In this week’s basketball coaching conversation, Nebraska Wesleyan University head coach Dale Wellman joins the Basketball Podcast to discuss playing fast and free in the Princeton offense. Coach Wellman’s system took the program to 22 wins in 2015-16 (their most in 18 years), and then, amazingly to a Division III title in year four in 2018.
Dale Wellman, the 2018 NABC/NCAA Division III National Coach of the Year, enters his fifth season as head men’s basketball coach at Nebraska Wesleyan University in 2018-19. He led the Prairie Wolves to the program’s first ever national championship in 2018 as NWU finished the season with a school record 30 victories and only three losses.
Wellman received National Coach of the Year honors from three different organizations for the 2017-18 season. He was also the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach-of-the-Year for a second straight season and received West Region Coach of the Year honors. In each of his four seasons Wellman has received coach-of-the-year recognition.
Coach Wellman has led NWU to an 83-32 (.721) in his four years with the Prairie Wolves. All four seasons his teams have finished in the top four in the league, including two Iowa Conference regular season titles, an IIAC Tournament title and a runner-up finish in the GPAC. NWU was 1st in 2017 and 2nd in 2016 despite being picked to finish 8th in 2017 and 7th in 2017 in the preseason polls.
Wellman came to NWU after spending six seasons as the head coach at Alfred University, a NCAA III Institution located in Alfred, N.Y. He was named the Empire 8 Conference Coach-of-the-Year in 2013-14 leading his team to an 18-9 overall record.
Before his stint at Alfred, Wellman spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Williams College in Massachusetts under current George Mason head coach and two-time NABC Division III Coach-of-the-Year winner, Dave Paulsen. In his two seasons, Williams won the Conference Championship in 2007 and advanced to the NCAA Division III National Tournament.
His collegiate coaching career began in 2002 when he was an assistant coach at Kenyon (Ohio) College. A year later he was appointed assistant coach at Union College in New York. He then spent two seasons as an assistant coach at NCAA Division I Eastern Kentucky University where he helped EKU set a school record for wins and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“We always want to make sure that that we’re playing fast, and run some Princeton action”
“We want structure, we want guys to know where they’re supposed to go and know what they’re supposed to do . . and what other guys, whether it’s in transition . . or in the half court, are doing. But we don’t want them to be robots. We want to give them freedom to play and have different options.”
“If you want to play fast, you’re gonna have to sit back, you can’t coach every possession, you’re going to have to let your guys have a little bit of freedom.”
“If you want to play fast in transition, you need to have a plan. And once you have a plan, then you have to practice that plan in different situations.”
“We’re running to our Princeton spots . . If teams do what they’re supposed to do in transition defense and stop us, that’s fine, we want to be able to flow directly from that numbered break right into our principal [offense].”
“As much as we preach trying to drive it to the rim, we really try to preach posting up and getting close shots to the rim that way. We like to post our perimeters because for the past few years, our point guard has been six four.”
“We always teach the point series first, I do think that the point series allows us to play a little bit faster . . It also allows us to play different guys in different positions.”
“We’re trying to teach these guys to pass with a purpose and really see the offense.”
“Even in the recruiting process, we try to tell guys, ‘Hey, do you like offense?’ Everybody says yes. ‘Well, then this is the place for you.’ We’d love for you to come to a game but come to a practice so you know I’m not just blowing smoke; come to a practice and see how our practices are.”
“I feel like our first couple passes, that’s our bread and butter . . whether it’s just on a typical vacuum [cut], which is where we reject, we’re saying vacuum because we’re trying to cut so hard that we not only suck our man with us, but we suck the other defender with us.”
“We’ve never once said that in my seven years [at Nebraska Wesleyan], ‘Hey, we have to reverse the basketball.’ . . We want to play fast, we’re not worried about those things, we want to score score quicker . . we want to push, we want to get shots in transition . . we really like to get a good shot within two, three passes.”
“We want to make our practices extremely competitive . . so we’ll keep negative points for turnovers . . and we’ll also keep an extra point for offensive rebounds . . we don’t necessarily do this every time but we do this the great majority of the time . . you can say a lot of stuff but unless you emphasize it in practice, whether it’s a certain action or it’s a concept or whatever, guys won’t do it.”
“We teach our guys to cut 100% every time . . we know it’s boring to work on cutting, but that’s what the Princeton offense is based on is cutting; if you can’t cut, it’s not gonna work . . Our passer needs to know that that guy’s cutting as hard as he can.”
“If you can do something, well, whether it’s post up, whether you can drive and get to the rim, you can be successful individually within the Princeton offense.”
Selected Links from the Podcast:
1:00 – Fast and Freedom in Princeton Offense
3:00 – Playing Fast
6:30 – Loyola Marymount Influence
9:00 – Makes and Misses
12:30 – Post Ups
15:00 – Defining Shot Selections
18:30 – Reads and Decision Making
21:30 – Sympathy and Empathy
26:00 – Running Full Speed
28:00 – Play Defense in Practice
30:00 – Enjoying the Experience
33:00 – Multiple Ball Reversals
37:00 – Tweaking to Personnel
39:00 – Keeping Score in Practice
45:00 – Teaching Points Between Passer and Cutter
47:00 – Transition Phases of Princeton Offense
54:00 – Zone and Toughest Defensive Strategy
57:00 – Complexity of Princeton Offense
1:00:00 – Conclusion
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