The FEU Tamaraws have been consistently winning early in the first round and a big part of their success is because of the new offensive system placed by Coach Nash Racela. The FEU Tamaraws have been on fire with the Dribble Drive Motion System and both the system and the coach have been praised for their early season swoon.

In years past, Racela was an assistant coach under the wing of Chot Reyes who implemented the Dribble Drive motion offense in his teams. Reyes found success in the PBA and won several championships with the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters and also found success in international tournaments with the Gilas Team.

The Dribble Drive motion was popularized by John Calipari with the Memphis Tigers, then having a young Derrick Rose at the helm.

Racela has been on the record via Interaksyon saying that the FEU Tamaraws use the same Dribble Drive motion principles that the Gilas team has but had to tweak it based on their personnel.

With that, let’s break down the hottest offense in the UAAP.

Coach Nash Racela of the FEU Tamaraws. (Photo Credit: Roy Afable, InterAKTV)

Coach Nash Racela of the FEU Tamaraws. (Photo Credit: Roy Afable, InterAKTV)

The Dribble Drive Motion

The Dribble Drive motion of the FEU Tamaraws starts out the same every time with two guards up top, two wing players in the corners and a post player inside. Basically you have four players behind the three point line and a big man inside. You could see that there’s very good spacing and this was designed so that when the primary ballhandler attacks the basket, it would be very hard for the defense to help out without giving up an open layup or an open three. With that said, this offensive system mainly centers around the players on the floor being able to quickly read the defense. It’s imperative for the ballhandler to know when to pass and when to shoot.

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Dribble Drive Motion Formation. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Dribble Drive Motion Formation. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

The FEU Tamaraws are an excellent fit for this offense since almost everyone on the roster can shoot threes. The only regular rotation players that can’t shoot threes are Hargrove and Sentcheu, which is fine because they will usually occupy the 5/center position inside. Even the wing players: Belo, Cruz, Pogoy, Mendoza are above league average three point shooters so far. Meanwhile,  Garcia, Romeo and Tolomia take turns in manning the primary ballhandler role. All three can do this since they’re good at handling the ball, creating off the dribble and passing when double teamed.

So basically, FEU starts off in the dribble drive motion formation. From there, they like to do three things:

  • Primary ball handler attacks the basket
  • Pick and roll/Pick and pop
  • Handoff up top

They also like to do some post up play or staggered screens once in a while.

Let’s look at them one by one.

Starting off the Dribble Drive Motion

Primary ball handler attacks the basket

Penetration is very important in the Dribble Drive Motion (if it wasn’t obvious in the name). One of the basic/main ways this offense is started is with the primary ball handler being able to attack the basket and get ahead of his defender. With the ballhandler already ahead of his defender, the defense now has to help or give up the semi-open lane to the ball handler. When the help defense comes, the ball handler can now dish it to his teammate for the open shot. Of course its much more complicated than what I just described with usually several different things happening in seconds as it goes usually for all basketball plays. The key here is that FEU has quick guards like Romeo, Garcia and Tolomia that can attack the basket so that the Dribble Drive Motion can happen.

Romeo in this situation is our primary ball handler. He attacks the right side of the court. Rono guarding the wing player in the right corner decides to help Bobby Ray Parks. This immediately frees up Inigo for an open three.

Photo Credit: (ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Photo Credit: (ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

You can see that when the primary ball handler attacks the lane, if the defense decides to double, it will be very hard to get back to the open man and close out because of the spacing.

Why does this setup work?

FEU has three ball handlers that can break down the defense: Garcia, Romeo and Tolomia. They are excellent in beating their defender one on one. But this also goes hand in hand with the good spacing of the Tamaraws. The Dribble Drive motion is governed by several principles of spacing. The spacing helps in giving the ball handler the lane to drive. It is important that the Tamaraws maintain the dribble drive formation with each player having a healthy distance from one another. One of the principles is that whenever the ball handler drives to the lane, the wing player closest to him will move to the original ball handler spot and the ball handler will move to the wing (imitates starting formation). There are also other principles like the off guard moves to the original ball handler spot when the ball handler drives middle (and several other principles). This ensures enough distance from one another. So basically, it’s hard to double team against a Dribble Drive Motion. This is magnified by the fact that FEU has excellent three point shooters and excellent one on one players. Beautiful to watch.

Tolomia drives left and Garcia fills in the ball handler spot. Tolomia will take left wing. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Tolomia drives left and Garcia fills in the ball handler spot. Tolomia will take the left wing. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Ball Handler tendencies:

Garcia likes going left, occasionally crosses over and spins to the right.

Romeo likes to use shot fake to get defender in the air. Defenders bite because Romeo is unpredictable and takes almost all shots. He also likes to use an assortment of dribble moves: crossover, between the legs, behind the back to get his defender off balanced and get momentum going to the basket. Very good at reading his defender and beating him off the dribble.

Tolomia likes faking one way and goes the other. Can beat defender on sheer quickness and explosiveness.

Pick and roll/Pick and pop/Quick picks/Double picks

The FEU Tamaraws use a lot of pick and roll, almost 40% of their halfcourt sets. They’ve kept the spacing and have found much success using this play. It also eases the pressure off the ball handler to have to beat his man one on one.

Pick and roll ball handler starts a little behind the three point line where he can be in range to shoot (and where pop players can also be in range). Usually the picks are set around the middle or with the ball handler going to the middle. This is done so that there is sufficient space between the pick and roll players and the other three players. Spacing is key in this set. They execute the pick and roll around the middle also so that there are angles to pass to the other players. It will be significantly harder to pass to the other players if the picks were executed on the sides or going to the sideline.

Again, spacing is very important. The Tamaraws execute the picks and decide whether to roll or to pop with this in mind. If the big man (who doesn’t shoot threes, usually Sentcheu, Hargrove and Jose in this position) is giving the screen, he almost always rolls. If a wing player (4 position, usually Belo, Pogoy, Cruz and Mendoza) gives the screen, he should pop to avoid overcrowding in the lane.

Sentcheu gives Garcia a pick, Garcia’s defender gets caught in the screen. Sewa doesn’t want to come out and RR gets an open jumper.

Garcia and Sentcheu execute a pick and roll. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Garcia and Sentcheu execute a pick and roll. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

The same spacing principles apply to the pick and roll and the pick and pop. Like the right wing player should move to the ball handler spot if he drives right or the off guard should rotate to the ball handler spot if ball handler drives middle. Even in the pick and roll scenario, the FEU Tamaraws still have great spacing which makes it hard for opponents to give double team help without giving up an open shot.

Here’s the video and other Pick and roll plays:

Here are some Pick and pop plays:

The Tamaraws also love to use quick picks in transition when the defense hasn’t settled yet. The FEU guards have actually utilized these picks very effectively as they are more fitted to an open court style of play rather than half court sets.

Romeo using Sentcheu pick in transition. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Romeo using Sentcheu pick in transition. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Here’s the video of several quick picks:

FEU also uses double picks up top. Either one on each side of the ball handler or two picks set with ball handler going middle. The wing players stay in the corners. This is a good play to draw both bigs of the opposing team out at the perimeter and gives the ball handler several options. The three point shooting big usually pops and the non three point shooting big usually rolls to keep the spacing.

Double pick with one on each side. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Double pick with one on each side. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Double pick going middle. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Double pick going middle. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

They’ve had some success with this seldom used play. Maybe they can utilize it more in the second round.

Double pick videos:

Pick and Roll ballhandlers

Garcia probably the best pick and roll player among the three. Very patient and reads the defense well. Not afraid to shoot off the dribble. Prefers pick and roll than handoffs or attacking the defender one on one. Almost always makes the right play.

Romeo loves to shoot out of the pick and roll. Recognizes double teams and usually passes out of them. Will take slower defender one on one and usually will be successful.

Tolomia has struggled early with the pick and roll. Usually starts far from the three point line and gets forced out farther when the double team comes. Has raw talent, shooting ability and playmaking skills to improve. Look for him to be better in the 2nd round.

Handoffs up top

From the DDM formation, a handoff up top is another way to start the offense. It’s also another way to try to penetrate and gain momentum without having the pressure of beating your man one on one. It’s effective for guards like Garcia who aren’t as quick as Romeo or Tolomia because they can use the handoff screen to get ahead of their defender at times. This isn’t used as much as PNR/PNP plays or attacking the basket but is helpful and effective nonetheless. The receiver of the handoff usually drives hard to the basket.

In this situation, Romeo will hand the ball off to Garcia. Garcia drives hard at the right side, and because of the DDM spacing principles Belo should move up top and Garcia goes to the corner. Belo drives middle and Romeo should move up top on the right side. The defense gets confused and boom! Open three for Garcia.

Romeo hands the ball off to Garcia. Garcia drives hard right side. Belo moves up top. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Romeo hands the ball off to Garcia. Garcia drives hard right side. Belo moves up top. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Belo drives middle. Romeo moves right. Garcia takes open three. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Belo drives middle. Romeo moves right. Garcia takes open three. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Here it is in real time, along with other hand off plays:

The Dribble drive motion again is very dangerous especially for this FEU team since they’re loaded with three point shooters and have three very good playmakers in Garcia, Romeo and Tolomia. Its also good that the players also adjust to the play to get better angles and adhere to the spacing principles of the Dribble Drive motion. They are also always ready to shoot.

One Particular Handoff play (Horns set)

Since its no longer a secret that the FEU bigs can shoot threes now, the coaching staff has designed a play to get players like Pogoy, Cruz, Mendoza and others open. The two wings stay in the corner, and both bigs on opposite ends of the high post with ball handler up top beyond the three point line. Three point shooting big receives ball in high post hands it off to ball handler and then pops up top on the other side. The non three point shooting big screens the defender of the other big. Almost always ends up in an open three point shot since no one expects the big to pop up. Pretty genius.

Garcia feeds high post. Belo gets the ball and hands off back to Garcia. Belo pops up and Mendoza screens his defender. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Garcia feeds high post. Belo gets the ball and hands off back to Garcia. Belo pops up and Mendoza screens his defender. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Open look for Belo. But he takes it to the hole. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Open look for Belo. But he takes it to the hole. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Here it is in real time:

Post ups

At first I wasn’t too excited about the FEU post ups but then I thought it’s fine mixing it up and giving the defense several looks. Also, Romeo was killing it with the fadeaways in the post against Adamson, especially the dagger fadeaway late in the game. They usually give post up looks to Romeo, Garcia, Hargrove and Sentcheu. The post player is situated on the low block on one side, the other big is on the opposite sideline, two three point shooters up top and one in the corner. Its good that even in post up scenarios they still follow good spacing that’s somewhat similar to the starting formation of the DDM.

Romeo post up play. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Romeo post up play. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Post up plays:

Why are post ups are good for FEU?

I think giving the defense several different looks is good for a team offense. Plus, Romeo and Garcia have good footwork, balance and fundamental moves in the post. They are also very good in finding the open teammate if double teamed. In the last game, FEU ran a lot of post up sets for Romeo on the smaller ADU guards. Romeo has had limited post up tries this season but took advantage of the smaller guards. So far he’s been able to back them down and get a shot closer to the basket or rise up and shoot over the smaller guy. Romeo’s balance and footwork is key to how he is able to execute the postup fadeaway properly and he’s been converting them lately.

Staggered screens

Staggered screens are two consecutive, non-linear screens (i.e. they are not side-by-side) set to free up an off ball offensive player. It makes life hard for the defender because not only will he expend a considerable amount of energy chasing the off ball offensive player but he will also have to take the hard hits that occasionally come along with the staggered screens. It poses an interesting challenge to the defense whether to switch, hedge or play honest. Since the FEU guards are very crafty, they read the defense, and adjust accordingly like backdoor cuts on hedges and taking the slower man one on one when defenders switch.

Since Romeo and Garcia are very good jump shooters and very good at reading the defense and adjusting, I like these staggered screens. They occasionally use it on Tolomia too. They almost always end up with an open look for Garcia or Romeo.

Here, Romeo will call the play, give it to Hargrove and then Hargrove will give it off the Tolomia (a routine play to get it to a capable passer). The important part here is that Jose will screen Romeo’s man so he can go to the low block and fake the post up attempt.

Romeo calls play, goes to low block. Sentcheu receives ball and passes to Tolomia. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Romeo calls play, goes to low block. Sentcheu receives ball and passes to Tolomia. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Tolomia holds onto the ball and waits for Mendoza to come off the staggered screen. Jose and Hargrove are the designated screeners for this play. Since the attention is centered on Romeo who seems to be posting up on one end, this creates enough confusion that Mendoza can take the three point shot if he gets open because of the misdirection. If Mendoza doesn’t have an open look, Romeo begins running from low block to the other side of the court.

Tolomia passes to Mendoza who is screened by Jose and Hargrove. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Tolomia passes to Mendoza who is screened by Jose and Hargrove. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Romeo will use his quickness and the bit of confusion the misdirection has caused to lose his defender and receive a pass from Mendoza for the open jumper.

Romeo uses staggered screen to get an open look. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Romeo uses staggered screen to get an open look. (Photo Credit: ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV)

Here’s the video, and other staggered screens:

To summarize, the dribble drive motion usually starts with the usual formation in halfcourt sets where there’s a ball handler and an off guard up top, a big inside and wing players in the corner. The FEU offense is heavily dependent on starting off by attacking the rim or pick and roll action to penetrate the interior. These sets are done with the principles of spacing set by the FEU coaching staff (keep healthy distance with respect to each player, wing player replaces ball handler’s spot when he drives to the wing side, off guard replaces ball handler’s spot when he drives middle). Another way the offense starts off is with handoffs up top. Like pick and roll plays, these plays ease the pressure off the ball handler to beat their defender one on one. The Tamaraws also produce other plays like post ups and staggered screens that change it up and add versatility to the offense.

The system pretty much fits like a glove. FEU has explosive guards who excel at putting the ball in the basket, that are good at beating their defenders while at the same time willing passers/playmakers which is perfect for the system. The bigmen not only are good at ball screens but roll hard to the basket. Not to mention almost everybody in the roster is a three point shooter and a threat to score.

If you watched the videos and you slowly understand what the team is trying to do, you’ll come to realize the offensive plan is really beautiful. Even though Coach Nash Racela brought with him a plan that seems like it was dropped from heaven, I actually think his biggest contribution is getting the players to buy in to what the team is doing. Basketball is more than just X’s and O’s. Its about the players believing in a system and common purpose which trumps their individual goals. Its about doing what is best for the team instead of doing what’s best for themselves. The FEU Tamaraws have bought into the team goal, no more controversies that have nothing much to do with basketball, just pure pouring their efforts on the court and wanting to win. Accepting their roles, even if it means less stats or even if its not at all glamorous. Its beautiful to watch when a team is clicking and no one in the league is hot like the Tamaraws are right now. I’m a basketball fan and its exhilarating when you witness teams accomplish great things, and all I can say for everyone is enjoy the ride.

Disclaimer: All videos are courtesy of ABS-CBN Sports/UAAP Sports TV

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