Archive for Saturday, December 22, 2007

Homage to the ‘oop’

Lob play evolves from novelty to game-changer

Kansas University forward Darrell Arthur (00) goes up for an alley-oop from guard Mario Chalmers against DePaul. The lob play has been a staple of the Jayhawks' attack this season.

Kansas University forward Darrell Arthur (00) goes up for an alley-oop from guard Mario Chalmers against DePaul. The lob play has been a staple of the Jayhawks' attack this season.

December 22, 2007


Monte Towe and David Thompson may never fully get the credit they deserve for bringing the alley-oop play into the hoops limelight.

In the early 1970s, there were no SportsCenter Top Ten plays in which to showcase the sweet lobs and finishes that have now become a nightly staple on the ESPN highlight hour.

Nowadays, the 6-foot-4 Thompson - whose nickname was "Skywalker" because of a fabled 48-inch vertical - would be a Top Ten mainstay.

"When (David) was a freshman at N.C. State, freshmen were ineligible to play on the varsity, so we used to scrimmage the varsity at practice," said Towe, a current Wolfpack assistant coach and former N.C. State point guard who repeatedly hooked up with Thompson on the lob play. "One day, he ran a backdoor cut, and I threw a pass that I thought was going out of Reynolds Coliseum. He caught it, and it went in. Coach (Norm) Sloan stopped us and said 'That looked pretty good, let's do it again.'"

Over the next three seasons, Towe and Thompson earned the label 'inventors' of the alley-oop play. They drew this title even though Thompson never technically dunked in a game - since it wasn't allowed in the college ranks at the time - until his senior season during a non-conference game against UNC-Charlotte. The fullcourt drive and subsequent throwdown was disallowed because of a technical foul call. He exited the floor to hear a thunderous applause from the home crowd.

"At the time you couldn't dunk, so David would just grab it, lay it in over the rim and throw his hands back," Towe said. "David was the one that made it all work. But it did take some visual coordination and contact between the passer and the catcher.

"I think it's the most beautiful play in basketball, because it involves a good pass, a good catch and a good finish."

And in coach Bill Self's tenure at Kansas, it's morphed into part of the basic fundamental package his players must possess. His Jayhawks take the high-wire act back to the Allen Fieldhouse floor today for a noon tipoff with Miami (Ohio).

"It's a high percentage shot, obviously, because it's a layup, and you want to get as many easy baskets as possible," Self said. "Plus it's a play that can change a game from a momentum standpoint or from a confidence standpoint. All of a sudden, you could be down seven, you make a play like that, everybody's back in the game and the crowd's into it.

"So it's not for show - it's to try to win."

Evolution of the 'oop'

In some basketball circles, the alley-oop is scoffed at - deemed a freestyle play used for nothing more than showboating playground purposes.

KU sophomore forward Darrell Arthur might have believed that after the first time he threw one home.

"My adrenaline was just going," said Arthur, recalling the moment in a junior high game as a 6-foot-4 eighth grader, taking a pass from buddy Marquis Smyth. "We didn't plan it. He just threw it up there. It was kind of ugly, but it went in."

Over the next four seasons, he and South Oak Cliff High teammate Kevin Rogers (now at Baylor) would constantly try to one-up each other, seeing who could thunder home the nastiest stuff.

These days, Arthur's alley-oop finishes go down with much more casual flow and force than his first. He now has a better understanding as to how the play develops.

In Bill Self's offense, he has to.

"We've got probably like seven (plays with lob potential)," Arthur said.

A big reason KU is able to make them happen at just about any given time - be it in transition or a halfcourt set - is the length of its four featured finishers: 6-foot-9 Arthur, 6-8 senior Darnell Jackson, 6-11 senior Sasha Kaun and 6-6 junior Brandon Rush.

"We've just got great athletes, and due to our point guards, they find us everytime. We're open and they want to throw the lob."

Step one: a good pass

When a lob is featured during highlight replays, most of the notoriety tends to land on the guy hammering it home.

That's all well and good, but don't forget that it takes a toss to make the play happen.

Not a perfect one. Just a good one.

"A lot of times when you throw a feed to post or whatever it is or a direct pass to score, it needs to be right on target. A lob doesn't have to be right on target," said Self. "All you have to do is throw it away from the rim, and they can come down with it or they can finish in the air. But that's part of who we are. If we didn't have athletes, we wouldn't throw 'em.

"I think it's an easy pass to throw. You've just got to shoot an air ball. And I kid our kids all the time and say 'You should be good at this, you know, because we've seen you shoot plenty of them.'"

Towe, who led N.C. State in assists in all three of his seasons on the varsity squad and even won a national title in 1974, can attest to the type of pass needed.

"I don't know if you have to make great passes, but the timing had to be there," he echoed. "It's somewhat of a touch pass, almost like dropping one over the top of linebackers to tight end. There's some touch involved."

And while style points don't count extra on the scoreboard, they seem to come more when the pass is off-target rather than perfect.

The Jayhawks have given fans plenty of examples this season during their 11-0 start. Dec. 8 against DePaul, Mario Chalmers tossed one up high in transition to Jackson, who grabbed the ball with one hand well above the rim, threw it down and thumped his chest.

ESPN microphones on the play caught a DePaul player near the three-point arc yelling 'watch behind you!' to the defender under the hoop who was posterized by Jackson on the play.

That has become the beauty of the play for Kansas - given the Jayhawks' size and athletic advantage in the post, the sneakiness of it is almost as destructive to an opposing team's psyche as the execution and reaction of the crowd.

"Next to a charge or next to a three, (a lob) is as good as it gets," Self said.

Best finisher?

With the littany of guys who can get up and throw them home for KU, who's the best lob finisher on the team?

After several Jayhawks were drilled with the question, a consensus could not be reached. The best insight, however, comes from the elder statesman of the Kansas backcourt - team assist leader Russell Robinson.

"Tough decision, but it's based on what kind of lob it is," he explained. "Shady (Arthur) is pretty much good at jumping either way, off of one or two (feet). I would say Darnell's the best two-foot jumper. Sasha would be the best awkward jumper, because he's just big, and you just throw it anywhere.

"Basically take your pick, but if you want style points, you gotta go with Shady."

Even though several guys on the team have had opportunities to throw home lobs this season, one thing the players maintain they don't do is overuse or abuse the play.

"It's all set up in the framework of what we do," Self said. "In transition it's not part of your offense. Two-on-one, you just kind of take what the defense gives you. Here, we do so much more from an attack standpoint off ball screens to force help."

In Towe's eyes, he has yet to see it used in over-the-top fashion.

"I don't see (the lob) too much. I see the three-point shot too much," he said. "In reality, it's a good basketball play. It's a backdoor cut, either from the top of the key or the wing.

"As far as getting two points, it's a solid basketball play."

But KU can attest from examples this year that it's not always a guaranteed two points.

That's also part of the trust involved with coaching it, though.

"We're not gonna complete them all, and I don't tell our guys to throw the lob," Self said earlier this season. "But I certainly don't tell them not to."


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