Watching a lot of hoops during holiday week, and it’s interesting to hear the conversation about players in foul trouble. Jay Bilas on Duke-Gonzaga talked about a player with 4 fouls coming back into the game and said “he should be smart enough to play without fouling.”

Someone asked me last night at another game I was watching what my theory was on playing kids in foul trouble, and how much depended on the player. So that’s interesting to think about – what makes you trust a player to play with foul trouble? Does it depend on how smart he is?

I’d say it has to do more with how good the player is than his level of intelligence. Just about every player is smart enough to know they have four fouls and realize they can’t reach in or try and step in in help side and take a charge. I don’t think players go out there and forget that they are in foul trouble. Certainly, intelligence plays a role, because there are guys who will make a dumb decision and put themselves in a position where they can get called for a foul. So I’m not dismissing intelligence as a factor. But when a kid picks up another foul, it’s not always because it was a dumb play.

I watched Aaron Calixte, my former point guard at Maine who now starts at Oklahoma, play today against Florida. He picked up 3 fouls in the first half, and then picked up his fourth foul on a charge early in the second half. He sat most of the 2nd half, but was able to play the last 5 minutes and make some key plays to help Oklahoma win.

That charge is a play I’ve seen Aaron make before. He’s a small, explosive guard who gets into the paint a lot and makes plays. When he gets downhill, he goes from slow to fast very quickly, and he’s not always able to gather himself on two feet to score or distribute. Aaron is a smart kid and a smart player. He knows he has to be careful in the paint because he’s susceptible to charges. But because of the type of player he is, he’s in those situations a lot. We used to talk about that on the bench when he was our best player at Maine and he was in foul trouble – he does pick up fouls on offense, so that factored into how quickly we went back to him with fouls.

A lot of factors go into whether or not you can leave a player in a game, or go back to him quickly, when he’s in foul trouble. The time and score are really important. The type of player he is is really important. What position he plays and who he has to guard are also factors. And I’d say just how good he is is a big factor – better players tend to play more under control and have a better feel for the situations they have to stay out of.

Intelligence is a factor, but to me all of those other factors come first. I’m not sure how smart a kid is is the ultimate decision maker as to whether or not he can play with foul trouble.

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