Fast Break Basketball Offense - Carolina Secondary Break

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The "Carolina Break" was developed by Dean Smith during his tenure at the University of North Carolina.

The fast break fills multiple roles. It serves as a quick-strike fast break, a transition secondary fast break, an early offense, and as an entry to his famed "passing game." It allows for a seamless transition from one phase of offense into another. There is no stopping to set up plays or reposition players.

It is a "numbered fastbreak." Players don't fight for spots. They have assigned lanes to fill and this allows the fast break to continue even if one of the players is slowed while getting up the court. It also allows players to fill positions where they would in their offense and accentuates the strengths of each player. It contains many of the same principles as Smith's "passing game" such as an emphasis on ball reversal and multiple high-low opportunities. There might seem to be a lot of options, and there are. However, each additional option is simply a logical progression in going to the next pass if the current pass does not present the opportunity that you want.

This is the predominant fast break being run today in college basketball. North Carolina, Kansas, Notre Dame are just a few of the teams that run this break.

1 is the point guard. He handles the ball. He tries to keep the ball out of the middle once he gets to midcourt. That allows the trailer a lane to run and tells them which side to run to.

2 is a shooter and runs the right wing

3 is a shooter and runs the left wing.

4 & 5 are trailers. The first trailer fills the ball-side block by going to the opposite elbow and then angle cuts to the block.

The second trailer runs in line with the Weakside elbow.


The 1st option is for 1 to "headman" the ball to 2 and 2 looks to score.

"Headmanning" is when the guard passes the ball ahead. It can be done once the player is in position or as they run up the court. If there is a good ballhandler ahead of the ball, the 1 man can pass it up as early as he can and the ball then is dribbled into position.

2nd option is, after the ball is passed to 2, he passes to the post trailer (5) as he fills the block.    mchale_lay_ups1 (1K)

3rd option, 2 passes to the high trailer (4).

5 ducks in

4 can either look to score or pass high low to the 5 man

4th option

1 passes to 2 in the corner

2 passes back to 1.

1 passes to 4 (high trailer).

4 can look to score

5 ducks in, 4 looks to pass high-low to 5

   mchale_lay_ups1 (1K)

5th option

High trailer cannot score or pass inside so he reverses to 3.

After ducking in, 5 continues his cut to the block.

3 can look to score

3 can also look to the block to 5   

6th option

After reversing the ball to 3

2 steps to the middle and then up to backscreen for 4

4 cuts off the backscreen.

3 looks for the lob pass to 4

After screening, 2 steps out.

If 3 has no shot, pass to the post, or lob to 4 opportunity, he passes back out to 2

7th option

5 ducks in

2 can look to score or looks high-low to 5

8th option

2 reverses the ball to 1.

1 looks low to 4

9th option

If there is no pass into the low post, 4 cross screens for 5.

1 looks into the low post for 5

2 downscreens for 4
   mchale_lay_ups1 (1K)

1 passes to 4 and players space out for motion offense.   


Here are a couple of wrinkles you can throw in for ball reversal.

1 makes a direct pass to the high trailer (4).
   mchale_lay_ups1 (1K)

1 then cuts and takes a handoff from 4   

As the handoff is made, 2 cuts middle and then up to backscreen for 4

4 cuts off the backscreen.

1 looks to pass to 4 on backdoor or lob.

The 2nd wrinkle is this

1 keeps his dribble alive

The high trailer (4) fills his spot and then ballscreens for 1.

1 dribbles off the ballscreen and 5 cuts to the opposite block

2 cuts in and the up to backscreen for 4

1 looks to 4 for backdoor or lob pass.

Related Pages & Helpful Resources

Transition Offense - Paul Westhead - Loyola Maramount
Attack Off of the Foul Shot - Foul Line Fast Break
How To Run The Basketball Fast Break Offense and Transition Offense - Philosophy, Offenses, Drills
Basketball Fast Break & Transition Drills - Full Court Drills
5 on 3 + 2 - Fast Break Drills

Want to learn how to build your fast break and transition offense step by step?

Don Kelbick's Transition Offense and the Four-Second Fast Break
This DVD shows you how to build your fast break and transition offense step-by-step, so you can easily teach it during practice. It will also show you how to seamlessly transition into your half court offense to keep the defense scrambling. As every great defensive coach will tell you, they play their best defense when they have their 5 players back. This DVD will show you how to take advantage of the defense when they're not set and currently in transition. It also includes many fast break and transition drills that build mentality, aggressiveness, decision-making, and basketball skills. This DVD is 110 minutes long and neatly organized ... (more info)

Do you have any questions or suggestions for this offensive play? Let us know by leaving your comments...


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Greg says:
9/25/2008 at 9:37:57 AM

Do the wings 2/3 stay down toward corner or up on the wings freethrow line extended. The diagrams looks as if they are in the corners and not on the wings. This is much like the one Roy runs at Carolina now.


Joe Haefner says:
9/25/2008 at 12:17:15 PM

Hi Greg,

They run to the corners, they don't stay in the corners. First, they stretch the court. The strongside wing eventually sets the backscreen for the high post. The weakside wing goes to the corner and then goes where necessary to effect the ball reversal. Then they go into the motion offense.

It should be like the break that Roy runs now. Roy Williams is a Carolina guy, he coaches at Carolina and was with Dean Smith when he developed it.


coach j says:
9/29/2008 at 12:45:05 AM

very nice transition drill


Karen says:
11/14/2008 at 9:17:51 AM

What should you do if the 1 has the ball on the left side of the floor?


Joe Haefner says:
11/14/2008 at 12:21:48 PM

If your point guard likes to bring the ball up the left side of the court, you could set your fast break with the opposite formation.

If not, just continue to play and let him read the defense.

If the defense is forcing him left, open up the middle of the court and let him dribble penetrate or just reverse the play to the opposite side.

IF the point guard beats the defense to the left a few times, the defense will bite on any moves to the left and then he can do a pull-back move and cross back over to the right to run the break on the right side.


Joe Haefner says:
11/14/2008 at 12:23:19 PM

Oh yeah. If nothing is there, you can have the point guard set up your half-court offense.


Ray Hawkins says:
11/19/2008 at 5:01:18 PM

seems to be a good play. i like the 1st wrinkle but what would you suggest doin if you have two bad shooters on the floor and you have a person who can shoot the three like crazy and be very accuratebut he can also dominate the paint what do you suggest i do with him??


Becky says:
12/4/2008 at 6:08:09 AM

I have been looking for this on paper. I ran it in my college days and it was successfull. Hope to implement it with my jv girls program.


Brandon says:
3/17/2009 at 3:31:06 PM

If the D gets back quickly in transition and sets up in a zone, is this fastbreak offense still as effective?


Zac says:
4/29/2009 at 9:08:38 AM

Is there an option where the point guard dribble enters to the wing? If so where does the wing go?


Joe Haefner says:
4/29/2009 at 9:28:39 AM

I don't see why not. You could have the wing replace the position where the point guard was and go from there.


KJ says:
9/5/2009 at 3:36:28 AM

Is it pre-determined that player 2 always goes right and player 3 always goes left? What happens if 2 and 3 are on the same side of the floor when the rebound is controlled?


Trent says:
10/24/2009 at 9:47:27 PM

We have run this for years...our wings know that when we get the ball and they happen to be on the same side they have two choices...(1) they need to talk and call out the side of the floor they are going to run to...first call gets his choice. (2) they can run the same side and first one down continues and cuts under the basket and comes out the other side to fill that position. Both have worked very well but it al depends on communication between the players


matt says:
10/30/2009 at 5:33:56 PM

joe, if the ball is passed to 3 at the corner and 4 is coming around to the left of the lane, how long does 5 hold his first block so to give 3 enough time to hit 4 on the pass underneith? matt


Don Kelbick says:
10/31/2009 at 11:39:50 AM


I am not sure what you mean by "4 coming around to the left of the lane." What part of the break are you in?

However, a lot of things are done by feel and communication. Players have to be aware of what the other players are doing. If 4 has a scoring opportunity in the lane, 5 should vacate immediately and vice versa.

If you are talking about ball reversal or entry to the 3, 5 should move with the ball.


Brockton Ahrens says:
4/22/2010 at 8:26:40 PM

First, I broke down film by roy williams since 1993 to learn and understand the secondary break and variations. The 2 and 3 lanes is not predetermine. First player who gets there has the lane and the other wing opposite. Second, the trailer in the diagram is incorrect. The four and five fight for the rebound and the first post down court runs to the front of the rim and the trailer to the top the key. Third, The ball is not thrown into the corner unless passed ahead or dribble there to flatten out the defense. The point simply swings the ball to the trailer if no advantage is in front of him. Fourth, if the point is ahead of the pack he simply pushes the ball to the corner and the other guards fills behind. The opposite wing comes to the foul line ready to v-cut and get open for ball reversal , only ball side flattens to baseline. I ran these secondary break as high school coach and enjoyed scoring plenty of easy baskets.


Joe Haefner says:
4/22/2010 at 8:55:55 PM

Hey Brockton,

Thanks for the input. Does Roy Williams run the same break as Dean Smith?


Will black says:
11/1/2010 at 6:53:23 PM

I'm number 3 what do I do when I get the ball what are my options.


Joe Haefner says:
11/2/2010 at 10:58:07 AM

Will, the players are numbered above. Check out the 3-man.


Rick says:
11/6/2010 at 5:59:19 AM

I'm also wondering about any wrinkles necessary when using this secondary against a 2-3 zone. I love this break and have had great success with it with my high school girls, but always against M2M.


Courtney Brooks says:
10/7/2011 at 12:19:01 PM

Can you run the Carolina break with a two guard front or do you know of any good secondary breaks which uses a two guard front.


Jason says:
10/18/2011 at 1:49:53 PM

I'm coaching third graders, what part of this offense could I simplify over the course of a few weeks?
Reduce the number of options maybe?


Jeff Haefner says:
10/18/2011 at 2:34:52 PM


I'll just be blunt and say that you should not run any part of this offense with third graders.

I believe the most important things for a youth coach to do are:
1) Make a positive impact by teaching character, integrity, confidence, positive thinking, teamwork, and helping them learn to love sports and basketball.
2) Develop players so they can reach their maximize their potential

If those are your goals and you truly want to help your young players, then teaching this offense will be MANY years from now.

Don't run set plays or try to get kids to memorize plays. You will spend HOURS and HOURS of time trying to get them to memorize and then they will still screw it up in games. Your time is SO much better spent on development things like -- teaching kids how to move properly, dribbling, passing, footwork, and fundamentals.

I would run a very simple motion offense that allows players some freedom, a very simple man to man defense, and spend 90% of your time in practice working on fundamental skills, athletic development, and having fun (fostering a love for the game).

Check out this link for youth coaching:

  1 person liked this.  

Chris Kirksey says:
10/8/2013 at 3:50:17 PM

Great description of both the Dean Smith and Roy Williams Carolina break. I'm a Carolina fan so I'm doubly excited I'm a former high school coach and currently coach 5th graders. Like the earlier comments I try to spend the majority of time working on fundamentals and less time on running plays. Keep it skill driven, competitive(a lot of one on one, etc) and fun. Chris K


Brian says:
12/26/2014 at 3:45:26 PM

Coming a little late to this party. Read the article, loved it. Read the comments, and there is some awesome insight there too.

A few things.

1) Roy Williams brought most of the Dean Smith system with him to Kansas and has kept it largely intact.

2) Saw a clinic video of Williams discussing his secondary break. After the corner comes up and sets the backscreen for the post trailer, they hit that screener with the pass.

4 then cross screens for 5 and ducks in. The 2 (or 3) hits either one off that movement.

3) Before 8th Grade, do not run anything that involves throwing a skip pass. The upper body of young people is not developed enough to throw this type of pass well. It will result in a wounded duck of a throw that is easy to at most intercept and at least recover and close out to.

Just my thoughts.

  1 reply  

Jil says:
4/28/2019 at 9:23:19 AM

A few plays that open up opportunities for kids to get the ball and shoot is important. I’ve watched many games lost on teams with no strategy. All the individual skill in the world won’t make up without some planned and coordinated movement on the court. The level of play has advanced at the youth level and we have to provide some strategy as well as skill if we want kids to be successful.


Sienna says:
5/13/2017 at 2:54:39 AM

That's really good and like creative!


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