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Coaches Network: Role Of the Center

  • Date:
    Apr 3, 2015

In the last of our weekly position-by-position breakdowns, we asked the USA Basketball Coaches Network the following question:

What are some traits of a successful center, and how can you best utilize this player in your game plan?


Sue Phillips, head coach, Archbishop Mitty High School (Calif.)

The ideal center is powerful and provides an imposing presence on offense and defense, having the ability to initiate and finish through contact by playing low to high. He/she is also a shot blocker. The last line of defense and the team’s trusted enforcer around the rim. An effective center has great hands  -- not only catching all types of passes, but also ripping the ball and winning the tug-of-war with opponents.

He/she is an offensive and defensive rebounder who can create and finish possessions.  Physicality is the name of the game, and the lane should be his/her domain.

A successful center is well conditioned, having a huge impact on the game by simply running baseline to baseline for quick hitters in transition. He/she must also read and feel the defense to make a move, a counter-move, or pass out of a double team. He/she displays a skill set of varied rim finishes. Utilizing efficient footwork around the rim and low-block areas. The icing on the cake, however, is to be able to take and make free throws. Great free throw offense is a bonus.

The best way to utilize your center is to implement him/her as the defensive cog for special situations. Whether the center is the last line of defense in a press, or defends the inbound pass, his/her size and length should provide a tactical advantage. Offensively, we also utilize our center for screening situations and lob plays. It is always advised to play inside-out basketball. Not only is that creating high percentage shot opportunities, but it also rewards your center with post hits for all the hard work that is done rebounding, screening and protecting the rim. A great center is the nucleus of success.


Don Showalter, head coach, Iowa City High School (Iowa)

A successful center that you can utilize on your team has a number of qualities that are important for the team to be successful. Many times this position may not be the biggest or tallest player on your team but this position has a player who can score in the paint, rebound shots out of his area, knows how to get great offensive position and can be a shot blocker.

The post player is in the best position to talk and communicate on defense as he can see the entire court most of the time and what the other four players should be doing on defense. The post player needs to be a player who wants to play in the post area and is comfortable in the paint area.

A good player in the post will have a go-to move that is the favorite move and then a counter move to the go-to move. Lastly, passing out of the post is a skill that needs to be emphasized. Double-teams may come from any place on the court, which will dictate where the pass will go.

A complete post player will definitely make the other four players much more effective and your team better.


Herman Harried, head coach, Lake Clifton Campus High School (Md.)

A successful center is a player that is comfortable being tall/playing tall -- accepting his/her height and position. They want to be a center. Nowadays, most tall players want to play like smaller players and on the perimeter. A center that wants to play like a center can be utilized in the post, screen and rolls, defending, taking up space, blocking shots, finishing layups, being physical and being intimidating. Simply just play big, not small, and accept your role. 


Brian Robinson, head coach, Bishop McGuinness High School (N.C.)

Traits that make a center successful are the ability to alter shots on defense, rebound the ball and then make good outlet passes, and possess good hands and footwork on the offense end.

If your center has the ability to affect the game positively for your team not just by blocking shots but also by altering shots, then he/she becomes an asset to your team defense.

Having someone manning the paint area allows your perimeter defenders to place a little more pressure on the ball knowing that if they are beaten there is a presence ready to help. This can physically and mentally affect the offensive player knowing there is someone waiting for them in the paint. If your center can rebound and make quick, accurate outlet passes, it will help a team's transition play. 

Lastly, centers that can catch the ball cleanly and make quick, decisive moves without walking are invaluable. Size plays an important role in the game, and if that size can be effective on both ends and in starting transition play, your center can almost single-handedly control how a particular game is played.


Dori Oldaker, head coach, Mt. Lebanon High School (Pa.)

The most successful centers in basketball dominate the paint with their physical presence. This player must embrace physical contact and own the paint. Usually, the center is the tallest, biggest and strongest player on the floor and should dominate the boards by blocking out and rebounding. The center must protect the paint and be a shot blocker by having the physical ability and timing to block shots without fouling. A great communicator is another “must have” for the center. They are the eyes in the back of the heads for their defensive teammates, especially for the guards. They can let the guards know about screens, switches, etc.


Having a center that can outlet the ball quickly and accurately to the guards to start the fast break is also a great trait. So, great passing skills for your center are essential. Once she/he makes the outlet pass, they need to run the floor and beat the other bigs down the court and post up strong! It’s hard to beat a team that has a great center who can run the floor and score!


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