Dribble-drive originator says it's all about attacking

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 11, 2009 

Talk to the man who invented the offense Kentucky will use this season and one surprising bit of information jumps out like an alley-oop dunk. He said he thinks the name coined by UK Coach John Calipari — dribble-drive — is a misnomer.

"Cal did it a little disservice," Vance Walberg said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "Everybody thinks it's a dribble-dribble-dribble offense. That's not what it is. It's an attacking offense."

Walberg also finds Calipari's catchy nickname for the offense — Princeton on Steroids — a reflection of the UK coach's marketing degree.

"We both know Cal is a great businessman," Walberg said. "As good a coach as he is, he's a better businessman. He can sell anybody anything."

Marketing aside, Kentucky fans and players are about to learn all about the dribble-drive motion offense beginning with the season-opening game against Morehead State on Friday,

Walberg, who as a junior college coach introduced his offense to Calipari in October 2003, said it will take time for people to grasp what's going on. More importantly, UK players will need patience to understand and fully use the offense.

"You're not going to change a player's mentality (quickly) who's used to being so robotical," Walberg said. "That's what you want to get them away from.

"Next year when these kids come back, they'll have so much better of an understanding of it. Believe me."

After that October 2003 introduction, Calipari visited Walberg three more times before getting comfortable with the offense. And Walberg recalled Calipari routinely calling in the middle of Memphis practices to ask follow-up questions.

Calipari has said the players will run it incorrectly 70 percent of the time or more early this season and might still be wrong a third of the time by season's end.

"The key for you guys is for it to be working when?" said Walberg, whose career in coaching leads him to ask rhetorical questions.

Uh, March?

"Damn, right," said Walberg, now an assistant coach for one of Calipari's basketball disciples, Derek Kellogg, at Massachusetts.

Walberg, 53, cited three basic premises on which the dribble-drive offense functions.

■ "Attack the rack."

■ "Open gaps" for drives.

■ "Great spacing."

The dribble-drive isn't a patterned offense controlled by a coach calling plays from the bench. "In this offense, with my guards, if they look to me, I take their butts out," Walberg said. "What you're teaching them is how to play the game and not teaching them to run plays. It's 'I'm coming down your throat.' "

The players are supposed to attack the basket with purposeful drives. If your perimeter player cannot beat his man one-on-one, he's not suited for the dribble-drive.

If the defense rotates to blunt the driver, he passes to an open man, often the offensive teammate left free by the second defender. Practice brings familiarity, which means reading options on the fly. Coaches yield control and trust the players to make the right reads.

"Quite a bit," Walberg said. "In a game, you're yielding a lot more control. So the key is how well you do coaching that in practice."

During a talk to the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches, Calipari talked about what the dribble-drive is and isn't.

■ No more multiple passes and multiple screens to set up a shot. "You have to put that aside," Calipari said.

■ When you catch the ball, look to drive.

■ If the defense sags into the lane, shoot the three-pointer.

■ Don't fall in love with the trey. "Anytime we shoot 30 threes, we lose," Calipari said. "Seventeen, I'm happy. What we want is layups and dunks."

The players must read not only the defenders, but their teammates, especially the ballhandler.

"If I stop on a certain place on the floor, my teammates know what I'm going to do," Calipari said. "If I spin on a certain place on the court, they know what that means."

Five players thinking as one, plus moving and adjusting as one.

The dribble-drive is no different than most offenses in its dependence on point guard play. It will work best if John Wall follows the example of Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans.

Although he has the zeal of a convert, Calipari remains pragmatic. He's talked of running set plays against zones. After the exhibition against Clarion, he talked about being willing to feed the post 50 times if that meant a victory. After all, few teams outside the NBA can match Kentucky's collection of big men. "So we have to throw it to them," Calipari said.

Although Daniel Orton noted the adjustment of big men not standing on the side of the court where the ball is (the better to clear a driving lane), Walberg said the dribble-drive suits a big man. The idea is to get high-percentage shots. Except for free throws, no shot is more likely to go in than one from the lane.

Defenders cut off drives by Wall or Eric Bledsoe, then UK's big men score off passes "instead of the old way of let's throw the ball inside and make him earn his own bucket," Walberg said.

A question hovering over Kentucky going into the season involves perimeter shooting. Is there enough three-point shooting to prevent defenses from collapsing?

"You have better shooters than he had (at Memphis)," Walberg said. None of Calipari's last four highly successful Memphis teams ranked among the top 100 nationally in three-point accuracy.

Walberg devised the dribble-drive 14 years ago as a high school coach. His team featured four guards and a relatively ineffective big man. Moving the big man away from the dribbler cleared a better path to the basket.

"It was not genius," Walberg said. "That kind of started it."

Now Walberg estimates that he's talked to 1,300 coaches about the dribble-drive. Teams ranging from high schools to the Boston Celtics use some form of the dribble-drive.

With Calipari now applying the Kentucky brand on the offense, Walberg expects the dribble-drive to explode in popularity.

"With Cal at Memphis, it was not that great of an offense, blah, blah, blah," he said of the prevalent perception. "At Kentucky, it's going to make people realize it's a little better than people thought.

"They're going to talk about Cal and the dribble-drive the way people used to talk about Bobby Knight and motion."

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