Words We Use

American linguist, John McWhorter helps to give meaning to language when he states, “Loving your language means a command of its vocabulary beyond the level of the everyday”. The importance of language is amplified in a team setting where communication is a pillar of success. There are numerous phrases and words/phrases in basketball that many would consider as universally used. “Screen”, “box out”, “run the floor” are just a few examples of the basketball terms that can be heard in parks, gyms and stadiums at all levels of the game. Coach Williams and our staff have a great appreciation and love of language. An active and contributing portion of our success should be attributed to our ability to implement and utilize the “words we use”. We have created a language that would sound unfamiliar to many other coaches. We often have visiting coaches asking us to translate certain terms and phrases after watching a practice or coming to a game. We take pride in using these words/phrases throughout our daily routine both on and off the court to truly make it a part of our culture. We sometimes forget that the words we use may seem foreign to outsiders, despite their familiarity with the game.

We believe the “words we use” make us a better team for many reasons: it creates imagery for the players, it makes communication more concise and efficient and it helps the coaching staff eliminate mixed messages, it also helps the coaching staff hold the players accountable. Here are a few examples of “words we use”:

Turkey – is a great example of how a word that is commonly used in our program, but not common at all in the game of basketball. We borrowed the word from bowling. As you may know, when bowling, if you bowl three strikes in a row it is called a “turkey”. Instead of three strikes, we use “turkey” as a term for when we get three defensive stops in a row. If you were to attend a Coach Williams practice or game, you will notice that after we have stopped an opponent twice in a row and are attempting to stop them for a third time in a row, everyone in the program will be yelling “turkey, turkey, turkey”. It is used to emphasize the importance of that particular stop. Coach Williams believes that if our team achieves a certain amount of “turkeys”, we will have a significantly better chance of winning the game.


“Murphy” has unique origins as to how it made its way into our program. Early in the season when the team was having trouble making through a workout, Coach Williams stopped the workout and educated the team on Murphy’s Law. As many of you already know, Murphy’s Law is an epigram that states: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. The team quickly embraced the rejection of Murphy, the person behind the law. From that point on, all the team had to say to each other is “Murphy is coming” or simply “Murphy” as a warning sign that adversity is near and they need to overcome the problem that has surfaced before it turns into something unmanageable.

2 Hands, 2 Feet – is a more familiar term used in the basketball community that is also apart of our culture. It is a simple premise that Coach Williams believes in and coaches thoroughly throughout the year. When we refer to “2 hands, 2 feet” we are talking about the manner in which we would like our players to attain the ball. We want them to go after every loose ball with two hands and land on two feet. We believe this gives them the best opportunity to get the loose ball.


Take Up Space – is a phrase you will hear us use almost every possession during our practices and games. We want to be as clear as possible when implementing specific “words we use” and “take up space” is a good example of this. Take up space is the term we use for boxing out. The problem with “boxing out” is that it doesn’t describe the precise action we want to happen. We want our players to take up the space between themselves and the person they are guarding – that’s how we want to rebound. When we yell at our players to take up space it quickly reminding them to go toward the person they are guarding rather than moving toward the basket.


Hopefully, we have demonstrated the importance of the “words we use” within our program. We put a great deal of emphasis on making sure we are using the right words/phrases. “Words we use” is a dynamic list and is ever evolving and is something that continues to get more refined as we progress. We will leave you with a quote that expresses how we feel about the “words we use”.

“Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers.”

–Cesar Chavez

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