Going back to my UMass days, I’ve always encouraged coaches to visit my teams’ practices. I don’t care if they’re at the high-school, junior-college, or CYO level; I believe we all need to help one another, share ideas, and spread the game of basketball to all corners of the earth. It’s corny to say, but I want to give back to the game that has given me so much in my life.
Vance Walberg was one such coach who visited us for three days in October 2003. He was beginning his first season as head coach at Fresno City College, and he had always made time to tour the country and visit with the best and brightest in college basketball. In the years before we met, he had watched the practices of, and discussed basketball with, a host of the game’s best, from Dean Smith to Bobby Knight to Billy Donovan.
On Vance’s second night in town we went out to eat in Memphis. As is my habit, we talked basketball throughout the meal, and I really enjoyed spending time with Vance—he was a true Basketball Benny, a student of the game who ate, drank, and slept Dr. Naismith’s invention. Once the meal was finished, my curiosity got the better of me, and I asked Vance what kind of offense he was going to be running in his first year at Fresno City. I’m always fascinated by listening to what others are doing to either innovate or improve on old principles.
I’ll never forget his answer: “You don’t want to know,” he laughed. “It’s a little bit off the wall.”
I insisted, and in no time Vance had cleared space and created a “court” on our table. Salt shakers were baskets and sugar packets were players.
Now you’ve got to understand, I had always been a fairly old-school coach when it came to offense (and defense too). I believed in play-calling from the bench and running the classic motion offense, based mainly on screening (setting picks). I wasn’t necessarily looking to change what I was doing, because, to be honest, I was having pretty good success doing it my way. But I always wanted to be aware of what others were trying and seeing if any of their concepts would fit with what I was doing or if I would be able to game plan against it.
Vance’s offense blew me away. It gave every player the freedom to take his man to the hoop on every play. I saw it as something that would unleash players and could potentially be a huge recruiting tool because of its up-tempo, frenetic pace. Scoring opportunities would be plentiful, and it was like nothing I’ve ever seen put into action.
Let’s face it, every kid wants to put up scoring numbers, and in this offense Vance was showing me, every kid could.
This creation of his was out there for sure; it was unconventional in every way. There was very little screening, tons of quick shots, and penetration at all opportunities, and it allowed for unlimited three-point shots. It was so outrageous I was oddly intrigued by it. I began to talk to Vance on the phone frequently. I tested bits and pieces of it and often debated its merits with my assistants and coaching peers.
I’m not afraid to change, nor am I afraid to do things differently, but I will never just jump into something without thoroughly investigating it.
Two years later after hundreds of phone calls to Vance and multiple trips to Fresno to watch his team practice, I was comfortable enough to install the offense at Memphis. I never could have envisioned the success my teams have had with the offense—which I have tweaked and adapted.
When I first met Vance (whose son Jason is now on my Kentucky staff), I wasn’t in the driveway of crazy yet, but I was roaming the neighborhood. Eventually I bought the house. When I began using the Dribble Drive Motion (DDM) with my program, it felt like I’d been a teacher with the same lesson plan for fifteen years—the one that never changed—the one brothers and sisters all remembered
The motion offense I’d been running wasn’t necessarily a bad lesson plan, but it was getting moldy and musty. Making the switch to DDM reinvigorated me because it got me to rethink the game and to study it anew. It challenged me as a coach and as a teacher. The kids really took to it; despite the fact that it took a while for most to truly understand it, they all rave about it once it’s being run at an optimum level—it challenges them, but it also prepares them for most anything they will see on the court.