During my career as a high school basketball coach, I was fortunate to coach some outstanding players at Orono, Bangor and John Bapst.
In those years, my top players faced what many of the top girls and boys basketball players are facing today as big targets of opponents’ defenses.
It is very challenging for coaches to make adjustments against these defenses and for their teams to put up wins.
When playing teams with an outstanding player, there are usually just two options: Let the star get his points and shut off their teammates, or try to shut off the star and make their teammates beat you.
Usually a team will employ double or triple teams, box or diamond and ones, and triangle and twos. These are called junk defenses and are excellent strategies to force other players to beat you.
Post players are double or tripled teamed, and those who play facing the basket may also see junk defenses.
Here’s a look back at what we did to beat these defenses.
In 1992-93, John Bapst had an outstanding post player, 6-foot-11, 250-pound Ken Rassi, probably the last true Maine high school strictly back-to-the-basket post player.
At first, opponents mostly tried triple teaming him.
We didn’t have average 3-point shooting at John Bapst, so an offense was developed that had wide player spacing that forced teams to pay a price by giving up open jumpers and open layups for Rassi’s teammates when he was doubled or tripled teamed.
The offense was called “Rassi,” and its rule was that Rassi touched the ball once before John Bapst took a shot unless it was a layup. Break the rule, then a substitute would be waiting for you at the scorer’s table.
That team was 22-0 and the Class B state champs in 1993. Rassi averaged 17 points per game.
In the 1968-69 season, Orono had one of the most highly recruited Division I players in Maine basketball history: 6-7 Peter Gavett, a four-time high school All-American selection, who had a reach of a 7-2 player.
At the start of the season, Gavett was still playing forward and Orono was 5-0 at the Christmas break but not playing to its potential as Gavett faced double and triple teams. Gavett was moved to point guard, and Orono used the shuffle offense to free him and his teammates.
It worked for a 22-0 record and the Class B state title. Gavett averaged 22 points per game.
In the 1976-77 season, Bruce Withington was one of the purest shooters in Bangor history, was an above average player and lone returning starter. Bangor continually faced junk defenses.
He averaged 18 points per game because of the offenses Bangor ran such as screen-to-ball, ball-to-screen and then roll or loop. An effective one was called the “Sandwich Comeback” in which Withington was between a defender and another offensive player. Withington would get free via a screen from his teammate, leaving him or his teammate open. The offenses were designed to get him and his teammates high-percentage shots.
Bangor went 9-9, finished seventh and upset the second seed in the Eastern Maine Class A quarterfinals.
All three players were first team BDN All-Maine selections who sacrificed to make their teams and teammates better. There was no 3-point shot when Gavett and Withington played.
In all three situations, we were able to come up with special offenses to get good shots for the top players and their teammates.
Some coaches will have to do the same thing and find offenses for their top players to beat defenses if they expect to contend for championships.
Trivia question: What Maine high school’s boys basketball team has won Eastern Maine titles in all four classes?