It’s the style that I think the game was meant to be played. It’s 94 feet at full speed. Whether it’s boys or girls playing, people want to see up and down, people want to see shooting. —American Fork coach Corey Clayton
AMERICAN FORK – As Taylor Moeaki listened to her coaches explain the changes they wanted to make to the team’s offense in the middle of a preseason tournament last year, she almost couldn’t believe what she heard.
“When they were first introducing it, we all thought (coach Corey Clayton) was crazy,” the senior guard said. “We were really skeptical about it. It took a couple of games, but it turned our season around, and it was so much more fun to play.”
To say the Cavemen run a fast-paced or up-tempo offense is to miss the strategy behind what, at times, looks like complete chaos.
“It’s the style that I think the game was meant to be played,” Clayton said. “It’s 94 feet at full speed. Whether it’s boys or girls playing, people want to see up and down, people want to see shooting. I always tell people when I try to explain what we do, ‘When you come to watch us, something is about to happen. It might not always be good, but certainly it’s not going to be uneventful.’”
In a nutshell, the team tries to take at least 80 shots per game, when the average for a girls game is between 40 and 50 shots, Clayton said. They substitute five at a time every minute, employ a full-court press the entire game and crash the boards like they’re lives depend on it.
“We just kind of decided during our preseason last season that we weren’t really getting what we wanted out of our program,” Clayton said. “We kind of decided our strength was our depth. We had a couple of great players, but a whole bunch of really good players, and we weren’t utilizing them to our advantage.”
One of Clayton’s assistants showed him a video of a team playing this style of basketball.
“We just started laughing,” Clayton said. “We thought, ‘That’s the most ridiculous thing ever.’”
He brought it up again, and the coaches again found themselves laughing at the idea.
“It’s just so outside the norm,” he said of the system that’s foundation is shooting within the first 10 seconds of each possession (and forcing opponents to do the same).
“I pulled our captains in and discussed doing it with them,” Clayton said. “They were lukewarm at the time. But at this point, they were not having any fun, not everyone was playing and they didn’t have a lot of confidence.”
Clayton, whose nature is a hands-off, teach-and-let-play approach, said the idea was to convince players there were no bad shots, no punishments for mistakes and no problem with creativity.
Moeaki said almost immediately, however, players preferred the new system.
“It kind of takes the pressure off the scorers,” said Moeaki who leads the team offensively with just under 18 points per game. “We’ve always had the green light to do what we want, to shoot on offense. But this way, you know, you have to shoot when you’re open. When you have that kind of freedom, it really does take all the pressure off.”
But don’t misses still mess with a player’s mojo?
“We can trust our other teammates to crash the offensive boards,” she said. “And then, even if we do miss, a lot of times, we’re getting the ball back for more shots anyway.”
Parents were also skeptical, and some still don’t love the constant substitution, which incidentally requires one, sometimes two coaches, to keep track of. But it’s hard to argue with three players averaging double digits and a 23-3 record since making the change. They're 11-1 this season, undefeated in region play, and currently ranked No. 1 in 5A.
“The proof to me is in the wins,” he said, acknowledging that to make the math work, his team has to win the rebounding battle. “What happens is kids relax. One of our mantras is, ‘You shoot to get hot, and then you shoot to stay hot.’ Basically, the bottom line is you shoot.”
The math, the veteran coach said, is on their side. He and his assistants did some research and found that most girls teams shot 40 to 50 times at 35-40 percent. A great night would be 50 percent, and so, he said, “We try to get a shot differential. We don’t have to shoot a very high percentage and the math of that is hard to overcome.” Clayton said one of the unintended benefits is that the players don’t have time to worry about anything about what is happening right in front of them.
“When you’re playing that hard, you have to stay in the moment,” he said. “You don’t really think about what happened before or what might happen in the future.”
Without giving away all the secrets of the unique system, Clayton said they find ways to keep the game at their pace. In fact, he said they welcome challengers who try to slow the pace or stall it.
“Once you get your kids in that system, you have to just kind of sit back and let what happens, happen,” Clayton said. “It’s been fun to see the kids take ownership of it. We just go as fast as we can for 32 minutes.”