Fast and Furious (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday February 12, 2008 12:10PM; Updated: Monday February 18, 2008 5:12PM
In California's Central Valley, where Walberg, 51, coached for 13 seasons at Clovis West High and four at Fresno City College, his high-pressure offense and defense have changed the way an entire region plays basketball. "It totally blew up here," says Fresno Central High coach Loren LeBeau, one of Walberg's former assistants. "We're in the top league in Fresno, and four of the six teams are running this style." Under coach Tom Gonsalves, the girls' team at St. Mary's High in Stockton has gone 25-0 and risen to No. 9 in the nation using DDM. Another practitioner, coach Jeff Klein at Chaffey Community College in Rancho Cucamonga, describes the system this way: "It's almost like Vance invented a new language."
The Denver Nuggets are running elements of DDM, and so are the Boston Celtics. "[Calipari] and I fax each other," says Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Meanwhile, one vocal DDM skeptic has changed his mind. "If I were fortunate enough to get back into coaching, I'd seek Vance's help in a minute," says Brown, who joined Calipari and Walberg last September at a clinic in Mississippi attended by more than 400 high school coaches. "When I was coaching UCLA, everybody ran the high-post offense and the 2-2-1 press because of Coach [John] Wooden. He won 10 national titles, so you could understand that. But to see all these people who are incorporating what Vance does is mind-boggling."
It's enough to make you wonder: Who the hell is Vance Walberg? How is his offense spreading around the nation? And if his brainchild is the hottest thing in U.S. basketball, why is he out of a job?
Where do innovators come from? An original idea -- the new new thing -- can be sparked anywhere, but the majority of college basketball's greatest innovators share a common trajectory: Unlike most of today's top coaches, who rose through the college ranks as assistants, they became head coaches early, often in anonymous hoops outposts. Carril was 24 when he became the jayvee coach at Easton (Pa.) High, the same age Knight was when he took over his first team, Army. Two of today's most respected innovators are Wisconsin's Bo Ryan, exponent of the Swing offense, who became the coach at Sun Valley High in Aston, Pa., at 26, and Michigan's John Beilein, who won the top job at Newfane (N.Y.) Central High at 22 and later came up with the Five-Out offense.
No matter how obscure the team, "when you're a head coach you get to tinkering with what you want," says Walberg, who was 22 when he took over at Mountain View (Calif.) High. As a high school grinder over the years -- he even coached badminton at one point -- Walberg dabbled in variations of the flex offense and Knight's motion, among other schemes, but his real break came in 1997, when he had his Clovis West team use a cutting-edge "four-out" offense (i.e., four perimeter players) of the kind now favored by Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus.
"It was pure luck," Walberg says, despite all evidence to the contrary. His best player, a heady, relentless point guard named Chris Hernandez (who would later star at Stanford), was such a skilled dribble-penetrator that Walberg moved his post man to the weakside block, clearing two bodies from Hernandez's path to the basket. When Hernandez broke down his defender he had several options: 1) shoot an open layup, 2) pass to the post man (if his defender left him to stop Hernandez), or 3) kick the ball out to an open teammate on the perimeter (if his defender had sagged to help out on Hernandez). The open player could shoot a three-pointer, but if one wasn't available, the team would attack again.
Because there were no screens and attackers were spaced so far apart, the formation opened yawning gaps for penetrators, as long as they had the talent to beat their defenders and the smarts to read defenses on the fly. "I wish I had chosen a fancier name than AASAA, but I wanted kids to understand that it was attack-attack-skip-attack-attack," says Walberg. "What am I trying to say? Get to the rim. It's basically here we come." All of Walberg's teams hear the same slogan (we like three-pointers, but we love layups), and shot charts reveal that the teams take almost no midrange jumpers.