With the college basketball season just around the corner, one of the first teams I always look for on the TV schedule is when UCLA will be playing. I love the way UCLA plays defense under Ben Howland. Up until last year, they were consistently a top 5 defensive team every single year since Howland has been there. I look forward to watching them again this year, and hopefully last year's aberration was just that, and the Bruins will be back to playing the kind of defense they are known for. In the meantime, some great philosophical notes from an Adidas clinic a couple of years ago with Ben Howland as the speaker,

- Low field goal % defense and winning the rebound margin wins ballgames.
- Define roles, get players to understand their roles
- Practice defense for at least 20 minutes per practice
- Every drill is competitive and there is always a penalty for the loser

Defensive Philosophy
- Defend the ball, not a man
- Players may not always guard the same man; be ready to stop ball

Transition Defense
- Take away transition offense and make them score in the ½ court set
- On a miss: 1, 2 are always safeties, 3, 4, 5 hit the offensive boards
- On a make: 1 or 2 always stop the ball early on the outlet, in bounder’s defender to half-court line

Defensive Positioning
- Pressure the ball with your body square to the offensive man
- Deny one pass away; up to one step beyond arc
- Jump to the ball under control, but don’t lunge at the ball
- ALWAYS talk
- Close out under control
a. Sprint half the distance, then use short, choppy steps the other half
b. Contest every shot to the level of release with hands up

Extending screens
- Lock and trail shooters
- Extend by being in the passing lane, show and bump offensive player on the curl
- After bump, release back to your man
- Always feel/touch your man in order to prevent him from slipping the screen
- Defending the Double Stagger screen
a. Top/Ball side defender must extend on the screen
b. Low defender must protect against the slip

Defending on-ball screens
- Ball defender must force the offense to use the screen, and then go over the top of the screen
a. There is no ball pressure if player goes under the screen and the PG has better vision of the floor
- Screener’s defender must hedge/extend and recover
- You may double in the corner, occasionally on the wing, but never on the top

Defending the dribble hand-off
- Switch on the dribble hand-off

Coach Howland doesn't do instructional videos. But if you're impressed by the UCLA defensive system and philosophy, take a look at a DVD from his one time assistant, Jamie Dixon's DVD on his 10 Point Shell Drill. Coach Dixon is currently the head coach of Pittsburgh.


  1. Blake Kennedy  

    September 24, 2009 at 6:37 AM

    I like Coach Howland's focus. Too many coaches I see out there valuing the turnover as the single best outcome of a defensive possession. What I learned from Dean Oliver's book "Basketball on Paper" (Oliver is now on staff with the Denver Nuggets as their analytics guy) is that there are Four Factors of winning (applicable to the offensive end as well):
    1) eFG% (i.e. (FG + .5*3FG) / FGA);
    2) ORB% (i.e. TmORB / (TmORB + OppDRB);
    3) TO% (i.e. percentage of possessions resulting in a turnover);
    4) FTR ( FT / FGA).

    I think Howland's system seems to focus on contesting shots and forcing misses as its first priority while leaving great rebounding position to attain that second goal. I'm sure they force a good number of turnovers due to the heavy ball pressure they apply, but I don't think they need to force a lot of them as long as they're attaining their goals of owning the boards and contesting shots heavily.

    I know some guys love the idea of the turnover and creating them by trapping and then running all over the place trying to rotate and good for them if they can make that work, but I think with slower teams or ones that just aren't that good at forcing turnovers (for whatever reason(s)) this is the kind of defense I'd prefer. I think it protects the board far better and doesn't get you caught in a whole bunch of mismatches.

    Odd that guys who try to hype their own version of defensive paradigms talk about how many steals they get (in a game played at an extremely high pace, which means "lots of possessions") but never seem to mention how they do on the boards or how often they put their opponents on the line. I'm a nihilist in that regard: all I care about at the end of the day is how many points per possession I'm giving up. And I think Howland has come up with a system where he's going to attain that goal of limiting opponents to that low number of points per possession.

    Best part about it from a coaching perspective is that it doesn't rely on flashy Xs and Os: just common fundamentals, team play, hard work and support for your teammates. And when teams really buy into that and work hard to get those done, I believe in this system they're going to be successful on the defensive end and they're going to have a lot of fun doing it.

  2. bruchu  

    September 24, 2009 at 9:35 PM

    Well said....