During our pre-season, we introduce our defensive philosophy to our players through a specific 7 – day program that we call our 7 Days of Defense. We cover our 7 Days of Defense over the course of the three and a half weeks that precede the first day of practice that we are allowed to have a full practice as a team. We will introduce these concepts to our players twice per week for three weeks and then have one final review day during the last week of our pre-season.
On the first day of defense, we introduce our "Stance" drill to the team. One-on-one, man to man defense is the foundation of our defensive philosophy.
We also review the four different ways that we use to defend ball screens. The ways that we defend ball screens, and any screen for that matter, are personnel driven. The four ways that we defend a ball screen are:
- By having the forward hedge for two dribbles beyond the point of the screen.
- By going under the ball screen.
- By going over the ball screen.
- By blitzing the ball screen.
Finally, on our first day of defense, we introduce our "Wack-out" drill, where we teach our players how to sprint from help defense out to the perimeter to guard their opponent with the ball. This occurs in games when there are ball reversals or skip passes.
At Hofstra, when we talk about defense, we begin with our "Stance" drill (photo 1 and 2). "Stance" refers to the way that the defensive player positions his body when the offensive player that he is guarding has the ball. When the defensive player is in a "Stance" his feet are spread apart, slightly more than shoulder width, and his toes are pointing towards the offensive player with the ball. The defender’s legs are bent at the knees, looking as if he is sitting in a chair. The defender’s back is straight. The defender has one hand on the ball and the other hand in the passing lane.
When we say a hand on the ball, the defender extends his arm so that he is an arm’s length a way, with his hand almost touching the ball. We do not want our defenders to crowd the offensive player because that will lead to a blow- by. Blow-by refers to the time when an offensive player dribbles past the defensive player, and is allowed to penetrate into the lane to create a scoring opportunity for himself or a teammate.
If the offensive player has the ball positioned on his right side of the body, the defensive player positions his right hand on the ball and his left hand is positioned in the passing lane. If the offensive player has the ball positioned on his left side of the body, the defensive player positions his left hand on the ball and his right hand in the passing lane. We emphasize that the defender must have his head and hand on the ball. The defender has a hand on the ball to challenge the offensive player if he looks to cross – over or change direction with the basketball. The defender has a hand in the passing lane so that he can look to deflect any pass made by the offensive player.
When the offensive player has the ball, the defensive player mirrors the ball with the appropriate hand. The hand that he mirrors the ball with depends on which side of the body the offensive player is holding the ball. The defensive player mirrors the ball so that the offensive player never feels comfortable while in possession of the ball, and also to try and get a deflection if the offensive player tries to make a quick pass. The defensive player yells: “Ball, Ball, Ball” as he is mirroring the ball (photo 3). There must be constant ball pressure. When the offensive player begins to dribble the ball in a particular direction, the defender points his foot in the direction that he is sliding (photo 4). He takes a long first step with his first foot, and a short second step with his second foot (photo 5 and 6), keeping one hand on the ball and one hand in the passing lane. If the offensive player changes direction while dribbling the basketball, the defensive player adjusts by switching the hand that was on the ball and the hand that was in the passing lane. At the same time, the defender yells: “Switch.” The defender then points his other foot in the direction that he is sliding, and takes a long first step with that foot, and a short second step with his other foot.
When the offensive player picks up his dribble, we teach our players to crowd the offensive player and to mirror the basketball with both hands, while yelling: “Dead, Dead, Dead.” The defender crowds the offensive player to make it difficult for him to make a pass now that he has used up his dribble, and he yells: “Dead” to make it hard for the offensive player to hear his teammates who might be trying to come back to help. At this point, the defender on the ball does not want to foul. Photo 7 shows the defender reacting to the offensive player when he picks up his dribble.
This drill covers our basic one-on-one defensive positioning for when the individual offensive player has the basketball. We execute our "Stance" drill at the beginning of every practice. The players form 3 rows of 4 players each. The coach stands with the basketball in front of the entire team. Each player acts as if he is defending the coach. The coach acts as if he is the offensive player, and depending on the coach’s actions, the players who are the defenders, react appropriately in the ways that we have described above.
We also practice our individual one-onone defense with our full court, one-onone, zig zag drill. Each player will have a partner. They will take turns playing offense and defense. They switch offense and defense after every trip. Most of the time, we will partner up guards with guards and forwards with forwards. Sometimes, we will mix it up, and have the guards and forwards compete against one another. The offensive player will dribble back and forth between the sideline and the nearest lane line as the defender looks to turn the offensive player. Once they both reach half court, they play one-on-one. The possession does not end until the defensive player grabs the rebound or gets a steal, or until the offensive player scores. The coaches keep track of how many times each defensive player is able to prevent the offensive player from scoring. The defender with the most stops by the end of the drill wins. We will do this drill frequently at the beginning of the season because it helps to condition our players.
They get tired quickly, but at the same time, they understand that they are preparing themselves both physically and mentally for end of the game situations that will occur during the season. The players understand that as the drill goes on, it will be harder to get stops because their bodies will get tired. This is where the players will teach themselves not only what it is like to play defense at the end of a game, but also how to become mentally tougher. This drill creates the game situation of what one-on-one, on- the-ball defense feels like, especially when a player becomes fatigued. It is a drill where our players can really compete against one another and it is also a drill that exposes a player’s weaknesses. After we complete our "Stance" drill on day 1 of defense, we look to teach our players the different ways in which we will defend ball screens.
DEFENDING BALL SCREENS
We will have the defender of the screener (the forward) hedge for two dribbles beyond the point of the screen (diagr. 2), if we want to get the ball out of the offensive player’s hands, and at the same time, if we don’t want to get beat by being out-numbered on the pass back to the screener. This is like a soft blitz. The difference is that when we hedge for two dribbles, the forward hedging is able to recover back to his man quickly (diagr. 3). We will go under a ball screen if we feel that the offensive player does not shoot the ball as well as he might drive the ball. When we are going under ball screens, the forward places his forearm that is closest to the hoop on the back of the screener. The forward fully extends his other arm straight out. He remains in an athletic "Stance". The defender of the screener begins with his bottom foot in between the screener’s two feet and lets the guard know that the screen is coming by yelling: “Screen, screen, screen.” In an athletic "Stance" and with his arm fully extended, but without losing contact with the screener, the forward’s job is to slightly hedge the ball screen, or force the ball-handler slightly away from the ball screen, so that he cannot come off cleanly. The guard begins with a hand on the ball and slides with the offensive player until the point of the screen. The guard scrapes right underneath the screener. The guard then meets the offensive player on the other side of the screen with a hand on the ball (diagr. 4 and 5). If, when we go under the ball screen, the ball handler decides to shoot an out-cut jump shot directly behind the back of the screener, then the two defenders switch men, so that the guard is guarding the forward and the forward is guarding the guard (diagr. 6, 7 and 8). We will go over a ball screen if we feel that the offensive player shoots the ball very well. When we are going over ball screens, the defender of the screener begins by placing his forearm that is closest to the hoop on the back of the screener. He fully extends his other arm straight out while remaining in an athletic "Stance". This time, the defender of the screener (the forward) begins with his bottom foot directly behind the screener’s top foot and lets the guard know that the screen is coming by yelling: “screen, screen, screen.” The guard begins with a hand on the ball and slides with the offensive player to the point of the screen. The forward hedges straight out and forces the ball-handler away from the ball screen. The forward must not open up with his top foot. If the forward opens up with his top foot, the ball handler is able to turn the corner before the defensive guard is able to get back to hand on the ball. The guard scrapes above the screener and then below his teammate. The guard gets back to hand on the ball when he passes under his teammate. The forward sprints back to the screener once his teammate has passed underneath (diagr. 9 and 10). We will blitz a ball screen if we feel that a particular player has been hurting us while using the ball screen or if we want to disrupt the opposing team’s offense. We begin the same way that we do when we are going over ball screens. The defender of the screener (the forward) places his forearm that is closest to the hoop on the back of the screener. He fully extends his other arm straight out while remaining in an athletic "Stance". The forward begins with his bottom foot directly behind the screener’s top foot and lets the guard know that the screen is coming by yelling: “Screen, screen, screen.” The guard begins with a hand on the ball and slides with the offensive player to the point of the screen. The forward hedges out as the ball handler gets to the screen. The guard and the forward come together to form a trap around the ball handler (diagr. 11 and 12). As the ball-handler tries to dribble out of the trap, the guard crowds the ball handler and makes it difficult for him to pass back to an open teammate. The forward and guard continue to look to trap the ball handler and look to obtain a deflection out of the trap. The two defensive players involved in the trap are not looking for a steal. They are looking for a deflection. We will also teach "Wack-out"s on day 1. We begin this drill by splitting up the team so that half of the team uses one end of the court and the other half of the team uses the other half of the court. On each end, one coach stands at the top of the key. One defensive player stands underneath the rim. There are two lines filled with the other players; one line in one corner and the other line in the other corner. The players in the lines are the offensive players. The coach has the ball and yells: "Stance." The defensive player underneath the rim smacks the floor with both hands and then yells: “D-Time!” The coach then throws the ball to the first player in one of the two lines. The defensive player reacts by wacking out to the offensive player with the ball. The offensive player can either shoot or drive the basketball. He is trying to score. The defensive player must stop the offensive player from scoring and must then get the rebound (diagr. 13).
The defensive player must prevent two different offensive players in a row from scoring. He remains the defensive player until he accomplishes this goal. If the first pass from the coach is thrown to one particular line, then the next pass is thrown to the other line. When the defensive player gets two stops in a row, the coach rotates in a new defensive player. This drill creates the game situation of what it feels like to go from help position back to the offensive player that the defender is guarding.
On the second day of defense, we introduce our slide-run-slide concept, which becomes part of our "Stance" drill. We review defending ball screens and our "Wack-out" drill. We then introduce the ways that we defend down screens and flare screens, along with introducing the proper technique for defending back cuts.
We teach our players the slide-run-slide concept so that they understand how they are supposed to react when the offensive player is able to advance past the defensive player. When the ball handler begins to dribble past the defender (photo 8), the defender must first begin to run lower and harder (photo 9). He must take his top foot and top arm and throw it across his body (photo 10). The arm that he throws across his body must be fully extended and reach low enough to almost touch the floor. He then advances by keeping his body low to the ground. Once the defender recovers, he returns to his "Stance", with his head and hand on the ball (photo 11).
When we defend down screens, we begin with the forward as the screener. The forward yells: “Screen, screen, screen.” The guard positions himself directly behind the offensive player that is going to use the screen. We call this “getting on the offensive player’s numbers” so that we can lock and trail (diagr. 14). The guard cannot “get on the offensive player’s numbers” too early, or the offensive player will shape up to the ball. The guards must get back on the inside after he clears the screen. The forward is loaded to the ball so that he is able to help on a curl, and is also on the line of the ball (diagr.15) so that he prevents a direct pass over the top to his man, the screener (diagr. 16). The forward, therefore, must also see the ball in case such a pass is thrown. When we defend flare screens, we also begin with the forward as a screener. The forward yells: “Screen, screen, screen” to let his teammate know that a screen is coming. Just like on a down screen, the guard “gets on the offensive player’s numbers” to lock and trail (diagr. 17). Again, the guard cannot lock too early or the offensive player will slip to the rim. The guard must get back on the inside after he clears the screen and then he must load to the ball. The forward is loaded to the ball and is two steps off the line of the ball (diagr. 18 and 19). The forward must see the ball and must be there to hedge if the offensive player tries to curl.
When the defensive player is in denial and the offensive player makes a back cut, the defensive player keeps his back to the passer. The defensive player denies with his closest hand and his closest foot. The defensive player also turns his head while he is in denial so that he can see both the man and the ball. He looks to knock away the pass with his near hand. The defender throws down his back hand and snaps his head on the back cut (photo 12). The thought process that we emphasize to our players is Contain First, Deny 2nd – “Play the ball First.”
On the third day of defense, we review everything from the two previous days and then we teach post defense. Our forwards and guards defend the post in different ways. However, they both always have their hands above their shoulders and they always position their bodies between their man and the basketball (photo 13). Their hands are up and they are constantly moving their feet. Whenever a guard defends the post, he is always in Red no matter where the ball is on the floor. This means that he fronts the post. While he is fronting the post, the guard yells: “Red” which is the way that he lets his teammates know that he is fronting the post so that he is able to have help on the weak side (photo 14). Whenever a forward defends the post, he is either hard on the high side (photo 15) or he is in Red, depending on where the ball is. A forward is only in Red when the ball is in the corner. Otherwise he is hard on the high side.
On the fourth day of defense, we review everything from the previous three days, and then we introduce the concept Attack and Swim. This is a method our players use to avoid being screened. The defender must first turn and face the screen. The defender must attack the screen, instead of waiting to get screened (photo 16, 17 and 18). After the defender gets around the screen, his job is to beat the offensive player to the spot and force the outcut. The defender thinks: “Attack – Swim – Deny/ Red.” When we defend low cross screens and diagonal back screens, our defenders use the attack and swim method. When we defend low cross screens, the defender being screened is loaded to the ball. The defender must first turn and face the screen. He attacks the screen. He does not wait for it. The defender of the screener yells: “Screen, screen, screen.” The defender of the screener must help low, and then quickly get back to the line of the ball, so that they do not throw a direct pass to the screener (diagr. 20, 21 and 22). When we defend diagonal back screens, the defender being screened is loaded to the ball. On the pass, the defender being screened jumps to the ball. The defender being screened must first turn and face the screen. Again, the defender must attack the screen and not wait to get screened. The defender of the screener yells: “Screen, screen, screen.” The defender of the screener is loaded to the ball, helps low, and then gets back (diagr. 23, 24 and 25).
On the fifth day of defense, we review everything from the previous four days and then we teach defending staggered double screens. When we teach defending staggered double screens, we use four offensive players and four defensive players, and they begin in our shell drill alignment. The defender guarding the ball must always have a hand on the ball and must never let the offensive player with the ball feel comfortable. The defender guarding the shooter can do two things. He can lock and trail or he can shoot the gap. If the offensive player coming off the screen is a great shooter, the defender will lock and trail. If the offensive player is not that great of a shooter, the defender will shoot the gap. Whichever way the defender chooses to guard the shooter, the defenders of both screeners must yell “Screen, screen, screen” to let the other defenders know that the screens are coming. If the defender is locking and trailing on the staggered double screen, he cannot lock too early or else the offensive player will shape up to the ball before he comes off of the screens. The defender of the first screener must load to the ball and take away a possible slip by the second screener. The defender of the second screener must load to the ball and hedge to prevent the shooter from curling or from getting an easy look (diagr. 26 and 27). If the defender is shooting the gap, the defenders of both screeners both load to the ball but make room for defender of the shooter to shoot the gap. As the shooter runs off the screens, the defender shoots the gap and meets the shooter after the second screen (diagr. 28 and 29).
An important concept in our team defense is the load line. The load line is a piece of tape that runs down the center of the court from the front of one rim to the front of the other rim. We use tape in practice so the players get used to the concept of the load line (diagr. 30). Obviously, for games, the tape is not on the floor, but the goal at that point is to have the players understand where it would be. The command that we use is load to the ball. This means that if you are a defender and your man does not have the ball, you must position your body closer to where the basketball is, and at the same time, have the ability to see the ball and to see your offensive player.
As the ball is moved farther away from you, as a defender, you must continue to re-position yourself closer to the load line. This concept helps our players to understand positioning when we talk about help defense. It helps them to understand the concept of team defense and that we want five defenders guarding the ball.
On the sixth day of defense, we review everything from the previous five days and then we introduce our 4-on-4 "Shell" drill. The first concept that we emphasize to our players is jump to the ball when the ball is reversed around the perimeter. Jump to the ball means as the ball moves from the defender’s man to another offensive player, the defender must reposition himself so that initially, after the first pass, he is in between his man and the ball, so that the offensive player cannot execute a basket cut after he makes the pass (diagr. 31).
As the ball is passed further away, the defender continues to jump to the ball to ensure that he can give help on any dribble penetration. We also instruct our defenders to “V it in” as the ball is passed from an offensive player to the offensive player that this particular defender is guarding. This means that the defender, instead of sprinting on a direct line from help position to the offensive player who he is responsible for, will first cut towards an imaginary line that runs from his offensive player to the rim, and once he has reached that line, will then sprint out to defend his opponent (diagr. 32). If the defender were to sprint directly from help position to his opponent, his opponent would have an open lane to attack off the dribble. When the defender V’s it in, he prevents the offensive player from attacking off the dribble on a direct line to the rim. The second concept that we emphasize to our players is early help and recover when a teammate gets blown by with dribble penetration. In this part of the drill, the defender allows his man to beat him off the dribble for one or two dribbles. The next defender must then give early help, and force the dribbler to make the next pass out to his teammate (diagr. 33). Once this pass is made, the defender must V it in and "Wack-out" to his opponent (diagr. 34). Once again though, the next defender then allows the offensive player to beat him off the dribble, and this continues so that all of the defenders get used to giving early help and recovering in both directions.
The third concept that we emphasize to our players is jump to the ball, red the post, and load to the ball when they defend basket cuts. In this portion of the drill, on any pass from one of the top two spots towards one of the corners, the passer makes a hard basket cut (diagr. 35 and 36). On the pass to the corner, the defender must jump to the ball, so that he does not get beat on a basket cut. If the offensive player is not open on the basket cut, he posts up on the block for 2-3 seconds. The defender must Red the Post. The defender fronts the post and yells: Red to alert his teammates that he is fronting the post. After the post-up, the offensive player sprints out to the opposite corner position and all of the other offensive players rotate accordingly (diagr. 37). When the offensive player sprints out to the opposite corner, the defender does not chase the offensive player. Instead, the defender loads to the ball, and puts himself in proper help position (diagr. 38).
We also practice our man to man team defense concepts with our Line of the Ball drill. The team is broken up into two groups with 6 or 7 players in each group. One group executes the drill while the other group waits. 5 coaches spread out along the sideline. The first group of players lines up along the baseline in front of the first coach, who has the ball. The first player, the player closest to the coach with the ball, is in the appropriate on the ball "Stance". This player yells: “Ball, ball, ball.” The players behind the first player yell: “Line of the Ball, line of the ball, line of the ball.” The coach with the ball passes the ball to the next coach (diagr. 39). The line of players then sprints in line with the next coach, positioning themselves appropriately. They continue to sprint down the floor as a group until they come all the way back to where they began.
Then the next group begins. While a particular group of players is executing the drill, the coaches can throw the ball back and forth. The coaches do not always have to throw the ball in the same direction until it reaches the other end. Coaches can also throw long passes to another coach. They don’t always have to throw the ball to the next coach in line.
We practice our man to man team transition defense concepts with the transition line drill. We separate the team into two different teams. This is a 5-on-5 drill, so we use substitutions. One team lines up along the baseline. They are on offense. The other team lines up across the free throw line. They are on defense. The offensive players and defensive players are facing each other (diagr.40). The coach throws the ball to one of the offensive players (diagr. 41). If the offensive player that catches the ball is a guard, then the guard pushes the ball up the floor himself. If the offensive player that catches the ball is a forward, the forward quickly turns, and throws the ball to a guard on his team, and he then pushes the ball up the floor. The defensive player directly across from the player who catches the initial pass from the coach must sprint and touch the baseline before he can run back into the play (diagr. 42).
This situation creates a 5-on-4, where the defense must Sprint, Turn, and Talk if they plan on getting a stop. The defense must stop the ball, protect the basket, defend the strong side block, and the last defender sprinting back converts to the weak side (diagr. 43).
On the seventh day of defense, we review everything that we have taught in our pre-season defense instruction. This concludes our 7 Days of Defense. Each day of defense usually lasts between 45 minutes and an hour.
This format allows us to introduce most of our defensive concepts before we begin with our first day of practice. Once again, the foundation of our defensive philosophy begins with "Stance" and the ability to stop the offensive player, one-on-one.
We end our 7 Days of Defense by introducing our Shell Drill, where we emphasize the importance of having all of our defenders together defending the one offensive player with the ball.