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Ask the Expert: Beating Pressure Defense, Attacking the Zone and More

  • Date:
    Nov 21, 2014

Entering her 17th season as head coach at Monterey High School in Lubbock, Texas, Jill Rankin Schneider has won multiple District 2-5A coach of the year honors. Inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008, in addition to her legendary playing career that included being named to the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team (which ultimately did not participate in the 1980 Moscow Olympics) and earning gold medals as a member of the 1980 USA Olympic Qualifying and 1979 USA World Championship teams, Schneider has captured a pair of gold medals as head coach of USA Basketball teams. She led USA Basketball to team titles at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship in the Netherlands and the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Mexico. She has twice been named USA Basketball’s Developmental co-Coach of the Year, winning the award in 2011 and 2012.

Get to know Coach Schneider

Coach Schneider took some time to answer questions that you submitted via Facebook and Twitter. Here are her responses:

How do you make freshmen basketball players be patient on offense and not panic when pressure defense is on them? -- Brandon Myles 

Pressure defense can completely disable some players’ ability to execute an offense because it can tunnel-vision their focus solely on the defensive player.  It is a common occurrence for players of any age to let pressure defense cause them to make hurried decisions with the basketball, which very often translates into turnovers or ill-advised shots. “Panic” is sometimes a by-product of a feeling of fear or uncertainty. I feel that it is my job to constantly reinforce basic ball handling, dribbling and one-on-one skills to develop confidence on the part of my players.  Fundamental skills have to be second nature before players can use them effectively without much thought and focus on offensive and defensive schemes. 

What is the best way to better my feel for the game? -- Adebola Oguntade

Many players think all they have to do to improve is to play a lot.  While it is very important to play as much as possible against bigger, stronger, quicker athletes when you can, I am a strong believer in the fundamentals of the game.  Work tirelessly on your shooting, your dribbling, your ball handling, your offensive and defensive footwork.  Asia Durr has an interesting You Tube video of some of her workouts in preparation for the U16-U17 trialsSteve Nash has a good You Tube video of his shooting workouts.  The improvement of your individual fundamental skills will translate into you being a better player and having a better “feel for the game” regardless of your age level.

What's the best way to deal with a 2-1-2 zone defense? -- Frederick Reeves 

Against a 1-2-2 or a 2-2-1 full court, many teams run a “domino” press breaker and successfully attack the middle of the zone.  A 2-1-2 defense makes it a little easier for the defense to keep the offensive team from attacking the middle of the zone defense on the first or second pass. Against any zone defense, ball reversal is key in order to make the zone move and shift.  Anytime an offensive player has the ball on either side of midline, there should be an offensive player down the same sideline -- an offensive player in the middle gap -- and an offensive player behind the defense on the opposite side of the floor.  How you get players to those positions depends on your philosophy.  I have specific press breakers that we use against specific zone defenses.  I set my team up in a 1-2-2 set against a 2-1-2.  We send a crossing guard to the ball side sideline and reverse the ball through our safety and attack the backside and middle of the zone.  Keeping in mind that the strength of a zone is on the initial ball side before ball reversal, I strongly emphasize quick passes and ball reversal before any dribble penetration.  

What mentality should a basketball player have for them to be great? What do you look for in a player? -- Amani Free 

Truly great players genuinely understand there are always ways to improve their game and look for things they can do in order to get better regardless of how good the world tells them they already are.  They generally have a strong work ethic, competitive attitude, and mental toughness that clearly distinguish them from their peers.  Not only do great players continue to improve their own game, but they have the innate ability to make their teammates better.  Five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards is a great example of a “great player.”  The qualities I look for in a player are mental toughness, work ethic, attitude, and discipline.  Athletes that possess these qualities make good players and good teammates and will no doubt be successful.

What is the most important thing in building a high school program? -- @coachlmcnutt

Implementing your expectations and your philosophy to athletes in your feeder system as young as is possible in your situation.  I am fortunate to work in a school district that allows me to travel to my 7th- and 8th-grade campuses and work with players that will feed into our high school program.  This fosters consistency and continuity with clearly defined expectations for each progressive grade level.  I am a strong believer in teaching the fundamentals of the game, because regardless of how well a team can learn an offense, if they can’t pass, catch, shoot, dribble or play defense, their likelihood of success is low.  I teach and reinforce the same basic fundamentals at every grade level from 7th grade to 12th grade.

In the half court set, do you teach defenders to force player baseline or to middle of floor? --  @forpeteforce  

That depends… My defensive philosophy in regard to man-to-man defense is to force everything away from the middle.  At the top of our man defense, we force to the sideline and when the ball is on the wing, we force to the baseline.  I have my weak side players move to high and/or low midline depending on where their offensive players are positioned.  On any penetration baseline, we help with our weak side low defender and drop the weak side high defender to help on the low backside block or possible skip pass to the weak side corner.  I don’t have my ball side defender on the block help off of her girl, but instead stay with her in a strong low side deny to prevent the easy dump-off pass.  If we do give up middle penetration from the top in our man-to-man, we seal with our players on the block and squeeze our wing players down defensively to help on the dump-off pass to either block.

I do use an amoeba type 2-3 zone or a 1-2-1-1 half court defense for a different look at times, where we force everything to the middle, but my bread and butter defense is  man-to-man.



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