The Basketball Podcast: EP323 with TJ Saint on Modern Strategies and Concepts

RELEASE DATE : 05/06/2024
In this week’s coaching conversation, Birmingham Squadron G-League head coach TJ Saint joins the Basketball Podcast to share insights on his playbook and modern strategies and concepts.

Saint’s professional coaching journey started in 2014 when he served as the video coordinator for the Detroit Pistons. He remained with the Pistons until 2018 gaining valuable insights into the NBA game.  Following his departure from the Pistons, Saint went to the University of Georgia where he held the position of Director of Basketball Strategy for the Men’s Basketball team during the 2018-19 season.

Saint then spent three seasons honing his coaching skills with the New Orleans Pelicans’ G League affiliates.  He started as an assistant coach (2019-20) before being promoted to associate head coach (2020-22).  His dedication and hard work culminated in his well-deserved appointment as head coach of the Birmingham Squadron in 2022. Saint’s 2023-24 Squadron team was the #1 ranked offense in the regular season, and the 4th all-time regular season offense in the history of the G-League.

TJ Saint attended Belmont University, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in business development. During his time at Belmont, he also served as a student assistant coach with the men’s basketball team from 2009 to 2011. His experience at Belmont laid a strong foundation for his coaching career, combining academic achievement with practical coaching experience.

Saint later pursued a Master’s degree in effective teaching and leadership at Butler University. While at Butler, he worked as a graduate assistant coach, further honing his coaching skills and expanding his understanding of leadership in sports.

TJ Saint

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TJ Saint Quotes:

“Even before you go to offense or defense, it starts with the culture . .  We wanted to develop an identity. And that starts with: Who are you? What do you do? And how do you do it?”

“Fierce and champion were the foundational pieces to what we wanted in the Birmingham Squadron’s identity . . Offensively, being fierce, attacking everything relentlessly. And then I stole the quote from Bill Walsh, the former head coach of the 49ers. ‘People who are champions behave like champions before they ever become them.’”

“The season’s not a failure for us if you don’t win the championship, but we wanted to start and aim for that and do everything necessary to try to accomplish that. As the head coach, I brought in those two bottom pieces of fierce and being a champion. And then, as we move forward through the season, the players added different words to this, scaling upward . . I wanted it to be taken from a coach-led team to a player-led team. And they added their own words to describe the identity that they were creating as players.”

“We wanted to be the most connected team. From my point of view, the biggest thing on the floor to making you a connected team is your shot selection. If everybody’s taking the right shots for them, the right shots for the team, people feel good about it. They play the right way, the buy-in is high, and it’s a lot of fun to play offense. And when you play better offense, you’re more in tune to play better defense.”

“The G League is a little bit different. Guys are trying to get two-way contracts, get an NBA deal, benefit their career,  or going overseas to make more money . . And so in training camp and throughout the season, unless we showed our stuff or Pelican stuff, we showed only NBA playoff clips to positively enforce those things because that’s where those guys want to get . . [The message in] only showing playoff clips is you have to play that way to play against the best teams at their very best in the playoffs.”

[On shot selection]  “Our assistants and myself, we’d stop practice and be like, ‘No, that’s a red. Here’s why. Let’s walk through this. Here’s what it’s going to do for our team or what it’s not going to do for our team. Here’s what it’s not going to do for your career.’”

“Shoot, go, or swing.  You’ve got to make that decision within a half second. And this is stuff we’d work on in player development sessions.”

“Instead of going around your defender, we want to go past them and try to make that line as straight as possible. But you have to do that by being confrontational with your drive.”

“We want to make contact and make it a straight line. We call them confrontational drives . . when the defender cuts you off to where their chest is in your driving line, this is a read for us to change directions and do it quickly.”

“When you practice it [angle spacing and the pick-and-roll] a lot and you get to it a lot, the decisions become faster. They become more normalized and players then speed up even faster.”

“Interestingly enough, what I’ve found over my time coaching in the pros is you can reject blitzes more often than any other pick and roll coverage.”

“Before I became a head coach, the main thing I heard from different head coaches at different levels who had done it a long time was, I’d always ask them, ‘What would you do different if you could go back?’  And they’re always like, ‘I’d be simpler. I’d simplify.’”

“None of it matters if you don’t hold yourself, your staff and the players accountable . . We had really high character guys, but you’ve got to create buy-in with everything. You got to create sticky words to try to get that buy in and try to systemize everything, but nothing really lasts unless you hold it accountable. And that means blowing your whistle in practice when it’s not precisely right because you’re competing every day to play the best teams at their very best.”

TJ Saint Breakdown:

2:00 – Creating Team Identity
5:30 – Positive Reinforcement
15:30 – Confrontational Drives
22:30 – Spacing
29:30 – Blitzing and Pick and Roll Coverage
32:30 – Defensive Tactics
35:00 – Pick and Roll Reads
44:30 – Late Sprays and Monkey in the Middle
48:00 – Play Calling
59:00 – Chase Five and Euro
1:03:00 – Offense Strategies and Plays
1:09:30 – Dribble Drive Motion
1:12:30 – Single Side Tag and Small Ball
1:16:00 – Use of Flares and Back Screens
1:23:00 – His Coaching Philosophy and Experience

TJ Saint Selected Links from the Podcast:

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