't always listen, but maybe they should. He is a serious student of the game, though he's not a star player or coach. And Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson calls Mr. Goldstein's latest book, "The Basketball Coach's Bible" (Golden Aura Publishing, $19.95), "a great resource."
In a moment, two of Goldstein's shooting drills. But first, meet "Mr. Basketball Basics," as he calls himself. Now a biophysicist, he grew up in Philadelphia. He dreamed of making the varsity team at Overbrook High School, where Wilt Chamberlain played. (He made the team his senior year.)
Goldstein never advanced beyond summer-league encounters with Providence College, but his love of the game never waned. When coaching opportunities were offered, he jumped at them.
One that especially inspired him was at West Philadelphia High School. There, over the course of seven years, he guided a girls' junior-varsity team from disarray to a city championship.
All the while, he attended countless coaching clinics, observed other teams' practices, and spent hours devising his own practice plans. "I began to realize that teaching the skills was a puzzle that I could unscramble," he concluded. So he teamed up with a publisher, and began writing instructional books called "The Nitty-Gritty Basketball Series."
In a phone interview, Goldstein stresses the importance of proper technique and conditioning, two areas where schoolyard play often comes up short.
It's all in the (underused) wrist
Schoolyard basketball, Goldstein says, tends to be half-court. That eliminates practicing the all-important transition game, when teams switch from offense to defense as they run up and down the court. Not only that, but "If you're not playing full-court, you're not getting the conditioning you need," he says. "One of the keys to being a good player is just being in good shape." If playing full-court isn't practical, he suggests running 20 to 30 minutes a day. Dribble a ball as you run to make it fun.
When it comes to technique, Goldstein considers the wrist critical. "Even some of the really good players - all-stars, and guys who make it to the NBA - get in the habit of mishandling the ball," he says. "Do you see the way they palm it? That's because they don't know how to use their wrists. You can't dribble the ball [properly] unless you move your wrist up and down."
Goldstein says poor wrist work and inattention to body alignment may explain the sub-par foul shooting of stars like Shaquille O'Neal and Scottie Pippen.
Then there's Michael Jordan, who has been called "totally fundamentally sound" by former Princeton University coach Pete Carril. Goldstein agrees, saying, "he's playing better now than he did 10 years ago ... because he continues to work on different parts of his game."
Goldstein is convinced that Jordan must do a lot of shooting close to the basket, where technique is refined. When players practice shooting from too far away, "their game usually falls apart."
Drill No. 1: 'The One-Inch Shot'
That brings us to the Goldstein drill called "The One-Inch Shot." This and the next drill are from "The Basketball Player's Bible" (Golden Aura Publishing). Begin the drill by standing with your nose under the rim, directly in front of the basket, as close to it as you can. Mark the spot so you won't step back.
Shooting so close forces you to extend yourself upward as far as possible, using the legs and wrists, not the arms, to power the shot. Proper body alignment - squaring your shoulders to the target - is important. To get yourself square, hold your arms straight out. Your fingers point in the direction you will shoot. Make sure your arms and shoulders are at right angles to each other. Now shoot, using your legs and wrists only. Don't step back. Take your time.
Players who will benefit the most from this lesson have the greatest difficulty doing it at first, Goldstein says. It can feel uncomfortable. And sometimes shots hit the bottom of the rim and bounce off the shooter's head. Use these cue words to help you practice: nose under the rim; square up; hands overhead; wrist back; shoot. No dribbling, please, and don't use the backboard.
Drill No. 2: 'Run Stop Shoot'
The second drill is called "Run Stop Shoot." The objective is to learn to shoot under control in a game-like context. Put the ball near the basket. Start from out on the court (near the top of the key), sprint all-out to the ball, pick it up, and shoot in an unhurried, relaxed way. Repeat this five to 10 times. "There's a tendency in a game for kids to shoot the ball really quickly," Goldstein says. This drill combats that problem.
The Nitty-Gritty Basketball Series has a World Wide Web site with tips: