Read and React Players Trump Athleticism: Here’s why!


November 4, 2014 by jimbobalouie

As Coach Ellis Johnson once remarked, “Be careful not to put the plays in front of the players. Make sure you put the players in front of the plays.”

Reading these Blog Posts you may have noticed a recurrent theme. Undeniably, this theme might feel like a little voice in your head, somewhat persistent and clear. The coaching challenges relating to athlete vs. complete player and individual vs. team play must be finding some traction with you by now.

This focus (Rant) revolves around a coaching emphasis Grumpy supports; a game where complete players, playing a complete game, making good decisions produce a five player game where balanced scoring and teamwork trumps pure athleticism and individualism. In this approach HEART and SMARTS are every bit as valuable as athleticism. This is why he fully endorses the READ and REACT style of TEAM basketball.

Grumpy believes, as Coach Chip Kelly suggests, “(That) the best teams win on Saturdays. Not the best individuals.”

Too often, Grumpy observes teams relying on the one-on-one, the two-man or the three man game. He observes teams running robotic sets on offense, where players are NOT required to think or make choices. He listens to coaches barking out commands to players who are seen as minions, none of whom the coach feels is capable of making “in-the-moment” decisions.

In a review of the Read and React basketball DVD set TONY ALFONSO had this to say, “The greatest aspect of The Read & React Offense that stands out to me, is the idea that it teaches players how to play the game (the basketball sense I mentioned above). Maybe it’s just me, but it seems as though there are more players today and those who simply don’t know how to play the game. While it’s true they may be more athletic and individually talented, the game is lacking in team play and offensive basketball understanding.”

In a nutshell Tony says, “In the Read & React Offense, you really only need to react to the basketball and base your decision on what the ball is doing and where it is going. Again, your decision is simply common basketball sense.”

Here in Canada under FIBA rules, particularly in CIS Men’s basketball, developing READ AND REACT oriented players should be the norm not an anomaly. The FIBA/CIS game demands that players become decision makers because the 24 second clock demands this.

In essence, READ AND REACT offenses rely heavily on HEART and more particularly on player SMARTS to be successful. Decision making is the key and seeing (reading) the floor is crucial.

Michigan’s Coach, John Beilein, had this to say about this style of play. “There are no plays being called. There’s a look and an action and you counter and you counter and you read and you react. We went with that almost exclusively tonight.” Later he went on to say, “We’re teaching that more and more than we ever have.”

Let’s take a look at offense. A good offense should have these components, should it not?

  1. Spacing so the offense can execute.
  2. Ball movement so a team can create quality shots.
  3. Player movement so the right players can take the right shots at the right time from the right places.



And, the engine that runs your offense should fit within the PLAYER CONTRIBUTION triangle displayed below. Acumen (SMARTS) being a key component. Let’s categorize acumen to include court sense, seeing the floor and knowing the game. It’s thinking on your feet. It’s playing the game.


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Unfortunately, teams that rely solely on physical skill and athleticism are giving up a big part of what a good offense should entail.

So what is Read and React basketball? How does it differ from the set-play or athlete centered approaches? Why does READ/REACT fit so well in terms of player contributions within your offense?

SIMPLY STATED: It is a system that has an offense that lets the players play! No robotic and easy-to-defend set pattern and no complex or difficult-to-implement movements!

James Gels (Coaches Clipboard) provides a nice summary as follows.

(BTW The Read and React offense was developed by Coach Rick Torbett

James Gels – Some General Concepts

Similar to, but different from motion offenses. In R&R, player with ball (“initiator”) has options to do multiple things. The other four players (“reactors”) read and react to what the guy with the ball does, and there is only one correct off-ball movement.

Very flexible… can use with almost any set… 3-2, 4-1, 5-out, 1-4 high, etc. Can be used in an up-tempo, quick attack offense, and in transition, or in a deliberate, slow offense. You can use it as your delay offense without changing anything… just tell players “lay-ups only”.

Can be used against both man-to-man and zone defenses… so you don’t need a separate zone offense.

You can run plays, but use the R&R rules once the play breaks down or fails.

Is a system taught in 17 layers”. You can start it out with your varsity, teach first few layers and gradually add the layers as the week’s progress. Makes you a better offensive team by tournament time. Varsity level players can progress through the layers more quickly given their skill level and maturity.

Makes your defense better by having to guard the R&R every day in practice.

Teach this offense by using R&R breakdown drills every practice, and 5-on-5.

In this approach, once the parameters are set, the coach allows his athletic players to develop and then apply their SMARTS, make decisions and play, which in turn is perfect for the player-centred FIBA style game.

The key is cooperation through reads and team play through reactions. Your point guard (even your 2), as an “initiator”, MUST have court sense and vision. Your “reactors” (2, 3, 4, 5) must read and react (MAKE SMART DECISIONS) regarding what the “initiator” (player with the ball) does. In every sense this approach is more about the “we” than the “me”. More importantly there is less emphasis on athleticism and more of an emphasis on “knowing the game” and “court sense”.

Yelling at players to “make” them enact better decisions WILL NOT WORK, Coach. It is counterintuitive. After all, your players may be relying on you to make most of those decisions anyway. They aren’t thinking, they’re listening to you blather on!

“Get in front of him, Bobby.”

“Pete, move back!”

“Cut to the ball, Tom!”

“Run Motion 2!”

“Geez, Steve, you ran the wrong way!”

“Kenny, Billy was wide open!”

Do you see Minions, anyone? You get the picture.

Inevitably, court acumen in Read- React basketball MUST be taught, practiced, trained and ingrained in players, using drills, breakdowns and shells. You can’t teach athleticism, Coach. But you can teach players to be smarter and know and see the game as it unfolds.

Now you have three tasks I’d like you to complete.

  1. Browse the WEB links below to get the full picture of the READ- REACT approach, along with instructions and drills. See what you think.
  2. Read the side bar below the links. This little rant outlines Grumpy’s analysis regarding recruiting, player development and coaching style as it relates to athleticism and read/react skill.
  3. Try the Mark Walton intelligence test on your team. You probably know it, but it makes such a good point, maybe it’s worth springing again.




Mike MacKay – Manager of Coach Education and Development (Basketball Canada) provides a great analysis with resources provided here. (PDF FILE) )





Grumpy’s greatest rant has been focused on the extremely athletic player who can play the individual game with dipsy-doodle pizazz, but has no sense for the game in terms of spacing, vision, court sense and particularly defence.

Grumpy sees coaches recruiting these players then trying to run with two or three of them. The result is usually highlight reel basketball with no defence and team losses that pile up. Good teams that play a “team game” eat these “all me” athletes for breakfast even though Mr. Razzle Dazzle might put up 15+ points a game. Amazingly, this athletic team can score 80+ points per game BUT STILL LOSE THE GAME!

Why does this happen?

Here’s the rather long, shortlist.

  1. These supremely athletic players could dominate in high school because of pure athleticism – physical gifts. Scoring was easy for them.
  2. They’ve never experienced tough defenders because their athleticism prevailed. Tough college defenses force them to make the kind of decisions they have never made before.
  3. In high school, because they could dominate a game and carry their team, they’ve never learned to play defence. Indeed, defence wasn’t at all important to them. Their coaches didn’t focus on their defence because they put up big numbers.
  4. Because their game is a “me game” individual attack was their first option in high school or REP ball. They have never looked for a second option. In that regard, they have never developed court vision, or court sense. Their game is intrinsic and not at all extrinsic. Myopic? Tunnel Vision?
  5. These players believe they are not selfish. They have the belief they do what they do for their “team”. The problem is they don’t know the difference between selfishness and selfless play.
  6. They can “think” their self-centred game but are incapable of thinking the “team” game. This shrinks the court for them. Many have severe tunnel vision.
  7. Because they’ve always had the “green light” in the high school game, playing systematic basketball is tough for them. Learning a structured offense is difficult for them. Their court discipline suffers greatly. They might even buck the coach.
  8. They’ve been highly recruited; apple polished by recruiting sites, exposure tournaments, Prep Programs, and raved about through social media to the point where they actually believe their own hype. Now a coach is faced with breaking down their bad habits and retooling them for the college game. The poor kid truly believes he has already conquered basketball and all that it entails. Good luck, Coach, the “street baller” syndrome is a difficult nut to crack.

Further to this, Grumpy recalls talking to a few NCAA recruiters and having them say, “Skilled athletic players are a dime a dozen down here. If you’re talking to players tell them we’re looking at their defence first. Become a lockdown defender and we’ll be even more interested.”

Would this be the complete player Grumpy is looking for: the kid that can score but also plays hard ass defence within a team oriented game? Could this be a basketball player with basketball acumen?

Grumpy also remembers Dave Smart’s frustration while trying to run college players through some drills at a coaching clinic at the University of Windsor. In Dave’s very frank assessment these players were “stupid” when it came to basketball sense. They had basketball skill but they no basketball acumen. He said when he brings new players into Carleton he has to break them down completely in order that he can build them back up and retool them into being SMART players who make good decisions on the floor.

Nevertheless, and despite his own rant, Grumpy keeps seeing college coaches throw out athletic/scorer dipsy doodle’ recruits who are myopic tunnel vision “me” players and absolutely poor defenders, just so they can put up points and keep the team in the game. In most instances this approach involves giving up a whole lot of defence. In Grumpy’s humble opinion this tactic will never find success at the college basketball level.

If you are a coach and want to overcome this trend then reread the following blogs. Grumpy is hoping to see a difference in these recruiting practices.


I observed this at the Walton Point Guard camp quite a few years ago. The white haired Walton grabbed a basketball and said to a skilled player, “I bet I can get this ball down to the end of the court before you can?”

The expression on the kids face said “game on” – his “read” was that this old coach in no way could move the ball as fast as him. He’d school old Mark – no problem.

Mark slowly bent down into an athletic stance and said, “On the count of three we go!”

The kid bent forward ready to pound the ball into the hardwood. His eyes were bright and his sinews taught. He was wound spring ready to be sprung.

“One . . . two . . . Three,” Mark counted down. Then, “GO!”

Well, that kid took off into a speed dribble that was as frantic and speedy as he could manage. He was pounding the ball and sprinting down the court at lightning speed.

But, old Mark just stood there like a statue – smiling. He threw a baseball pass that ricocheted off the end wall before that kid got three quarters the way down the court.

“I told you I get the ball to the end of the court before you,” he chuckled. “Just goes to show you that a pass is faster than a dribble – anytime, anywhere. Too bad you didn’t read that.”

And there, my friends, lays my most salient point. We need players that read and react and use smarts to make good decisions in basketball. And, THIS CAN BE COACHED if you want to put some time into it.








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