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Tribe Spotlight: Joe Opperman

Tribe Spotlight: Joe Opperman

This week’s Tribe Spotlight feature Read & React coach Joe Opperman.

I’ve been coaching Middle School boys and girls teams for the past five years, and have been actively involved in assisting my son’s team (now 5th grade) as they’ve been led by our Varsity Girls coach who also has a son on the team.

Our girls varsity program has been running the Read & React for several years. However, I’ll admit I was VERY skeptical and resistant to it the first several years it was suggested to me. This skepticism, I can honestly say, was basically driven by my initial assumptions about running a 5-out based offense, and not doing my homework early to give it a real look. My assumptions were that it was ridiculous to operate without a post presence and it would put you in bad shape to rebound. I didn’t like it because I hadn’t given it a fair shot.

I’ve watched now for three years as our varsity coach, Mark Wester, has craftily and carefully worked to develop a promising young group starting in 3rd grade. More time was spent on fundamentals from the very beginning than even I would have expected, and we’ve been slowly teaching and adding layers to the Read & React.

Despite my initial skepticism and unwillingness to run the Read & React, I could see from the beginning how effective it was with our 3rd grade boys. I would offer as highlights the following observances

  1. The Read & React forces great floor spacing from the very beginning. This is of utmost importance for more reasons than I can describe. Watching our 3rd graders operate pretty fluently in space compared to the jumbled bunches and repeated ball screens we were seeing from our competition set our kids up to learn and grow from the onset. Because 3rd graders have a hard time fully understanding team defensive concepts, this set all of our kids up with great scoring opportunities on read line cuts and 1-on-1 penetration. The read line cuts also teach vision, so the whole team learns great lessons.
  1. The Read & React teaches the importance of passing from the beginning. While other teams were setting ball screens and trying to get their best player a chance to shoot and score, the Read & React was teaching our players the give and go cut and emphasizing team play and movement.
  1. The Read & React allows all players the chance to develop guard skills. Maybe the most important aspect of the Read & React in my opinion is that it doesn’t stick kids in ‘less skilled’ roles during the crucial early developmental years. Our biggest kids (kids that would be posting up repeatedly on many other teams) are developing the same ability and confidence to penetrate and handle the ball as everyone else. This is setting them up for much more opportunities down the road.
  1. The Read & React is very versatile. We’ve been very thoughtful and slow to add different layers, making sure the team as a whole understands what we are trying to accomplish and why, before moving on to new layers. As a result, we can easily change tactics against any opponent style we see. Draft drives may be very available in one game, whereas post touches and Laker cuts are the key the next. Defenses simply can’t stop or anticipate our movements and we are eventually able to expose weaknesses.

I would add to all of this that because this system helped allow early success for our kids, they developed confidence and have been able to, for the most part, stay a step or more ahead of the competition running more conventional things. In any given game, our kids get the opportunity to recognize so many more things than our opponents. Read line cuts, drafting, back screens, post touches, and other layers are all happening in any given game motion and without rigid rules, allowing for very creative play and growth.

Thinking bigger scale, I’d also like to think this presents greater opportunity to improve the game in general. We are not only teaching our kids good skills, but the opponents are seeing things they haven’t seen before, and that’s teaching them new lessons as well.

This group I’m describing is now in 5th grade, and in three long seasons, have only lost three games total. Most of the games are incredibly lopsided as our kids are simply playing at a higher level with better understanding than other area teams.

After watching how the first season went, I made the commitment to study as much information as I could regarding the Read & React, and quickly made the transition for my Middle School teams also. At this point, I think you’d have to be crazy to know about and understand this offense and consider doing anything else. It just provides too many advantages for your team and players not to use.

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