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Adams: College basketball teams should start running plays again

| Wednesday, April 17, 2019

It’s no secret that college basketball is in the one-and-done era, pioneered by current Kentucky head coach John Calipari (henceforth addressed as “Coach Cal”) and since adopted by some of the most prominent basketball powerhouses. It’s also no secret that the one-and-done era comes with its casualties, the most obvious of which is the widely-accepted fact that it is detrimental to the idea of these players being student-athletes rather than NBA players yet to be drafted. It is a system employed by the likes of Duke, North Carolina and Kansas.

However, one lesser addressed casualty of the one-and-done era is the fact teams with one-and-done players don’t run plays anymore. Sure, guys run around the court in a certain pattern and pass the ball in order to find an ideal shot. However, I wouldn’t deign to call the strategies these coaches employ “plays,” but rather “options,” to use football parlance. What’s more, I believe this has cost Coach Cal and other one-and-done coaches multiple championships (though I must restrict the discussion to UK because I don’t have as much experience watching other programs).

As a life-long Kentucky fan, I like Coach Cal. I think he is one of the best coaches in the country, when all factors are considered. No other coach is as charismatic as Coach Cal, and that allows him to consistently get highly rated recruiting classes, combined with the cache that a program like Kentucky holds. I also think he is a pretty good player developer, as he gets a lot of recruits pro-ready. Lastly, I admire that he takes a players-first approach because he wants to see them succeed and do right by them. However, what infuriates me more than anything about the man is his refusal to run plays.

Coach Cal only uses two of the options in his toolbox:

1. A wing starts under the basket and runs back and forth off of screens to try and get an open wing/baseline jump shot.

2. A horn set where the bigs screen on both sides for the ball handler, who then has to make something happen off the dribble.

But the worst of all is his inbounding play. Not plays, play. The whole of it is, ‘Throw it over the opposing tall guy to the tall guy on your team and hope the latter seals well enough to get it.’

After Kentucky’s season ended in an overtime loss to Auburn in the Elite Eight, Coach Cal said, “I tried just about everything, but I’ll probably find four, five things I should have done or tried.”

You’re right Coach Cal — you should’ve come up with four or five plays seven months prior and teach them to your players. Four or five, that’s all I’m asking for.

For true one-and-done coaches like Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, the need for plays isn’t necessary — you just don’t run plays with a guy like Zion Williamson. You give him the ball and let him dunk it. But Coach Cal doesn’t have Zion Williamson.

Assuming the one-and-done era started in 2008, when Coach Cal had a Derrick Rose-led Memphis team that lost in the championship game to Kansas, there have been two teams hinging on one-and-done talent that won the national championship (2012 Kentucky, 2015 Duke). That’s 2/11 — or 18.2%. That may not seem like a terrible percentage, but consider these are the premier programs in the country, and they are ceding championships to the likes of UConn (twice), Villanova (twice) and a Virginia team that just over a year ago became the only one seed to ever lose to a 16-seed in the first round.

Would calling plays have changed the outcome in any of those years? Possibly not, but we’ll never know, and that’s the point. What is wrong with having a specific shot in mind for a specific player on a specific team? These coaches may want these players to develop a good one-on-one skill set for the NBA, but what’s wrong with confusing the defense to make it a little easier on them? They already have enough pressure on them as college kids for you to just tell them to make something happen. So please, for the love of God (and Kentucky fans everywhere), run a play, Coach Cal.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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