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Controlled chaos

UNC's secondary break, your mail answered and more

Posted: Wednesday February 21, 2007 3:10PM; Updated: Wednesday February 21, 2007 4:28PM
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Roy Williams has brought the secondary break to a new level with his teams.
Roy Williams has brought the secondary break to a new level with his teams.
John W. McDonough/SI
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In 10 years at Sports Illustrated I've probably spent more time with North Carolina's Roy Williams than any other college basketball coach. I've profiled many of his players, once spent 10 days behind the scenes with his 2002 Kansas team, and wrote a long feature in 2003 about his internal struggle to decide if he should leave Lawrence for Chapel Hill.

But not until this week have I written in detail about the way Williams revved up Dean Smith's secondary break into what I consider the most lethal attacking threat in college basketball. The story in this week's Sports Illustrated is available on-line, but as usual, there were some cool B-sides that deserved inclusion here as well.

First off, what is the secondary break? If you watch basketball you've probably seen it for years without knowing all of the details. Here's the best way to define it (in case you don't want to check out the other article):

If UNC has a numerical edge and can score on a traditional fast-break, a.k.a. the primary break, then that's the first option after every make or miss by an opponent. If not, they'll launch into their secondary break, a term that many hoops fans have heard but only a few understand. "The secondary break is the phase between the primary break and a set offense," Williams explains. "It gives us a chance to keep attacking so that your guys have to pick up people they're not supposed to be guarding. You're back pedaling and trying to protect the goal, and now we're moving it around and setting screens before your defense can really get set."

Thanks to this story I've learned a lot more about the benefits of attacking un-set defenses. As I mentioned in last week's 'Bag, that also applies to situations such as the one in which a coach (like Bob Knight against Texas A&M last week) refuses to call time-out on a last-second trip downcourt after the opposing team has just tied or taken the lead.

Here are some other good secondary-break nuggets I found interesting:

• Balancing freedom and order is the eternal challenge facing both political theorists and basketball coaches. Considering that Williams calls his attack structured chaos, I asked him if he was giving up more control than most coaches or if he felt he was maintaining it.

"It's easier for me to allow them to do things that maybe coach Smith wouldn't do, but I can't be like Paul Westhead, who said he wanted a shot every seven seconds," Williams said. "Coaches sometimes struggle with freedom. But we practice structured chaos all the time, so to me there's much more structure than chaos. To John Daly his swing isn't uncomfortable because he does it all the time, even if it would be uncomfortable for somebody else to do it.

"I think I maintain [control]. I tell my players all the time, it's my job to give you an advantage and let you play. That's what I feel the break does for us. I give them an advantage and not just complete freedom, because with complete freedom I haven't helped them any."

How do the players see it? Control or freedom? Structure or chaos? "I think it's a little bit of both," says Tyler Hansbrough. "He's controlling us by saying he wants us to push it every time this way. But also when we push it you're going to have basketball moves in there. So it gives us a lot of freedom, but at the same time it's under control."

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