Roy Williams is one of the best college coaches in the United States. He was the assistant coach of Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina from 1978 to 1988, and then head coach of the University of Kansas, where he reached the NCAA Final Four four times, moving to the NCAA final in 2003. He was named Coach of the Year five times. For the past six seasons he has coached the University of North Carolina, winning the NCAA title this year, after previously having won it in 2005. He was assistant coach of the U.S. National Team at the University Games in Germany, and held the same post at the 2004 Olympic Games.
The University of North Carolina has a long tradition of using multiple defenses. It began with coach Dean Smith in the 1960's and continues with the teams that I coach today. We used multiple defenses in our run to the 2009 National Championship and in the following pages I will describe a couple of those defenses in detail. There are a variety of reasons to use multiple defenses. To begin, using a variety of defenses prepares your team to play against any style or team with certain personnel. Also, the opposing teams must use valuable practice time to prepare for all of your defenses. This takes away from time that could be spent in other ways. Finally, it keeps your players excited and it helps us create the type of tempo we want in a game. Specifically, the trapping defenses that I will describe in this article create turnovers and quick shots. This creates more possessions in the game and it also helps us get out in transition, which is crucial to our success.
We have full-court, three-quarters court, and half-court defenses. We also have different zones, man-to-man, and trapping defenses. I will now focus on our half-court trapping defenses. We typically call the defenses after all made field goals. This allows our point guard to make a call using a hand signal. It is the responsibility of the other players to see the signal and then execute the defense once the ball gets past half court. We have two half-court traps that we use the most. They are called “32” and “42.”
In our numbering system, the first number signifies the type of defense (our 30 series is trapping the dribbler, and our 40 series is trapping the first pass), the second number signifies where on the court the traps will occur (2 represents half court, 3 is three-quarters court, and 4 is full court).
The first defense I will discuss is 32, trapping the dribbler in the half court. Once our point guard makes the call, it is his responsibility to place both feet on the center court line. This makes the offensive point guard go one direction or the other. We do not influence him in any direction. We just want it to be clear which way he is going (diagr. 1).
The other four defenders must get good initial position. We like them to be 1/3 away from their man and 2/3 away from the ball. The farther away their man is away from the ball, the farther away they are from their man (diagr. 2). Having good initial position helps the traps, because it deters the initial pass (the defender is in a deny position) and the point guard must dribble. Good initial positioning also makes the distance to be covered less so the trap occurs quicker and therefore is more effective. If the other defenders are also in good initial position it helps them get to the interceptor and goal tender spots that I will explain in the following paragraphs. The defense is put into action when the opposing point guard passes half court. It is important that the defensive point guard keeps him going in one direction. If he changes direction, the defense can get into disarray. Once the wing defender sees the point guard coming his way, he runs at him to create a trapping situation (diagr. 3).
Once we have a player in a trap, we encourage our players to get as close as possible without fouling. We really try to prevent the offense from splitting the trap and getting between the two defenders. A good trap is vital to the success of the defense.
NOTE: At times in the past we have had our point guard trap from the backside. This trap comes as a surprise, but it is more difficult to dictate where the point guard goes (diagr. 4).
At the exact same time the double teamers move to go double, the interceptors react as well. One will be the high interceptor and the other will be the low interceptor (diagr. 5). The interceptors’ goal is not to play man-to-man. They will get into a temporary zone where they will try to guard two players. If the man with the ball leans one way, the interceptors will shade in that direction (diagr. 6). Ideally, the interceptors play the pass and get a steal that will lead to a fast break. If there is not a steal and the defense is broken, the interceptor closest to the ball will guard him man-to-man. His job is to contain this ball handler at all costs. The other interceptor and the two double-teamers sprint off to the lane and then build out to a man and get in our basic half-court man-to-man defense (diagr. 7 and 8).
The double teamers and interceptors are trying to be very aggressive. The goal- tender, on the other hand, is very conservative and he does not gamble. His job is to prevent all layups.
He is not trying for steals. See the previous diagrams to see how he simply protects the goal. In a perfect situation, this would be a big man, but since we cannot make the offense go to certain spots, it could be any player.
If the trap occurs below the free-throw line, we rename the goaltender. He is now called a flyer and his role changes as well. Since the trap is low and the low interceptor is fronting the post, we free up the goal tender to go for steals on the weak side (diagr. 9).
Our 42 defense has all of the same principles as our 32 defense, but we are trapping the first pass (diagr. 10). We still try to deny every pass so it is just a normal man-to-man until a pass is made. The one thing we do not want is for the first pass to go to the top of the key. Trapping there can create opportunities for the offense, but if it does go there we will still run our defense. Once this trap occurs, we will still have our two interceptors and a goaltender.
We do not trap a second time unless it is a really short pass and a second double team is very easy and convenient. We do like to add a second double team, if it is a short pass to the corner. We feel that is a great time to put the offense on their heels (diagr. 11). Once this happens, we just have a new set of double teamers, two interceptors, and a flyer since the trap occurs below the free-throw line.
Our scramble defenses have been great to us over the years. Often the offensive set-up is not perfect and it can lead to confusion for some of our defenders. Communication is a huge part of having a successful scramble defense. Look at diagram 12 to see a situation where talking and hustle are needed to make this work. Carolina basketball has had a long history of sustained excellence. Much of that success comes from the defensive system that we have in place.
Our scramble defenses are part of that system and they have been an integral part of what we do. We hope it helps us win many more games for North Carolina in the future.