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?
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
"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.
invention shares some elements with European-style drive-and-kick formations
and the fast-paced spread offense of Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni, parts of
which are being used by Duke, Texas and UMass. But Walberg is sui generis.
Since '97 he has added myriad phases, wrinkles and—perhaps most important—an
elaborate set of competitive practice drills (with names such as Blood,
Cardinal and Scramble) that hone the fundamentals necessary for the offense.
"Have you seen Vance at practice? Oh, man," says Brown. "His drills
are all building blocks to his offense and defense, which is the key to
In fact, Calipari
says he now does far more coaching in practice than during games, when he used
to bark out play calls nearly every trip down the court. "The biggest
strength of this offense," Walberg says, "is I feel we're teaching kids
how to play basketball instead of how to run plays."
tailor-made for today's high school and college teams, which favor speed in the
absence of classic back-to-the-basket big men, but it isn't for everyone. It
requires quick, smart and talented guards who have a feel for the game. (See:
Memphis point guard Derrick Rose.) It requires agile big men who can shoot from
the perimeter and race downcourt. It requires deep benches and three-point
shooters who can punish sagging man-to-man defenses and the inevitable zones.
Not least, it requires complete commitment from coaches, who have to give up
the control that comes with offensive play-calling and conventional half-court
Indeed, Walberg is
so committed that he might need to be committed. He's still disappointed that
Memphis's swarming defense—the nation's best, holding opponents to 0.83 points
per possession—hasn't adopted his gambling full-court press, which Walberg's
California converts contend is even more Promethean than his offense.
"Vance believes so much in what he does," says Brown, a disciple of
Dean Smith and Henry Iba. "The first time I met him we were talking about
defensive principles, and everything I said, he'd say, 'No, no, no, you can't
do it that way.' I'd say, 'Well, Coach Smith and Mr. Iba taught me this.' And
he'd still say, 'No, no, no.' Is he not a character?"