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Program Defensive Philosophy
5/08/2016, 7:15am CDT
By Matt Monroe

The following is from Matt Monroe, Head Boys Basketball Coach, Saint Ignatius College Prep:

Teaching our teams to be strong defensively is the foundation of our basketball program. Regardless of how our teams are playing offensively, we know that are defense will always be there for us. We must work on the fundamentals of our defensive system on a daily basis and emphasize behaviors that make us strong in that regard.

To ensure defensive success, we must:

  1.   Communicate on every possession.
  2.   Be committed to getting back and not giving up easy baskets. Make them face our set defense.
  3.   Be able to pressure the ball.
  4.   Be ready off the ball.
  5.   Allow no middle seam penetration.
  6.   Fight to keep the ball out of the post.
  7.   Help early on all dribble penetration.
  8.   Be in position early. Don’t react, anticipate on defense.
  9.   Challenge all shots with TWO hands.
  10.   Rebound the basketball.
  11.   Know our assignments and coverages against opponent actions.
  12.   Dodge and defeat screens.
  13.     Make toughness and hustle plays (ex. loose balls, taking charges).

We will work on individual and team defensive fundamentals on a daily basis at all levels in our program. We fully subscribe to the concept that offense may win games, but defense wins championships.

Teaching Defense Through Defending Flex
5/04/2016, 7:15am CDT
By Paul Brettner

The following is from Paul Brettner, Head Girls' Basketball Coach, Vernon Hills High School:

I learned something about early season defense several years ago from a coaching friend that I deeply respect. During that first two weeks (could be more, but our state high school association allows 2 weeks of practice prior to games being played) I had always just done daily shell drills and breakdown drills while building up our man to man defense. We did our build up of position, help etc, and we still do a fair amount of that, but we have added something to it. On day one of tryouts we have a portion of our time dedicated to learning and defending FLEX. Our team does not run FLEX, but a couple teams on our schedule do. FLEX has a lot of actions that we will have to face during the year with a FLEX cut, a down screen which is a screen the screener, and ball reversal. This patterned offense helps us to get better at some of the man to man principles that we want our players to execute. We practice straight man, switching screens, no help on a player, and some trapping. An added bonus is you can see during tryouts if players can pick up offensive action quickly.

On day two we have a portion of our time dedicated to learning and defending dribble drive. We have some dribble drive teams on our schedule and penetration is part of most team's offensive behavior. On day three we move on to the Swing offense, on day four we move on to Wheel and on day five we move to a pick down pick across motion. On days six - twelve we recycle through these again. Most of the teams on our schedule have at least some facets of these offenses so we are preparing to go against many teams in our first two weeks. Then when we are preparing for a FLEX team we don't have to try to learn it the day before the game, we already know it and sometimes as good or better as the team we are defending. Now in our time we do not become a fantastic FLEX or Dribble Drive team with all the nuances of those offenses, but we have a decent understanding of what teams are trying to do to score and we have reviewed many of the actions that we will face during the season. Whatever offenses you know you will encounter you can add it to the list.

This does not take the place of shell or any defensive fundamental breakdown drills, but it allows us to enhance those while being in a position to be competitive and keep score. When we keep score with one of these offenses we discover more nuances that we will have to defend because kids are not just trying to run the offense, they are trying to score. We have also found out some things about our team offensively and borrowed some actions from some of these offenses in our own stuff.

Practice time in those first couple of weeks is at a premium but we feel this benefits us all season long.

Concepts for an Effective Defense
4/29/2016, 7:00am CDT
By Mike Bailey

The following is from Mike Bailey, Head Boys' Basketball Coach, Saint Patrick High School (Chicago):

A good defensive team may take some chances in the full or half court areas. They may mix their defenses in various ways. But a great defensive team is always solid in the scoring area. If we make this commitment, we can be good as any team defensively.

To excel in team defense, you must be willing to do certain things:

  • Put playing defense high on your list of priorities – have pride in playing it as an individual and team.
  • Talk on defense.
  • Be willing to give yourself up to help on defense. We are always defending against penetration; each man defends his man, the ball, and the foul lane.
  • Be willing to identify with the rebound and loose ball.
  • Have the courage to be physical – to put your body on people, to make the first hit on block outs, and to defend cutters.

Once we are committed as a team to playing the most consistent defensive game possible, our basic plan in setting our half-court defense then follows:

  • Be a great transition team. Stop the fast break, easy sideline break, or easy early offense shot. Make the opponent have to play us 5 on 5, not 2 on 1.
  • Push the ball to a sideline so we can establish a strong side defense. Then, we can set our weak side help defense and make the try to beat us on the entry side of the court.
  • Stop easy penetrations and swings to the weak side by having our team defense set quickly. 
  • Stop the low post attack. Prevent easy passes in and also prevent scores, if the ball does get inside (i.e. weak side help, trap, etc.).
  • Rotate to cover up any opponent who was left open because one of our defensive teammates left to attack a penetrating drive or low post pass.

In the end, each player must commit himself to his teammates. He must be willing to say he will give his best to help his teammates get the defensive job done. It is not enough to say, “I’ll get mine, you get yours.” You must be willing to say, “I’ll get mine and yours too, when you need me.”

By being willing to give help to attack every penetration into our defense and to rotate to every open man we will be able to challenge every shot in good shooting range.

When the day arrives that each teammate feels we are going to war together and that each man has his teammates to back him up, we will have a team we can be proud of, and one that will win consistently.

Coach Quotes on the Importance of Defense

“You win in this league on defense.” – George Allen on the NFL

“Winning is more related to good defense than good offense.” – Dr. Jack Ramsey on the NBA

“My philosophy of defense is to keep the pressure on an opponent until you get to his emotions.” – John Wooden, UCLA

“It’s fun to play defense. It’s fun to watch the opponent sweat on offense, start complaining to the officials, and eventually be taken out of the game because he’s making so many offensive mistakes.” – Maury John, former college coach

“Defense is the great equalizer. It’s the chief characteristic of the champion and the trademark of the underdog.” – Dr. Jack Ramsey

Aggressive Zone Traps
4/07/2016, 7:00am CDT
By Jason Burkiewicz

The following is from Jason Burkiewicz, Head Girls Basketball Coach, Annawan High School:

Full court:

  • 2-2-1
  • 1-2-1-1
  • 1-2-2

Half court:

  • 1-3-1

Rules and thought process to trap our trap defense:

  • Constantly have two people on the ball pressuring
  • The ball is never allowed to go middle
  • Remaining three players off the ball are playing gaps and reading the next pass
  • Our goal is to get our opponents to focus on simply getting rid of the ball and hoping for a shot rather than running a comfortable offense that they practice over and over.

Player thought process:

  • We do not play “safe.” We rotate and go for steals in the passing lane all game long
  • We will trade a lay-up for 3-5 steals any day so our players are quickly taught to not get discouraged when we allow an easy lay-up
  • I choose zone traps because most coaches choose the same or similar ways to attack them.  By midseason our girls have a great recognition of what opponents will try to do and it can often times be like playing the same game over and over again.
  • The two trappers are relentless
  • Our two trappers on ball are taught to force the ball handler toward each other leaving 2-3 ft. gap between them while the player is dribbling
  • If we leave that gap the ball handler is tempted to split, where our ball side defender will sweep the ball as it cannot be protected dribbling between two people.  It will be exposed to one. (We have become very good at this over the years)
  • We want them to pick up the ball as much as possible to promote as many passes as we can in order to try and take one out of the air for a lay-up
  • I put my quickest defender on the left side of the court always to protect against the guards who always want to dribble right.  Their rule is to keep their right shoulder outside of the ball being dribble in the right hand of the ball handler.  In addition they should never fall for jukes, stop and go’s, etc.  I know that ball handler wants to stay right.
  • When they overplay the right hand and get the ball handler to pick it up, that’s when we immediately go on the attack.  Their partner who was 2-3 ft away closes quickly
  • Our goal from here is to get that person to throw it quickly to the first person they see or turn their back on us.
  • Lastly, if they keep the ball and turn their back on us we show our players and drill that the offensive player only can pivot, whereas us on defense can continue to move our feet.  Therefore we will continue to slide our feet and keep our bodies in between our opponent and forward progress.  They will not be able to pivot out or complete the only pass we leave open.  The long ball!
  • Many coaches want to throw the ball long on us as we do often times leave a girl open.  However we only rotate and leave her open after we feel we have the trap that takes it away.
  • If these things take place we feel we will have a lot of success
  • The ball handler never splits our traps.  In fact we bait you to go there and we’re ready when they do.
  • Opponents that have failed with the pass begin to try and dribble through our pressure defense
  • When this happens we teach the ball side defender only to sweep at the ball
  • If they get a piece of it their job is to head to our basket and the next level’s job is to pick it up and throw it ahead for a lay-up

Trapping Drill

  • Put a ball handler on the end line starting at mid-lane with a goal of trying to dribble to halfcourt
  • Have your two trappers start at the elbows
  • Teach them to come down the lane line to start.  It is important to teach angles to your players in order to get you opponent to pick up the ball.  If your player runs straight at them they are going to allow their opponent to blow around them.
  • I teach when the ball handler is aggressively coming forward we need to move backward with them while staying in front to slow them down.  We call it, “catching” them first.
  • After the ball side defender gets the ball handler to slow down, stop, or even retreat.  That is our cue to begin the attack.

Building Your Defensive System
3/25/2016, 6:30am CDT
By Tim Trendel

The following is from Tim Trendel, Head Boys' Basketball Coach, Providence Catholic High School:

Many people have spent countless hours writing books and making videos on the subject of team defense, so while I am writing on this topic now, I am only going to scratch the surface with concepts that can get you started thinking about a system that suits your team.  The defensive end of the floor is the forgotten end of the floor.  All too often, it’s the highlight dunks or the dazzling handles that show up on highlight reels and players no longer want to roll up their sleeves and do the dirty work that is required by all defenses regardless of the system being played.  Remember, offense will win you games but defense wins championships!

For starters, coaches have to select a defensive system that fits they are comfortable with and their players are comfortable with.  Once you have chosen that system, it is very important that you do not waver.  Coaches cannot be jumping from one system to the next during the season, for your team will never defend at a championship level because they won’t develop the necessary habits to defend in that system.  Plus, if a coach is jumping from one defensive system to another, it will show a lack of confidence and once you show that lack of confidence, how can your players have confidence in your designated system?

Another issue that needs to be addressed before we begin to talk X’s and O’s, is the mindset of your players who will be executing your defensive system.  Your players need to buy into your system or it is doomed to fail regardless of how good it really is.  The players need to understand that they are part of something bigger than themselves and that they will be sacrificing on the defensive end of the floor for the team.  There are many terms that I use and discuss with my teams to illustrate this team first mentality.  My players constantly hear the terms trust, collective responsibility, selflessness, pride, and toughness.  I will discuss these terms or others like them daily to help my guys see that they are part of a team and that being part of a team is a special opportunity.  If my players cannot trust one another, then how can I expect them to pressure the ball handler hard?  For the guy guarding the basketball has to trust that his teammates will be in the proper position to rotate and help if he gets beat!

Enough with philosophy, lets talk some X’s and O’s.  No matter the defensive system being played, guarding the ball handler and contesting shots is key.   When guarding the basketball, players must have some technique regardless of their quickness.  So, one of the first things you must decide as a coach is where to you want the ball to go because that will determine your off the ball rotations.  Some teams will force the ball to the middle, while others will force the ball to the baseline.  I prefer forcing the ball to the baseline.

Once you have decided where you want the ball to go, then you can talk to your players about stance and foot positioning.  It is very important that when guarding that your players are balanced.  Their feet should be shoulder width apart, with their knees bent.  A big mistake players often make is putting their heads out over their feet which take them off balance.  We will tell our players on offense that the low man wins and the same holds true for the defense.  It is imperative that they get lower then their offensive counterpart!  Some teams will then have their man on the ball force it to a certain side.  I believe in positioning the defenders feet so that they match the feet of the ball handler until the ball is out of the middle of the floor.  Once the ball is out of the middle, the defender’s foot positioning changes so that the ball handler drives to the baseline.  We constantly drill stance and foot positioning with our players!

Once the ball is out of the middle of the floor, we are now able to establish our helpline (the imaginary line running down the center of the court).  If you are guarding someone who is on the weak side (side opposite the ball), then you are on the helpline even or below the basketball so that you can see the ball and your man.  When on the helpline, it is important for players to have their butt facing the baseline so that they can see the whole court.  On the helpline, it is very important that they players remain in a good defensive stance.  If the players are standing upright on the helpline, they are in a very unathletic position and will be slow in their rotations.  I also tell my players that they should point one finger to the basketball and one finger to their man and have constant small head turns while on the helpline.  Once a drive is made, my players are instructed to help early and recover quickly.

What to do with the guys on the ball side of the floor is a subject constantly debated among coaches.  Many coaches will advocate denying the next pass in line, while others will argue that gaps should be protected to help on the drive.  No matter the philosophy you choose, to deny or gap protect, it is important to drill that defensive position often if not daily!

Another technique to drill in your defense, no matter if its zone or man is that of closeouts.  No defense regardless of style, wants to give-up uncontested jump shots.  Shooting percentages decrease significantly when shots are contested.  I tell my players when contesting shots, to sprint the first half of the way and then squeak their feet the last half of the way.  This eliminates a sweep and go by the offensive player.  I also tell my players to closeout with both hands high which helps them to become balanced.  Lastly, when the ball is in the outer third, I tell my players to closeout to the half court leg, thus forcing a baseline drive.

Then finally, once your team has forced a bad shot, it is vital that your team finishes the play with a blackout.  The most common reflex for all players once the ball is shot is just to turn and go after the ball.  If your team does not have the discipline to blackout, it is doomed.  I like to use the term BOPCRO.  BOPCRO stands for:  blackout, pursue, chin it, rebound, and outlet.  It is very important for your players to make contact on their blackout and then drive their man back so that they do not get pushed under the rim where the only shot they are rebounding is a made basket.

This is a very primitive article on defense.  As stated earlier, volumes have been written and recorded on the subject.  The things contained here can be used in just about any system by any level of coach.  But it is very important to remember that you remain committed to your defensive system and believe in your system.  It is also very important that your players believe in and trust one another.

Annawan Defensive Philosophy
2/12/2016, 6:45am CDT
By Jason Burkiewicz

The following is from Jason Burkiewicz, Head Girls' Basketball Coach, Annawan High School:

Career – 112-15

  • All 15 losses are to top 10 ranked opponents in 1A, 2A, or 3A
  • 11 of the 15 losses are by 5 points or less

Defensive Philosophy

When I was a player in high school I did not take as much pride as I should of in my defense.  I was a three point specialist from the point guard position who focused primarily on offense while occasionally getting a hand in the passing lane or getting a steal out front.  However, after becoming a coach defense has quickly become my primary focus and it has become the identity of my coaching style.  

My outlook on defense all started to change when I took my first job coaching freshman girls’ basketball at Princeton High School.  I had coached boys’ basketball before but had no experience when dealing with girls sports.  This was a school in which volleyball was the known sport for girls and basketball was just an afterthought.  I could see that our girls were athletic.  They could run, jump, accelerate, change direction quickly, and even shoot a little bit, but for the most part when you put a ball in their hands all of that ability seemed to disappear.  After teaching the basics I knew about basketball we started off the season 0-12 before going into Christmas break.  After seeing my first dose of girls’ basketball for a month and a half I noticed that even the good teams lost quite a bit of athleticism when they had to handle the ball at the same time.  Their eyes were down and their passes were not sharp when faced with pressure.  So over Christmas break I threw out everything else we were focusing on and I taught my girls a 1-2-1-1 full court press and a 2-2-1 full court press.  I figured we were going to use our athleticism when not in possession of the ball and our defense was going to create our primary source of offense.  Our first game after Christmas we played a 12-0 team in our conference and beat them having scored forty-five points.  Our full court pressure made the game very difficult on our opponent and after we would cover a passing lane and get a steal we would pass the ball ahead immediately to someone going to the basket for a lay-up.  This game shaped me and my ideals of girls’ basketball.  Today I am a four year varsity girls’ coach at Annawan High School with a record of 112-15 and I attribute a great part of it to our defensive philosophy.

After becoming a girls’ coach I soon realized that when you have a fast male basketball player and put a basketball in his hand, he is still pretty fast, but when you have a girl who is fast and put a basketball in her hand, on average she is quite a bit slower.  Therefore I determined that the best place my girls could showcase their athleticism and be aggressive was on defense.  I grew up playing in a man to man system.  I still teach man to man and we will play it because I strongly believe you need to know good man to man principles in order to play a zone effectively.  With that being said I have become a strong believer in aggressive, trapping zone defenses.  No matter who we play I always start off in either our 2-2-1 or 1-2-1-1 full court pressure.  These two presses are very similar in trapping style and rotations but I teach two because it can be confusing to opposing players just by making a subtle change in alignment.  We will also run a 1-2-2 three quarter court press.  By throwing different looks at the defense it causes our opposing coach to often times have to use timeouts to show a different way to attack our press.  Then I just simply change back to a different one.  It is my philosophy that I do not have to coach against our opponents coach but rather I have to outsmart our opponents’ players.  By allowing our team the option of changing looks it forces the opposing players to make adjustments because their coach cannot call a timeout every time we switch things up.  Also when pressing the girls can really free themselves up to use their speed and athleticism without having to control the basketball.  My girls in the past have told me how much they really enjoy playing this up-tempo style of basketball.  I find that it keeps them engaged in the game and even takes away from any sort of nervousness that may occur in a big game because of the constant movement that forces them to react more than think.  In fact, there have been games where we have had to pull the press off because our opponent was beating it consistently but toward the end of close games when nerves start to kick in we have gone back to it.  After making this move we almost always find that in this high pressured situation our opponent cannot handle the same press they did earlier in the game.

If we are not using our full court pressure that drops back into a man defense then we will be using our 1-3-1 half court trap.  This has been my go to defense the past couple of season for a couple reasons.  We have been able to form great traps because I have had multiple lanky girls with long arms that cause opponents to throw rainbow passes over the top.  After we steal these rainbow passes it allows us time to set up for a lay-up whereas our full court pressure sometimes still causes us to make contested lay-ups after steals.  The main reason I like this defense so much is because it forces our opponents to not be able to run whatever offense they practice all season long.  Against our 1-3-1 we know our opponent is going to show us a 2-1-2 look.  Because everybody tries to attack the 1-3-1 the same way it allows our players to recognize what teams are looking for and gives us a huge advantage when anticipating passes.

The last thing I want to mention in our defensive philosophy that is preached and taught every day in practice is, “No Middle.”  No matter what we are running defensively rather it is our man to man or any of our zone defenses we never want our opponent to be able to catch a pass or dribble penetrate to the middle of the floor.  I feel that too much damage can be done to a defense when the ball is in the middle of the floor particularly at the free throw line.  When a good guard can get to this position on the floor too many options become available.  They can shoot a nice short jump shot or help can come from either side of the floor allowing the guard to dump the ball off either direction for a lay-up.  Instead we want to ball to go baseline, behind the basket, where we can again set a trap.  Shooting from behind the basket is not a high percentage shot in my opinion so we want to overplay the hand that the offensive player would have to use to get to the middle of floor, making them go toward the baseline if they put the ball on the floor.  When I first teach this concept many fans, coaches, and players will remind me of the old basketball saying, “Never give up baseline.”  I respond with, “We don’t give up baseline, we force baseline!”  When it is part of your defensive concept it is easy to force a player down there and get a trap.  After our rotations there is only one place to pass the ball and it is away from the basket to a wing on ball side.  This has been very effective for us and this concept too takes our opponent away from what they want to accomplish offensively because through high pressure, we determine where the ball is going to go, not the offense.

Implementing the 1-3-1 Zone Defense
2/11/2016, 7:00am CDT
By Matt Monroe

The following is from Matt Monroe, Assistant Boys Basketball Coach, Saint Patrick High School:


Notes on Defense
1/16/2016, 7:00am CDT
By Steve Kuhn

The following is from Steve Kuhn, Sophomore Boys' Basketball Coach, Marquette Academy:

Four truths on any defense.

It's always ball you man. The ball is the key.

Defense is one man guarding the ball and four others helping him.
  "Mike Krzyzewski"

The hardest a player has to work is when he/she is not guarding the ball.

Focus, see, anticipate, act.   "Bob Knight"

There are four secrets to playing great defense.

Always be in an athletic stance.

Move on the flight of the ball/bounce of the ball.

Commit to the helpline.


3 Tips for Defending Ballscreens
11/19/2015, 7:15am CDT
By Matt Monroe

The following is from Kyle Gilreath and the Better Basketball Tribe:

On a recent Hardwood Hustle Podcast, PGC’s Tyler Coston discussed three effective tips to defending ballscreens. These simple ideas can be very effective at any level, but especially at the high school level.

1. If ball handler using the ballscreen isn’t a threatening force on the floor, do not even guard the ball screen. Meaning the player defending the ball should fight over or under; while the defender of the screener should set in help and prevent a downhill drive of the ball.

2. If the ball handler is a threat coming off of the screen but there is poor spacing in the offense and little to no action, get really good at help side defense. Shrink the floor to prevent the ball handler from getting into the paint.

3. If the ball handler is very talented and the floor is spaced well, Blitz (Trap) the ballscreen and take away the ball handler as a threat. Furthermore, make sure your defense rotates to take away the next best action after the ball screen.

Defense and Kaizan
10/12/2015, 6:30am CDT
By Matt Monroe

The following is from Don Meyer, former Head Men's Basketball Coach, Northern State University: