I Love Teaching Fast Break Basketball

fastbreak-running game

From Coach Battenberg’s book, You Can Run With Anyone.

I like the Fast Break.  I like teaching it and I liked playing that style in my youth.  When you can quickly get a dunk, a layup, or a wide open jumper, that’s my kind of Offense.  Why work so hard to get an open shot by slowing down, setting up, passing around, and moving and screening when you can just run hard and get open right away? At least, that’s how I feel about Offense. The Fast Break is basketball at its best.  Its high energy, high scoring, and highly entertaining.  Players like it and spectators love it.  As a coach, I love it too.

I grew up in an era of slow down, control basketball.  No shot clocks, no 3-point shots, and “no hurry” was the basketball of my youth.  But when I first watched the great UCLA teams of John Wooden in the 1960s-70s, I was hooked for life.  Running, pressing, fast-paced basketball was exactly what I wanted to play and eventually coach.  The first basketball coaching book I ever bought was Blitz Basketball, by Bob Samaras.  It was the basis for my first years’ coaching philosophy – Press, Run, and play 10 to keep them fresh.  Phase 2 of my fast break education came when I worked for Ralph Miller at Oregon State University.  I learned a new way to fast break by sending the off-guard ahead and down the sideline instead of the traditional “run to the middle for a pass from the outlet guard.”  And I also learned Ralph’s Secondary Break, a three pass, sideline attack after an opponent’s  made basket.  I really liked the unique idea, at that time, of fast breaking on made or missed opponent’s shot attempts.  

My 3rd phase came about 16 years later when watching the great 1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels team of Jerry Tarkanian.  I was intrigued by the numbered break the Rebels used and I sought to learn all about it at Tark’s coaching clinic the next year.  Running assigned lanes seemed a logical and simple approach, but having a “Big” race down the middle was my favorite part of all.  The Rebels’ “Bigs” would sprint out after a defensive rebound by a teammate and often beat their slower defender down the court for an easy score.  When I saw the potential for my “Bigs” to get opportunities for open court dunks, I was sold immediately.  And running the exact same lanes for the break on a make or miss became a bonus for me too.

Phase 4 came 10 years later while watching the Kansas Jayhawks of Coach Roy Williams.  Their fast break was similar to the one I had learned from UNLV, but I was able to pick up two more important parts to my Running Game.  While present Stanford Head Coach, Jerod Haase, was an assistant to Coach Williams at both Kansas and UNC, I was fortunate enough to spend time with him at 5 different fall sessions.  I had liked the Secondary Offense that the Tar Heel and Jayhawk teams ran and had copied most of it by just watching those teams play over and over.  Meeting with Coach Haase confirmed that what I had picked up was pretty close to what they did.  But the new piece to the puzzle was the option Jerod taught me in the primary break and it made all the difference.  I often refer to it as “The Secret Move”, but Jerod basically just called it “Cross.”  

I always had the sideline break option from my days at Oregon State.  The middle, “over the top” second option came about from my UNLV experience.  Those always gave my point guard two possible fast break passing opportunities.  But the Cross gave us a third one and it turned out to be the most important.  If Cross didn’t lead to a quick layup, it almost always led into our Secondary Break (Early Offense).  This quick attack on the half court is very hard to defend because the pressure is on all five defenders to get back quickly and cover their assigned man.  The 3 – option fast break combined with the Secondary Offense gave my teams a chance to run almost anytime we gained possession.  Thus, our Set Offense was not needed very often, and I am always fine with that.

The final phase of development for my Fast Break was organizing my practices and drills so that the running game became habit.  I kept a couple of drills from Ralph Miller, some from Tarkanian, and a few more from Roy Williams.  Then I developed several breakdown drills on my own.  These drills all served fundamental purposes while forming good habits in my players for running our fast break system.  I grouped the drills into three sets to be rotated every three practices so that the players would have constant review, but not get bored doing the same thing every day.  

Over time, I found that the concepts, drills, and repetition were starting to make our Speed Game very effective.  But we lacked the energy to keep the pace, so I needed to add one more piece to the puzzle.  Consistency!  The question was: How could I get my players to play hard, run hard, and continue for a full game without getting too tired?  Should I run them in the fall and get them in Cross Country shape?  Should I take them in the gym and run them in suicides (liners) and sprints till they dropped?  Or was there a better way?  The answer is, I found a better way.

Players don’t like conditioning.  They hate suicides.  They didn’t sign up for Cross Country, they signed up for Basketball.  So I decided I needed to use basketball to get them into basketball shape.  If players are running with a basketball involved, they aren’t thinking about the running, they are thinking about playing basketball.  That makes it more fun and easier to accomplish the goal of playing at a fast pace all the time.  I limited my drills to short, five to 10 minute intervals, and following warm ups, drills were always done at game speed all the time.  Anything less than that became unacceptable.  

       I have several tricks I use to keep the pace up.  If energy lacks or the players seem to be wearing down, I usually stop the drill and say, “Are you tired?  If you THINK you are tired, guess what?  You are tired.”  The message is that you still have more to give, you just can’t allow yourself the excuse of thinking you are tired.  Eventually, the answer to my question “Are you tired?” becomes, “Nooooooo.”  And they mean it because they know they can give a better effort.  After a few more motivational words from me, the extended break now allows the players to get back into the desired pace once we continue the drill.  With that pause in the action,  I accomplished my goal : Brief rest, motivate, clear the mind, back at it hard.  Eventually the breaks become only the ones between drills and scheduled water breaks.  If you never allow a lazy practice, never accept less than full effort, then you will establish the habits needed to play basketball at a pace few other teams can duplicate. I believe in conditioning the mind as well as the body, but keeping everything basketball related is the key.  For me, that has become my secret to successful, fast-paced basketball.

If you are interested in how to teach the Numbered Break and the Secondary Break (Early Offense), or if you want to see some of the drills I use to teach all of these, check my book, You Can Run With Anyone   It is available in ebook and paperback through the link below.  You have plenty of time to build the good habits I talked about during preseason.  I can almost guarantee that you will eventually enjoy teaching the fast break as much as I do.



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