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Basketball Defense - Selecting a Press Defense(s)

By James Gels, from the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook, @

Press defenses can be categorized as:


Press defense extends your defense into the opponent's back-court. Before selecting and teaching a defensive press system, you must first decide whether an uptempo, pressing defense is best for your team. Do have team quickness, well-conditioned athletes, and a good bench? Will your players "buy into", or be committed to a pressing defense? There are man-to-man and zone presses. Our favorite (high school varsity level) is the full-court matchup press "system", initially pioneered by Rick Pitino at Kentucky.

Advantages of a Good Press Defense

A good press can quickly produce back-court turnovers, steals and easy baskets for your team. So it is an offensive weapon as such, and a way to come from behind, or a way to break open a close game, and a way to wear down an slower, less well-conditioned opponent.

It may help nullify the opponent's "bigs", who may labor to get up and down the floor. You can turn the game into a "track meet", rather than a slow-down game that favors the opponent's big post players.

The press keeps the opponent off-balance, changes the tempo of the game, and often has the opponent doing things they don't normally like to do. It often forces the opposing coach to use valuable time-outs. It favors a well-conditioned team with a deep bench, and with more substitutions, allows more of your players to get playing time.

Disadvantages of a Press Defense

A fair amount of practice time is required to develop a good, cohesive press. Also, remember that any press is a gamble (especially trapping defenses). You risk giving up the easy transition lay-up, and you have to be willing to accept that fact.

If your players are not well-conditioned, fatigue can become a factor. Your players may be more apt to foul and get into foul trouble, so a good bench is very valuable in this regard as well as the fatigue issue. But you might want to press only in certain situations (e.g. after a made basket), or certain times of the game, as a "surprise" tactic.

See Transition Defense for important principles that apply to all press defenses.

Full-Court Man-to-Man Pressure Defense

Full-court "pressure" defense is simple man-to-man defense extended over the full-court. This defense is excellent for youth teams who must learn to play man-to-man defense, and it is easy to teach, requiring less practice time than other press defenses.

Players use and learn the same basic concepts of man-to-man defense (on-ball, deny and help-side defense, just extended to the full-court). There is little risk, or gambling, with this defense. I believe this press would probably be less effective at higher levels where good ball-handlers and dribblers could break it down.

Bob Kloppenburg's Full-Court SOS Pressure Defense - transition and full-court aspects of the SOS defense.

Zone Press Defense

Zone presses have the defenders start in a certain formation, such as a 1-2-1-1, 1-2-2, 2-2-1, etc. and feature pressuring the ball and trapping. You can categorize zone presses by where the press starts on the court:
  • full-court ("80"), where there is a defender guarding the inbound passer (e.g. 1-2-1-1 zone press)
  • 3/4 court ("60"), where there is nobody guarding the inbound passer (e.g. 2-2-1 zone press)
  • half-court ("40") where the press starts at, (or just beyond) the half-court line (e.g. 1-2-2 Viking press)

Specific Zone Presses
1-2-1-1 "diamond" zone press... try to tip the inbounds pass, trap the first pass in the corner, or along the sideline. Vulnerable along the sidelines at half-court, but you can adjust to a 1-2-2 (but then there is no defender back deep as a safety).
2-2-1 zone press... allow the inbounds pass (to the corner), get the ball-handler to commit, and then aggressively trap and rotate.
Coach Sar's 3/4-court 1-2-2 press... Coach Ken Sartini's pressing system.
3-1-1 3/4-court press... a zone press that you can use against teams that show a "3-Up" press-breaker. A 3-2 adjustment is included.

Match-up Press Defenses

Our match-up press defense is a more complicated "system" of presses than simple zone presses and involves a fair amount of practice time. We begin teaching this system at the freshmen and JV levels, and try to fine-tune it at the varsity level. It has the advantage of always having pressure on the ball no matter what press-breaker alignment the offense uses.

The match-up press is different from a zone press in that we have our defenders all match-up with someone when the ball is inbounded... much like man-to-man defense, so it doesn't matter what press-breaker the opponent uses. Techniques such as "cut & double", "run & jump", and "run & double" are presented.

Full-court ("80") presses of various alignments (1-Up, 2-Up, 3-Up and 4-Up), as well as a "staggered" press are discussed. Additionally, two deny presses, "81" and "61", are presented. Use these drills "Match-up Press Drills", and see "Teaching Basketball by Progression".

Run and Jump Press... Coach Forrest Larson of Lake Geneva Badger High School (Wisconsin) has put together a really excellent DVD entitled "Simplified Run and Jump". See this page for notes and more details.

Trapping with a Trailer Defender by Coach Joao Costa... another way to match-up.

Half-Court Press Defenses

Half-court presses start at, or just beyond, the half-court line. These presses are less of a gamble, since all five defenders are back in the half-court. Usually these defenses try to trap the ball as it comes across half-court, in the half-court corner on either side, while the other defenders look to intercept a poor pass made out of the trap. These presses are usually easier to teach and conditioning is less of an issue.

Specific Half-Court Zone Press Defenses
1-2-2 Viking Press Defense... a very effective half-court press when run correctly.
2-2-1 Half-Court Press Defense... another half-court trapping press defense.

Deny Press Defenses

"Deny" presses are used to deny the inbounds pass, hopefully resulting in either intercepting the inbounds pass, or getting the 5-second call. The defenders play in the passing lanes between the ball and their man.

A deny press is needed in a close game, in an attempt to get the ball back after a made basket, or whenever the opponent has to inbound the ball. It can also be used from time-to-time during the course of a game as a surprise tactic. Several deny presses are presented as adjustments to a main press.

Deny Presses are Included with These Presses
Man-to-Man Pressure Defense... "41", a full-court deny press defense.
2-2-1 Zone Press... a deny press is included.
Match-up Press Defense... "81" and "61" deny presses are included.

In summary, the press(es) that you decide to use should be based on your and your players' level of committment to press defense, the age and skill level of your players, the amount of practice time that you have available, your teams's quickness and athleticism, and the depth of your bench.

How you use the press is also key. Do you want to use it the entire game, to fatigue your opponent and make their "bigs" less effective? Do you just want to use it from time-to-time during the game as a surprise tactic, or to make the offense less comfortable? Or do you have a big slow team that would be better off just sprinting back on defense and play a slower half-court game?

Helpful DVDs:

Keith Haske: Uptempo Basketball
Price: $59.95

"Keith Haske: Uptempo Basketball - Pressure Defense/Pressure Offense"
In this DVD set, you learn Keith Haske's uptempo defensive and offensive system that has helped him win over 500 games, reach the state championship 4 times, and compile a 239-78 record (.753 win percentage) in his last 13 seasons. Long-awaited, this set is everything an untempo coach could want or need. It's a fun and fast-paced uptempo system that players love and wins games! Two DVDs plus eBook included!

"As Coach Haske's assistant for many years, much of what I have learned has come from Coach Haske." - Coach Gels, Coach's Clipboard

Coach Donovan teaches the matchup press

Billy Donovan: Mastering the Full-Court Match-Up Press
with Billy Donovan, University of Florida Head Coach; 2007 & 2006 NCAA Champions, 2000 NCAA Runner-up; One of only two people ever to serve as head coach, assistant coach, and player in a Final Four
This defense has been the cornerstone of one of the most successful coaches and programs in the country. Coach Donovan walks you through his 2-2-1 full-court man press with stunting, and the 1-2-1-1 pressure defense. Using on-court demonstration and game film Donovan details each player's responsibilities, when and how to trap, and transitional coverage once the press has been broken. Included are basic coverages for all press breaks and breakdown drills... (more info)

Price: $39.99
Buy Now

Simplified Run and Jump Press

Simplified Run & Jump Press
with Forrest Larson, Lake Geneva Badger HS varsity coach
Coach Forrest Larson teaches the run and jump press with 10 drills that make the defense easy to teach. The basis of the run and jump is traping the ball down the sideline and jump-switching in the middle. Coach Larson emphasizes the teamwork involved in executing this man-to-man press. The defense is taught with drill work for the different methods of defending and attacking the inbounds pass to the techniques, strategies, and rules used to defend the ball all the way down the floor. The defense will force your opponent to play at an uncomfortable tempo... (more info)

Price: $39.99
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Coach Gonzalez teaches the matchup press.

The White/Black Full-Court Match-Up Press Defense
with Bobby Gonzalez, Seton Hall University Head Coach; former Manhattan College Head Coach
Coach Gonzalez teaches how to force turnovers, confuse and fatigue the defense, and how to create and capitalize on scoring opportunities using a relentless full-court man press. Using markerboard presentation and extensive practice and game footage, Gonzalez details the match-up principles, alignments, and trap options for the White press (run out of a 1-2-1-1 set) and the Black press which emphasizes all out ball denial. Gonzalez discusses how to use the White and Black presses to speed up the offense, get them off-balance, and force non-ball-handlers to bring the ball up the court. He also covers... (more info)

Price: $39.99
Buy Now

Coach Williams teaches the press.

Gary Williams: The Complete Guide to Full-Court Pressure Defense
with Gary Williams, University of Maryland Head Coach, 2002 NCAA Champions, Seven "Sweet Sixteen" appearances

"Full court pressure is the ultimate weapon in basketball." - Gary Williams

A game-tested, baseline-to-baseline method for trapping and applying pressure defensively! Coach Williams gives you an insider's look into one of the most potent and aggressive full-court defensive systems. A large part of Williams' success has come from his aggressive and intense style of play, which includes the full court pressure defense... (more info)

Price: $39.99
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Coach Calhoun teaches the 2-2-1 press

Jim Calhoun: The 2-2-1 Press
with Jim Calhoun, 2004 and 1999 NCAA Championship Coach
Coach Jim Calhoun outlines the pressure defense which has led the Huskies to national prominence and an NCAA Championship! Unlike most pressure defenses, Calhoun's 2-2-1 focuses on pressuring the ball down the sideline in the back court, reserving traps until the ball has passed half court. Demonstrations include... (more info)

Price: $39.99
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Teaching the 2-2-1 press at the high school level

2-2-1 Press for High School Basketball
with Kevin Sutton, Montverde Academy Men's Basketball Head Coach, NIKE Skill Academy Instructor
Coach Sutton's concept of defense is to force turnovers and create offense on the other end. The "55" is a 2-1-2 full court zone press and is a defensive cornerstone in this program. While doing this the opponent will become fatigued, leading to more success. Defensive principles are important and include: Ball pressure, containing the dribble, force the ball into trap areas and up the sidelines. Sutton's scramble/recovery mode is based on closet man/closest ball. The first press illustrated by Sutton is the 2-2-1 zone press. The first line of defense... (more info)

Price: $39.99
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Copyright © 2001 - 2016, James A. Gels, all rights reserved.

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