Dribble-driver's licenses don't come easy

New offense asks players to rethink the game

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 4, 2009 

Monday's exhibition victory over Campbellsville showed that Kentucky players still have much to learn about new coach John Calipari's dribble-drive offense. Especially the drive part.

During his post-game news conference, Calipari repeatedly returned to the idea that driving to the basket keys the offense and that too few players went one-on-one against a Campbellsville defender.

"We had a lot of guys who either didn't want to be the guy to beat (the defender) off the dribble or weren't capable of beating their man off the dribble," Calipari said. "And you can't play this offense without that.

"Somebody's got to take a man and get it started. When you see that, you'll see gaps open up."

Kentucky was playing without its best one-on-one offensive player, point guard John Wall, who sat out the exhibition as part of his punishment for associating with an agent during the recruiting process.

Yet Calipari pointed all the way to two presumed low men on the totem pole — former walk-on Mark Krebs and senior forward Perry Stevenson — as examples of players driving effectively.

"Offensively, I was disappointed in some of the stuff until I put Mark Krebs in," the UK coach said. "To start driving and play through the bumps to create the gaps you need to create."

When Stevenson finally entered the game late in the second half, he seemed intent on making the most of his opportunity. He arguably showed the most single-minded zeal on a drive.

To simply drive toward the basket isn't enough, Calipari said. It must be an authoritative move that forces the defense to react or meekly yield an easy score.

"A lot of guys drove the ball with no intention to get to the rim," Calipari said. "They were just driving to be a passer. No one gets open when you do that."

After the game, several Kentucky players spoke of the considerable task of playing basketball in a new way. Years of muscle memory became irrelevant.

"It's a change from the normal basketball that other people play," wing Darius Miller said.

Sophomore Darnell Dodson, who led UK with 19 points Monday, noted the options each player must read as a possession unfolds.

"I'm used to more structure," he said. "This is more freedom."

Freshman Daniel Orton said the big men must undo ingrained ideas of how to play and adopt a "totally different" approach.

"Most of the offenses I've been in, you want to chase the ball," he said, meaning big men post up on the same side of the court as the ball. "One thing he says is, don't chase the ball. Just lay back."

To post up on the same side as the ball clogs the path to the basket.

"It's really hard," Orton said. "You want the ball."

Four teammates react and move according to what happens to the ball.

"Knowing where to go and when to go," Orton said. "That's the main thing. Timing is everything because that's harder."

At this early stage, experimentation rules the day for college teams. Calipari talked about how he must consider the best way to use particular combinations of players (he mentioned big men Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins by name) and how a smaller lineup might fare (Dodson, Wall, Miller and Eric Bledsoe with one big man).

As the season begins and unfolds, players and system presumably will wed.

For instance, Campbellsville Coach Keith Adkins suggested that Kentucky's spotty perimeter shooting Monday night will improve.

"When they get their legs and play a few more games, I think you'll see a different perimeter team," Adkins said.

Miller spoke of improved play over the coming weeks and months.

"None of us have ever played like this," he said. "We've been working on it. I think we're doing a good job getting everything down. We've got a long way to go, though."

And the Cats have time to get where they want to go.

After reminding reporters that confusion at this stage was to be expected, Calipari laid out a vision of the season. Great defense and "monster" shot-blocking must be the foundation for success.

"We'll figure out the offense as we go," he said. "Early on, this is what it looks like. Hopefully, in a week you say, 'Oh, I see some changes.' In two months, you'll say, 'Now they're unleashed.' "

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