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UNC Basketball: Iso(lation)

Things to keep in mind while humanity runs the four corners offense

Dean Smith memorial service David T. Foster, III/Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

I’ve always admired folks with the stones to call their teammates off of an offensive set. To look down the court and think you could beat the defender at the other end, straight up, with no outside help? That’s gutsy. I could never do it, in my years on playgrounds and community center gyms. I was always a pass-first guard, a Kendall Marshall type but without the court vision, size, or athleticism. I would watch in awe, though, as guys at each level took control of a game, each of them with a better handle than the last. When a ball handler waves his teammates away and begins to go to work, you can’t help but lean forward in your chair. Sometimes it fails, and it’s called “hero ball” and the YMCA All-Stars shake their heads and grumble about how the player needs to stop trying to do too much. When it works, folks are chanting MVP in Houston.

It’s not easy to do it alone. Any basketball fan can tell you that, simply by watching Cole Anthony try to single-handedly carry the Tar Heels to victory at certain points last season. That dependence on others is, I think, inherent to us as humans, and never more poignantly illustrated than the selfless dish beneath the basket, or the extra pass that leads to an open three. Team sports are wonderful things in that way, and I think we identify so strongly with them because all of us are familiar and comfortable with the idea of teamwork. That’s what makes us so nervous when a player waves off their teammates; it goes against our very nature.

These past few weeks, things have gotten weird. Almost all of us, in some way or another, have found ourselves thrust into an iso set. The defender across from us is unlike anything we’ve faced, and no screens seem to be forthcoming. It’s not easy to do it alone, and being forced into it only makes it harder. Some people have made this adjustment more easily than others; some folks have been working on their handle for their entire lives, ready to break any and everything down off the dribble. Others are more like spot-up shooters, only able to wait and hope for a pass to have a chance to make anything happen. Different people have different ways of making it work in this unprecedented situation, and there’s really no one right answer to combat the unease. The only thing we can do at this point is to try and work together as best we can, whether that’s the quarantine equivalent of running the baseline to try and muddle things up, or simply being there as an outlet in case a teammate needs you. This is a game we can’t really afford to lose, iso or not.

Maybe this situation isn’t just a simple iso play, though. Maybe this is more like a Tar Heel team watching Phil Ford hold up four of his fingers as he crosses half court. We can certainly still work together, even if it has to be at a distance for a while. We can salt this game away if we’re disciplined and able to adjust to this new game plan. We can win this thing, and we won’t even have to do it alone.