When putting together a team in a short amount of preparation time, it’s best to keep things simple in terms of tactics. That, in conjunction with their team’s experience and familiarity with each other, is what Best Virginia coaches Jarrod West and Dave Tallman are leaning on as they help the WVU alumni squad get ready for The Basketball Tournament, which tips off less than a month from now in Columbus, Ohio.
Best Virginia’s roster for TBT spans the entire 13-year span of Bob Huggins’ career at WVU, and even has a feeler into the John Beilen era, as Da’Sean Butler was a freshman on the NIT championship squad of 2006-07. This, it has an extensive playbook to draw from, should it choose to do so. But while it did use a smattering of that in last year’s TBT (the set called ‘LA’, a Huggins staple, was evident), it’s much better for Best Virginia to avoid going to those at all.
“We’re so versatile and so flexible,” said West, the head coach at Notre Dame High School in Clarksburg. “In an ideal world you always want to play defense, rebound and get in transition, so we don’t have to design too many things. We can let our guards penetrate, attack and kick it out to shooters. Guys like Flow (John Flowers) and Da’Sean can play off closeouts and knock down threes.”
Of course, to ignore strengths of individual players, or to totally discard a WVU set they are familiar with, would be unwise. West, balancing his role perfectly, sees those times when he and assistant coach Dave Tallman might need to step in. Two of those are when a player gets hot, or in key situations where an offensive leader needs to get the ball.
“Flow got it going last year in the first game, he likes to get the ball in iso at the top of the key,” West said of the former. “And it’s our responsibility as coaches when things get tight to get the ball into the right people’s hands. I have to be able to design something for KJ to get him the ball in his sweet spot, or for Wanny (Juwan Staten) to come off a screen.”
Still, while you might see some echoes of a Huggins offensive set (and to be honest, who wouldn’t love to see a Beilen play, such as ‘Double Quickie Potato’ again), Best Virginia’s philosophy is one that is shared by many — and in truth, by Huggins at WVU as well. The easiest way to score is before the opposing defense is set.
“I think most teams want to play that way,” West noted. “The less you have to set up an offense, the percentages are going to be a lot higher. And with our guard play, we have to just get out of the way and let those guys play. Like Coach Tallman said, we have pros on this team. We have high level pros. We just need to put these guys into a position to succeed, and the good thing is these guys are so unselfish.”
Tallman, who is the head coach at Morgantown High School, saw the synergy of Best Virginia last year, and it’s carried over.
“Even (in our first practice) with the addition of Tarik (Phillip) — and this year that we have three guards — there wasn’t a whole lot of coaching going on. You have a lot of veterans like KJ (Kevin Jones), Nate Adrian and Da’Sean (Butler), they know how to read each other, make the right read off a pick and roll game.”
One of the best things the duo of West and Tallman can do is not overcoach — and they’ve realized that can be a challenge when compared to their full-time jobs as high school coaches, where direction and teaching are such fundamental parts of their jobs.
“In high school we are teaching how to play the game — these guys know how to play the game,” Tallman summarized succinctly. “We just give our two cents here and there. Our job is just to help these guys prepare.”
“It’s not even in the same planet,” West added of the differences in coaching high schoolers and the Best Viginia squad. “At Notre Dame, we have to draw up plays a lot. You have to manufacture a lot of things. It’s kind of hard when you are used to coaching high school kids, where you are used to coaching every play, every dribble and every pass.
“(Here) we have professionals, and especially unselfish guys like these, sometmes you feel kind of awkward. You’re just trying to get out of the way. I have to find a happy medium between shutting up and trying not to do too much coaching.”