When most basketball players think of ways to improve their game, their thoughts center on what they can do physically. Some players need to work on ballhandling or put more shots up. Some need to improve their strength and agility. All these things involve being in the gym. But one area of the game many players neglect is the mental part.
Improving in this area involves watching film to evaluate your own game, studying other players, scouting, and learning what makes them effective. Nobody in college basketball takes advantage of film study quite like former Missouri guard Kim English.
Last summer, English attended the Stephen Curry Skills Academy where Curry told all of the participants that until they watched their game on film they didn’t really know their game. English took that message to heart and realized he could apply that same quote to scouting opponents for the upcoming season, “You didn’t know your opponent until you watch them on film.”
During his first three years at Mizzou, English played for Mike Anderson. Anderson is an old school coach who believed in worrying about what you had to do each night and making the opponents adapt to your style. There was not much of an emphasis on film study. That changed when Frank Haith took over after Anderson departed for the University of Arkansas.
“When Coach Haith first got here he really emphasized watching film and right away it paid off,” English says. “In our season opener against Southeast Missouri State, they had a big guy who pumped faked at the end of every move whether it was a drive or post move. Sure enough when game time came, every time he made a move he pump faked and I walled him and played him straight-up cause I was expecting it and he was done.”
After the initial success watching film brought to English, he developed a routine before each game with the team’s video coordinator, Bryan Tibaldi. The day before games Haith and his assistants would go over the scouting report with the entire team. The scouting report consisted of personnel clips of the individual players on the other team, as well as edits of some of their offensive and defensive sets. After the team saw the report, English would meet with Tibaldi and go over it with him individually and then have Tibaldi load the offensive edits and personnel of the guys English would likely be matched up with to his iPad. English would study the clips on his own time: on plane rides, in hotel rooms or after shootarounds.
When English stepped on the court, he felt incredibly prepared for what was coming. This was particularly important because Missouri employed a four-guard starting lineup this season with English as the four man despite being a natural two or three. Playing down low for the first time in his career, English was exposed to parts of the game he had been unaware of. Instead of guarding smaller, quicker players, he was in the post, banging with guys like Thomas Robinson each night. But the experience only helped grow English’s knowledge of the game.
“I think that playing the four this year helped me 110 percent in terms of expanding my basketball IQ,” he says. “I saw the game from such a totally different viewpoint. I saw it from a physical, blue collar standpoint, banging with guys every night. Rebounding and controlling the glass and controlling the paint wins games, especially late in the year and playing the four allowed me to see that.
“For example, when there is a ball screen on one side of the floor, the big on the other side of the floor tends to hook in under the basket. I didn’t see that until this year. I see when teams like Kansas try to clear out for a pick-and-roll lob. It helped me out a lot and made me confident that I can guard bigger guys.”
Whereas Mike Anderson was a firm believer in doing things the same way each night, constantly hounding the opponents on defense and playing the “fastest 40 minutes in college basketball”, Haith’s coaching style was much more flexible, which English found to be a nice change. He and Haith would frequently exchange texts before games about personnel and things they saw on film.
At one point in the year English went up to Haith during a shootaround and suggested the team make a change in their rover set following a loss to Kansas State, and Haith agreed.
“When we would get into that set,” he explains, “Matt Pressey would be the scorer in the rover set, and me and Ricardo Ratliffe would be screening for him. After we lost to Kansas State, our next game was at Iowa State and I went to Coach Haith to talk about our rover set in shootaround before the game and asked why didn’t he put Matt as one of the screeners and let me be the rover scorer, and Coach said he was thinking the exact same thing last night, and we ended up doing it in that game and we did it against Iowa State each time. It was so good to have a coaching staff that was really open to adjustments.”
In addition to doing prep work before the game, English was constantly in communication with his coaches and teammates during the game whether it’d be calling out picks or echoing the opponents’ offensive calls to the bench so the coaching staff could diagram what they ran on certain sets. And if Mizzou got burned, the coaches would diagram how to counteract next time. English’s leadership on the floor, combined with the willingness of the players to buy into Haith’s system, is what allowed Mizzou and English personally to have such success this season despite deploying a very small and unconventional lineup.
Unfortunately the season ended in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a loss to Norfolk State, but English has not stopped playing.
Last week, he attended the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (PIT) in Portsmouth, Virginia. The tournament is held for the nation’s top seniors to give them exposure to NBA scouts one last time before the draft process starts up. Recent PIT participants include Jeremy Lin and Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, but many seniors choose to blow off the event, claiming they don’t need the exposure. English relished the opportunity to compete.
“I felt like I had a pretty good year and I met with some agents who said I didn’t have to go,” English says, “but when I signed with Leon Rose he told me I should go. He said it shows that you like to compete and you are not ducking anything and that you want to put your best foot forward in front of those teams. I know ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is definitely true with a lot of things in life and I didn’t want our first round loss to be the last thing NBA scouts remembered me by. So I was really excited to get down there and compete, play well and meet with some teams. It was a really good decision and I’m thrilled I went.”
NBA teams are likely thrilled English went as well. During the tournament he averaged 18 points per game while playing point guard, yes point guard, for his team. Without a point guard on their roster, English volunteered to play the position so Ashton Gibbs and Juan Fernandez could play in their natural roles off the ball. This decision shows just how high English’s basketball IQ is, going from playing the four all season long to playing point guard on a team he had never played with before.
At one point during the tournament, when his team was struggling to score and stagnant offensively, English called a timeout and drew up a play they ran at Missouri. It got the team a bucket.
Upon leaving Portsmouth, English went back to Missouri to finish up his coursework and continue his training with Tibaldi. However, just like he did this season, much of English’s training involves watching NBA games and studying players in the league. That’s where he plans on being next season.
“Now when I’m watching NBA games, I’m studying,” he says. “I’m learning things I can do offensively and things that teams like to do offensively and I’m learning how I can stop guys defensively. I’m watching it as a student because I definitely plan on being in the league next year.”
How important is it in basketball to watch film?
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