One of my favorite X's and O's discussion is pressure defense. I've always played it when I was in school because I've always played on teams that lacked height but were extremely quick and very coordinated. A pressure defense is great to have if either you don't have a lot of size and so you must compete with speed or simply to overwhelm an opponent that is less athletic. Now, there are all kinds of discussions one can have in terms of the ethics of pressing and when to press and when to back off the press (common sense if you ask me) that I won't discuss here, I'm going to stick strictly with the X's and O's.

There is an article from the American Basketball Quarterly that does a good job in explaining all the details of running the 2-2-1 press (or box press as it is commonly referred to), so you can read it to get an entire scope of it. What I want to do is give you a general idea of what you want to accomplish with it.

First off, the box press can be full or half-court, face-guard or keep-in-front. Because of the many variations, it is one that you can run the whole game or just in key situations. With the box press you want to accomplish the following:

1. Pressure the ball to the sideline. You want to force the defender to the sideline and either trap him, force him to make a pass (hopefully a bad one), or make him go out of bounds.
2. You want to force passes either up-down the sideline or cross court to the opposite sideline (and hopefully steal the ball).

Now the basic concepts of every pressure defense involves a double-team on the ball, and the other 3 defenders covering the passing lanes and splitting 2 players to defend.


You want to have your 2 quickest guards at 1 and 2 playing up top around the foul line and your next 2 quickest players at 3 and 4 at the center line near the sidelines. Your 5 is your safety and needs to see all the defenders in front of him.

Trapping the ball:

Once the ball is inbounded, most likely to the PG, you want your 1 and 2 to trap him along the sideline (right or left) and force him to pick up the dribble. This is harder than I'm describing it and you'll have to drill it properly. Key thing is to not run full-speed at the player, but to chop your feet and contain him with 2 defenders.

Once you are successful in trapping their PG, the other defenders must take away the first pass. Especially 3, must take away the sideline pass (which is where we want them to throw it) and 4 must take away the cross-sideline pass (which is where we want them to throw it) and 5 will check the the deep man trying to pick of a homerun pass but also knowing he is last man and cannot be beat.

Notice though, that 4 has moved up to close to the 3pt line. We want our 4 to be close enough to intercept an errant pass to their 2 in case they want to advance the ball. So 4 will be playing 2 passes, the advance pass to 2 and the cross-court pass. We remind our 4 that they will most likely try the advance pass to 2 so look for that steal first.

Ball Reversal:
Now, not every press will force a turnover. In the case of the 2-2-1 box press, most teams will try to reverse the ball or move one of their players into center-court.

If they put a player in center-court, you'll probably need to switch to a different press like the 1-3-1, you can still pressure with the box, but it will change what you're trying to accomplish.

If they reverse the ball back to their 2 who is playing behind their 1 (which is what good coached teams will be taught), then 1 and 2 must haul their butts over and set a new trap on 2. If they are successful, then the same applies to the other side. Most likely though, a good team will be able to advance the ball on the reversal to their 4 on the other side. Now if he hasn't made it across half-yet, you can still trap him along the sideline and force him to pass cross-court (which we want). A pass back to 2 is the easy pass and is OK, because by this time, the 10 second rule is probably close to reality and result in a turnover.
Lastly, once the press is broken, you must teach your players to sprint back to the key. We run a drill where once the press is broken, all 5 defenders must all run back inside the key and the last one back has to do 5 pushups (the center almost never loses). The reason why we run back to the key is because we want to defend inside-out once the press is broken. We can live with the pull-up jumper but we can't have open layups.

This by no means is a complete description of the box press. There are so many variations and combinations that you can do. This is what I've done in the past with it. I ran it one year with a JV girls team that had very little size but decent quickness. The team had lost 3 starters from the year before who were basically the team, and we were able to finish with a .500 record and make the 2nd round of our district playoffs. We beat the lower teams that were for the most part better players than we were, but we lost to the very athletic and gifted teams as we couldn't press them effectively (in fact, they pressed us).

The box press is a great low risk pressure defense that you can easily implement. It will not generate a ton of turnovers, but over time it will wear a team down.

One of the best coaches of the 2-2-1 box press that I've seen is Jim Calhoun from Uconn. His ideas on half-court traps and forcing the ball down the sideline are almost legendary. You can buy his DVD on the box press by clicking here.

Go over the Coaching Basketball Forum to discuss.