Georgetown’s big men thrive on the system’s simplicity

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Last Friday, I wrote a column over at SI.com about the Georgetown Hoyas and how John Thompson III is continuing the school’s tradition of producing big men, only his bigs are of a much different ilk than those of his father.

Big John is known for churning out all-star centers that thrive on their size, length and athleticism — Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutumbo, Alonzo Mourning. JT III’s big men are more versatile, using their advanced skill sets and decision-making ability to make up for the lack of freakish athleticism. Think Greg Monroe, Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green.

I talked with the younger Thompson about this, about why his program churns out such a different style of big man. His answer? He forces his big men “to make reads”.

“It’s all about making reads as much as it is learning a specific play,” he said. “When you’re playing with a 24 second shot clock, the guy that will succeed is the guy that makes smart decisions more so than the guy running plays out of a set. At that point, you have to put a premium on playing together and making reads — being able to read the defense, being able to read how you’re being played, being able to read how your teammates are being played. That’s something that we put a premium on from the time they first start here.”

The most fascinating part of the conversation was how simple he considered his offense.

So much is made of the system that Georgetown employs, but at the end of the day, their offense actually lacks structure. Hoya players are drilled, from the second that he step foot on campus, how to read certain situations and what to do when a defense plays a certain way. The most difficult part, according to Thompson, is breaking players out of the thinking that every play has to be diagrammed for them. Simply put, he teaches them how to play basketball, regardless of what position they play.

In his words, he gives them “the ability to just be a basketball player is something that we stress. Don’t be a position.”

At the end of the day, Thompson’s offense relies on simplicity. And as Spencer Hall of EDSBS lays out, in sports, simplicity kills:

At the highest levels of sport, simplicity kills. The San Antonio Spurs’ playbook is one of the more old school you will find in the NBA. Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in the Champions’ League Final not by lifting pages from the school of Spanish Tactical Genius, but instead by playing disciplined (and very lucky) defend-and-counter. The Air Raid variant Dana Holgorsen used to hang 70 on Clemson in the Orange Bowl is installed in three days, and has no written playbook used as reference.

Simplicity in strategy is in one sense a procrastinator’s dream since it allows you to negate others’ preparations by forcing much of the mental action to the field. The glorious blitz you spent months constructing for a specific formation and situation, Mr. Sleep-Deprived Defensive Coordinator? The offensive coordinator, working from the hip and calling the play on the field via signals, just made it an irrelevance with an audibled run to the other side for seven yards.

Take notes, coaches.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.