One of my favorite current college coaches is Bruce Pearl who is currently the head coach at Tennessee. His teams are always exciting to watch but behind those three-pointers and fast-breaks is the foundation of their success, the 1-2-1-1 full-court press. I have Bruce Pearl's DVD and I've analyzed video from last year and wanted to share just some tidbits that I got out of this great press.

I think Bruce Pearl's 1-2-1-1 is probably the most aggressive full-court pressing defenses I've ever seen. He runs it as his base defense and it creates a tremendous amount of pressure on the inbounds and first pass. If you're going to run it, your players are going to have to commit fully to it or you will watch good teams run right through you. Executed correctly, it will outright suffocate your opponents.

There are many variations of the 1-2-1-1 or diamond press. So don't get confused if this version doesn't look like the one you use, this is Bruce Pearl's version. With this press you want to accomplish the following:

1. Put incredible amount of pressure on the inbounds. Force the 5-second turnover.
2. Attack the first pass. Force the turnover under their hoop or the 10-second violation.


Before we begin, we need to talk about the personnel. 4 is a tall lanky forward who has long arms that will prevent the homerun pass and put pressure on the inbounds. 2 is your best on the ball defender and primary trap man. 3 is a great anticipation player. 1 has to have speed to cover sideline to sideline and 5 must be a great fast-break defender who can block shots and take charges.

First thing you'll notice is that all 5 players are in the backcourt, yes this is an aggressive press. X4 will pressure the inbounder, BUT MUST NOT JUMP. Coach Pearl also coaches his X4 to count out loud so that the refs and everyone knows what the 5-sec timecount is. This makes the inbounder more nervous.

The other players are essentially playing man-to-man deny/help defense (first pass away deny, second pass away help). X2 must stick to the ball-side player shadowing him making it difficult to receive the pass. X3 can use the backboard to his advantage and cover the opposite corner and just under the hoop.

X1 must be fast, cover sideline to sideline looking to intercept the pass. This is key because after the other team turns it over a few times to P3, they will try a longer pass up the sideline. X1 should shade to the ball-side as you can see he can also use the backboard to his advantage.

X5 is playing man in the backcourt, if they run a guy deep, he must shadow the deep man.

Pressure on the first pass:

Once the ball is inbounded, the pressure will intensify as seen in this diagram below,

Most of the time, the other team will get the pass inbounded to P3 or P1 in this case in the ball-side corner. X2 and X4 must trap him immediately, this must be drilled extensively because once P1 can break free of the trap, the whole press breaks down.

Some presses allow the safety pass back to P4, not this one. X3 is anticipating the pass back to P4 and steals it if possible. X1 splits P3 and P2. Now execution here is key. Coach Pearl teaches his players to read the shoulders of P1 (the one making the second pass):

1. If P1's shoulders are parallel to the baseline, then X1 should shade to the sideline and read the pass to P3. X2 and X4 must form the 'T' with their legs and prevent an easy pass to X2 (force the high lob to X2, thus allowing the defense to recover).
2. If P1's shoulders are parallel to the sideline, then X3 should look to deny/intercept the pass to the safety P4.

The pass should never get to P5, if they try it then X5 should easily intercept.

Counter plays:

Teams will try to counter this press on the initial inbounds by using screens and constant motion. Coach Pearl has many counters to all different motions that I can't cover here, but you can probably scheme yourself based on his philosophies. This is just one counter that you'll probably see a lot of. The other team puts P1 in motion cutting through from the other side to receive the inbounds and hopefully a little daylight and beat the initial trap. The counter-play here is the quick switch and maintain pressure.

Also, you'll see motion by P3 and P5 trying to get open, here X1 and X5 need to deny. The whole key here again is to put incredible pressure on the inbounds and the initial pass.


This is a high-risk and high-reward press. You will get beat but you'll get a lot of easy baskets too. The key is to have a good X5 defender that can play great 2-on-1 defense.

I still remember last year in the Tennessee vs Texas game forcing the 5-second turnover in the final few seconds of the fourth quarter. Kevin Durant would hit a last second 3-pointer to tie the game, but Tennessee hung on to win in OT.

If you want to see all the permutations of Coach Bruce Pearl's system, I highly recommend you get a copy of his DVD here.

Go over the Coaching Basketball Forum to discuss.