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Basketball Offense - Cherry Picking Offense

From Tyler Whitcomb - Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook

Coach Tyler Whitcomb is the boy's head basketball coach at West Michigan Aviation Academy and was a former pro basketball GM and scout. In his young career, he already has over 100 high school coaching victories.

Coach Tyler Whitcomb
Coach Tyler Whitcomb

"Cherry picking" is a concept that has been around for many years but you rarely see it anymore. Years ago you might have seen a team play half-court defense with just four players and send one player deep toward their basket. The idea was to get the rebound and quickly make the long throw down-court to your "cherry-picker" for an easy lay-up. And it worked sometimes.

Coach Whitcomb has used something similar that he calls his "cherry-picking system". First, this is not something you would want to do the entire game, as defending 4 against 5 is going to cost you over the long haul. But you might try it in a special situation... after a time-out, or with a call from the bench.

Running it for just a possesion or two, may confuse the offense initially, or might force them out of their usual offense by making them drop one offensive player back for defense. But after a time-out or a couple possessions, they'll figure it out, and so then you drop it and go back to your usual 5-on-5 defense.

Obviously then, pick the game situations wherein you think this might work... and might not. If you are trailing by 10 with limited time remaining and no shot clock, the opponent could just delay and run out the clock playing 5-on-4.

Initial Set

Diagram 1 shows Whitcomb's initial setup... four half-court defenders and one leaking out to half-court along the sideline. The rebounder makes the quick pass to O2 and O1 sprints up the opposite side for the pass from O2.

Diagram 2 shows the old classic cherry-pick with O2 sprinting deep for the long pass.

cherry picking - setup cherry picking long pass

Counter Options

Diagrams 3, 4 and 5 show counter options when the opponent has one player drop back to defend the cherry-picker. In diagram 3, when an opponent comes out on the cherry-picker, the cherry-picker goes back inside and plays defense. When he/she does, he yells out the name of a teammate e.g. "John" and John moves outside as the new cherry picker on the opposite sideline. You could call this something like "replace".

cherry picking - change cherry-picker

Diagram 4 shows another counter option - two cherry-pickers. This time our initial cherry-picker stays put, and we leak out a second cherry-picker along the opposite sideline. We are now playing 3-on-4 half-court defense, so you can call this option "3". The outlet pass goes up the opposite sideline to O3, who looks to pass to O2 sprinting to the hoop.

Diagram 5 shows O3 simply releasing deep for the long pass.

cherry picking - two cherry-pickers cherry picking - two cherry-pickers, long pass


To make this work, your defenders must get really good at 4-on-5 and 3-on-4 half-court defense, or you will give up as many easy baskets as you'll get. So work hard on 4-on-5 and 3-on-4 defense every day.

Here are some additional helful drills from this website: