I just completed my second season as boys head varsity basketball coach at East Lansing High School. Our overall record is 32-10 during this time with one conference championship under our belt. We play in a very tough conference here in Mid-Michigan (CAAC Blue).

During my first season I was never in a situation where we were up by three, on defense with less than seven seconds to play in the game. This past season we encountered the situation three times! Two different times against the same team. Both games the same player made a three!

I kid you not.

Do you think the Basketball Gods are trying to send me a message?

The first time Colin Jones, a 6’4” sophomore from Holt high school sent the game into OT with a buzzer beater from the left-wing. (We went on to win in OT) The second time after Jones knocked down the shot from the same spot my point guard took the ball the length of the floor and was fouled at the top of the key. He made 1 of 2 free throws, we won the game.

As my friend Ray Lokar (@CoachLok, on Twitter) would say, “I was fortunate”.

The third time it happened to me, you would have thought I learned a lesson, right? Not exactly.

Playing at home, it was our last regular season game of the year. We found ourselves in the exact same situation. After I called a timeout I looked at my players in the huddle and asked, “Do you guys want to foul or defend?” They all said, “DEFEND!”

Before they took the court we went over a few details. I reminded them of the three-point shooters, not to foul them in the act of shooting and to rebound the miss!

We defended. The opponent shot an air ball.

Game over. East Lansing wins.

The ‘foul or defend situation has been a hot topic amongst basketball fans, media and coaches. Twitter and Facebook make it easy to connect with others to discuss the possibilities.

Bill Fenlon, men’s head basketball coach at DePauw University has written and published a fantastic piece on the situation and Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated has also written a wonderful article. I highly recommend both.

On February 28, 2012, after reading Fenlon’s thesis I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I was going to track every situation at the high school and college level the rest of the season.

I reached out on Twitter and Facebook for help. Scanning scores and watching games on TV during the last four weeks of the season, I was able to come up with 41 different situations from the 28th right up to the National Championship game between Kentucky and Kansas.

Here’s what I found.

As a coach you are hired to make decisions the entire game. It’s easy to second-guess a coach, especially if you have never coached or played. It’s a lot easier sitting in your living room watching a game and screaming, “FOUL, FOUL, FOUL!” then it is if you are the head coach on the bench faced with this decision.

When I informed people about the study one media member tweeted back on Twitter, “this is such a no-brainer, the question insults a chimp’s intelligence.”

He also added, “Is it fear, pride, or stupidity?”

I can’t speak for anyone else but my reason behind defending is I trust my defense because we work hard on stopping the other team in practice and I’m afraid an official will call the foul intentional.

During the 41 situations I studied, nine teams decided to foul. Eight of them won the game. Detroit Country Day is the only team that lost; but their strategy worked, they just had a brain fart after securing the rebound on the missed shot.

Country Day led by three and fouled a Romulus player with just three seconds remaining. The Romulus player made the first free throw and missed the second on purpose. A Country Day player grabbed the rebound but for some strange reason forgot how much time was left on the clock. The young man grabbed the board and walked out of the lane. He was called for travelling.

Romulus took the ball out-of-bounds under the basket and hit a three-point shot to win the game.

During the study, 32 teams decided to defend. Eight teams hit a three to tie the game and send the game into overtime.

During the NCAA tournament ESPNU hosted a roundtable filled with current and ex-coaches. The group spent time discussing what they would do in this situation. Bob McKillop, head basketball coach at Davidson had some interesting thoughts so I tracked him down.

“We spend so much time in practice on defense, then come game time players look me in the eye and say, ‘now you want us to foul’?”

I can just hear you now, ‘well why not practice fouling during the week at practice’?

Coach McKillop has your answer; “practicing it is difficult. It presents too many problems.”

McKillop also talked about the ‘trust factor’ to get a stop. “It feels much more comfortable to play defense.”

The Kansas Jayhawks were involved in three different situations during the study. Twice they elected to defend and the opponent missed the three. Against Ohio State in the National semi-final game, Bill Self decided to foul Buckeye point guard Aaron Craft. Craft made the first free-throw but was called for a lane violation after missing the second. (It must be noted that Craft was able to throw the ball against the front of the rim and grab the rebound).

Florida State was also involved in the ‘Foul or Defend’ situation three times. All three times Leonard Hamilton elected to defend. All three times they got the stop.


Let’s look at what happens when you foul.

Number one, the team shooting the free throws needs to make the first shot. They then need to miss the second shot on purpose, grab the rebound and score.

On March 9th of this year during the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden the Cincinnati Bearcats fouled Syracuse. Dion Waiters made the first and accidentally made the second, oops.

The Bearcats inbounded the ball and the clock ran out. Bearcats win. Strategy of fouling worked.

If you defend, the worst that can happen is you go into overtime, right? Out of 32 situations, the offensive team hit a three-point shot eight times.

“Results in OT are irrelevant. Strategy either worked or it didn’t.” Said Coach Lokar.

He’s right.

If you decide to foul, you better be a good rebounding team. Everyone needs to box out and secure the board. You also better be a smart team too.

Most coaches I spoke say you need to practice this situation. It would be a disaster if your player on defense goes to foul and the player is in the act of shooting and is awarded 3 foul shots or worse, he makes the three and a chance to win the game with a free-throw.

Niles boys head varsity basketball coach Todd Pawielski was once burned for not fouling and regretted the decision afterwards, “I will never let this happen again,” said Pawielski after an opposing player hit a three to force OT.

Sure enough Coach found himself in this same situation a couple of years later this time in the State tournament against Kalamazoo Central.

“In the huddle I told the kids we were not going to give up a three – point shot; that we were going to foul with around five or six seconds left.”

Niles fouled with two seconds remaining.

A K’Zoo player stepped to the line and made the first shot. Niles then called a timeout. “We reminded our kids to get physical on their blockouts, remind them of Central’s tendency to push inside guy in back. We told our kids to get a great base and that is was going to be war on this shot with no chance of a foul being called.”

K’Zoo missed the second shot, Niles rebounded, ball game over.

Strategy to foul, worked.

Coach Todd says you need to work on it if you expect for it to be effective.

“This is something we work on in practice. We have to show kids how to foul, make sure it is not intentional, make sure to foul when opponent is not in act of shooting.”

The keys are rebounding and to practice the situation of fouling.

“Fouling in this situation is something the kids are used to…we practice it and have done it 3 or 4 times in games the last 3 seasons. It has always worked for us.”

It must be noted that I was never a ‘Math’ guy. I failed it in college on a couple of occasions. But the odds clearly favor fouling. So why do we see more teams defending and not fouling?

DeWitt High School head boys varsity coach Ron Marlan wanted his team to foul against St. John’s. “Normally I don’t like to foul but they had one player who had made a lot of 3’s in the game.”

St. John’s called timeout to set up a play and Coach Ron gave his team the defensive strategy.

“We told them to foul on the catch, not on the shot.”

As St. John’s took the ball out-of-bounds on the sidelines, DeWitt put their tallest player on the ball.

“They made a bad pass and their player did not get a clean catch. He fumbled it a little as he was falling out-of-bounds so we didn’t foul.”

Off-balance, falling out-of-bounds long three, have to take your chances, right?

“He turned and threw it in. A no-look bank shot from in front of their bench.” Said Coach Ron.

Luckily DeWitt won in overtime.

A high major D-1 assistant coach told me, “The high percentage play is to foul.”

So there you have it. Put yourself in the same situation. Up three, on defense, less than seven seconds to play. Are you fouling or defending?

After getting burnt twice this past year, the first opportunity that comes our way next season, I’m fouling regardless of what my players say. But before we do that, we will work on it in practice.


TWITTER: @CoachFinamore


Food for Thought from the outstanding book, “Foul” The Connie Hawkins Story by David Wolf (1972)

This is one of the most amazing stories in the history of basketball. 

In the Spring of 1961 when Connie Hawkins was a freshman at the University of Iowa, freshmen were ineligible to participate in varsity basketball games.

A detective from New York City showed up at the basketball office and brought Connie back to New York.

He left Iowa on a Thursday, thinking he would be back on Monday.

It was 2 weeks until ‘The Hawk’ was back on campus.

By that time, it was too late.

The damage had been done.

The Iowa coach told Connie he wasn’t welcomed back.

For two weeks Hawk’s life was turned upside down.

They labeled Connie an Intermediary. They accused him of introducing basketball players to gamblers for the purpose of setting up fixed games.

Hawk changed his story – he buried himself. Should have kept to the original story.

Afterwards, the negative publicity was too much.

Guilt by association, Connie never fixed a college basketball game; how could he? Freshmen were ineligible!

I welcome any thoughts on the Connie Hawkins Story…


TWITTER: @CoachFinamore


(Revised October 17, 2018)

My list of greatest basketball players of all-time from Brooklyn.

Keep in mind high school, college and pro performance combined.  I don’t care if you were a “street ball” legend.  You had to have a solid prep, college and pro career to be listed.

Billy Cunningham: Erasmus Hall – “The Kangaroo Kid” scored 21 PPG and pulled down 10 RPG over an 11 year career. Billy C could drive the ball to the rim and also pull up for the mid-range. During the 1970 season Cunningham had 3 straight triple doubles. Came off the bench for arguably one of the best teams ever,  the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers. 5-time all-star. Knee problems cut his career short in 1976; he was 32.

Lenny Wilkins: Boys High – Played just one season at Boys; his senior year. The left-handed point guard played 15 years in the league. 9-time NBA all-star. Considered to have one of the highest basketball I.Q.’s in the game. Wilkins dished out 6 assists per game over his career and scored 16 PPG. Was like a coach on the floor. Matter of fact, he was a player-coach in Portland.

Connie Hawkins: Boys High – ‘The Hawk”. I read a great book on him titled, ‘Foul’. Hawkins scored 18 PPG over 9 years in the ABA and NBA. 5-time all-star. Attended University of Iowa but never played a game for the Hawkeyes due to his alleged connection with point shaving. Hawkins was never found guilty of any charge.

Chris Mullin: Xaverian – The smooth-stroking, 6’6″ left hander with the feathery touch scored 18 points per game over 16 years. 5-time all-star. Mullin pulled down 4 rebounds per game and dished out 3 assists during his career. All-time leading scorer at St. John’s University. Great teammate, excellent passer and always played hard. Member of the original Dream Team. Played his grammar school ball at STA. Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. Now announcing games for ESPN.

Bernard King: Ft. Hamilton – One of the toughest offensive players in the low post I have ever seen. Not to mention he was like an express train on the fastbreak. BK scored 22 PPG over 14 years. 4-time NBA all-star. Take away his knee injury, his numbers are a lot higher. Dropped 60 on the Nets on Christmas Day in 1984 but lost the game. Can’t forget his back-to-back 50 point nights in ’84 vs the Spurs and Mavs. The Hall of Fame is making a major omission by not having him in Springfield.

Mark Jackson: Bishop Loughlin – Crafty point guard that played 17 years in the NBA. Career average of 8 assists per game. The ultimate team player. Wasn’t the fastest or quickest but had a high IQ and got the job done. Watched him in high school; was rated behind Pearl Washington and Kenny Smith. Led the Lions to the State title. Played his college ball at St. John’s University. 18th pick of the 1987 NBA Draft. Was named rookie of the year with 13 PPG and 10 assists. Not too shabby. Now the head coach of the Golden State Warriors.

Rolando Blackman: William E. Grady – Panama-born but raised in Brooklyn. Great outside shooter; the 6’6″ gunslinger scored 18 points per game over 13 years. In college at Kansas State he was 1st team all-american. Was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team. Great teammate. Finished his career with the Knicks.

Stephon Marbury: Lincoln – Played his college ball at Georgia Tech; lasted just one year in Atlanta. Heck of a player. Could score in a variety of ways. Career average of 19 PPG. Great passer too; dished out 7.6 assists per game. Now playing pro ball in China. His brothers could also ball.

Roger Brown: Wingate – Turned out to be one of the greatest ABA players in the history of their league. Dark side of career was being involved with the 1961 betting scandal, though he was never convicted of any wrongdoing. Received a lifetime ban from the NBA. Interesting tidbit in Brown’s career; he was removed from the University of Dayton before playing a game, worked a job in town then got the call from the Indiana Pacers at the age of 25. All thanks to Oscar Robertson’s recommendation. Scored 17 PPG while leading Indiana to 3 league titles. In high school Brown scored 37 points in the 1960 PSAL semi’s at MSG against Boys High with Connie Hawkins; who fouled out in the 3rd quarter.

World B. Free: Canarsie – A colorful, flamboyant scorer. ‘All-World’. ‘Prince of Midair’. Started out as “Lloyd” but then switched his name to ‘World’. Twice in his 13 year career he was runner-up in scoring to George Gervin. There haven’t been many guys to get up as high as World on their jumper. Left Guilford after his Junior season. In 1980, with the San Diego Clippers Free scored 30 PPG. Career average of 20 PPG.

Rudy LaRusso: James Madison – Attended Dartmouth where he led them to the Ivy league championship in 1958 and 1959. Once pulled down 32 rebounds in a college game. Was a 5-time NBA all-star. Played in the NBA from 1959-69. Drafted by the Lakers and later played for the Warriors. Helped the Lakers reach the finals 4 times. Regarded as one of the league’s “original power forwards”. 6’8″ 220. Once scored 50 points in a game against the Hawks. 16 PPG and 10 RPG over his career. Regarded as a great teammate and a great person. Member of the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame.

Vinnie Johnson: FDR – “The Microwave” helped the Detroit Pistons win 2 championships with his automatic offense off the bench. Played his college ball at Baylor where he scored 24 PPG. In 1979 while at Baylor he scored 50 points in one game. Number 7 pick in the 1979 NBA draft by the Seattle Supersonics. 13 year NBA career saw him score 12PPG. Pistons retired his # 15 jersey; wore 15 because of Earl Monroe.

LeRoy Ellis: Jefferson – A 6’10” big man who played his college ball at St. John’s University. Played on the 1972 World Champion LA Lakers team that won 33 games in a row. Six months later, Ellis was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, whose 9-73 record in the 1972-73 season is the worst in NBA history. Ellis was on the first Portland Trailblazers team, selected from Baltimore in the 1970 expansion draft. He was in the starting lineup for the Trail Blazers’ inaugural game. He was their leading scorer (15.9 ppg) and the leading rebounder, averaging 12.3 RPG.

Happy Hairston: Erasmus Hall – Started on the 1972 World Champion LA Lakers team that won 33 games in a row. Played his college basketball at NYU where he is a member of their Athletic Hall of Fame. In 11 seasons Hairston scored 14 PPG and pulled down 10 RPG. He has been described as one of the most fierce rebounders the Lakers have ever had. He was tough. He was a leaper and he was very competitive.

(Upon further review, someone wrote in and said Happy did not attend Erasmus, they said he went to HS in South Carolina.) 

Jim McMillian: Jefferson – 3rd member from Brooklyn on the 1972 Lakers team in which he was their 3rd leading scorer behind Gail Goodrich and Jerry West. Led Columbia to a three-year record of 63-14, and an NCAA Tournament appearance in 1968. Columbia ended that 1967-68 season the sixth-ranked college team in the nation. 11 year NBA career of 13 PPG and 5 RPG. He played for LA, the Buffalo Braves, New York Knicks and Portland Trailblazers.

John Salley: Canarsie – “Spider”. The former Yellow Jacket is a winner; plain and simple. 4 rings with 3 different teams. Ultimate glue guy. Rebounds, defends and is a great teammate. Played with a ton of energy and enthusiasm.  7 PPG and 4 RPG over 11 years. Currently doing a TV work.

Albert King: Ft. Hamilton – Solid small forward that could score in bunches. Dropped 12 PPG during his career. Didn’t have the career his older brother had but still was solid. Was one of the main characters in ‘Heaven is a Playground’. One of the most hyped up player in the history of NYC high school basketball. Had an excellent HS career then went on to play at Maryland.

Zaid Abdul-Aziz: John Jay – Thanks to Carl Manco, I made a major omission leaving off the guy we all knew as Don Smith who made the conversion to Islam in 1976. The 6’9″ big man they called “Kangaroo” saw light for 10 years dropped 9 PPG plus 8 RPG. The former Iowa State Cyclone (Big 8 Player of the Year in 1968) played with the Royals, Bucks, Sonics, Rockets, Braves and Celtics between the years of 1968 and 1978. In Ames, he scored 23 PPG and ripped down 13 boards over his collegiate career. Taken 5th in the 1968 draft by the Cincinatti Royals.

George Thompson: Erasmus Hall – ‘Tip” played his college ball at Marquette where he went down as one of the greatest scorers in the Warriors history. Doc Rivers called Thompson the Father of Marquette basketball. Played 5 years in the ABA and 1 in the NBA. While a member of the Milwaukee Bucks, Thompson scored 10 PPG and I’m trying to figure out what happened to him. While playing with the red, white and blue ball GT dropped 20 PPG. During the 71-72 season scored 27 PPG. Made the all-star team 3 seasons.

Doug Moe: Erasmus Hall – Moe is mainly known for his coaching in the 70’s and the 80’s with the Spurs and Nuggets; his run and gun style but few people realize he was a heck of a player. Like Lenny Wilkins, Moe only played one full season at Erasmus. After playing for Frank McGuire at North Carolina Moe, was involved in the point shaving scandal in the 60’s but was never convicted of any crime. After meeting with some wise-guys, one of the gamblers offered him $75 to cover his expenses back to Chapel Hill. Assuming he was doing nothing wrong, he accepted it. Moe was banned from the NBA. Moe scored 16 PPG and grabbed 7 rebounds per game. His career was cut short by knee problems.

Ed Conlin: St. Michael’s – Played in the NBA from 1955 to 1962 with 3 different teams; Syracuse Nationals, Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia Warriors (In Philly he teamed up with Wilt Chamberlain, was on the floor when Wilt scored 100 points in 1961) The 6’5″ guard-forward scored 10 PPG and grabbed 4 RPG. Played his college basketball at Fordham and later on became the Rams head coach. Scored over 1800 points and grabbed over 1900 rebounds while playing in Rose Hill while playing for Johnny Bach. During his senior season Conlin scored 26 PPG.

George L. Johnson: New Utrecht – They called him “Beanie”. 6’7″ forward from St. John’s University.  Scored 9 PPG and pulled down 5 RPG over an 8 year career from 1978-1986. First round draft pick of the Milwaukee Bucks. One of the toughest players mentally to come out of Brooklyn. During his freshman year at SJU he had a hairline fracture in his right ankle; had surgery and was in a cast for 2 weeks. He removed the cast and was back on the court playing.

Max Zaslofsky: Jefferson – Max was known as ‘Slats’. Sports Illustrated named him to the Pre-1950’s All-Decade Team. Played his college ball at St. John’s University. Pro career was 1946-56. Played for the Stags, Knicks, Bullets, Hawks and Pistons. Led the NBA in scoring in 1947-48. For 62 years, Zaslofsky held the record as the youngest scoring champ (22 years, 121 days) until the Thunder’s Kevin Durant won the title at 21 years, 197 days.

Jerry Reynolds: Alexander Hamilton – Runner and flyer type that could handle the ball well. Played on an oustanding A-Ham team. Spent 9 years in the NBA the Bucks, Sonics and Magic. Scored 9 PPG and grabbed 3 RPG. His best season came with the Magic in 1989-90 when he scored 12 PPG and grabbed 5 RPG. “Ice” has been credited with the origin of the saying, “24/7”, meaning his his jay is on 24-7-365.

Geoff Huston: Canarsie – Quick, left-handed point guard who could shoot the ball and drive it to the goal. Scored 8 PPG and shot .483 from the field over 8 years.  Huston also dished out 5 APG. The New York Knicks picked Huston in the 3rd round of the 1979 draft; the former Texas Tech Red Raider made the team and played behind Michael Ray Richardson but then was taken by the Dallas Mavericks in the expansion draft the following year.  Also played for the Cavs (In 1982 scored 24 points and had a franchise-record 27 assists in a four-point win over Golden State), Warriors and Clippers. Each summer during his pro days Huston was a fixture around the city summer leagues.

Sidney Green: Jefferson – Tough rebounder and defender. Played his college ball for Tark at UNLV here he was an all-american in 1983. 1st round pick of the Chicago Bulls. Also spent time with his hometown NY Knicks. In 1989 he was the first selection of the Orlando Magic in the expansion draft. Sid has entered the coaching profession. Played for 6 teams over a 10 year period. 7.5 PPG 6 RPG. Outstanding community-type guy. Once brought his nephews down to Brooklyn USA.

Mike Dunleavy: Nazareth – Played for Frank McGuire at South Carolina. 6th round draft pick in 1976 for the Philadelphia 76ers. Solid point guard that coud shoot the ‘3’, run a team and played hard. Best season was 80-81 as a member of the Houston Rockets where he scored 10PPG and led Houston to the finals losing to the Celtics. Coached in the NBA and led the Lakers to the NBA finals. Once played in a summer league down at East 5th street park. Also spent time as a GM in the NBA. Son Mike Jr. plays in the NBA; has a younger brother Kevin that played at South Carolina.

Joakim Noah: Poly Prep – By far my favorite big man in the NBA. Won 2 titles at Florida and has made himself into one of the best big men in the NBA with his energy, defense and willingness to do all the little things. In his first 5 years Noah has grabbed 9 rebounds per game and has scored 9 PPG. I know for a fact that his high school coach Billy McNally taught him that shooting form. Billy got the inspiration from that car rolling down 118th street and Broadway.

Jamel Tinsley – Tilden…Brooklyn USA.

Pearl Washington – Boys High…Solid career at Syracuse.  Played 194 games in the NBA.  Sadly Pearl passed away too early.  He was 52.  RIP