Critical lessons for beating the press From Rick Wilgus, contributing writer

No matter the opponent, take time during every practice to work on beating the press. At some point, in almost every game, your team will be confronted with a full-court press and your players need to know how to effectively move the ball into the front court.

While dedicating a good amount of time is essential to breaking a press, don’t waste your players’ time by trying to break every possible press in the book (full-court, man-to-man, 3/4 court, 1-2-2, 2-2-1, etc.). What needs to be stressed are the fundamental options to breaking any press.

Press-breaking options

Much like a quarterback in football who has several options when reading a defensive secondary, your ball handlers need to have a progression that they look for when trying to get past a pressure defense. When dissecting the following seven press breakers, assume the ball has already been inbounded successfully.

DIAGRAM 1: Attack the sideline. This is the first option your team looks for when attacking a press. 1 inbounds to 2, who passes to 3, who passes to 5. 4 streaks down the floor from the opposite side of the court.

DIAGRAM 2: Middle of the road. If the sideline is taken away, the next option is to get the ball to the middle of the court. 1 passes to 2, who passes to 4 in the middle of the floor. 4 always looks the opposite way from where the ball was passed, because there’s a good chance 5 is running down the court uncontested.

DIAGRAM 3: Long ball. The next read is to throw the ball long down the floor to beat the pressure defense. 1 inbounds to 2, who sees 3 racing down the court on the opposite side of the floor. 2 launches a long pass to 3, who can either pull the ball out to set up the half-court offense or can take it all the way to the hoop. Tell your players not to settle for just getting the ball across midcourt. If the option is open, they need to attack the basket.

DIAGRAM 4: Back. 1 inbounds to, 2 who doesn’t have any of the first three options. 2 then reverses direction and heads to the other side of the court. 2 passes to 4 as 3 flashes to the middle of the floor. If the reversal is taken away, the next option is to “double back.” This has 2 returning to the original side and passing ahead to 3 as 4 flashes to the middle.

Run the ‘rabbit’

The final two options come from a special press-breaker called the “rabbit.”

DIAGRAM 5: Rabbit. 1 (the rabbit) inbounds to 2 then cuts to the middle of the floor. 2 passes back to 1. 1 attacks the pressure from this point.

The final option is to “screen the rabbit.” If 1 is tightly covered when trying to inbound the ball, send a player to screen the defender as 1 runs the baseline (after a made basket). A foul may be called on the defender if that person runs over the screener.

Practice the progression

Present these press-breakers in this specific order and drill these options on a daily or weekly basis. Install two options at a time so your players don’t become confused. On the first day work on the sideline and the middle. The next day try to use the long ball and the reversal while also incorporating the sideline and middle options.

Once players become familiar with running these drills in order, it becomes much easier for them to do it under game-like pressure situations.

Perfecting pressure-breakers

Instead of having your players mindlessly run through each of the seven options during practice, add a few changes to keep things interesting.

1. Run your press offense as a passing drill. Add a restriction that your players can’t make a pass until they fake a pass.

2. Have your players run the press offense without letting the ball hit the floor — no dribbling and all passing.

3. Tell your offense which press option they should run without alerting the defense. If the offense is successful, they continue to stay on offense until the defense stops them. Make it a game with a point awarded for each successful trip down the court.

4. Keep your players talking the entire time. This gets them used to communicating with each other so it will come more naturally during games.

5. Use the press-breaker drills at the end of practice instead of running sprints suicides etc. Use the stopwatch and see how many options the offense can successfully accomplish in a certain amount of time.

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