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John Wooden's UCLA Offense

Book Excerpt - Full-Court Press Attack*

From John Wooden's UCLA Offense by John Wooden, Swen Nater

Why do teams use a pressing defense? At UCLA, we chose to use it for two primary reasons. One was to avoid getting stuck in a half-court game in which the opposition could dictate the pace and—even if outmanned—reduce the number of possessions to keep the score close. Two, we believed the press allowed us to exploit opponents who were not fundamentally sound in their spacing, cutting, passing, and dribbling.

To those two reasons, I might add a third rationale that applied to our teams in the early 1960s: Our players were too short to sit back and let taller opponents get the ball up the court unimpeded and shoot the ball over them. For example, our starting center from 1962 to 1964 was Fred Slaughter, who was a mere six-foot-five.

Those pressing Bruin teams were extremely quick, in superb physical condition, fundamentally sound, and most of all, determined not to permit opponents to get the ball near their basket. Indeed, there were often several stretches in games when the pressing defense made a steal or forced a turnover before the opposition could even get a shot attempt. And, because we tried to convert those take-aways into easy buckets on our end, it was not unheard of for those squads to score more than 100 points.

From an offensive perspective, it is essential to be prepared for full-court pressure. Players must be well drilled to make passes, pivots, cuts, and receptions without withering under a defensive onslaught. In addition, the offense must have a tactical plan for breaking the press, and the team must have absolute faith in that attack.

A successful half-court offense, such as the one we used for many years at UCLA, will encounter all kinds of defenses attempting to prevent it from getting the ball into the frontcourt and running its preferred play options. We prepared our teams for the pressure and disruptions by emphasizing the correct execution of fundamentals and the repeated rehearsal and refinement of the plays that follow.

Initial Alignment

The first priority is to identify the right inbounds passer. This player should be tall, poised, have full-court vision, and be capable of exercising good judgment in a short period of time (five seconds). He should be trained to keep the ball close to his body and just under his chin, allowing for quick overhead, left-handed, right-handed, or bounce passing. He should not pass “around” his defender but rather “by” him. If his defender crowds him and has both hands high in the air, attempting to discourage the pass over the top, the inbounder will most likely fake up and make the bounce pass. If the inbounder is also a good post defensive player, all the better. Then, if the ball is stolen, he will be in position to help the center protect the basket.

Once selected, that player and one substitute will be the inbounders in all out-of-bounds situations. For our purposes here, we’ll specify the power forward (4) as the inbounder.

At the strong-side elbow, both guards (1 and 2) and the center (5) are placed in a vertical stack. The point guard is located exactly on the elbow, the center directly behind him, and the two guard directly behind the center. The small forward (3) is located at about the half-court line near the jump ball circle (see figure 10.1).

Player 4 stands about three feet behind the baseline and avoids leaning or being out of balance. When the vertical stack forms and he is ready to pass, 4 signals to start the play. His signal can be raising the ball over his head, slapping the ball, or a verbal indicator.

Base Plays

In the rare instances that 3 gets free downcourt, 4 can opt to hit him with a baseball pass. Otherwise, 4’s two primary passing options are 1 and 5. Let’s look at each of those options in succession.

Inbounds Pass to the Point Guard

Player 3 fakes a cut down the court, and 4 can fake the pass. Player 1 reads his defender and makes the first move. If the defender is playing to the inside, 1 fakes there and cuts to the strong-side corner, calling for the ball. If the defender is playing to the outside or “face guards” 1, he fakes that direction and cuts toward the basket and to the other corner, but not all the way.

To shift the defense, 4 fakes a pass in the same direction that 1 had faked his cut. Player 2 reads 1 and goes in the opposite direction. He times his cut so 4 has ample time to give 1 a good look. Player 5 steps toward the basket after 4 has looked at 2. Player 3 comes back to see if he is needed to get the ball inbounds.

Because the primary objective of breaking a full-court press is to get the ball in-bounds, 4 hits the first open man. In this scenario, let’s say that 1 receives the pass from 4 (see figure 10.2). (Please note that because the floor is balanced when the inbounder has possession of the ball, if the inbounds pass is made to 2 rather than 1, all options are the same, with 1 and 2 exchanging roles.) At that point, 1 has two passing options. He can pass to 2 making the diagonal cut, or he can hit 3 coming back to the ball.

* To reprint this excerpt with permission from Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc., please contact the publicity department at 1-800-747-4457 or

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