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The Basketball Podcast: EP183 with Joe Mazzula on the Teaching Process

RELEASE DATE : 29/09/2021

In this week’s coaching conversation, Boston Celtics assistant Joe Mazulla joins the Basketball Podcast to discuss simplified principles of play and the teaching process.

Mazulla coached the 2021 Boston Celtics summer league team. He joined Boston’s coaching staff in 2019-20 after guiding Fairmont State University to a 43-17 record over two seasons as the program’s head coach from 2017 to 2019. His Falcons went 22-9 in 2018-19 to claim the program’s fifth NCAA Tournament bid over the last seven years.

In joining the Celtics organization, Mazzulla returns to the Northeast where he served as an assistant coach for the Maine Red Claws of the NBA G League during the 2016-17 season. In addition to his two years as a head coach in the collegiate ranks, Mazzulla brings five years of assistant coaching experience between Fairmont State (2013-2016) and Glenville State College (2011-2013).

Mazzulla attended West Virginia University, where he played collegiately for all four seasons under head coaches John Beilein and Bob Huggins. He advanced to the NCAA Tournament all four years and was named to the Big East Academic All-Star Team three times (2007, 2009-10) with the Mountaineers.

Joe Mazzulla

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Joe Mazulla Quotes:

“One of the reasons why I had a passion to get into the professional level is the coaches are such great teachers. And being a great teacher, you have to have good curriculums, you have to have your checklists, you have to have your retrievals – things that you’re constantly going back to make sure your guys are learning and staying sharp.”

“Every head coach has to have a process, a process of how they retain information, a process of how they communicate that information.”

“I think it [coaching in NBA summer league] starts with what your roster looks like. How am I going to get the best out of each individual player? So, once you dissect your roster and understand what each guy needs individually . . then we define what the summer league was about . .a creative environment . . a hard working environment. It was about an environment of development.”

“We broke down the simplified principles of play, which is from his [Doug Lemov’s] book. You’re only doing four things within a game, we’re either attacking, you’re transitioning to defend, you’re defending, or you’re transitioning to attack. And I tried to keep everything in those four categories.”

“I think one of the most important things is you have to always maintain simplicity and the fundamentals, but you have to be creative in your communication. You have to be creative in your objectives. And you have to be creative in your approach to each guy.”

“A key was getting the guys to come in every day with a sense of ownership towards their own careers towards their own development.”

“Our first challenge was, ‘We’ve got to be simple, we have to be consistent.’ And then we can find small windows of creativity, small windows of adding things. But if we’re not simple and consistent, then we’re not going to be able to achieve what we want to in a small window of [time].”

“Having a curriculum was relatively easy in the sense of, ‘What do we want to accomplish every day?’ But then once we accomplish it, when do we retrieve that practice? And then how do we know and trust that our guys have grasped it?”

‘One of our concepts in our attacking phase of the game was just move the ball with speed. So, our number one objective was, ‘Can we get into our spacing in the first five seconds of possession?’ . . When you have the objectives, you have to measure them. We charted how many possessions did we enter our spacing in the first five seconds, and that was just a different way to communicate pace . . a different way to communicate expectation, and it gave the guys something to work towards because if we could get into our spacing in the first five seconds, then we can get to our options.”

“In order to master something, you have to be able to do it at game speed . . but you also have to be able to do it unexpectedly, so I think that’s where retrieval is super important.”

“There’s the communication and the relationship aspect. You kind of know going into a film session who you’re going to cold call and why . . the edit that we had going was scripted, in the sense of, I knew exactly when I was going to stop, I knew what question I was going to ask, and I knew what answer I was looking for.”

“Each clip had three components to it: When are we going to stop it? What are we looking for? What’s the answer?”

“Our practice plan template was: here’s the drill, here’s the objective for the drill, here’s a couple of things that can go wrong that you can anticipate that are going to go wrong. And then when they go wrong, how are you going to get it back?”

“I had a couple guys that I had worked with before, and then a couple people that I hadn’t worked with before. So, it was very important that we had these game models and simplified principles in place so that we were on the same page and we knew what we were measuring, we knew what our objectives were, and we knew just how to build off of that.”

“You can’t perform and learn at the same time, you can only do one or the other. And too many times as coaches our communication is intertwined during their performance. We’re trying to teach them and you can’t teach during performance. And so, I do think drills are necessary to teach, to build awareness to know what the guys need to work on and to build awareness of when they’re going to use it.”

“We made an edit of the situations that you’re going to be in on certain parts of the floor, offense and defense, and we just watched that. We built situational awareness.”

“I think those two things are the most important: hold them accountable to the player they want to be, hold them accountable to the objective.”

“If we weren’t meeting our objectives, you could come at them and say, ‘What do you think has gone wrong on the last four possessions?’ and hopefully, you’ve done your job as a coach to where they know. The second part is, ‘Why haven’t we gotten to our space in five seconds in the last four or five possessions? Do you realize that that’s the difference in the game?’ I think you can frame your questions to help them raise the level of their game.”

“They [the players] want that balance. They want to be held accountable to the highest standard. And I think as a coach, it’s just it’s finding that space of when to do it, and then when to help them do it themselves.”

“Having an objective-based approach eliminates the emotion out of it to where you can strictly coach the execution of it. And then you use your relationship-based approach to have the effort and the buy-in. The majority of your coaching at this level is going to come from the execution aspect of it.”

Joe Mazulla Breakdown:

1:00 – Head Coaching Job Interview
4:00 – Takeaways From Successful Coaches
6:00 – Preparations for Summer League
9:00 – Player Development
12:30 – Retrieval Practice Leads to Retention
16:30 – Feedback
20:00 – Cold Calling
23:00 – Communicating
26:00 – Game Film
29:00 – His Process
32:30 – Game Context
36:00 – Switching Situation
39:00 – Getting Back into Gameplay
43:00 – Recreate
47:00 – Concept of Positive Framing
51:00 – Building Player’s Self Advocacy
54:00 – Measurement Phase
57:00 – Giving Postgame Debriefs
1:01:00 – Situational Basketball
1:03:30 – Scripting
1:05:00 – Giving Advice to Other Coaches

Joe Mazulla Links from the Podcast:

Boston Celtics

John Beilein

Bob Huggins

Ime Udoka

Doug Lemov

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