I sat down with Tim Cluess at Iona College this summer to pick his brain about their fast break.  Iona is one of the best offensive teams in the country every year, and Cluess has had dynamic fast-break offensive team everywhere he has been.  His thought process regarding up-tempo basketball is really interesting and well thought out.  He’s fully committed to playing fast and teaching it the right way, so that his offense is always putting pressure on the defense but also getting great looks.

One concept I found very interesting – and different – was the way they start the break.  Off of a miss, they teach the rebounder to take one dribble with the basketball before making an outlet pass.  Bigs, guards, it doesn’t matter who – the rebounder gets the rebound and puts it on the floor.  I know it sounds counter-productive to getting out on the fast break, but the reason they do it is actually because it makes your break quicker.  It makes everyone run harder, and gets everyone up the floor quicker.

The first idea is that you want to get your big guys moving.  When your center gets a rebound and hangs on to it looking for an outlet, he generally outlets the ball flat-footed.  The theory is that once he outlets the ball, he’s usually just going to stand there.  It’s going to take a lot to get him to start running and get up to full speed.  By taking the one dribble, he gets his feet moving up the floor so that he’s now running full speed when he gets rid of the ball.  Your break will now be more effective because everyone is running hard.

The second thing it does is get everyone else running up the floor.  It eliminates the guard coming back to the basketball or waiting for an outlet.  Once that big starts to dribble, everyone else is already running up the floor.  So if your point guard is in the habit of coming back to the basketball – and slowing down your break – he’s going to learn to start his feet moving forward and run up the floor.  By having your rebounder take one dribble up the floor, it makes sure everyone else is running as well.  It makes your entire break move faster.

I was certainly skeptical, and I’m sure a lot of coaches are thinking ‘My big guy can’t dribble, he’s just going to turn the ball over.’  We’ve been teaching it this year at Maine and I love it.  The issue with a turnover really isn’t whether or not your bigs can dribble the ball once – it’s making them aware of the feel they need for what is going on around them.  We tell our guys if they feel any kind of traffic, secure the ball first.  If they start to dribble with defenders all around them, they are going to turn it over.  So sometimes they do have to slow down to make sure they keep possession, before they start the break.  We have a couple of bigs who you would never want to dribble the ball up the floor to start a break, but it really hasn’t been an issue.  They just have to understand the area around them, and whether or not they have space to take that dribble.  But the number of turnovers we have is similar to the same amount we’d have on a regular outlet.  It happens, but it doesn’t happen more because we are starting with a dribble.

If you want your team to be faster, think about it.  Have your rebounders take a dribble before advancing the ball up the floor.  It’s a great way to get all 5 of your guys running hard, and therefore makes your break more dangerous.  And it’s something I would never think to teach.  But we’ve done it, and it works for us.  If you are committed to fast-break basketball it will make your team better.