I am a firm believer that games are won with great defense.

This afternoon, I took three of the boys who are going to play for my summer basketball team to watch the Missouri 3A Boys Basketball State Championship. I wanted these boys to see great defense in action. Maplewood Richmond Heights (MRH), the neighborhood I grew up in, was playing in the state championship game today Lutheran High School North.

This was a rare opportunity. On this team, they have one young man who is a genuine Blue Chip Division l recruit prospect…..quite literally one of the best players in the country. Another young man is a possible Division ll player based on his defensive prowess alone. The gentleman who coaches the team played for St. Louis University and I believe played pro ball overseas for a short while. A truly gifted player and an amazing coach…..or I should say, an "intense" coach. His style is 100% in your face. To say he rides the boys hard and will yell at them when they make a mistake is an understatement.

I was very excited about my boys getting a chance to see these two player and this coach in action.

The game started out very slow and, unfortunately, very lopsided. MRH which plays the most tenacious, vicious, aggressive defense I have ever seen at the high school level, had gotten to this game by forcing an average of 27 turnovers a game. That is a huge number of turnovers! MRH's defense had very few turnovers in the first half, and their offense (which was averaging nearly 60 points a game), was ice cold.

Halftime score: Lutheran North 32, MRH 16.

If someone were a betting man, I'm sure they'd have gladly put a large sum of money on Lutheran North to skate thru the rest of the game to win the state championship…..unless they'd seen MRH play in the past and knew what they were capable of.

To say the second half was unbelievable doesn't do it justice. It was like someone flipped the "on" switch for MRH. Did MRH change their game plan? Not that I could see. Did they panic and start to throw up 3's to get the score close? Not that I could see. They had a plan….. a system that had served them well and got them to this point, and they stuck with it.

The MRH boys were flying all over the court in the second half. They quickly cut North's lead from 16 to 8 in just a few minutes. The relentless pressure began to slowly wear down Luteran North as they turned the ball over to MRH on almost every trip down the court. North didn't even score for the first 6 minutes of the fist half, by then MRH had made it close enough that North realized that they were in a real game and fighting for their lives.

MRH continued with the relentless pressure, forced mistake after mistake. When North would score, MRH didn't push the ball up the court in a hurry. They took their time and worked the ball up the court and set up their plays…..and most importantly, they executed their plays!

They took their time and set pick after pick. When a North player would push or shove an elbow into their ribs, the MRH players would push back and return the favor of the elbow.

And then it happened. You could almost see North began to literally break down. Yes, North still had the lead, but they realized that MRH was chipping away at their lead faster than the clock was running down. North began to press harder and try harder….and their mistakes began to increase and amplify.

MRH fought back and tied the game with just over a minute left in the game. But North (who was not only an excellent team, but were excellently coached as well), answered by hitting a beautiful three-pointer.

Now, around a minute left in the game, MRH was down by three. MRH called time out and set up the play. MRH took their time, drove the ball down the court, carefully set up their play. If you blinked, you missed what happened next. MRH, who is lead by these two amazing guards, looked like they were setting up to run the clock down and shot the three to go for the tie. Then, all of a sudden, one of MRH's big men (who hadn't done much all game, rolled off a pick broke into an open area in the paint, caught a rifle of a pass, turned, cut to the hoop and laid it in!

Now, there's less than a minute to go and North has the ball and a 1 point lead. You'd think MRH was in a bad position, but you'd be wrong. MRH was in a great position. They were going for the win with "girl who brought them to the dance"……they were going for the win with their defense!!!!

North called a time out to set up their next move.

MRH set up their press. MRH's best player #2 had one job and one job only. Cover North's best player, #12. MRH's coach had such confidence in the rest of his teams defense, that he kept #2 on task. STOP # 12. By neuralizing #12, North to match up their other players against MRH's unbelievable defense.

It was no contest. North managed to break MRH's press, but MRH's defense stopped North and carefully brought the ball up the court with 24 seconds left in the game. MRH proceeded to play catch and run the clock down.

With 10 seconds left, they put the ball into the hands of their best player, #2 (as an aside, this kid is utterly amazing, a rare, rare talent). #2 is not only unbelievably fast, he is stunningly quick. He juked left, right, left and then put a move on the two men covering him and blew right between them, drove the lane, faked right, stepped left and elavated. He lifted the ball high, double pumped it, leaned into the North player (looking for the foul), reached his left out further left with the ball, skillfully flicked his wrist to kiss the ball off the backboard and into the basket!

The MRH players and crowd went berserk. MRH was now up by one point. MRH had trailed the entire game. The only lead they had the entire game came with four seconds left to play.

North called a timeout. The MRH crowd was going crazy. But the MRH coaches were all business and got the players ready for one last defensive stand.

North got the ball in and made it just across half court with less than one second left in the game and launched a desperation shot.

They missed!

Final score: MRH 56, Lutheran North 55.

The boys had a great time. I was very pleased that they got to see this game. It was actually more than I could have hoped for. I wanted them to see what it meant to play tenacious defense. I've told each of them that none of them have developed the offensive skills necessary to play at the high school level, but that that didn't matter. If they will simply do what I coach them to do, I will turn them into a defensive animal. Any high school coach will turn back flips to have a player who has the ability to play aggressive quality defense. Playing good defense is mindset coupled with lots of practice…..something 95% of boys at this level know nothing about. They all want the offensive glories.

As I've told them, you have 4 years to develop your offensive skill, but in the meantime, you can make the team, and likely start, by being the guy who is willing to dive into the scrum to grab the ball, or take a hard charge for an offensive foul (against the other team). As I've told each them, if you're willing to leave a little "red DNA" on the floor every game, you'll always have a place on the team. Translation: Coaches want players who are willing to bleed for them!

Not everyone has the athleticism necessary to be a great offensive player. But most any athlete with a little bit of ability and whole lot of heart can be a defensive specialist.

Too often in life, or investing, we find ourselves pushing hard to dig our ways out of trouble. We find that we're down 32 - 16 at half time just like Maplewood was, and we push harder and look for ways to make the big play to make up the difference as quickly as we can and work our ways out of trouble. So we abandon "the girl that brought us to the dance".

You may, from time to time, need to tweak your strategy. But if it works and it got you to the dance, you should continue with it. Of course, I believe that this only applies to defense. A good defense can make up for a marginal offense, but a great offense will have much more difficult time making up for a marginal defense.

Just like in todays game, investors need to make sure that they've got a great defense…..and also remember, that a defensive strategy will go thru a rough period from time to time (just Maplewood went thru today in the first half), but you don't bet against that which has worked and worked well.

MRH resoundingly proved that today. I hope my players got that message today. I know that I did!


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