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Coach's Corner

THE THEORY AND RATIONALE OF THE READ AND REACT™

03-03-12

In 2003, I took some time to consider my basketball life up to that moment. After my playing career and then over twenty years in coaching, I knew there was something missing. After much contemplation, I decided to create the Read & React Offensive System™. Why would my reflection motivate me to launch into such a daunting project? More importantly, what problems was I trying to solve?

Let's toss all of my experiences, observations, and problems into one giant pot, and stir them around for consideration, because that's exactly what I did in 2003. Here are the ingredients in no particular order:

  1. Team defense seemed easier to teach than team offense. In other words, getting five defensive players to move and react as a 5-man-unit was easier than getting five offensive players to do so. Why?
  2. Plays work well at the beginning of the season and in our non-conference games. But they lose their effectiveness by the post-season when we need them the most.
  3. When plays don't work, our players break down into 1-on-1, or at best, 2-on-2 situations. Why can't they continue to play as a cohesive, 5-man unit? e to play as a cohesive, 5-man unit?
  4. I charted an entire season's point production and found that about 80% of my team's points came from individual execution in situations where players simply played principled basketball. Only about 20% of our points came from successful execution of our plays (and half of that was from out-of-bounds plays). Yet our practice time was the exact opposite: We were spending 80% of our offensive time on set plays, and only 20% of the time on teaching principles.
  5. I had played in a motion offense in college. I loved the freedom to read your defender and take what they gave you, but there was too much freedom for all 5 players to stay coordinated. And if just one player lacked the same basketball I.Q. as the rest, he could really mess up the offense.
  6. When I was a player, 1-on-1, 2-on-2, and 3-on-3 were fun to play because every player was always involved. But as soon as the game went to 4-on-4 or 5-on-5, it was difficult to play by principle. A few players were always left standing around.
  7. The most successful seasons I experienced as a coach were the direct result of having six players of the same age who played together for six straight years, starting in 7th grade, and grew to totally understand each other's games. Each season was characterized by more principles and fewer plays, and we finished their last two seasons with back-to-back Final Fours. I wanted to re-create that scenario: five players who moved and reacted to each other like a school of fish. But most teams cannot stay intact for years at a time like these six players did. Most teams are comprised of different members each year, and many of them are on different developmental levels.
  8. Young players have a different coach almost every year. As a result, a varsity coach doesn't know what he's getting each year in terms of what skills the players have been taught, and what knowledge of the game they have (basketball IQ).
  9. While running camps overseas, the coaches in Belgium shared with me how they teach their players using an age-based curriculum. The players are taught only a few principles the first year (and as you might guess, with only a few principles to play by, the players get extremely good at executing them). The next year, another principle is added, and the players get real good at that. The next year, another principle, and so forth and so on until by age 18 they understand the game on an instinctual, habitual, principled level. Being a small country with a club-sports-system, they created a curriculum that could be implemented the same way academics are taught in our schools, with each teacher standing on the shoulders of the teacher who came before him or her.
  10. My personnel, and hence the talent level of my team (or lack thereof), changed year to year. Whatever offensive system I was going to create could not have any prerequisites in terms of the types of players, level of their skills, or basketball I.Q. In fact, it should create basketball I.Q. rather than require smart players to run it.
  11. This whole system should be transferable to the coaches and teams that feed my program. It must be simple enough for anyone to understand, but with the cumulative complexity that would allow the offense to counter any defense.
  12. The offense must allow for spontaneity from players and the inherent chaos that defines great basketball. Only with that spontaneity, could this offensive system take advantage of whatever the defense gave it on every possession. Further, the sequences of "Reads and Reactions" must be allowed to happen in any order, without contradiction. By doing so, the offense could not be scouted.
  13. The system should be built on "habits" for two reasons. First, habits can be drilled into almost anyone with enough repetition. Second, to require thinking on the parts of the players would only slow them down and violate my principle requiring no prerequisite level of basketball IQ for the players.
  14. To build this system of "habitual layers", no two layers could ever contradict each other. Once a habit of reaction or movement is trained into a player, I would never require him or her to react differently as we build the subsequent layers of the offense.
  15. And as if all of the above wasn't ambitious enough, I wanted one offense that could be used against both man-to-man and zone defenses.

With a goal set as lengthy and complex as this, I wondered how to go about building a principled offensive system. My answer? By examining how we build defense...

THE DEFENSIVE PROGRESSION

First, we teach players the skills required to play defense: their defensive stance on the ball; their defensive stance when in help position; their denial stance when one pass away; how to defend in the post; what to do with their hands when their man is dribbling, driving, or shooting; how to block out or check out, rebound, and outlet the ball. These are just some of the tools that each individual defender needs to bring to the table. There are encyclopedias of drills to build these tools into an individual player. But these tools are not enough to build team defense.

The next step is to tie these individual players together in a 5-player-coordinated defensive unit. We all have our own preferences and twists, but traditionally, we split the floor into ball-side and weak-side halves. How do players know what side they are on? By reading the ball in relationship to their man. On the elementary level, it 's as simple as this: if you are one pass away (ball-side), then be in your denial stance. If you are two passes away (weak-side), then be in your helping stance; perhaps halfway between the ball and your man (or in the lane, or on the midline, etc.) As the ball is passed around, we expect coordination as a whole, even though each defender is simply reading the ball. I would call this the first defensive layer. I think you would agree that there's no need to move on to the second defensive layer until the players have mastered it.

Defensive layers are added one at a time, and are never expected to contradict the previous defensive layer. We must add how to defend ball screens, how to defend screens away from the ball, how to defend basket cuts, how to defend flashes into the lane, etc. There is also a teaching progression to these layers. As an example, post defense will be taught before we teach the other players how to help down on the post. The bottom line is that regardless of what you teach and when you teach it, I think you'll agree with me that we don't teach it ALL at one time and that we try to teach it in a logical, building-block progression.

And as we teach these defensive layers, we are limited to what the players can absorb. Obviously, if you're on the youth level, you probably don't get beyond the first step. You're happy if you can just get all the kids in a defensive stance at the same time! But if you're on the college or pro level, you expect to get mastery of all the layers in only a few weeks. In other words, the progression is the same, but how far you get depends on the level of your players.

  1. Let me sum up the defensive teaching progression:
  2. Give the players their defensive tools.
  3. Drill their defensive rules until they're reactionary habits.
  4. Tie all the rules together into a 5-player-coordinated defense.
  5. Move your expectations to principled situations.

 

I understand that you might have a different progression. Certainly your defensive details will be different than mine, but my point is that there's a teaching progression with defense. No one jumps directly to step 4 (Principled Defensive Situations) without first demanding a command of the first three "defensive layers." 

THE READ & REACT OFFENSE

So, how do we transfer this defensive progression to the offensive end? We follow the first step by teaching the players how to shoot, dribble, attack one-on-one, get open, screen, etc. In fact, Better Basketball has seven videos devoted to these skills. They're extremely important to the success of any offensive system. However, they cover only the first step in the progression. Traditionally, the next step is to go to plays, patterns, quick-hitters, sets, or whatever you like to call them. This is where I wanted to break tradition. I wanted my offense to follow the same progression as my defense. I wanted my players to play offense by principle, and most importantly, as a 5-player-coordinated unit. And that's exactly what the Read and React Offense does: it provides a framework that can be used as an offensive system to develop players, teams, and programs. Or, it can be an offense for one team, an offense that builds upon itself, with a counter for anything any defense can throw at it.

I knew there would be problems if I taught offense the way I did defense. Like defense, my offense would NOT be able to execute to perfection at the beginning of the season. But, on the other hand, just like my defense, my offense would get better at playing by principle with each layer and by the end of the season, tournament time, we would be at our best.

The specifics I've used to accomplish these goals and solve these problems is laid out in the Read and React DVDs. The intricacies and adjustments are many, but always very simple. Here's an outline of the system.

The first five layers of the offense are grouped into a "Level" that I term "Laying the Foundation." The habits taught in these layers take care of the two most common actions that occur in offense – dribble penetration, and passing the ball to a teammate one pass away. The layers will work regardless of the formation (5-out, 4out, or 3-out). These five layers ensure good spacing and floor balance, give each player on the floor built-in-motivation to react quickly and correctly, and solve the problems of aggressive perimeter denial defense without using hand signals or verbal signals.

I termed the next Level, "Completing the Foundation." It has four layers, and they bring screens into the offense, but not in traditional ways. For example, in the Read and React System, a player WITH the ball can actually act as the screener in a pick and roll (the R&R System explains the details). To some who have seen the R&R, these four layers are the most impressive of the system, as they create some normally complicated 5-man movement, including double and even triple staggered screens without the players having to read anything more than the simple 2-man action of that layer. This level also provides European 3s and back screens, among other scoring opportunities.

The next four layers are concerned with Post Play. The offense can now easily morph into various sets with players positioned in the low post, the mid-post, the high post, or even the short corners (an adjustment that has of course proven particularly useful against zones). This level adds a great deal of flexibility to the offense without changing a single acquired habit from the previous layers. These layers allow you to imitate a dribble-drive game, a power post game, a blocker-mover game, the UCLA high post game, or many others. The only thing that post players MUST do is react correctly to dribble penetration. Other than that they are free to do whatever a coach wants to emphasize, whether it's back to the basket post moves, two posts screening for each other, a post or two screening for their teammates on the perimeter, or a particularly talented player moving from the inside to the outside and back.

The final Level contains four layers, and I term it "Icing on the Cake." It provides the best counter to sagging man or zone defenses, the pin screen. This is one of the habits that could be taught out of order without affecting the offense. As an example, if a team was playing with only the first 5 layers, the coach could add layer 14 without contradiction and without teaching anything to link this habit to the first five layers. Morphing the offense to attack zones is explained in this level. It contains no new habits and completes one of my primary goals: the same offense versus man or zone defenses. Finally, the system ties your transition game into your half court game without having to stop and set up. The defense won't know where your fast break ended and where your half-court offense began.

THE READ AND REACT DRILLS... AND IMPLEMENTING THE OFFENSE

Every habit in the R&R offense has its own 2, 3, 4, or 5 player drill to teach it to your players. I've included them all, from the most elementary drills to the most advanced, on DVD #3 in the package. My reason for the drills is two-fold:

1. The fewer the players in the drill, the more reps they can get. The more reps they can get, the quicker the Read & React habits will form. The quicker the habits form, the sooner the offense works efficiently.
2. The drills allow you to collapse time frames: In the off-season, these drills will not only allow for fundamental work like shooting, ball handling, passing, one-on-one play, and conditioning; but by using them, you'll have 90% of your offense ready to go by the first day of practice.

After two years of trial and error and experimentation, I was ready to implement the whole System, but because of the success of Better Basketball, I was no longer coaching and therefore had no team or organization of my own with which to use it. So, I gave the system away to many of my coaching friends. It was absolutely the best thing that I could have done! They've provided three years of "laboratory" experience that I otherwise would not have. The Read & React has proven to be adaptable to any style of play or any coaching philosophy at any level, boys or girls.

So what's next? That's up to you, and how you use it. In some respects, the Read & React is just a tool for teaching the game.  But it can give you things that no one else has:

  1. Five-player-coordinated-offense-by-principle that can't be scouted and grows with your players every day you run it.
  2. A better defensive team. Why? Your own team must guard it every day in practice. Because the Read and React is not a scripted pattern or play, and because the layers give players a natural counter to anything the defense might do to them, defenders must guard it honestly, BY PRINCIPLE, and that makes for a better defensive team.
  3. Collapsing time frames in two ways, (1) by using your fundamental drills to also build your offense.  And (2), you can use the Read and React as a "shell offense" for your shell defense, which will give you more time in practice to spend on other things: out of bounds plays, full-court presses, free-throws, rebounding, scrimmages, etc.

What's next for me? Watching coaches like you use the Read & React in ways I never thought of. Watching you take the game we love to a higher level. Could there be anything more fun and more exciting? I look forward to Reading your Reactions!

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