I always love coming back from Christmas break.
Players are refreshed and although our timing is typically sloppy the first few days, there's no substitute for fresh legs. In addition, something seems to happen during the time off, like a gestation period. Everything they learned in the fall semester percolates and we often have our best performances right after the break.
So, our first two practices have been good as we work on the fast break and our press. We know that it will take some time to get back to the level of conditioning we had before Christmas, and working on the break is the way we did it on Sunday evening, using our "Fast Break Cycles" drill (2 1/2 cycles, with a different player shooting on each possession), and the "5/5 Blockout" drill (rebound and break off a coaches shot, 1 cycle, no press, then reset).
Yesterday we reviewed the press and I still really like our "Free Throw Press" drill for that purpose. Our defensive team shoots a free throw, and presses the opponent whether the shot is made or missed. Once the ball crosses halfcourt, the offensive team must align in a spread-delay set (2-1-2 alignment) and attempt to hold the ball (no shot allowed) while we work to take away lag and high post passes.
We use the shot clock in this drill, putting up 15 seconds and starting it when the opponent first touches the ball. We then have 15 seconds to force a turnover, and will work on our "Fast Break after a steal" situation if that occurs. This drill is the most realistic way we know of teaching players to prevent an opponent from holding the ball on us, as failure to take away lags becomes very apparent. We must constantly remind players during defensive transition that they must run to a person (trap, lag or high post) rather than sprinting back inside the arc first, which is their initial instinct.
We've made a lot of progress in this area, and many others, but with the new semester and the beginning of conference play on Wednesday, we'll see how far we've come, and whether the "light bulb" is ready to come on.