21st Century Basketball: Stanford Style!

The 2008-2009 season is just weeks away! Our good friend "Roscoemaynard" offers The Bootleg the inside scoop on what fans can expect to see on both sides of the floor when the Cardinal start their regular season at Yale in mid-November.

My Fellow Bootleggers, four score and seven months ago Dinosaurs strode the floor at Maples, swatting a ridiculous 187 shots on the way to the Sweet 16. But enough about last season and the ensuing farcical aquatic ceremony, this season our basketball team will look less familiar to us than any team Cardinal team in memory. In comes Coach Johnny Dawkins and his entirely new staff and out goes the Montgomery/Johnson low post-centric style of basketball.

So the question on all your minds ought to be, what are we going to look like this year? I understand if you are looking through your ETrade accounts trying to find your money, but that isn't important anymore.Basketball practice started Friday. And isn't it weird that it can sneak up on us like this, which means that for the first time in a long time, football season isn't over already. Weird.

I spoke with Associate Head Coach and funny guy Dick Davey about what we can expect the team to be working on when the curtain goes up. Coach Davey told me that the staff spent quite a bit of time analyzing offensive systems and personnel before settling on the offense to install. Coach Dawkins didn't have a preconceived "this is the way we are going to do it" offensive system, which I think is refreshing and appropriate. What they settled on is a four out/one in motion system that was used by Coach Dawkins back in 1985 at Duke, but which they apparently haven't used since. Think Davidson. They run it. This is a bit hard to describe in print, and the last time I really paid attention to it, I was 20 and not really paying attention to it anyway, but there are I think four key concepts to bear in mind with this offense:

(1) Movement — without the ball
(2) Floor balance — motion away from the ball to maintain floor balance and occupy the defense
(3) Recognition — of what and who is coming open and how to get open
(4) Shooters — we have to be ready to shoot off of motion, fake it, put it down, and then shoot it.

Sure there are lots of other things that are important to us offensively, but with a four out/one in motion, offense guys have to move well without the ball, you have to set up defenders with the motion, and then cut to the opening with or without a pick. The tempo of the offense has to be higher than before. The strong side of the offense cannot get all jammed up because the motion stalls and the passing and driving lanes disappear. Guys have to learn to recognize where the opportunities are coming from, set up the opportunities. With liberty in an offense comes the need to seize the moment and that means you have to see it first. Finally, this offense's purpose is to distribute the ball less precisely around the court, give guys liberties to move, dribble attack, pop off screens, slip screens, back cut, dive cut, be a bit less predictable than we have been before, and take advantage of matchups without beating a dead horse.
However, it is a jump shot creating offense and therefore we have to shoot the ball. The goal of this offense is to get scoring from at least four spots, if not all five, and be less predictable about it. This offense will help emphasize the versatility of guys like Fields, Goods, Law, and who knows who else.

Lets switch to defense. This is where I am actually most interested. Stanford has historically, well you know: ball, you, man, basket, percentages, toughness, vanilla, rebound, rebound, rebound. Now, in comes a new style — watch us pick up earlier at or near half court, apply more aggressive on-ball pressure, deny most passing lanes, switch on defense more often to accentuate the versatility of our personnel, and rebound, rebound, rebound. Coach Davey was clear that our guys are not going to be sitting back playing percentage defense. We not only don't have the personnel inside to do that, but that the philosophy is already one of "fundamental change." Coach Dawkins wants more energy, he wants to force the other team away from their strength, create more turnovers, and use the defense not as a weapon of attrition, but as an instigator.

This means the guys are going to do a lot more defensive shuffling and footwork drills in practice, because there are a lot of fundamentals that need to be strengthened. This defensive philosophy means guys have to be better on the weakside of the floor, better vision, rotating quickly to help positions, and then everyone else scrambling to pick up loose guys and get into passing lanes. We are going to influence offensive players to the baseline, squeeze them into the help defenders, force some baseline double teams, and rotate. Influencing the ball with constant, intense pressure, not helter-skelter defense, is going to be the key. And perhaps most importantly, five guys have to hustle for the glass like wolves on the field dressed like moose carcasses Sarah Palin just left behind. Owens, Fields, the Law, Will Paul, and the guards have to go to the defense glass every trip. I would suspect that guards that can get to the glass will help themselves minutes-wise. Just a note here, but Mitch Johnson averaged 4.3 rebounds a game last year as our point guard.

Coach Davey, in between some of the most obscene livestock jokes I have ever heard, made a great point: back in the day teams had over a month of practice before preseason games to install the offense and defense, but we have 14 days before an exhibition game and 24 days of practice before we play Yale to install an entirely new offense and defense. Every player is learning anew now, so this means that the freshman and redshirts come in on a more level playing surface. This is a new coach, no preconceived notions, no peculiar loyalties, clean slate. I know I am old now, but I remember when Coach Davis left in 1986 and in comes Coach Montgomery — the intensity, the tension, the desire was thick in the gym during practice every day. Guys were just wound up. Everyone, except for Todd Lichti and Howard Wright, knew there was an opportunity for minutes and starting spots teetering in the balance every day. Practice this fall is going to be an exercise in how to learn quickly and execute, while being so hyped up to compete your skin twitches.

This is going to be 21st Century Stanford Basketball. I think it will be fun. How I comment intelligently on guard play this season while learning a new system myself may be torture for you, but if you get tired of me, there is always the exciting upcoming missive of retired high school coach Terry McGrath in which he regales us with weekly anecdotes about coaching and goat husbandry.


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