In this week’s basketball coaching conversation, Merrimack College head coach Joe Gallo joins the Basketball Podcast to discuss the 2-3 zone they have used to great success, and tactical periodization as it applies to basketball coaching. After leading Merrimack to a Northeast Conference regular season title in 2020, its first season in Division I, Gallo was named conference coach of the year.
Gallo began his coaching career in 2005 as an assistant at Merrimack a year after he was a player for the Warriors. In 2010, Gallo was hired as an assistant under head coach Paul Cormier at Dartmouth. He was hired as an assistant under Andrew Toole at Robert Morris 2012. In 2016, Gallo was hired as head coach at his alma mater, Merrimack Gallo navigated Merrimack College to the best ever inaugural season in NCAA D1 basketball history.
No stranger to success, Gallo helped Merrimack become an NCAA D2 powerhouse. He completed a run of three NCAA Tournament appearances in three years in 2018-19 to put a bow on the program’s Division II history. He also snapped a 19-year conference championship drought when he guided the program to the 2018-19 Northeast-10 Conference Championship. Gallo boasts a 61-34 (.642) career record, the most wins ever for a head coach over their first three seasons.
He also cemented himself as only the second head coach at Merrimack to guide the team to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments, and the only to do so over his first three years. Gallo’s programs reached the regional semifinals (Round of 32) twice over the last three years, securing an opening-round upset in both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. The 2018-19 team earned the NCAA Division II East Region’s second seed, the program’s highest seed ever in the NCAA Tournament.
“We have what we call MC points which are ‘made chaos’ points and it’s something that we chart each game and in our live defensive segments.”
“We’re very comfortable with scramble situations . . we practice those scrambles and get comfortable in that chaos.”
“One of the first things I decided right away was that we were going to play zone . . playing against the zone almost makes people a little flat-footed . . I feel like we’re always playing against your second best offense.”
“This year we were 7-2 in games decided by four points or less . . [vs. a zone defense] you’re not going to be able to just let your best player play in a ball screen or play in some space like you might be able to do against [man-to-man] late game. So, I think it kind of gets people out of rhythm.”
“There’s some detail in it [closeout and recover technique] . . we say anytime you’re on your way out, throw two hands up; and anytime you’re on your way in we want your hands out.”
“I found that early in my career, we spent way too much time on the detail to close out when the reality of watching my players . . was that no matter how much I coached it, they did it their way. Every individual had this really specific way that helped them do something better than the technique I was trying to put upon all of them.”
“We get a lot of steals off of how we rotate off a penetration.”
“You can’t have lack of length and lack of effort, but if guys are flying around and getting to spots, I would actually take a quick thinker over a long guy with a slow brain every day of the week.”
“I don’t know how much better you really can get a guy at defending the ball. Our wings don’t ever guard the ball, but they learn how to rotate, they learn how to think a little bit faster, they get a little bit more confidence within their slides.”
“We say it all the time, we just say, ‘Be the best trained team at what we do.’ And we don’t really worry a whole lot about what our opponents are doing . . this is how we defend and our guys know it inside and out and we train it day in and day out.”
“The point is to develop a skill that you can use to help your team win a game. So, if you’re working on coming off a pin down and you just jog the gut and don’t read it the correct way, what’s the point of taking those 50 shots before practice if you’re not going to execute it when the time comes to execute it.”
“Don’t just be a workout guy, be a winning guy.”
“We start every single day with what we call ‘perfect defense’ . . we went down and watched Celtic practice . . and they started with it and Coach Stevens said, ‘Alright, we’re going to go 70% movement, 70% as far as our effort but we’re going to be 100% talk and 100% positioning.’ . . That’s kind of how we build our zone.”
Selected Links from the Podcast:
Tactical Periodization Links:
1:00 – Make Chaos
3:00 – Why Zone
7:00 – Zone Concepts
9:00 – Recovery vs Punctures
11:00 – Closeouts
12:00 – High Posts and Short Corners
17:00 – Dribble Penetration
20:00 – Limiting Threes
22:00 – Shooting vs Zone
24:30 – Making Better Decisions
27:30 – Man to Man Defense
29:30 – Be Great at What You Do
31:30 – Play Calls
33:00 – Developing Players
35:00 – Doing Workouts
37:00 – Tactical Periodization
48:30 – Perceptual and Decision-Making Repetition
50:30 – Patterns
53:00 – Conclusion
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