Woster: Tournament time brings back memories of Drake Shuffle
Offense study led to many cherished conversations
It’s tournament time, the so-called March Madness, and I’m thinking about the Drake Shuffle, a basketball offense named for a coach, not a school.
I didn’t know that when I played for the Chamberlain Cubs. When Dale Vance talked about the Drake Shuffle in practice my junior year, I figured he referred to Drake University down in Iowa. Years later, in a talk with veteran basketball coach Jim Marking, I learned it was named for Bruce Drake, coach at the University of Oklahoma.
Marking was a legend. He won a Class B championship at Hayti and a Class A title at Watertown before a successful career at South Dakota State. I’d spoken to him on campus a time or two. Many years into my newspaper life, I mentioned the Drake Shuffle in a column. Marking called that same afternoon. We talked about that offense, about the Mikan drill (something I mentioned in another column), about our basketball memories and about life in general.
After that, we talked fairly regularly. Those calls are among my best memories. And they only happened because Doc Vance tried to teach his Cubs a basketball offense. He also taught us not to leave the locker room with wet hair or we’d catch a cold. And to eat Wheaties with ice cream after games.
I’m pretty sure that with the right players, the Drake Shuffle was a potent weapon. Dean Smith at North Carolina, no slouch of a coach, used it. But he recruited some of the best players in the country. At Chamberlain, the coaches went with the kids who showed up on the first day of practice. A lot of things can go wrong when a great offense is in the hands of 17-year-olds.
Searching online, I learned the Drake Shuffle “would be an option for a team that has good ball-handlers but is not blessed with height or a strong, dominant post player.’’ That pretty much describes Chamberlain’s teams when I was in school, especially the part about the post player. I played post, and believe me, I was neither strong nor dominant.
I tried to be. I tried to be intimidating. My junior year, warming up in the Kimball gym, I came within an eyelash of dunking the basketball. Instead, it bounced to mid-court while I caught my finger in the net and ripped it down. It isn’t that easy to find a new net on a moment’s notice on a Tuesday evening in central South Dakota.
The shuffle offense requires constant movement, passes, screens, cuts. On my senior team, we rarely got more than a pass or two into the offense before somebody took a shot or threw a pass into the stands. Elton Byre was coach by then. He shook his head a lot on the sidelines. We knew what we were supposed to do, but that basket looked so inviting.
I mentioned the Mikan drill. George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers came up with it. A post player shoots a right-handed layup, kind of a baby hook shot, gets his rebound, shoots a left-handed layup, gets his rebound and so on. Coach Byre had me run it every day. It got boring, but I’d have done anything for him – Byre, not Mikan.
In the last regular-season game my senior year - at home against Winner – we had a comfortable lead. That was a good thing, because they had beaten us earlier on their court. Late in the game, surprisingly, a guard actually passed me the ball. More surprisingly, I caught it. I did kind of a left-handed Mikan thing, from about 10 feet out. The shot went in. I should have tried a lottery ticket, too.
In the next time-out, Coach told me not to show too many moves. A scout from Mitchell, our first playoff opponent, was in the stands, he said. I’m not sure what that scout saw, but I was on the bench with five fouls by the end of the third quarter in the Mitchell game the next week.
I told Marking that story during one of our talks. “But you played,’’ he said. “That’s what matters.’’ What a perfect response.