Defensive Drilling Without the Ball
Learning How to Play Defense
By Coach Jerry Tarkanian
An observer might liken our defensive drilling to shadow boxing; the players go through the motions, but there is no basketball in sight. That’s because we feel that good defense, for the individual and the team, must be based on practice that does not involve the ball. Our thinking is that the body must acquire specialized skills for defense before ballhandling becomes a factor.
[Related: Online Basketball Playbook]
Defensive Practice Emphasis
Basketball defense is the key to our success, so we devote the first three weeks of a five-to-six-week preseason practice to that phase of the game before taking up offense. We start with conditioning sprints and move to “starts and stops,” fundamentally a sound defensive maneuver.
From there we move to more positive or progressive drills. The “ape drill” tells a coach immediately which players are willing to work on defense, and which just want to play at basketball. The drill is executed with knees flexed, buttocks down, and palms on the floor. The player then shuffles on hands and balls of feet for as long as ten minutes. This drill is very demanding, and some coaches may employ it for disciplinary action.
In an upright shuffle, the knees are in the flexed position of the “ape drill,” but the hands are kept idle behind the back.
In the next step, the player is allowed to use his hands and simulate guarding an opponent as he shuffles eccentrically the length of the court. Close attention is also paid to footwork and movement of arms and hands to achieve maximum coordination. A good stance should be a heel-to-toe relationship, with buttocks low, and one hand up, one down. The player moves in a boxer’s shuffle, jabbing at the imaginary basketball with the lower hand.
Using a Chaser
We take the drill with our hands behind our back and add a chaser. The result is an offensive man and a defensive man with hands behind his back no ball, of course. The offensive man makes all kinds of moves up and down the sideline of the court, and the defensive man is supposed to stay with him. The defensive man must try to play nose-to-nose with the offensive player and never be any more than one-half step behind.
Allow the defensive man in our “Chaser Drill” to use his hands to cover the offensive player. Once again, we look for heel-toe stance relationship, hands up, buttocks low, and a good boxer’s shuffle with lower-hand stab for the imaginary ball. At the end of these dual drills the boys exchange places, with offense taking on defense’s role and defense becoming offense.
In this drill there are again offensive and defensive men, with the latter holding hands behind the back but with direction changed from side to side of the court to backwards, and side-to-side stepping. This drill may be altered also with closer guarding and the defensive man able to use his hands.
To top off our drills we use the right-and-left wave drill, which calls for speedy action in wide zig-zags down the court.