During a practice last season, Georgetown Prep Coach Dwayne Bryant told his players to reverse roles. Seven-foot Roy Hibbert and 6-9 Davis Nwankwo dribbled along the perimeter and tried to feed the Little Hoyas' guards as they posted up.
"They saw how hard it was. We saw how hard it was," Hibbert said. "That's when I thought how much I have to do to help get me the ball."
The entry pass is central to a big man's offensive effectiveness, but it is much trickier than just having the center move five feet from the basket, turn around and put his hand up for the ball. With the traditional big man -- a burly center who seldom strays from the lane -- becoming a rarer commodity, the fundamentals of the entry pass are not being taught to young guards and centers.
"On the high school level, this is a skill that is lacking," Bryant said. "You look at big guys today, and they're multi-talented. The true big guy doesn't exist anymore. . . . It's definitely a skill that should be taught. But it's rare that it's taught in CYO or 13-and-under [leagues] because you're not going to have true post players there. That's a skill that's not going to be taught. I've got to teach them how to get it to them."
The entry pass is more important in the Washington area this winter than most seasons, with a wealth of talented centers on hand. Players such as juniors Hibbert and Nwankwo, Spalding 7-foot senior Will Bowers and 6-10 Potomac School junior Peter Prowitt have the size to dominate inside, but they and their teammates on the perimeter must find a way to get them the ball in the post.
A successful entry pass is as much the responsibility of the post player as it is the guard. With players constantly moving and muscling inside, there is usually only a split second for the pass to be completed. The choreography and communication between teammates is paramount.
"It took me the whole year last year to adjust to it," Georgetown Prep 6-2 sophomore guard Danny Glading said. "As an eighth-grader, I was the biggest guy on the court."
Post players must learn to position themselves with respect to the defense, the basket and the player attempting to pass them the ball. The guards, meantime, must know where the post player likes the ball, but also must be able to read the defense and be able to make a clean pass.
Potomac School often practices entry passes with Prowitt defending the perimeter and waving his long arms in front of the guards to show them how accurate the pass must be.
"You can't just look at him and stare at him, and just lob it in at the last minute," Potomac School senior point guard Ross Condon said. "You need room to orchestrate. . . . It's not as simple as it looks. When teams play a 2-3 [zone], three guys drop around Peter, so there's a lot less room for error."
The entry pass can open up the entire offense, not just in the low post. A well-placed feed could force defenses to collapse on the big man, who could quickly flip the ball back to an open man on the perimeter for a jump shot.
"If we kick the ball inside and they double team, then that opens up shots for us," Georgetown Prep senior point guard Pat Coyle said. "But we have to get it inside first."
Guards sometimes have difficulty mastering entry passes to true centers because they are used to making those passes to much shorter players.
"Most point guards are used to 6-5 or 6-6 centers," said Bowers, who has signed to play at Maryland next season. "They'll just throw bounce passes right at your feet."
Once the big man establishes that position, the guard simply cannot yell out to him. There must be an unspoken level of communication between players, where both know each other's preferences and comfort zones.
"It's a lot of eye contact," Spalding junior point guard Jesse Brooks said. "We've got a feel for each other."
Bryant learned how to establish that feel when he was a point guard at Georgetown from 1986 to '90, dropping entry passes to Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo.
"A lot of it is communication and timing," Bryant said. "You're only going to be open for a split second. There were times in games when Alonzo would be in the box and I'd be ready to throw it into him, and he'd say, 'No, no, no.' Then he'd be calling for it and I wouldn't be ready."
Prowitt said he never understood the importance of the pass until reaching high school. Before, he would rely on his size to overpower defenders, either by posting up much smaller opponents, or easily collecting rebounds of missed jump shots.
"You can't stress it enough, the communication between the point guard and the big man," Prowitt said. "They're co-dependent on one another. . . . I've never really had an appreciation of how hard it is. You have to put it so accurately in there."