It was the tale of two practices determined by differing personnel. Although only separated by a mesh curtain, the East squad and West squad of the McDonald's All American game had very different approaches to practice. Once the initial shooting drills were completed, the East squad, which is loaded with big men, embarked on a methodical practice centered around executing the Carolina secondary break and a number of high/low oriented sets. The West squad, with a bevy of guards and wings, broke out into competitive fastbreak drills and high energy full court five on five sessions.
The East squad went through what was half competitive practice and half coaching clinic by Indianapolis Lawrence North (Ind.) High School coach Jack Keefer. Keefer's energetic and precise instructions were a pleasure to watch and invaluable for his aspiring collegiate and NBA stars.
With the post players and perimeter players separated the practice began with shooting drills. Then the perimeters played three on three, working on penetrating a pitching while the post players executed a three on three blockout drill. Andrew Bynum and Richard Hendrix gobbled up almost every rebound during this drill.
A great deal of time was then spent on learning the bare bones Carolina secondary break. Greg Paulus, a natural leader, did as much coaching during this segment as Coach Keefer. I'm sure the execution of the East will improve over the next two days, but I would expect to see a lot more primary fastbreaks than secondary breaks on Wednesday night.
After a bit of controlled five on five, working on the secondary break, practically the rest of the practice was focused on learning half court sets in five on zero and five on five situations. All the sets were geared to getting the ball in the high post, primarily to Josh McRoberts, who Coach Keefer said was the best passer he had ever seen for a player McRoberts' size.
The buzzer to end practice actually sounded as Keefer was teaching the squad another on of his sets.
Because of the nature of the practice it was difficult to get a really good read on the East players. What was evident was that Paulus was in his comfort zone running the attack. Eric Devendorf only got limited looks at the point position, and Louis Williams looked a little out of his element running the point in the half court sets. Once the action opened up full court, Williams looked much more comfortable.
Andrew Bynum presented a big target inside for the high/low passes.
Brandon Costner shot it well from the wing, but the other wing players looked a little lost in the controlled system.
Look for tomorrow's East practice to open up a bit and be more competitive.
The West squad had a practice more focused on energy than execution. As soon as the pre-practice shooting drills were over, the smaller West squad was off and running, executing competitive fastbreak drills. These drills lasted for some time. Standouts were Monta Ellis, who played at a faster pace than anyone on the court, Julian Wright, who is a spectacular passer on the move, and both primary point guards Mario Chalmers and Byron Eaton.
Some time was then spent on learning a simpler version of the secondary break, compared to what the East was running, and on learning the flex offense. Most of the practice, however, was spent on playing full court five on five. Execution was emphasized by head coach Al Roads of Lagansport (Ind.) High School, but running the court and pressuring the ball was the primary focus of the West.
Although not as large as the big men of the East squad, Tyler Hansbrough, Amir Johnson and Jon Brockman ran the floor extremely well in practice. It will be interesting to see if the big men of the East can keep up with them on Wednesday night.
With the up and down nature of all-star games, the West might very well have the advantage in this one with their smaller and speedier lineup.