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Exactly what is rez ball?

You buckle up and then you cut loose



When the 35-second shot clock and the three-point shot were introduced to South Dakota high school basketball, rez ball should have taken off like a rocket. But it really hasn’t.

After watching decades of Lakota ballplayers I have finally decided to define rez ball as it should be played, a simplified definition compared to game day coaching strategies, that doesn’t delve into specifics one column can’t contain.

First off, there is a reason Wasicu ball clubs don’t rez ball—they can’t. There will always be Wasicu ballplayers individually adept at rez ball, but overall, the plodding post-up nature of East River barnyard basketball won’t allow for rez ball playing style.

Lakota should learn disciplined defense, they should learn to play every style of basketball, but they should never get away from what they naturally excel at—running and gunning.

Secondly, Winnebago Head Coach Jeff Berridge has a saying: “Second chance points kills teams.”

When played right, rez ball stops teams from getting second chance points on defense, and increases the odds of getting second chance points on offense.

It starts with pressure. If the other team has a point guard who can bring the ball up court under intense pressure, let him spend 32 minutes proving it. Ask Aspen LaPointe, Winnebago’s point guard last year, in the LNI championship game versus defending champion, White River. He put on a clinic. That means no dropping back to a half-court offense and giving the other team a free pass to the time line. You pressure in-bounds passes from the first quarter to the fourth quarter. Drive their coach crazy with stress.

More often than not, that will get their offense rattled. Establishing an offensive rhythm will not be easy for them. Never let them get confident or comfortable. Avoid cheap fouls; don’t let the refs keep them in the game with free throws.

The inordinate amount of foul calls on rez teams should convince any sensible coach that the Wasicu refs will favor the Wasicu team in a game of contact. This has been true for over a half century. Save your fouls for the great plays you know one of their players will eventually make. Don’t let him make that breakaway lay-up, that resounding slam dunk. Foul him and foul him hard. If he repeatedly slices into the paint for an easy bucket, trip him right at the arc, let him pick himself up off the floor a couple of times. It’s worth the foul to deny his team the flashy play that buoys them into jonesing after another flashy play.

Rez ball offense means getting the ball to their basket as quickly as possible, make their big guys sprint. Once there, drive to the basket if sparsely defended, always with the option of dishing off to a wingman for an easy lay-up. If defended, ring your guys around their basket and fire the three. Box-out like your life depended on it. Odds are, that three will miss, if it does, respond with a put-back, if it’s there, and if it’s not, fire the ball back out for another three.

If your shooters are cold, all the more reason to fire threes and box-out. Get those second chance buckets. They not only score points, they damage the confidence of the other team. If the defenders challenge your shooters at the line, bounce pass into your big guy for a lay-up, or feint pass to a box-out guy for a short, high percentage jumper.

Always assume the shooter will miss, that way you’ll commit to box-out, because there is not a game goes by some coach does not holler at least once to box-out. Why? It’s that important. Once the shot is in the air, all five guys become crazed dog offensive rebounders. But remember—establish position, otherwise you are just reaching over a defender’s back, and that’s a cheap foul that defeats your purpose.

Lakota ballplayers coached away from their natural talent and inclination will eventually become the caged bird that does not sing. But rez ball is not a chaotic, every-man-for-himself, free-for-all. It will take focus and determination to play pressure defense and box-out for four quarters.

Lastly, shooters are confident, understanding that the three-point bucket in this system is not a hope, not a statistically less likely outcome—it is the foundation of rez ball fast break; it is your bread and butter. More often than not rez ball teams must prevail despite being outrebounded by bigger, stronger post-ups, and despite biased officiating, which almost always yields your opponent a good ten points in undeserved free throws, offsetting the points you rack up converting turnovers. That will never change, because coaches and administrators do not form a united front and demand it stop once and for all.

You think you are powerless in the overwhelming, pervasive face of racist, home-cooking, whistle blowing? You are, if you think you are.

To sum it all up: apply pressure defense for 32 minutes; box-out and fire up threes; selectively foul, targeting their big play makers before they make the big play that gives them momentum. Otherwise, keep your hands to yourself, no cheap bump or slapping fouls. Most importantly, be confident, never hope any shot in, or hope any pass on target. Self-doubt has killed more teams than even second chance points. Doubt whether the cutest girl in school has a crush on you; never doubt your game, that’s the rest of the world’s job.

(Contact James Giago Davies at

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