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Kentucky Basketball: What do Urban Meyer and John Calipari Have in Common?

The answer to the lede is, "An offensive system which recruits for itself," namely, the Spread Option and the Dribble Drive Motion offense.

If you think about it, it's amazing how much the Dribble Drive Motion offense has in common with the Spread Option offense in football.  Of course, comparing two different sports is always dangerous because ... well, they're different sports.  But I think a comparison between the DDM and Spread Option is interesting for the number of things that they would appear to have in common, if only very, very generally.  To wit:

  • Both offenses isolate players in space, giving the advantage to teams with superior athletic skills -- the idea of the Spread Option is to get the ball to fast, dynamic offensive players with a "bubble" of room around them to elude tacklers.  The more athletic the offensive player and the bigger the bubble, the more yardage the play is likely to gain.

    That's similar to the philosophy of the DDM.  The DDM spreads the floor to force defenders far enough apart to create driving lanes, (space) to allow the more athletic player to use his athletic skill to take the defender off the dribble.  This provides the same isolation benefits as the Spread Option attack.

  • Both offenses are option offenses -- in the Spread, the quarterback has several options in most sets, and reads the defense to determine which option to employ -- the QB keeper, the pitch-out, the shuffle-pass, or a regular pass.

    The DDM is similar.  The initiator's first and most desirable option is to take the ball to the hole for a layup.  After that, the second most desirable option is to dump the ball inside to an uncovered big man stationed on the weak side.  The third option is a pass or skip-pass to an uncovered player beyond the 3-point arc for an open shot.  Finally, if none of the above are available, the offense is reset and run again.

  • Both offenses draw the best recruits from high school like flies to honey -- Offensive players moving from high school to college love the Spread Option offense, as it allows them to showcase their offensive skills and exploit their athletic advantage over the defense.  The only exception to this is sometimes the quarterbacks, and that is largely due to the fact that very few NFL teams utilize the spread option to any degree, and unless you are an exceptional talent like Tim Tebow, it can get you labeled as a "system" player and hurt your draft chances.

    The DDM is very similar to the kind of offense that elite high school players run in the AAU, and coming from AAU ball to a DDM offense is very comfortable for most players, particularly guards.  On the other hand, power players will not like the DDM as well, as it requires less of the power game and more ballhandling, something that bigger players are neither used to, nor will see much at the next level.  So just as with the spread, the "sell" to bigger players can be a bit more difficult than to a guard or wing player.

    But when it comes to moving to the next level, the "one on one" aspect of the DDM is one of the better systems for preparing a player for the NBA.

More after the jump.

If you look at the big Spread Option coaches, like Urban Meyer and Rich Rodriguez, you will see that these guys are able to recruit the cream of the crop of athletic talent every year for their scheme.  Of course, it isn't just the offense, it is also the success these guys have had running it, the number of players they have put into the NFL, and the overall excellence of the program that attracts recruits.  Still, a large part of it is a system that is friendly to the player and fits the way they want to play the game.

The very same is true of the DDM.  Most AAU players, particularly guards and wings, that play in the elite levels of the AAU will find the DDM to be very friendly to their eye and game as it exists today.  Of course, that doesn't mean that AAU players can just come right in and land a starting spot.  They still have to learn to play defense, as defense is something that the AAU simply doesn't teach at any level, and it shows.  This Wall Street Journal article of about a month back clearly illustrates, with quotes from such AAU luminaries as Michael Beasley and Brandon Jennings, exactly why AAU ball is very poor preparation for the well-rounded player.

Of course in football, there is no direct analogue to the defensive aspect of the game.  Offensive players play offense, and defensive players play defense.  The days of iron-man football have long since passed into history, and what we are left with is a highly specialized game where only a very few special players can actually play multiple positions effectively.  Basketball still requires that the five guys on the floor at any one time both put the ball in the basket and stop the other team from doing so.

In summary, the DDM and Spread Option look very similar in many aspects, not the least of which (and perhaps, the most important of which) are the ease with which the coaches who successfully implement them can repeatedly sign the most athletically skilled players available.  For Meyer, Calipari and Rodriguez, their style is what drives their recruiting success, more so even than the schools that they serve.  And of course, the better your players, the better your team.  That is a truism that will simply never be otherwise.