Transition Basketball Philosophy at Bentley University

The Bentley Falcons women’s basketball program has been to 33 Division II tournaments – more than any other team in the country. I reached out to the coaching staff and Associate Head Coach C White was kind enough to show me around the Bentley facilities and sit with me for over an hour to discuss X’s and O’s.

Coach White has a pretty impressive track record to her credit going back to when she played for Head Coach Barbara Stevens and scored over 1,000 points. She has been on staff for four runs to the Elite Eight and has recruited five of the top fifteen scorers in their programs history. Joining us at points in the conversation were Bentley’s assistant coach Christiana Bakolas and graduate assistant Emilie Cloutier.

The track records and bio pages of all the coaches were impressive, but it did not cover why the Bentley program was getting the results that it has been getting. That’s what I wanted to learn a little bit more about. In a little over an hour and a half, we discussed topics ranging from pivot foots and communication. None of the coaches even mentioned a synonym for Final Four, tournament, or win. I came away from the sit down with a great appreciation for the passion that the coaches in the Bentley program have for what they do when the bright lights are off. It’s easy to get up for big postseason games, but everything from their practice routine to the eight hours of off-season structured time (two hours on the court and six hours of conditioning) impressed me that this program is focused on issues beyond results.

This is the first of two posts about the Falcons – in this one I highlight their offensive and defensive transition philosophies.

Offensive Rebounds & Defensive Transition

Bentley plays two back on offensive rebounds. The two players are typically the point guard and the 2, but sometimes the 3 needs to be the person getting back if the 1 or the 2 is making a play at the rim. For the two players getting back, Coach C stressed each detail within the five seconds or less that these players are getting back. It starts with turning and sprinting for two to three strides. The next step is for the players to locate the ball on their inside shoulder so that they can react to a potential deep outlet pass and begin to anticipate the counterattack. Next, the two guards back peddle into their initial defensive position and point to their responsibilities (which will fluctuate by the nature of transition basketball). Finally, as their teammates join them back on defense, their job is to load up to the ball. Coach White emphasized that they used the phrase load up to the ball instead of “basket line” or “rim line” because that terminology stuck better with the players. Rim line helped them recognize their position, but it did not necessarily help them understand their role on the play.

The responsibility of the 4 and 5 is to crash for the offensive rebound hard, but if they are unsuccessful, it is imperative that they sprint back. The coaches are strict with not allowing the four and five to hang around to stuff the outlet pass. Coach White said that if they are hanging around it is an indication of fatigue, and that player should come out of the game.

The offensive rebounding and transition defensive philosophy of the Falcons is game plan specific at times. If their opponent is focused on running in transition, they have told the 3 to also get back and be part of a three back defense. Additionally, if the opponent runs well out of foul shots they will not send anyone into the lane to rebound and have everyone but the shooter back on defense. They could even make a substitution after a made free throw to slow down a potential break.


Offensive Transition

The topic that I will personally take the most from in meeting with the Bentley coaches was what they do with transition offense. The simplicity of the way in which they explained what they did made me believe it can easily be transferred to the high school game, but playing it out in my mind is always easier than playing it out on the floor. Even if these concepts are initially difficult for players to wrap their heads around, Bentley took pride in doing some version of this everyday so that it has become ingrained with their players, and the same can transfer to the high school game or even younger levels if practices happen frequently enough.

They run a drill in which 32 seconds is put on the clock and there are several rules that are incorporated as part of their natural transition offense. First, all five players should get a look on five different trips up and down the floor. It begins with five players in the paint and the coach losing the ball to the point guard via some type of steal or loose ball that the point guard converts into a lay-up. The second rule is that all five players need to sprint down court even though they may recognize that they are not in a certain play. Third, after each made basket, the 4 always has to take it out of bounds (keep the inbounder consistent throughout the entirety of the drill) and outlet to the 1. If the basket is missed, the outlet happens as if it were a defensive rebound. Fourth, the 2 and 3 must stay wide on opposite ends of each other. After each trip, they will crisscross each other so that one player is consistently on the right hand side and the other remains consistently on the left hand side. These two players need to stay out of the lane because of the fifth rule which calls for either the 4 or the 5 to run the lane with one of those two players winding up as the trailer. In this case, the 4 is the trailer since she is the one taking it out. And sixth, as with most everything that Bentley or any good team will need to do, Coach Bakolas stressed the importance of communication because Coach Stevens will only tell the players what they are doing once. Here is the progression of the five trips:

  1. Point guard goes coast to coast for a lay up.
  2. Point guard goes to the 2 for the player’s option of a rip and drive or a catch and shoot.
  3. Point guard goes cross-court to the 3 for a lay up. Opposite wing can cut to the rim providing that they began the play wide. If a team is not back on defense, this player is justified in going to the rim for a lay-up. The goal is for the point to hit them in stride aiming for the corner of the backboard so no dribble is needed.
  4. Point guard goes to five.
  5. Point guard goes to trailer for catch and shoot.

This is only a drill to teach the beginning of their transition options, but I really like it for teaching players how to run their lanes and I love the challenge of trying to score five hoops in a small window of time to reinforce sprinting and recognizing that a pass is more powerful than a dribble in transition. Bentley also does some actions where Coach Stevens will say 1 to 2 to 5 or 1 to 4 to 5 on a half-reversal once they have gone through the 32 second progression.

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