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Basketball Defense - the Amoeba Defense

By Dr. James Gels, from the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
The Amoeba defense was developed and used by late coach Jerry Tarkanian (990-228 career coaching record) at UNLV some years ago. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski once said of Tarkanian, "Jerry had consistent high levels of success because his teams played hard defensively. He's one of the truly remarkable defensive coaches."

coach Jerry Tarkanian
Coach Jerry Tarkanian

This is a gambling zone defense that, if run well, will help you get some steals and fast breaks. It probably would not be wise to structure your team's entire half-court defense based on the Amoeba. Rather, use it as something disruptive, that you can throw in at various times in a game to confuse the opponent, and force some turnovers. In fact, I believe that Coach Tarkanian played man-to-man defense, and the Amoeba. This article describes some of the basic rules of this defense.

Initial Setup of the Amoeba (vs a One-Guard Front)

See diagram A below. At the start, it looks like a diamond-and-1, with the X1 defender pressuring the ball as soon as it crosses half-court. A key point is to use your two quickest, best defensive athletes at the X1 and X2 positions. X1 pressures O1 (the ball-handler), making it difficult for O1 to either dribble or pass.

X2 starts at the high post, denying a pass there. X3 and X4 start along the lane lines, just below the elbows, facing toward the sidelines. X5 is the "hoop defender". The hoop defender must never get beaten by a low cut (from behind), and his/her rule is to "get as low as the lowest offensive player".

Amoeba defense - Pass to the Wing Amoeba defense - Pass to the Wing Amoeba defense - Pass to the Wing

Pass to the Wing

See diagram B. O1 passes to O2. X2 immediately sprints over and closes out on the ball (O2). O1 drops to defend the high post (free-throw line). If O2 begins to dribble, X3 quickly sprints out and double-teams O2, along with X2. X5 slides over to front (deny) the ball-side post, and X4 drops inside to become the hoop defender. The defense now looks like diagram C.

X1 and X4 look to intercept, or contain, any skip pass across the court. This is a difficult pass because of our trapping defenders with their arms up can sometimes tip the ball. If the ball is passed back out to O1, this is no problem, as O1 will probably not hurt us way out there. All defenders just rotate back to their original spots. If O2 has dribbled down toward the corner, a quick anticipating X1 defender might even be able to intercept the pass back out to O1.

Pass to the Corner

See diagram D. The ball is passed to O4 in the corner. X5 will sprint and close out on O4 in the corner. X3 immediately drops inside to front the post. This is called a defensive "X-cut". O4 initially sees the low post O5 open (vacated by X5), and passes inside, not seeing X3 dropping inside. X3 can steal this pass and get the fast-break going. Additionally, when closing out on the corner, X5 should get the hands ready to deny that passing lane, and try to deflect the pass. X2 denies the pass back out to the wing. X1 and X4 have back-side and topside, skip-pass responsibility.

Amoeba defense - defending the corner and Skip Passes Amoeba defense - defending the corner and Skip Passes

Defending Skip Passes

Diagram E shows the skip-pass from the corner. X4 closes out on the ball O3. X3 slides across the lane to become the post defender. X5 drops inside and becomes the hoop defender. X2 covers the high post, and X1 gets into the passing lane to O1. Now X2 and X5 cover any skip-pass going back to the right side.

Defending a Two-Guard Front - Triple-Teaming the High Post

Here, the offense uses two guards. X1 and X2 match-up with the two guards... Once the pass is made to the high post, X1 and X2...

Amoeba defense - defending the corner and Skip Passes

Become a Premium Member or get the Deluxe USB or downloads to get the complete article and animation. This complete article also includes defending the two-guard front and triple-teaming the high post.

Coach Tarkanian:

Helpful DVD from Coach Tarkanian:

Amoeba DVD

UNLV Amoeba Zone Defense
with Jerry Tarkanian, former Head Coach UNLV.

Price: $39.99
Buy Now

Copyright © 2001 - 2018, James A. Gels, all rights reserved.

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