MIT Coach Sonia Raman on the Dribble Drive

MIT Coach Sonia Raman spoke about the dribble drive offense at last month’s Coach’s Classroom at Merrimack College. She immediately cited Vance Walberg who is credited for creating this scheme while working with John Calipari at Memphis. And while she reviewed the rules and principles of individuals within the offense, there were three bigger picture takeaways that helped me get a better picture of what running this offense would mean for me. Those three things: What type of team should put this offense in, what should a coach expect in terms of a learning curve, and the tradeoffs of running the offense.

Why the Dribble Drive?

One thing Coach Raman went back to again and again was that her team had shooters this past season. Since the offense requires four players to start outside the three-point arch, teams can overcommit to helping the drive if players are not capable of hitting shots from the outside. The converse of this is also true though, so if players hit outside shots, there are opportunities for one on one drives.

MIT also lacked size and back to the basket post play. The offense does not exactly rule out post play, but it is not a primary function of it either.

Finally, Coach Raman also believes that it merged the secondary break and the half-court offense seamlessly. This was something that I had not considered after seeing the Wahlberg video, but it is true of how most transition offenses are run. There are two wings running wide, a post running to the block, a point with the ball, and a trailer opposite the point.

What to Expect in Implementing the Dribble Drive

Coach Raman listed the University of Chicago women’s team as a resource in addition to Vance Wahlberg in her decision to implement the dribble drive. The University of Chicago coach warned Raman that the offense would look terrible at first, and that warning proved to be prophetic. Having this expectation helped Coach Raman stick with the offense in the early going and it will be something that I consider in trying to use this offense in the future.

Watching the Merrimack team try to run it for a first time validated Coach Raman’s point. The players were caught wasting dribbles. At one point there was a sequence in which Coach Raman asked for an early drag and skip pass. The players were able to make it work. Next Coach Raman added just one more layer onto this by asking the players to do an early drag, skip pass, and baseline draft. At first a player did not know where to go. Then they started over and the timing was off. It took several tries before it finally came out the way it should. And this was against no defense. I could not blame the players. I have seen Wahlberg’s video and also seen some highlights of Memphis in their title run against Kansas. I was trying to picture what the players should be doing and I was slow to react.

The offense is a little complex at first, but again that was something that Coach Raman knew and was willing to deal with. Like anything, a team would have to commit to this and build on it just about everyday.

The Benefits of the Dribble Drive

This offense is really just good basketball. Players might make mistakes in terms of reading a backdoor cut, forgetting to lift up from the corner at certain times, etc. but the initial spacing alone helps hide these growing pains. The offense is not a set play – it’s a read. Players might have to think on the court, but they will not be robotic because of the varying options that are available to everyone. And from the perspective of an opposing coach, this makes it difficult to scout because you truly do not know where the ball might go next.

Another benefit to this offense is that the hand check and arm bar rules, which have recently been a higher point of emphasis for officials to call, give defenders something extra to worry about. Considering that help might not come off the ball with a shooter available or the threat of a backdoor cut always looming, on ball defenders are being put in tough spots when the offense knows where she’s going and the defense has to react.

Posts can be very effective in this offense. The job is essentially to make lay-ups – although there are certainly bonus points for posts that can pass and have good footwork to seal off defenders.

The Cons of the Dribble Drive Offense

Coach Raman said that they utilized this offense because they had shooters, but without shooters it is a tough offense to run. Then again, so is pretty much any offense.

She also touched upon the fact that this can resemble streetball if it is not run well. One player going one on one and told to get to the rim against another player does resemble that. I could definitely foresee players forcing up fading shots driving to the rim with 22 seconds on the shot clock, but that is where coaching must intervene.

There is also a part of this offense that forces the coach to relinquish control. The player that ultimately takes the shot is unknown at the outset of the play. If there is one player that should be getting more touches or shoots at a higher percentage than the rest of the team, it might be useful to also have sets built in or certain calls that are sure to get the best player involved. Of course this will also require time of your players.

Another deficiency of this offense is that it is difficult to run against zones. Coach LeBlanc from Merrimack spoke to this point in asking Coach Raman a question at the end of her presentation. I happen to agree because there really is no action that takes place in the high post and almost every effective zone offense I’ve seen relies on the high post. Last season at the high school level, my team saw more zone than man defense.

Takeaways

After seeing the Walberg video, I was excited to put the dribble drive in with the team this season. Coach Raman’s perspective and experience with the initial struggles her team had has caused me to pause and reflect on the approach to teaching the dribble drive. It is essential that the players know it will take time and that they are allowed to make mistakes. If we create an expectation that the offense will get immediate results the players might never buy in. I also will carefully consider how time is budgeted. We might mix up the drag zone and the rack zone, but there still needs to be emphasis on all other components of an early season practice – conditioning, transition, defensive concepts, etc. All in all though even with the flaws and the learning curve I like what this offense brings in terms of putting pressure on an offense to closeout and be responsible for guarding all five players.

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