Archive for October, 2014

– By Brian McCormick

I watched a number of high-school girls basketball games this weekend, and girls struggled to get open.

Most of the top teams pressed, and the most difficult part of breaking the press was the inbounds pass. Seemingly every team attempted to inbound the ball using the same tactics, and these were easily defended. The players were ill-equipped to adjust when their press break did not work, and coaches had to call out another press break (and another) or use a timeout to draw up a new press break (link).

The standard tactic against a press was to put the two guards at the free throw line, either across from one another or in a stack, while the two posts stood in the corners at halfcourt. When the guards started on the elbows, one screened for the other. When they started in a stack, one cut in one direction, and the other went opposite. Regardless, one guard ran in the direction of the right baseline corner, and the other ran toward the left baseline corner. When they were not open, the post opposite the ball cut to the middle of the court.

Nearly every team breaks a press in a similar manner; we did the exact same thing when I played 25 years ago. Whereas I would use a different tactic, the tactics were not the problem. The problem was the inability to evade her defender.

As I have written, my two basics of offensive basketball are disorganizing the defense and spacing. Spacing is an individual and team concept. Individually, spacing simply means to create as much distance as possible from one’s defender. This is evading. This is the same basic premise as playing tag.

If we took away the ball, and I told the players that the black team was it, and the white team was not it, would the white team make the same straight line cuts to the same exact spots every time as they do in their press break? Why not?

I am 100% serious when I say that teams who have players who cannot get open do not play enough tag. Watch any group of five year-olds play tag. They understand the concept. They have evading skills, which essentially are ways of combining deception and explosion to maximize the distance from another person. If five year-olds playing tag have these skills, why is it so hard for 17-year-olds to use these evading skills in a game of basketball?

One reason is that many children lose these skills because they stop playing unstructured games. Rather than learning to evade generally, they learn specific moves for specific situations. They learn v-cuts and L-cuts. They learn to cut from A to B in press break 1, and from C to D in press break 2, but they forget the basics: deception, explosion, evasion, spacing. Coaches narrow the attention of players to focus on specific movements in specific situations, and under pressure, players forget about the movements that used to be child’s play.

I don’t use a press break, but there is nothing inherently wrong with press breaks. However, if players cannot get open to receive a pass, no press break is going to work.

The solution is not to add more press breaks or to make the press break more sophisticated; the solution is to practice getting open: basic evasion skills using explosion and deception. It’s not a hard skill; children have been practicing it forever.

This article is from Brian McCormick’s Hard2Guard Newsletter. To subscribe, visit

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