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The Ultimate Offense

by Ed Riley

I just gave you a chapter on basketball sense (Chapter 8). My point there is to teach yourself as a coach, and to teach your players, to understand the game. This isn't rocket science. You don't need a doctorate or a high dollar coach to point out that you throw a pass in font of a player who is running. In your next LS, start looking for the little common sense things that you can correct or adjust. You will be amazed at how many little things you will find, that can be extremely simple to improve on.

Common sense leads me to this chapter. This is about what I consider to be a common sense offense. This chapter's title could have gone either way. It could have read The Ultimate Failure. What I'm about ready to go into could go either way. This is an offense in theory only. I don't know that it has ever been taught, executed, and been successful. It's sort of like the speed of light deal. Many scientists have theorized, (how's that for a 50 cent word? OK, it's only a 10 cent word), what would happen to a human if they went faster than the speed of light. Just like we can only guess at the results, I can only put forward this idea about the ultimate offense without proof that it works. Only try this if you and your team meet these qualifications:

  1. You have to care more about teaching your team, than you do about winning today's game.
  2. Your team has to be extremely coachable, able to take constructive criticism.
  3. Both you and your team have to have a lot of patience.
  4. You must have unselfish team players.

OK, so you want to know a little bit more about it, huh? I call it Read and React Motion Offense. My friends are calling it Riley's Waterloo, and time will tell. The basic premise is too simple. No matter what defense a team uses, there will always be a second here or there where a weakness opens up. If a team, not an individual player but a whole team, can play with their heads up and have court vision, they can exploit those few seconds when the chink in the other teams armor opens up.

I know, I know! This is the goal of every offense, right? I've probably seen several hundred youth teams play, and I've never seen this yet. Most coaches go with a set or semi-set offense so it gives the players an idea of where to go and what to do. Kids like a routine. Yeah, they may kick and scream about it, but in the long run they like it better than chaos. Add this to the fact that most youth coaches aren't that knowledgeable, and you get set offenses.

Read and react is just the opposite of a set offense, there's nothing set about it. Stop, hold the presses. I know I defined court vision in my last book, but I can see some of you guys scratching your bald heads. I can see some of you women trying to look up it up in the last book. So here you go, court vision is keeping your head up and being able to see what is happening on the court, the whole court. And being able to do this every moment you are on the court. The moment a player dribbles with their head down, they lose their court vision. Think about it, when your forwards or centers touch the ball, don't you cringe because you know they are going to dribble with heads down and lose the ball? The opposite is the other team's point guard who can thread a pass to their open player. Now you have court vision.

Let me try again now. Read and React is like a chess game. It relies on every member of the team being able to have court vision and to see the best possible place for them to take advantage of the other team's defense.

The thought process works like this. Imagine you are a forward. You see a defensive player playing a tight defense on your teammate. You go to screen this player even though your teammate you're screening for doesn't have the ball. Your teammate sees you coming takes advantage of the screen and cuts to the basket. At the same time you make eye contact with your guard who does have the ball. They come driving to the basket, and you then set a screen for them. The first player you screened for yells for the ball. The player guarding you and the screaming player, both move to stop the driving guard and the forward yelling for the ball. This leaves you wide open. Your guard with the ball has court vision and passes it to you for an easy lay-up.

Now I can see some of you thinking that I just lost you. All it is, is a scenario where court vision and playing smart can work. I can see others of you thinking, "Man, that would make a great play that I could teach my team!" It doesn't work like that. If the forward you first screen for has a player that is not playing a tight defense, then there is probably a better play to make. Read and React is an offense where you continually have to ask yourself, "If I do this, what will happen? Is this a better move than that?" Again, it's like chess, you always have to think two steps ahead.

Read and React can be where you see there are no weaknesses in the defense, so you try to figure out what you can do to create a weakness. Your players have to be constantly viewing the court and thinking. Read and React is a combination of court vision and unselfish, smart basketball. Now if you can honestly say you have the right ingredients as a coach and your players have the right mind set, then read on McDuff.

Here's how to start this program. Your first goal is to get every one your team to be able to handle a basketball with their heads up. How?

PART ONE Dribbling Exercises

  1. Play Red Light - Green Light while dribbling one ball the length of the court using your hand motions as the stop and go. By using your hand signals, they have to keep their heads up to see what to do next. You keep watching and correcting when a head goes down. You may need someone to help you watch for the heads going down.
  2. Now do Red Light - Green Light while dribbling 2 balls
  3. Once they have Red Light down to a science, have them do it again using one tennis ball. When they master this, then go with dribbling two tennis balls. If every one of your kids can dribble two tennis balls with their heads up, you have the beginnings of something very special.
  4. To break up the monotony, throw in some suicides using the same basketball, tennis ball progression. To help make this fun for the kids, divide them into 2 or 3 teams of 3 or 4 and have them compete. The more drills you make competitive, the more fun everyone will have.
  5. Go to your high school football stadium and have them do the one and 2 ball dribbling up and down the stadium steps. This will provide you and them with a lot of laughs and frustration as they chase the balls down the steps.
  6. Do drills 1-4 every LS. Future and present coaches of the world, in order to get everyone on your team to be able to do this, it may take you a year or more. Still have the patience? All I have asked you to do is to teach your kids how to handle a basketball with their heads up. Every coach needs to teach this and every player needs to know it. So...I really haven't asked you to do anything strange or unusual yet. I haven't asked you to kiss your brother or sister, so you are still Otay, Panky!


  1. In Book 1, I gave you a passing drill called The Ring of Fire. This drill is great for learning how to make a quick pass, using your peripheral vision.
  2. Again, you should know the 3 Man Weave. This teaches you how to make a leading pass to a receiver.
  3. Tape a large "X" on a wall about 3.5' off of the floor. Have your players dribble by it and try to hit the X while they are moving. Have them do it from different angles, different speeds, and both bounce and in the air passes. Over time make your X smaller and smaller.
  4. Now we get original. Your team has school colors. Have 5 of your players with school color tops, they are offense. Why in the school colors? It gets your team used to recognizing a teammate quickly. Have another 5 players in white tops, they are defense. Have one kid with the ball facing away from the basket so they can't see behind them. Then arrange your other 9 players so that one is slightly open and the rest are totally defended. Once you arrange your players, no one moves. Next, tell the player with the ball to turn quickly and pass to the open player. This gets them used to looking for the best teammate to pass to. After every pass, explain to everyone why is was the right or the wrong pass to make, and why. Rotate ball handlers and positions for the other 9 players. Get them use to justifying why they chose player they passed to. This is the drill that could take you a solid year before anyone masters it, let alone all of them.
  5. Do drills 1-4 every LS.

Lets recap for a moment. Have I asked you to work on anything but the basics? Nope! The only hard thing about this is that you need to keep coming up with new ways to do the same thing to keep it from being boring. Use different incentives for the winners of the team competitions, and this will help.


This may be the easiest of the ingredients for Read and React. You have to have every player learn how to set a screen that seals. You don't want a screen that is easy to get through. You have to teach them to stay motionless once they set the screen, or else your player fouled the defense on a "moving screen." The only other portion to this, is that once the screen or pick occurs, then you teach the screener to roll to the basket looking for a pass or a rebound. They roll to the basket EVERY TIME THEY SET A SCREEN, not every time but.....they do it EVERY TIME.


Once you have everyone setting solid picks that seal, it's time to teach you a new drill, "Tag-You're Picked." You start off again, by having five offensive players in team colored tops and 5 more defensive players in white tops. Here's the drill.

  1. Arrange your ten players in the positions you want them to stand stationary in. No one moves!
  2. Hand the ball to any player. No one moves.
  3. Ask an offensive player, without the ball, to tell you where they should set a screen. It can be screening the ball handler, or away from the ball. Based on everyone's current position, who should they set a pick for?
  4. Then ask them to justify why they chose that person to screen. If they are right, praise them. If they are wrong, tell them who they should have chosen, and why. Make every player do the same thing based on their positioning.
  5. Now rearrange your players, and tell white they are on offense. Now repeat step 4.

Are you starting to understand why I said in the beginning, you and your players have to have patience and they have to want to learn? Is this for everyone? Hail no! But all you are really doing is making your players use their gray matter. You are asking them to think.

You will find a not-so-surprising tidbit when you do the Tag drill. Everyone wants to pick for the person with the ball. The reality is, that most of the time the best person to set a pick for will be a team mate without the ball.

What's the hardest part about this so far? Keeping your player's interest. Remember, they're kids, they came to learn maybe, but still to have fun. If you have an hour long LS, then do this drill for about 10 minutes of every LS. But you do it for ten minutes EVERY LS. Kids learn through repetition. After 5-10 LS's, you might start seeing a player make the correct choice in a game. When you see this occur in a game, bow down, face Mecca, throw some salt over your left shoulder, buy a Powerball ticket, and hit your local watering hole on the way home. Why? Because someone on your team just took their game to a new level. Libations will be allowed at that appropriate moment. You may even have earned the title of coach.


For you folks that actually have read enough of my ramblings to be able to say that you are getting to know me, then you know what's coming next. I HAVE BEEN TOO SERIOUS HERE FOR TOO LONG. I am a person who can stay with technical and serious thinks for only so long, before I need a break. I'll get back to Read and React in just a moment, but first I NEED to break my boredom. It's not that you are boring. I'm boring myself with trying to describe Read and React. If I'm bored, I know you have to be bored.

Sooooooo ....here's a lil story for you. I'm not a real proud individual. I don't have an ego the size of a Clinton, so I hope you can have as much fun hearing this story as I do recounting it. If you don't like graphic, gross stuff, skip the story and go on to Read and React.

In 7th grade I was 6'2," that's big for a beginning 7th grader. I can only imagine that my coach was foaming at the mouth when he saw me walk into tryouts. He was probably thinking that by 9th grade I would be 6'6" or more. I faked him out, I did, I did! I never grew another inch.

Anyway, we practiced and practiced until we finally had our first game. We were all so excited that we couldn't think of anything except for "when do I get to play?" By the luck of the genetic pool, I started. The other team had a big ole boy about my height and we kept battling each other for rebounds.

At half-time, we went into our locker room and the coach started yelling that we screwed up here, and there, and everywhere. We didn't care, we were playing our first game and life was good. At the end of his tirade, I hit the fountain like there was no tomorrow.

With water still dripping off of my chin, we started the second half. Did I tell you the other guy was big? OK, but did I tell you he was mean. We battled for position, we battled for rebounds, and we were at war. War for a 7th grader consists of pushing and shoving, elbowing and stepping on toes. Even as a 7th grader, he said things that I won't repeat in print. He was big, mean, and Mr. Nasty.

About 5 minutes into the game, one of my teammates put up a shot and I got the long distance rebound. I put the ball on the floor for one dribble, went up into the air for a lay-up, and then it happened.

When I said I went up into the air, it wasn't very high up because I didn't have much of a vertical. My bladder was about the same height as the elbow that Mr. Nasty threw at me. So guess where that fateful elbow fell? You got it, right smack dap in the middle of my Lake Erie.

I fell to the floor in pain. I had consumed so much water at the half, that I could have floated The Titanic. I was in such pain I couldn't hold it any longer, and Lake Erie gushed out, and I mean everywhere.

The ref never called a foul so the game was continuing. Both teams were fighting for my rebound. With the floor becoming a river of pee, everyone started slipping and sliding, and before you could say " Peter Piper Pee'd a Peck," (Pee'd a peck?), anyway, half of both teams slipped and fell. Where did they fall? Right into Lake Erie. Everyone on the floor got soaked someplace. Beside me lay Mr. Nasty, face down on the floor with one of his teammates laying across him, face down.

I told you before, there's a time to act, and a time to react. But every once in a lifetime, there's a time to do both. There was no more a perfect time to do both, than right then.

I jumped up and acted like I was smelling one of the real wet spots on my uniform. "God, this smells like pee! Did you pee in your pants?" I yelled as I pointed at Mr. Nasty.

That was all it took. Everyone was scrambling to get out of Lake Erie and that made it even worse. Even more players ended up in the Lake. By the time the smoke cleared, at least 8 players had fallen and all of them ready to choke Mr. Nasty.

I never knew Mr. Nasty, or even saw him again. I only know that I sequestered him away, and he became the original member of the Wetness Protection Program. One thing's for sure, I just proved I am not an overly proud or egotistical individual, because I just ratted on myself.

Let's get back to Read and React. You know how to teach them to look for the open player to pass to. You know how to teach them to look for the best mate to set a pick for. Do not implement the next part, until your team has drill #4 and Tag-You're Picked almost down to a science. If you try to go too fast, you'll be on step 8 when the rest of your team is only on step 3. That's not a Good thing!

Once your team is ready, then it's sort of like a cake, you have some ingredients, but now what do you do? NOW HERE'S THE REST OF THE STORY, OR HOW TO BAKE YOUR PIE!

WJE Passing Drill

Let's go back to red light-green light, only this time your whistle begins and ends all movement. Begin your baking process by explaining to your players that you know that they are going to make a lot of mistakes in the beginning. You also know that the longer they do this exercise, they fewer mistakes they are going to make.

Next, tell them they are going to play half court 5-on-5. Every time you blow the whistle they are to stop immediately and not move from that spot. Also, they are not allowed to screen for each other. You are simply looking for them to pass to the appropriate teammate.

The game starts and the first time someone makes a pass to the wrong player, blow the whistle. Of course they won't stop on a dime, so you may have to rearrange them back into the whistle-blowing position. Then ask the passer to justify why they picked that person to pass to. Afterwards, tell them who they should have passed to and why.

Coaches of the world, if you use a sour tone in your voice, this won't work. What you will have are a bunch of doe eyes, staring into the car headlights. They cannot think you are attacking them or making fun of them. They have to believe you are teaching them positively to become a better player and a better team.

Every time someone makes a bad pass, whistle, justify, and explain. WJE, pronounced woogee = whistle, justify, explain. By Jove, I do believe I just came up with a new saying, WJE! Gosh, I'm so dumb. I just realized how new sayings occur. When you get tired of writing something, you come up with a new, shorter way to say it. DUUHHHHH!!!

To get back on topic, make sure everyone gets a chance to pass the ball and then WJE them. I would do this for about 10 minutes and then reward them with a competitive drill with spoils for the victors. They need to have some fun, doing something fun for a while. Don't ever lose your team to total boredom. After they have gotten some of the boredom out of their system, you are ready for the next step.

WJE Picking Drill

Same red light-green light premise, only this time tell them you are looking for them to set the best picks possible. When they hear the whistle they stop dead in their tracks. Every time someone picks the wrong person to pick for, WJE. Again, I'd spend about 10 minutes per LS on this.

Want the end results on the WJE Drills? No results in the beginning, Rome was not built in a day. It may take you months and months before you see something. But....what is it you hope to see? Michael Jordan flying through the air? A flurry of 3 pointers made in a row? Don't think so, this isn't ESPN Sportscenter. What you will see is basketball in it's purest form. You will see passes to open players. You will see your team create holes in the other team's defense that were never there before. You will see unselfish TEAM BASKETBALL at it's best.

Another aspect of the beauty of Read and React, how do you defend an offense that is not defined? It never is played the same way twice, unless the opposing team keeps making the mistake over and over again. It's like the ole saying, "How do you catch the wind?"

So let me give you one more ingredient here, you have to teach your team how to shoot. All an offense is designed to do is provide an opportunity for an open shot. To win a game, you have to make a lot of your shots, more than the other team makes. If Read and React gives you a lot of open looks at the basket, then you have to be able to make some of them. If not, you have done all of this for nothing. How to improve your shooting will be a different chapter in this book.


I have tried to make this easy to understand, I hope I have succeeded. I am trying to let you integrate this into your LS's without taking up your whole LS. If you try this, you will need to devote about 20 minutes plus per LS. Have I gone into the everything concerning the Read and React? Nope! But anything more would make this more than just an excerpt. Just stay tuned and we will start posting the book here, and soon I hope.

Copyright by Ed Riley, Steve Jordan, Darrell Garrison and Steve MacKinney. All rights reserved

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