Strategy Guide
Utilizing the Press


There is an ever increasing amount of athleticism in basketball today, and with that comes an increase in the use of pressure defense(s). More teams are letting its athletes pressure the ball. A team with faster players usually will play pressure defense the entire length of the court. This is commonly referred to as “pressing” or “the press.” An effective press leads to easy baskets in transition and can also frustrate your opponent into submission. Let’s look at some key aspects to effectively using a full-court press.

There are several types of full-court pressure defenses. Some employ man-to-man basics while others use zone defensive fundamentals; most good presses use a combination of both.

The most common press I use in coaching high school girls basketball is the “Diamond” press. It utilizes a 1-2-1-1 set, meaning there is one defender guarding the person taking the ball out of bounds, two defenders waiting at the foul line, one defender at half court and the last defender protecting the basket at the opposite end of the court. When the ball is thrown in bounds the first defender guards the ball handler using man-to-man defensive principles and forcing the ball handler toward the sidelines.

The second set of defenders must now use both sets of defensive fundamentals. One defender will be moving over to help “trap” the ball handler with the first defender. The other defenders are guarding zones, thus the zone defensive tactics. I have had great success using this type of press and I’m sure it will also be at your disposal when College Hoops 2K8/March Madness 08 release in the upcoming months.

Why use the press you ask. There are several reasons to do so. Each reason has a logic behind it that is specific to the level of play.

For example, most professional basketball teams use what I call the “lazy press.” They are playing defense full court but they are not really looking to force a turnover. They are focusing on keeping the ball handler in front of them and forcing the offensive team to use most of the 24-second shot clock.

An effective press at this level would mean that the defense has caused the offensive team to use at least half of the allotted 24 seconds. This results in a quick shot by the offense, which usually means a poor shot. If the defense has forced a poor shot then it can lead to an easy fast break for them. In essence, the press has done its job. 

Collegiate teams use the press for two reasons. One reason is described above. It’s used to make the offensive team use a good portion of the shot clock so there is little time to get a good look at the basket.

The second reason is to cause turnovers. Who can forget the Arkansas Razorback teams of the 90’s and the Nolan Richardson era? Forty minutes of hell was their mantra and they meant it. They forced turnover after turnover, which lead to easy points and decimated the will of their opponents.

High school teams use the press mainly for forcing turnovers. Most high school players aren’t sound ball handlers and have trouble using their off-hands. This makes the press highly effective. 

The how and whys to using a press during game play are dependent on some key factors. Personnel, game situation and coaching style all factor into how and why a press would be used. Some coaches, like myself, like to speed the game up.

We use the press to increase the number of offensive possessions our teams have during the game. The more possessions, the higher likelihood of scoring more than the other team. In order to do that you have to have the right personnel. A team that is full of low post players that don’t move well shouldn’t be pressing. However, a small, quick team can have great success with a press.

Game situation can also determine whether or not you should use a press. Some teams like to start the game pressing to try and get a few quick baskets, thereby getting the team into a groove; other teams like to surprise opponents and press after a timeout or free throw since those are situations that are more likely to catch a team off guard and force a quick turnover.

Obviously, if your team is behind in the fourth quarter pressing is a good way to try and get back into the game. There are also teams that will press for the entire game to wear down their opponents. 

The press is not full proof however. A well-coached and disciplined team will make mince meat out of a press. And yes, it’s true that a press can lead to easy lay-ups but no one ever specified which team was getting the easy baskets.

A team that breaks a press usually gets a good shot because inevitably a defender is out of position and the offensive team ends up with a numbers advantage. The advantage creates a good shot for the offense and can bring the defensive team out of the press quickly. 

Before using the press defense, you, as a coach, must decide on your philosophy behind using it. Is the press going to be a staple of your team? Then your personnel should reflect that. If you are going to use the press as a situational tool then you may have to adjust your substitution patterns accordingly.

Ah…decisions, decisions. But that’s the gift and the curse of being a coach. Just thank your lucky stars you can restart the game since it’s not that easy actually being on the sidelines!

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