As I’ve said before, as a basketball coach, I was a ‘slave to simplicity.’ I was always concerned about giving the team too much information, too many plays, too much to remember under pressure. Many of the teams I coached had just one play: McKendree JVs, Navy Plebes, two of my five teams at Delaware, Chile, my first team in Bologna, my first team in Milan. It wasn’t even a play … it was a set, a concept, a passing game, a free-lance offense. Of course, when you free-lance, you must have guidelines but the idea was simplicity.
It was the same with the fast break. Coaches have a beautiful term for what I wanted: an ORGANIZED fast break. We had RULES. Point guard goes to the right elbow. Point guard does not cross the free throw line. First trailer goes to the left elbow. If he doesn’t get the pass, he goes low box left side. Wing men run just one step from the sideline. Wing men cut to the basket when they get to the free throw line extended. Wing men go to the boxes. Second trailer also goes to the left elbow.
If you examine those rules, you will see that each one involves USING THE LINES ON THE COURT. I used the lines for EVERYTHING. Now, many coaches do this, of course. But I was overboard. I would tell my players, for all sorts of things: “The lines on the court are like a ‘road map’ for you guys. Read them. Use them. You’ll never go wrong.” I’d say, “Don’t line up there! Line up HERE!” The guy would move four inches and look at me like I was out of my mind. But they knew what I wanted, that’s for sure.
Understand, I copied some great coaches in all this. There was a story that John Wooden told his center to line up not here but there. I think the center was Steve Patterson. I guess Patterson stepped aside to let Wooden show him where he wanted him to set up. They said it was about one-half of an inch from where he had lined up. I’m sure Patterson rolled his eyes on that one but he sure knew where his coach wanted him to set up. That’s where I used that principle … as in the story above.
For years, I told my point guard “Don’t cross the free throw line.” Once the 3-point shot came to FIBA play, in 1984-85, in time for my last three seasons of coaching, I changed that. I told my point guard, Mike D’Antoni, “Stop behind the 3-point line on the break. That keeps distance and spacing. And, hey, if you are open … FIRE!” And, fire he did, leading the league in 3-point field goals. I’d tell the 2 and 3 guys: “When Mike’s shot hits the rim or the net, you’d better be on the boxes for the tap-in.” They knew where to go.
This is all under the heading of simplicity, yes. But, also, CLARITY. I do not recall a single time in my career in which a team of mine botched a play with a mistake. That was not going to happen because they had so little to remember! And, what they did have to remember, as in this case, on the fast break, was helped by the very lines on the court, their ‘road map,’ their ‘GPS.’ What could be clearer than that? The Rule: Read the Lines.