Thursday, April 8, 2010

Loyola Marymount and Paul Westhead - Part 1: Fast Break Offense

Just three nights ago after the National Championship Game between Duke and Butler, ESPN2 aired the latest installment of their "30 For 30" series. Some of the previous installments of this series included films highlighting Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks and the University of Miami football teams of the 1980's. The latest film titled, The Guru of Go, highlights basketball coach Paul Westhead, his fast break offensive system and his journey from the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980's to the University of Oregon Women's Basketball team and his most famous stop in between when he coached at Loyola Marymount in the late 80's and early 1990's. Having been born in 1984, I was not exactly aware of what was going on at Loyola Marymount during Westhead's tenure as coach, however, as a life-long fan of college basketball I have often heard the story of the untimely death of Loyola Marymount forward Hank Gathers and have often seen the video clip of his teammate Bo Kimble shooting a free-throw left handed in honor of his fallen teammate (picture above). Knowing the story of Gathers death and the way his teammate chose to honor him during the 1990 NCAA Tournament drew me in to the film and while watching it I became greatly intrigued by the famous fast break system that Westhead used for his teams from the high school level to the NBA Finals with Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers. The premise behind the system is farily simple.

Westhead wanted his teams to constantly run up and down the court on the offensive end taking quick shots and getting the ball up the floor as soon as possible once they have gotten a rebound or taken the ball out after the opposing team has made a basket. The hope of the coach was for his team's to get a rebound, get up the floor, get a good shot and score within 10 seconds elapsing off of the shot clock. He hoped that due to extreme conditioning drills during pre-season workouts, his team would be in so much better shape than the opposing team and by constantly running during the game, the opposition would be completely worn out and would be unable to make key plays down the stretch of the game. This system provided an exciting type of basketball that had really yet to be seen in major college basketball and put up numbers that still stand today, however, it did not always necessarily provide the formula for a winning team. As all coaches know, when you are making shots everything works much better but because Westhead's teams took such quick shots and "settled" for such quick shots, when they were not making those shots, it provided for a very tough task to win the game. Throughout his 18 years of college coaching Westhead finished with a win-loss record of 285-223, coaching at LaSalle, LMU, and George Mason University but is the only coach ever to have won both an NBA Championship and a WNBA Championship (Lakers 1980, Mercury 2007). There are two aspects of this story that I am wanting to discuss. Think of it as a two part series on the 1990 LMU Basketball Team, their coach, the death of player Hank Gathers and the fallout from his death. In part one I am wanting to discuss this fast break system perfected by Paul Westhead. The most recent attempt at anything similar to this style of play that I can remember was by Rick Pitino at the University of Kentucky in the early to mid 1990's which led the Wildcats to several Final Fours and the 1996 National Championship. The question I would like to ask fellow coaches is, how successful do you think this strategy or game plan or scheme would be in today's game? With the advancement of the athlete and the advancement of defensive schemes, how effective could this fast-break, run and gun style offense be in not only the college game but the high school level as well? I personally think that this system could succeed at the high school level but I am not to certain that much success would come from it at the college or NBA level. In the high school level if you have a team that is extremely well conditioned, has decent to good shooters and a good point guard you could run this fast break offense. It is an exciting brand of basketball so selling the players on the system would not be too hard. The only thing that would be hard to do with the young kids is to motivate them to completely buy in to the pre-season and off-season conditioning but if that can be achieved, with the right athletes this system can be successful. Thoughts Coaches?

Up next - Part Two: Legal Issues Following Death In Sports, Who Is To Blame?

Friday, April 2, 2010


Welcome to "The Coaching Corner"

My name is Coach Mike Draper. I just finished my first season of coaching basketball for the Cougars of Logan County High School in Russellville, Kentucky. During the 2009-2010 season I served as an assistant coach for the boys' varsity team under Head Coach Harold Tackett and also served as the head coach of the junior varsity squad. Our JV squad finished the season with a record of 6 wins and 7 losses. We started the year out strong getting out to a 5-3 record but could not find offensive consistancy towards the end of the season. Our varsity team finished the season with a record of 11 wins and 15 losses, losing in the first round of the District 13 Tournament to our cross-town rival the Russellville Panthers. This season was just the second time in a decade that a Logan County team had won double-digit games and we improved the season win total by 7 games from the previous season (2008-2009). This was an exciting year that had its ups and downs but I had a blast coaching these kids and definitely learned a lot about the game of basketball. Once the season ended I began preparations for coaching two more spring/summer teams. These teams would consist of 12-15 players from the 4th-7th grades. Here in Logan County we have 5 elementary schools, all of which feed up to the one county high school. During the season these teams compete against each other and now we are trying to get some of their best players together to play what is basically AAU ball against competition from around south-central Kentucky. I have really enjoyed coaching these kids so far. We have played two games so far and lost them both but they have been against probably some of our toughest competition. Not to mention the players on the team we faced have been in their system for about 3 years and have been practicing for about 2 months now, 3 days a week. Our team had only had three practices period before our games, plus we are teaching these kids a whole new system so that by the time they get up to the high school they will be fully prepared as to what we run both in practice and in games.

So, with all of that said, that kind of leads me up to the purpose of this blog. Coaching and teaching these young kids has really opened up my eyes to all of the fundamental work that goes into preparing and developing basketball players. As much as I want to spend a majority of practice working on offensive and defensive sets, I know that by simply going through drills that develop the fundamentals of the game, we will continue to get better and better as a team. I am hoping that this blog will serve as a way for me to put out ideas of drills and schemes to those that might too be in this great profession and likewise I would love feedback from any fellow coaches out there about how you would handle situations, what sets work for you, which ones don't, etc. So I will start this inaugural blog with this question: Should I stay away from running zone defenses at such an early age (4th-7th grade)? Unfortunately we don't have the athletes to matchup with most teams we play and while I ABSOLUTELY LOVE a great, in-your-face, pressure, man-to-man defense, our guys simply are not fully prepared to execute one yet. During our varsity season we used several different zone defenses (2/3, 3/2, 1/3/1) and that is what I am planning on doing with these kids. I figured, if they can't man up the opposition I can still help them learn the game by implementing several different zone defenses. Thoughts?