Dean Smith’s first national title came with Michael Jordan hitting a shot late to put Carolina ahead. The second national title was also a one possession game. And then Chris Webber called timeout. Webber put together a borderline Hall of Fame NBA career and today I find him to be one of the more enjoyable broadcasters to listen to. Unfortunately for all he has accomplished, this is still the moment he is most remembered for.
Reading up on the play from Feinstein’s account in the book The Legend’s Club and watching it again on YouTube, there are a few things to learn from.
Know how many timeouts there are in a game.
I have been coaching for over a decade now. And exactly zero times I have had a player call timeout during a game. I consistently will preach that it is ok for them to call it on loose balls or traps to save possession late. When a trap or loose ball inevitably comes up, they just play through it as they had in the first quarter without the timeout.
Given this history, it is unlikely that one of my players will inadvertently call timeout. The same can be said in virtually any game I have seen at almost any level. Therefore, the person most likely to burn a timeout he or she does not have is a coach. That is why assistants need to communicate. At home games, the people doing the book should also communicate to the point of annoyance to the coach regarding time out situations.
Visualize the play in stopped situations.
Chris Webber did a tremendous job to block out, high point the ball, and rebound with two hands. There were 18 seconds left and his team trailed by two points. That is an eternity. After getting the rebound, Webber had a sense of urgency that the situation did not merit. Jalen Rose was the point guard on that team. Webber wanted to pass the ball to him, but hesitated with a Carolina defender lurking. In his indecision, Webber traveled. Unfortunately for Webber and Michigan, the call did not get made. He then proceeded to dribble down court to the corner where he traveled again before calling timeout.
Simply thinking about the action steps required after rebounding ahead of time could have prevented all of this. Rebound, outlet, and sprint up court. If the outlet proved difficult, waive Jalen to the ball and hand off to him.
Point guards should demand the ball.
If the offense is initiated by the point guard (some coaches give multiple players free reign), then the point guard should demand the ball. Jalen Rose hid and left Webber out to dry. Outlet passes are a fundamental skill taught all the way back to grade school. Rose was open for a moment, and Webber froze up. Rose still could have made it easier on his teammate by taking a hand off and initiating the offense himself. In the aftermath of this play, getting a technical for calling timeouts became known as “a Webber.” Jalen Rose also deserves a part of the blame, but he isn’t even taking a slice of the blame pie.
Make fundamental plays difficult.
In the sports culture, it is customary to create scapegoats when a mistake happens late. Too often this emphasis to humiliate ignores the work of those that caused the mistake. Watching this play now, the player that is an unsung hero is Carolina’s George Lynch.
Lynch first makes an emotional mistake by yelling at the official that Webber held him as the play is happening. From there though, he plays exceptionally smart defense. Many coaches (including Bentley Hall of Famer Barbara Stevens) advise their players to sprint back on any defensive board. In this instance, Lynch lingers around to stuff the outlet. In a normal situation it is probably bad defense, but because of the gravity of the situation it throws off Michigan’s offense. Making a basic play like an outlet when the game is at its climax difficult can cause players to react irrationally. That is exactly what happened.
After successfully denying Rose (and unofficially forcing a Webber travel), Lynch sprints back to help on Webber. Carolina was well known for the run and jump defense and if you freeze the video with 14 seconds, Lynch and teammate Derrick Phelps are in excellent position to trap Webber as he pushes the ball toward the sideline. That is exactly what happens.
Make the right play regardless of situation.
Chris Webber was undeniably the best player on that talented Michigan team. There are those coaches that argue he should be the one that takes the shot. And then there are those coaches that argue he should make the right play. I’m in the ladder group. At 14 seconds to go in the game, he has teammate Rob Pelinka wide open on the left wing as he is being pressured. He also gets doubled in the corner by a player that originally had Rose. As a result, Rose was trailing the play uncovered. Pelinka is a tremendous shooter and Rose is an eventual lottery pick. Either player had the ability to tie the game or give Michigan the national championship.