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Defend Effectively In Basketball

Fair or not, recruitable basketball players are being identified earlier than ever before. The RUN Sports basketball recruiting service, like many others, identifies boys and girls who can play at a high level. Almost all these services cater to the players who excel on the offensive side of the ball. Most basketball trainers, grass roots, some college and professional coaches introduce drills that can improve individual offensive play and team offensive play. Very few coaches focus on team defense and even fewer on individual defense. This can be a costly mistake, for the player and team.

My freshman year of college at Fresno State University, Coach Jerry Tarkanian believed that any athlete could be a good defender. He and his staff taught us how to defend from day one and he made it very clear to me that I would not play if I didn’t defend. We had morning defensive slides and three hour and fifteen-minute practices. During Coach Tarkanian tenure at Fresno State, he won 20 plus games every season. At UNLV, he dominated college basketball for 3 decades with this philosophy, winning the NCAA national championship by a record margin 30 points in 1990. If you look at the teams that win frequently at a high level, often you will see great individual and team defense.

Defense starts individually. The ability to guard one on one is paramount. If you think about the first time you competed as a basketball player, it was probably one on one in a backyard, driveway or on a sidewalk. Those core values on offense and defense were established then. 

A few years ago, I took over an AAU program, renaming it the Texas Basketball Club. The first thing that I noticed was the lack of defense masked by 2-3 zone in weekend tournaments. It’s disgusting to watch, so much that I won’t shake the hands of opposing coaches who play zone as their primary defense after games although we won more than we loss. Petty, I know, but it’s my silent protest. Instead of teaching players to play proper defense, novice, and short-sighted coaches’ plant 5 people in the painted area/key to clog up the lane and call it a 2-3 zone. It’s impossible for recruiters to figure who can and cannot play in that environment. It also makes for a very unentertaining brand of basketball and has zero artistic quality. 


“Its disgusting to watch, so much that I won’t shake the hands of opposing coaches who play zone as their primary defense after games.”
-Randy Holcomb


One on one defense teaches accountability. Accountability is something that most novice coaches can’t or don’t teach, generally because they are afraid, they will lose the player to another team.  Seasoned coaches and basketball minds know the value of teaching individual defense. Team defense is a byproduct of individual defense. Any defensive scheme can be effective if all five players are on a string and moving in unison, with emphasis on stopping the basketball. 

Here’s the skinny on defending: Once a player reaches his/her next level, initially they’re behind offensively and defensively. Coaches playing at a high level are like CEOs of companies. Because its competition, most coaches need to win to maintain their job. Coaches are less likely to extend playing time to players who can’t defend but will play a player who can defend with limited offensive ability. Most times, in the coach’s foolish arrogance, they believe that the offense(s) they design, and run will score points for them (although that’s a false narrative.) Defensively, coaches don’t want breakdowns i.e., dribble penetrations, offensive rebounds, and the likes. It would be high intelligent for a player and/or parent to focus on being the very best defender with basic offensive basketball technique and fundamentals to start. Defensive skills can develop quickly when administered focusing on a sound player proven technique. The opposite is generally true regarding an offensive repertoire, which can take years to master. 

Picture of Randy Holcomb

Randy Holcomb

One Comment

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