Carmichaels' Don Williams has been a constant in Greene County boys basketball for going on 44 years now.
One aspect that hasn’t changed in the veteran coach’s approach to guiding the Mikes is his preference for man-to-man defense.
“We’ve played man-to-man for years here,” said Williams, who notched his 500th career coaching win last season. “When people come into this gym, they know we’re playing man-to-man and it’s not going to be fun, we’re not going to just let them stand there and shoot. We try to put as much pressure on them as possible.”
Williams is one of several Greene County coaches who put a high priority on the defensive end in basketball. West Greene boys basketball coach Jim Romanus, like Williams, prefers man defense. Lady Pioneers coach Jordan Watson has installed one of the best full-court presses in the WPIAL in girls basketball.
There are teams that will be more talented than Carmichaels on its schedule but Williams will not waver on his defense.
“We want them to do the best they can,” he said. “Sometimes that’s not good enough but we want them to strive to work hard at it and play hard and to be the best you can.
“We’ve always played physical and we’re not going to change.”
Williams relies on assistant coach Tim Jones to help teach his players how to excel at man defense, although the Mikes will throw in a press on occasion.
“We do some zone traps with presses, full court and half court, but basically, we teach one defense, man-to-man,” Williams said. “Timmy handles most of that and we want to be good at that one thing.”
Williams equates his players’ upbringing with their acceptance to play and excel at defense.
“It’s a great community and the parents have a lot to do with it, and the kids put forth the effort,” Williams said. “It’s not easy to learn to play man defense. You have to want to practice it and work at it to do it well.”
Romanus, who has been involved with coaching high school basketball in 43 of his 45 years as a teacher, will use other defenses but the Pioneers’ base set is man.
“We play 90 percent man. I just think that builds toughness in kids,” Romanus said.
While it may seem simple in concept to play a man-to-man defense, Romanus pointed out that it can get quite complex, especially the way he teaches it.
“It’s not just puppy-dog man,” Romanus said. “We teach hedging and help the helper and rotation.
“It gets to be a bit complicated but in the long run it really pans out well. You can do some nice defensive things to teams.”
Watson team has become notorious for its full-court pressure. The Lady Pioneers have several variations they use on their bread-and-butter defense to keep their foes even more on its toes.
Listening to Watson describe his defense can make one’s head spin.
“We call it the cat, which is basically our free safety,” Watson said in discussing his press. “Sometimes we have one free safety, sometimes we go with our two-cat look.
“We have four or five different rotations we do out of it, depending on if we’ve got somebody on the ball, we have one we call red floater, one’s red with a cat, red with two cats and we have our zone press as well.
“We have five or six different presses we can do in the full-court game.”
West Greene was so effective at it last season, twin sisters McKenna Lampe and Madison Lampe ranked first and second in the state in steals, according to MaxPreps.
It’s not just the Lampes who make the press work, though, its a orchestrated team effort. The Lady Pioneers have a rotation of eight-to-10 players that they can throw at opponents in an attempt to overwhelm them.
“We’ve got a solid group where we can go in waves, like hockey style, line changes every two-three minutes,” Watson said with a laugh. “We plan on pressing and wearing people down with our depth.”
Whatever the defense, teams that go up against the Mikes, Pioneers and Lady Pioneers this season will have to work for their points.