To say that North Carolina is a hotbed of grassroots basketball is an understatement, and one of the most pivotal and influential people involved in the AAU and high school scene is Rick Lewis, a nationally know basketball scout whose company, Phenom Hoop Report, organizes and runs dozens of events throughout the year. Rick and his partner Jamie Shaw cover the region thoroughly and people who have known me for some time or follow me on various social media know that I have long been a supporter of Rick’s events and his approach to the sport.
One of my favorite business books is ‘Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive‘ by Harvey McKay and that title certainly describes what it feels like to try and run a reputable, upstanding business (or even non-profit) in the world of grassroots basketball, and Rick has managed to do just that.
As a person who has organized my own Southeast Summer Showcase for the past 5 years, Rick is also one of the few people I can talk with about the issues that come up when running events. He and I have talked about our events over the years and he, like myself, is dedicated to constantly figuring out what his company can do better and improve it.
One of his more brilliant ideas was introduced last year, and I’d like to see it implemented in a lot more events. I call it ‘The Rick Lewis Rule‘ or even the ‘Rick Lewis Three Dribble Rule‘…I know Rick well enough that he doesn’t care about getting credit, but I feel it’s important to note the strategy, why he implemented it, and why I think more individual showcases should implement it. And if I’m going to ‘borrow’ (steal) Rick’s idea and use it, I feel I should at least give credit where it is due. I hope more high school coaches will use it in practices, too.
As a high school basketball scout, I need to see halfcourt offense, for multiple reasons. The primary reason is that once players get to the college level, they are going to have to play against half court sets all of the time – in fact, most of the time. In high school and AAU players who are extremely athletic can look very good because they get breakaway dunks and can finish in transition over smaller, more slow-footed defenders. However, when those same players are faced with an equally athletic defender in a halfcourt set, suddenly they can look pretty average.
The second reason is I need to see if a player can actually create their own shot, if they understand spacing, if they can shoot consistently against a close out, all of the things they will need to do as an individual to play better team ball – and one of the biggest part of being a valuable part of a winning team is being able to pass the ball. I love watching teams that understand ball movement. I get more excited watching a team whip the ball around the perimeter to the weak side for an open look than I do a transition dunk. And you know what? Players that know how to move the ball around are far more rare than athletic dunkers. Don’t believe me? Consider that Lebron is a good dunker but a Hall of Fame passer and you’ll understand. Lebron James is the best passing forward in NBA history – he won’t make the Hall of Fame because of his dunks (no one does) but he will in large part because of his passing ability.
Over the years I’ve watched thousands of guards play at the high school and AAU level and one thing is abundantly clear – players aren’t great at passing in general and there is an epidemic of guards who don’t understand how -or why- to throw an entry pass to the post. If you are a wing player, throwing and entry pass should be more common than a behind-the-back dribble, but teams will run multiple sets, several times up and down the floor, with the guards and wings never even looking at the post to throw a pass. The highest percentage offense a basketball team can have, and most players on the perimeter don’t use it. When running an individual showcase, it’s extremely common for the games to turn into track meets – the fastest wing players shoot the gaps, get steals and transition shots (often poorly chosen shots) while the post players are left to trail behind, never getting into the offense or even rebounding position. It’s a struggle to organize the games in such a way to facilitate real offense against real defense, which helps the players improve but also shows attending college coaches what the players can actually do.
Of course, there’s also the problem of players overdribbling, trying too much one-on-one, overlooking teammates…it all stems from the ragged style of play where there is no real team work or movement.
Here’s where Rick’s ‘3 dribble rule’ comes in. In recent events, Rick introduced a basic rule that players are only allowed 3 dribbles in the frontcourt or it would result in an offensive turnover. That one change dramatically alters how players can run an offense, and it’s for the better. Players are forced to move, pass and work as a unit to try and create an open shot. However, this did not eliminate enough of the transition ‘open court, no defense’ play that happens, so in a recent event, he added some additional rules as the games continued. In the players’ second game of the day he instituted a rule of ‘maximum of 3 dribbles in the frontcourt with a 2 pass minimum’ before a shot could be taken. This eliminates a lot of the transition game and forces players to wait on teammates. Finally, Rick wanted to address the overlooking of the post entry pass, and the last game of the day he added another wrinkle – players still had to make 2 passes but one of the passes before a shot could be taken had to be an entry pass to the post. It didn’t matter if the post had to pass back out, it just means that the pass has to go into the post at least once during the halfcourt set.
So, here’s what I observed as a scout after these rules were implemented. Suddenly very few players seemed to know what to do. They would dribble, pass around the perimeter, and dribble again, aimlessly. Meanwhile I watched as the center had already sealed his man on the blocks, only to watch his teammates overlook him and pass the ball back around and he had to slide across the lane and work to establish position on the other side. I saw players who had looked amazing during the morning games suddenly look like they’d never actually played organized basketball before. And I saw one player who completely understood what was happening and started yelling instructions to his teammates: “set a pick!” or “hit the post!”.
This is why I love the experiment and Rick’s rules: the player who understood exactly how to move the ball under the new rules suddenly helped his team start scoring; they built a quick lead. The center started getting touches and either scoring or passing out to an open teammate. It’s real offense. When coaches talk about playing ‘the right way’, this is the kind of thing they mean: doing consistent things as a unit that will improve your chances of winning, not just relying on luck or athleticism.
So as of now, I’m dubbing this ‘3 dribbles’ rule as the ‘Rick Lewis Rule‘. If you merchandise T-shirts with this rule on it, please send the royalties to Rick.