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Run and gun: Area boys baskeball teams moving towards faster style of play

POSTED: November 22, 2007 5:04 a.m.
It isn’t exactly a revolution, but the style of basketball being played by the boys’ high school teams in Northeast Georgia is changing.

The number of teams running patient, half-court sets is decreasing. The number of teams running a fast-paced, full-court style is increasing.

Whether or not that change is for the better is up to the individual teams, but the coaches, players and fans embracing the shift seem to be enjoying it.

"The change has totally added a new life to our program at Dawson County and also given myself a new spark of energy," Tigers coach Thad Burgess said.

The style of play that has Burgess excited is most commonly described as controlled chaos.

Instead of working half-court sets on offense and defense, teams like Dawson County, East Hall, Johnson and Lakeview Academy are moving up and down the court at break-neck speeds.

On defense, full-court man-to-man press is the standard. On offense, long outlet passes, fast breaks and quick shots are the norm. The movement is fast and exhausting to play, coach and watch.

"I don’t consider myself a smart enough coach to do anything else," East Hall coach Joe Dix said. "The more easy baskets, the better."

Dix said he has been playing this style for most of his basketball career but really learned how to coach it as an assistant coach under Seth Vining, former East Hall coach and current Lakeview Academy coach.

Vining may not have created the style, but he certainly did his part to make it popular in the area.

After losing to the eventual state champions for four consecutive years with the Vikings, Vining decided he and his team needed a change.

"The way we were playing, the other team had the advantage because they were bigger and stronger," Vining said. "Size dominated the half-court sets. I decided to change things. We started pressing, pushing the ball up the floor, creating pressure."

The change worked. East Hall has not relinquished its title as a state powerhouse since.

Vining and Dix are directly responsible for the shift at Dawson County. A

fter seeing East Hall’s full-court style at a basketball camp at Myrtle Beach, S.C., Burgess picked Vining’s brain for hours while sitting on the beach.

"I knew it would give us our best chance in the region and maybe our only chance," Burgess said. "I took a chance."

Burgess added that anytime he has a question, he still calls Vining.

He saw the most dividends from the new style last year. The Tigers made the state playoffs for the first time in 30 years and went undefeated in the North subregion of Region 8-AA.

"It was a dream season," he said. "(The style) really caused problems (for opponents)."

The advantages of the pressure style of play are different for every team, but there are a few that most teams have in common.

The most notable is the effect it has on the opponent. It helps neutralize bigger and more talented players and forces teams to play in a manner they are not comfortable with.

"It gave us the opportunity to be competitive against any team," Vining said. "You can really wear teams down."

"I feel we have a chance every game," Burgess said. "It lessens the differences in talent levels."

Dix has his own favorite part of the play style.

"You get to play more kids," he said. "That is the biggest advantage. You can get more kids involved in the program."

More kids get playing time with this style because of the importance of depth. Coaches can play up to 15 players on a regular basis because of the need for lots of substitutions.

Basketball teams start to resemble hockey teams, rotating players in and out at a very fast pace.

"You have to learn to play faster," Vining said. "Players have to play harder for a shorter amount of time."

Dix said a team has to play at least eight to 10 players, but he is hoping to play 12 to 15 this season.

"If you can’t rest, you can’t win," he said.

The player that has the most responsibility in this style is the point guard. His duties go beyond setting up half-court plays and bringing the ball up the court.

Reaction is the key to his success.

"He’s the facilitator of this offense," Dix said. "He has to be playing at the highest level."

Like a quarterback running an option offense in football, the point guard has to quickly evaluate what his opponent is doing and make the right decision.

"A lot of players recognize what we need to do by what happens to the basketball," Vining said. "He has to have good basketball skills."

For the coaches, the hardest part of this style of play may be allowing change to occur both to the team and to the coach himself.

"We have evolved year after year," Vining said.

"You have to be willing to let go," Dix said. "You will want to be in control of every situation and you can’t be. At times, you want it to look organized."

Dix knows better than anyone else that this style will rarely look organized.

"It is organized confusion," he said.



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