Best Zone Press Breaker

Christina Perez
• Sunday, 27 December, 2020
• 15 min read

This is simple, yet relatively unstoppable system worked for me at various levels from junior high to varsity. Instruct your players to cut in front of opposing defenders, so that the inbounds pass cannot be denied.

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If the defenders insist on denying, have your players drive them toward the baseline and then break down court as 1 throws a pass over the top. The offside post breaks to the middle to give the player with the ball three possible passing options.

Oftentimes, a young player’s first reaction is to catch the ball and immediately start dribbling down court to beat the press. There is no backside help, and there should be an opening in the zone before the next two defenders have a chance to break up and intercept the pass.

As soon as 3 receives the reversal pass from 1, he or she must attack and look down court before the defense can rotate and recover. Once again, the object of the press break is to get down the floor as fast as possible and aggressively attack the basket.

However, at the high school level and below, I don’t think anything will lose a game faster or more frequently than a team’s inability to handle pressure. We've probably all had teams that have excelled in a controlled half court game, but immediately lost their poise when the opponent began to press.

One of the most important jobs a basketball coach has is to equip players with the skills, mindset, and alignments needed to attack pressure. The 1-4 press break is one sound way of attacking man or zone full court pressure.

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Check out the diagrams and options below to see if this type of attack will work for your team. One of my favorite ways to attack full-court pressure (man or zone) is with the 1-4 press break.

Against a team that changes defenses, you don’t want your players looking to the sideline waiting for a play call. By bringing all players up, it eliminates back side help, opening up potential deep passes if the defense denies.

Opponents will need to make a choice: Do I bring up everyone, including a potentially slower post player, or do I just let the ball inbounds? We will show a few options in the next section, but you can use your imagination to adjust the press breaker to fit the personnel on your team.

Another possibility is for Player 5 to screen his or her own defender, making the switch more difficult. Some teams will let the ball handler start to dribble, then will leave from another player and trap.

In the diagrams below, notice how, as the trap occurs, Player 1 uses a few pullback dribbles and the other teammates are “pulled” to the ball handler into the sideline, middle, reverse position. Against those teams, it may be smarter to maximize space rather than setting a lot of screens.

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The offense counters by all four potential pass receivers walking their defenders as close to the baseline as possible. This is a great way to alleviate pressure by forcing the defense to become less aggressive.

If you’re facing a team that denies the inbound pass, you probably want to utilize screens to help free your ball-handlers. One simple habit to teach your in bounders is to run the baseline after a made basket by your opponent.

This is a crucial part of attacking man or zone presses that like to trap. This is because it is very difficult for the defense to put two players on the ball while still covering sideline, middle, and reverse options.

With proper spacing, the player being trapped must simply remain poised and find the open teammate. Jumpy defenders can be moved and manipulated with clever ball fakes.

Many man or zone presses attempt to bait the ball handler into dribbling before coming to trap. Execute a pullback dribble by turning your shoulders so that the ball is behind you, putting your chin on your top shoulder so that you can see the floor, and taking big push steps back to create space.

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Emphasize vision in practice and reinforce it through the use of film so that your players learn the importance of seeing what options are available. If you are content with simply getting the ball across half court and running offense each possession, there is no risk for the defense, and they will just press more aggressively.

However, shot selection is crucial when playing against full court pressure. If your press offense only creates quick long-range jump shots, you are probably playing right into the hands of the defense.

By emphasizing the proper skills, mindset, and alignments, you can prepare your team to excel in these high-pressure moments. WIN MORE GAMES with offenses, defenses, plays, drills, fundamentals, strategy, animations, video, Playbook download, youth section... unique, mobile ready.

The two up front defenders will probably make it difficult for O1 or O2 to get the ball, but O2 should screen for O1. As the defense attempts to trap O3 (diagram B), O1 should be open for the quick pass up the middle.

If the X4 defender goes man-to-man with O4, then O2 should be cutting up the left sideline for the pass from O1. Now refer to diagram C. If covered, O1 should clear out and cut to the ball-side sideline just beyond the half court line.

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WIN MORE GAMES with offenses, defenses, plays, drills, fundamentals, strategy, animations, video, Playbook download, youth section... unique, mobile ready. This press breaker is usually effective and is simple to teach and execute. O3 is the in bounder and gets the ball out of the net quickly to get the ball inbounds before the defense can get their press set.

O5 goes long and eventually ends up at the right low block, just like in our secondary. In fact, if the point guard can beat the press, then we should flow right into our secondary break with O2 going up the right sideline, O4 out to the left elbow-three-point line area and O3 trailing up the middle.

If the inbounds pass goes to O1 on the opposite side (same side as O4), then O4 stays up the sideline and O2 flashes to the middle (just the opposite of diagram A). But if the opponent is not pressing, then O2 and O4 “release” long up the floor as seen in this secondary break.

Most Likes FirstOldest First Newest First MICHAEL says: 11/23/2018 at 11:32:34 AM Hi Jeff, Thanks for the excellent concepts video! Players must understand these concepts if they are to consistently stay out of trouble & even score against a pressing zone.

One player, even an all-star, generally cannot beat the zone press & is, in fact, playing into the other team's plan! I have had a lot of different people try to explain the best way to break a press.

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You have explained in a simple way that I'm sure most coaches will understand. Sam Ingersoll says: 5/25/2017 at 1:29:33 PM This is such fantastic information.

We went with a 3 up on the fly, and it worked by taking our girl who was double-teamed away from the play as a decoy. John Lube says: 1/9/2017 at 4:51:29 PM Hi Jeff, what do you do if you are running a 2 up press breaker and the other team doubles your point guard on the inbounds pass.

1 reply Jeff Hefner says: 1/9/2017 at 5:27:45 PM First, make sure the PG doesn't catch the ball in the corner or too close to the baseline. 1 reply John Lube says: 1/9/2017 at 5:31:45 PM Thanks, my issue is getting the ball inbounds to the PG against the 2 defenders.

I am thinking I may want to take my PG and the 2 defenders out of the play or if you have other ideas? 1 reply Jeff Hefner says: 1/10/2017 at 7:39:17 PME work on teaching our PG how to walk the defender down, bounce, then bounce again or banana cut.

We practice, so they are wonderful at getting open (most of my youth players are undersized). So far it has not been an issue but if a team decides to do this the whole game, I would do one of the following...

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Then as soon as we figure our who they double-team, that player cuts to wing position at mid-court, so we have 1v1 for my PG to get open. I really don't like spending a lot of time on these unique situations.

I often have the in bounder step in as the ball reversal option because it is the closest spot to fill. I used to be very concerned about putting players (ex: in bounder, finisher, etc) in the right places.

In recent years I have become less concerned with that and allow players to be in different positions and give them a lot of freedom. Believe it or not, but the last 2 years, I did not ever tell my players who should inbound the ball.

So I encourage you to make adjustments to adapt to your situation and preferences. Keep spacing, teach concepts, develop great ball handlers, and things will work out.

Coach503 says: 4/2/2015 at 8:33:14 AM what is your review on the “Universal System of Attacking Presses”? We are joining a summer league that allows pressing, and I have some really quick guards who are good ball handlers.

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1 reply Jeff Hefner says: 4/3/2015 at 4:17:42 PM To be honest, it's been so long since I've watched that DVD I forget what's on it. Personally I would not spend much time a press breaker offense” and just focus on ball handling skills and decision-making fundamentals and basic spacing concepts.

We are having problems breaking a three high half court press. I was thinking of flanking the man taking the ball up on either side.

Before crossing mid court, the two men on either side of the ball handler would cross and set screens on the men opposite of them, allowing the ball handler a lane to drive or dish. The boys bringing the ball up struggle to make a strong baseball pass down under to the 4 and 5.

1 reply Joe Hefner says: 1/19/2015 at 6:35:45 PM Bill, I normally run 2-1-2 press break. Unfortunately, you can do everything right but due to the flaws of the youth basketball system.

Coach C says: 10/21/2014 at 1:31:00 PM Nice job with the presentation. CD says: 4/3/2014 at 12:43:04 AM On the inbound pass you mention teaching players to use their body to seal off the defender.

Do you have drill, teaching guide, video or something that shows that in detail? Chart Moon says: 1/12/2014 at 1:25:36 PM This video is excellent and breaks the rules of press breaking down in laymen's terms for players & coaches.

I actually sent the video to my team for them to review and hear to support the information I've provided them in the past. It's not supposed to be about winning at this age,,,, it's about teaching fundamentals and having FUN.

Coach Ox says: 8/17/2013 at 4:29:29 PM Pressing in youth leagues does have some advantages. I think it depends on how competitive you want your child to be down the road.

It only takes a few sessions to teach children (3rd grade) how to handle the press, and it sharpens their skills of ball handling, passing, and court vision. There is a lot of information on that page which should help you with your fundamentals.

Kramer Johnson says: 4/28/2013 at 10:39:07 PM I need help with my basketball skills this summer and would like to be able to make my ninth grade high school team next year I'm busy trying to develop my players into ball handlers.

Half court pressure is fine it gives them a sense of soundness, awareness and developed their reactionary skills. Most kids below this age group don't have the skills or strength to break a press.

Craig says: 1/28/2013 at 10:21:56 PM When you say “youth basketball” in regard to not playing against press defenses, what ages are you talking about? Ken says: 1/10/2013 at 3:44:01 PM I would drive those two defenders towards the baseline... you can pass over them.........

But I come here daily to check out the new tips and advice and am very grateful for this site! Pretty much confirms many of the things we already do at Resurrection Catholic SS in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.

I understand the mechanics you are showing once you get the ball inbounds, but I am wondering if there is anything special you do when a team plays a 1-2-1-1 full court zone press against you and they... Have the next two players in the zone deny the 1 and 2 man the ball and face guard them when they cut back to space.

I hope these things will help me to teach them how to break it and open up some quick scoring opportunities. Your PDF and video was very informative on how to break a press, and I hope to be using more of your material in the future, this time as a coach.

Jeff says: 8/28/2010 at 11:16:34 AM Thanks...exactly what I needed to help create a winning team. I have purchased some of your products in the past which has helped to improve our team last year.

It helps me a lot in teaching my players how break the press. Ralph Gauthier says: 8/12/2010 at 4:48:33 PM loved the 6 KEYS.

WILL START IN NOVEMBER AT 2 SCHOOLS in Toronto, ontario, both boys/girls elementary, grades 6 to 8. Always used zone, but your notes will make me teach them to RUN/ PRESS /LEARN!! Kenny says: 8/12/2010 at 1:27:54 PM Great video selections and I love the e-book as well.

Jude L says: 8/10/2010 at 2:54:51 PM Hey Jeff- thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for sharing this information and making it available to coaches of all levels. I agree that pressing in youth basketball is counterproductive to their development.

The league I coach in allows teams to implement the press in the second half of the season, so having this resource is VERY valuable in being able to coach ways to break the press. I wouldn't have made it through my first season of coaching without your e-books, tips and insight.

Jeff Hefner says: 8/10/2010 at 2:29:52 PMI I'm understanding your question (it's a little hard to communicate in text), it's because before you pass the half court line you can easily pass backwards out of the trap or do a back dribble out of a trap. Without press breaker you'll notice we always have a player positioned behind the ball for the easy pitch back and reversal.

But the worst places to get trapped are those red danger zones I drew on the board. Darwin Van loo says: 8/10/2010 at 1:44:04 PM For year as a coach I have struggle to find and effective press breaker, this one is excellent, I'm going to introduce this one to my female basketball team. Thank Jeff.

Ed T says: 8/10/2010 at 12:31:40 PM Very good break down of spacing and ball reversal. You only show 6 spots that trap you with 2 imaginary defenders being the sideline or half court line.

Why do you not mention the other 2 being on the other side of the half court line? You can get trapped in those corners before and after you cross the half court line.

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