The rules are different. The equipment is different. One is played indoors, the other is played outdoors.
But, the objectives for basketball and lacrosse are the same: Put the ball in the net.
The similarities don’t end there. According to area coaches, many of the skills and strategies that lead to success in one sport carry over to the other, which is one reason why several of the mid-Hudson Valley’s top players on the hardwood are also standouts on the lacrosse field.
“I think they’re two sports that go hand-in-hand,” said Arlington High School senior Brendan Sunday, the 2014 Poughkeepsie Journal Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year and the Most Valuable Player of the last month’s Duane Davis Memorial holiday basketball tournament. “Defensively you want to hold your opponent and offensively you’re running plays, working as a unit.”
Red Hook High School boys lacrosse coach Rich Saulino, who said the two activities are “more similar than any other two ball sports,” has two basketball standouts leading his own team, Dennis Hare and Nick Michitsch.
“I see a lot of similarities as far as being in shape — you have to be in tremendous shape,” said Hare, a basketball guard and lacrosse midfielder. “Physically it’s the same, you’ve got to be strong in both.”
Aspects of lacrosse and basketball match, such as the importance of footwork and running precise offensive and defensive sets. Sunday emphasized the value of “quick feet” in order to navigate tight defenses.
Arlington boys basketball coach Matt Hoyt said Sunday’s footwork on grass is evident on the court.
“He’s great around the goal,” Hoyt said. “His footwork in basketball stems from the work he’s done in lacrosse. His craftiness has paid off.”
Ernie Verdis, an assistant boys basketball coach at Arlington, said the same connection helped his son, 2014 Arlington graduate David Verdis, excel in both sports.
“When you talk about footwork — a kid with decent footwork in basketball can get on to a lacrosse field and not be lost,” Verdis said. “Brendan’s footwork is some of the best footwork you’re going to see and I have to believe all those years playing lacrosse as a young kid helped him with that. It rubbed off on him both ways.”
Poughkeepsie High School Athletic Director Matt Cameron is a former Marist College men’s lacrosse coach and was an assistant coach for the Boston Cannons of Major League Lacrosse. He said he knows when a basketball player is trying his hand at lacrosse.
“I’ve been coaching since 1995 and I’ve noticed that you can tell when you’re coaching a kid that plays basketball,” Cameron said. “If you have a new group of kids coming in, basketball kids come into the spots with their heads on a swivel and react.”
Offensive and defensive sets can also be compared and contrasted.
Basketball concepts like a “motion” offense, sharing the ball and setting screens on defenders carry over to lacrosse, enabling coaches to teach similar strategies, Cameron said.
“In terms of offense, spacing, passing, moving and cutting are similar,” Verdis said. “Team defensive concepts in both sports are similar: help side defense, concepts like rotations are similar.”
“Defensively they’re hugely similar,” Saulino said. “The team defense is the same, with help coming from the left or right. Offensively I can say the same — you go to the basket or the goal to score. Both offenses utilize the pick, too.”
The pace of the two sports, however, is one of the biggest differences between the two sports, Hoyt said.
“Tempo of the game is a lot different when you’re on a smaller playing surface,” he said. “Most other sports there are more guys and the (basketball) court is smaller than the (lacrosse) field.”
Sunday, Saulino and Cameron all pointed to the shot clock being one of the biggest differences between basketball and lacrosse, which impacts timing offensively. Saulino highlighted the ease with which teams can stall with possession of the ball late in lacrosse games.
“The flow is different,” Sunday said. “In basketball you have a shot clock and you only have 35 seconds to shoot the ball. In lacrosse, there is no shot clock. The game can be slowed down, to an extent. Lacrosse, although exciting, doesn’t convert as fast as basketball.”
Cameron noted, basketball is inherently a back-and-forth game. Without a shot clock, there are no guarantees a lacrosse team will ever gain possession back after losing it.
“Possessions in lacrosse are more important,” Cameron said. “In lacrosse they’re challenged: What are they going to do next? Sometimes there can be three or four minute possessions.”
In their most basic concept, though, success in both sports comes down to who can put the ball in the net.
“If you have guys in lacrosse that can get to the goal, it’s beneficial,” Hare said. “If in basketball you get to the hoop, you get to the hoop.”
A.J. Martelli: 845-437-4836, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @AJM_PoJoSports