3 Things We Can Learn From The "WILDCAT" Offense

Any of you who know me or have read my work, know I look at basketball differently than most. I am always looking at things in everyday life or in other sports and relating them to basketball to try and help me be a better teacher and coach.

I apologize to our readers who are unfamiliar with American football. Please try to understand the essence of these thoughts.

I hate to draw parallels from football. Football has become so technical that I think you can program "Rock-em-Sock-em" robots to play it. Jim Valvano, the late, great coach at Iona and North Carolina State, used to call football the "F" word and forbade anyone to say it in his presence. That's quite a statement when you consider he was the athletic director as well

Be that as it may, I think we all can learn from the Miami Dolphins. Here in Miami, the Wildcat offense is a star. For anyone not familiar with the "Wildcat," it is a formation and system of plays that has its roots back in offenses of the 1930's and 1940's. Those were the days of the single wing formation and quarterbacks were runners, not passers. After a recent game where the Dolphins beat my beloved Jets into submission with it, I was surprised to hear the comments from the Jets, calling it a "gimmick" and "it doesn't belong in the NFL." Well, they just beat the hell out of you; you had better learn to deal with it.

What can we, as basketball coaches, learn from the "Wildcat?"

  1. Play to your strengths

    Dolphin coach, Tony Sporano, decided to install the system because of the strengths and weaknesses of his team. They had a good offensive line, strong running backs, questionable quarterback and poor receivers.

    In Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, the Dolphins have 2 physical, punishing running backs. By using the "Wildcat's" system of direct snaps to the running back and mis-direction, they are able to get the ball directly to the strongest parts of their offense.

    I am always fielding questions such as "All my players are ok ballhandlers but I don't have anyone who handles well enough to be a point guard, what should I do?" To my knowledge, there is no rule that says you have to have a point guard. If you have 5 players who can handle the ball, let them. Another popular question is, "How can I get my post player to play with his back to the basket? He likes to face up and shoot it." Who says you have to play with a post player? If that's what he does well, let him do it.

    Play to your strengths, not to traditions.

  2. Be difficult to prepare for.

    Surely, the Dolphins have a good offensive line and great running backs, but the key to the "Wildcat's" success is that it is so much different than anyone else in the NFL, you have to devote a significant amount of time in your practice to prepare for it. The more time you spend on preparing for 1 specific situation, the less time you spend preparing for other things. The more time you spend preparing for your opponent's play, the less time you spend on your own team. That is not a good situation.

    A great example of that in basketball is the Princeton Offense. Only a few teams use it and if you play against a team that runs it well, you have to devote all your practice time preparing for it. If you don't, they will beat you to death with it. I have experience on both sides of that. I ran the Princeton Offense for several years and watched as teams struggled to defend it.

    I have coached teams that have played Princeton. None of our defensive rules were appropriate to defend what they show you so we had to change everything. They were not fun games.

  3. Don't be afraid to do what you think is best.

    When Dolphins coach, Tony Sporano, unveiled the "Wildcat," there was no one who did not think he was crazy. I live in Miami, I know what was said the first time he used it. He was a 1st year coach, his only head coaching experience was at University of New Haven and the Dolphins were coming off a 1-15 season.

    Immediately, everyone thought he was overmatched, under qualified and had no business being the head coach in the NFL. Well, after taking his team to the playoffs with the biggest record turn-around in NFL history, he was hailed as a genius.

    We cannot coach out of fear of what others might think. Trust yourself and your instincts. Don't coach in a particular manner just because that is the way you think you are supposed to coach.

    You don't have to go out of your way to be different, but you should not be afraid of it either.

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Let me know your thoughts...


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Tim says:
11/14/2009 at 11:53:56 AM

This article by Don Kelbrick is just what I needed to give me confidence to keep doing what I'm doing. I coach 8 year olds up to 16 year olds and never have I told them what position they will play at. I just coach them in the fundamentals and then introduce a few offences and defences. There is a tendency in the United Kingdom for kids and coaches to follow the NBL way of doing things and pigeon hole players because they are tall or are good ball handlers etc. I think it is better to develop them as an all round player who just happens to have a particular strength. So thanks for the boost.


Radds says:
11/13/2009 at 5:19:20 PM

I totally agree with the idea of bucking the tradition if it results in a better set up for your team. I started my U16 A grade side with the standard point and 45s guard set up but realised that we weren't able to get the ball safely to the 45s let alone attack the key.
So I changed the set up to point + man on free throw line + man on elbow... free throw man sets up a screen for the point, while the elbow cuts to the opposite 45.... now we're getting passes to the unguarded 45 for the easy attack, plus we have the bonus of an extra pass to the roll off the point screen. This means that we can attack from the 45 or attack from the top of the key... and the point is available for the quick cut and feed. Is far more effective and caters for the fact that we're short of gun dribblers.


Bernard says:
11/13/2009 at 10:20:19 AM

Coach Don Kelbick,

I apologise to you because my english stay poor but i agree with your advices. Thank you for all your are giving us. Bernard


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