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Fast and Furious

Unbeaten Memphis has climbed to No. 1 using the Dribble-Drive Motion offense, a relentless and innovative attack that's all the rage among teams at all levels, from high school to the pros

Posted: Tuesday February 12, 2008 12:10PM; Updated: Monday February 18, 2008 5:12PM
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Walberg devised the attack that Memphis has ridden to the top.
Walberg devised the attack that Memphis has ridden to the top.
Ric Tapia/Icon SMI
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When hoops historians look back on the 2007-08 college basketball season, they may conclude that its most significant moment came on an Indian summer evening in October '03. At the head of a heavy oak table in his Memphis steak house sat Tigers coach John Calipari, who has led teams to both the Final Four and the NBA playoffs. Next to him was an obscure junior college coach from Fresno named Vance Walberg. For six days Walberg had observed Calipari's practices, continuing an annual pilgrimage that had given him deeper insight into the work of two dozen elite college coaches, from Bob Knight to Dean Smith to Billy Donovan.

But now, after the appetizers and the porterhouses had been cleared from the table, Calipari asked Walberg something that no other coach had bothered to ask him. "So tell me, Vance," he said, "what do you run?"

Walberg laughed. "You don't want to know," he replied. "It's a little bit off-the-wall."

"No, really," Calipari said. "Show me."

And so, using a pepper shaker as the basket, white sugar packets as offensive players and pink Sweet'n Low packets as defenders, Walberg explained his quirky creation, a high-scoring scheme featuring four perimeter players and a host of innovations. Unlike Knight's classic motion offense (which is based on screens) or Pete Carril's Princeton-style offense (which is based on cuts), Walberg's attack was founded on dribble penetration. To Calipari, at least, it embodied two wholly unconventional notions. One, there were no screens, the better to create spacing for drives. Two, the post man ran to the weak side of the lane (instead of the ball side), leaving the ball handler an open driving path to the basket.

But there was plenty more. As Walberg pushed the packets through the phases of his offense, Calipari experienced a new kind of sugar rush. Walberg's scheme was madness. It was genius.

And it was unlike anything Calipari, an old-school motion and play-calling acolyte, had ever run. "The players are unleashed when they play this way," he says, "because every player has the green light to take his man on every play." When Calipari junked his playbook and switched to Walberg's offense, his mentors thought he had lost his mind. "You've won hundreds of games playing a certain way, and now you're going to change?" Hall of Famer Larry Brown asked him. "And it's a junior college coach from California? What are you, crazy?"

Now look. Through Sunday, Calipari's Tigers were 23-0, ranked No. 1 in the nation and aiming to become the first team to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated since UNLV in 1991. But Memphis is only the tip of the Walberg iceberg, a spreading mass of teams using the Dribble-Drive Motion offense -- Calipari's felicitous term -- at every level of the game.

In Jersey City legendary coach Bob Hurley, who adopted DDM two seasons ago, has taken St. Anthony (19-0) to No. 1 in USA Today's national high school rankings. Likewise, Omaha Central High has won the last two Nebraska Class A state championships while running DDM, and Grand Valley High in Parachute, Colo., rode the attack to last year's Class 2A state title.

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