• Ian Stacker

No zone - VJBL lead the way

Just after my return to Melbourne from the AIS in 2013 the Victorian Junior Basketball League had just introduced a rule for the State Championships that banned zone defence’s from being played in under 12 and under 14 representative basketball. The VJBL is the best junior competition played throughout Australia with literally hundreds of teams competing each Friday night around the state. The best of these teams compete in the Victorian Championship (VC) grade, with lower levels of grades also available.

The VC competition is probably more responsible for the best players coming out of Victoria than any of the levels players elevate to from that point. Ben Simmons, Dante Exum, Andrew Bogut, Matt Dellavdova, Penny Taylor, Liz Cambage, Rachel Jarry and all that came before them were clearly on the National pathway upon graduating from the VJBL competition. The excellent coaching and competitive level of play helps churn out our future Boomers and Opals year after year and this is reflected in Victoria’s dominance of National Junior Championships.

The decision to ban zone defence’s was based partly on the success of the concept at the National Under 14 Club Championships – I should say at this point that in the early 1990’s, in my role as Basketball Victoria Director of Coaching, I wrote a discussion paper that was presented to Basketball Australia on the merits of banning zone defence’s at the under 14 National Tournament, the concept was adopted shortly afterwards. The VJBL decision was also based on a view that players needed to learn both how to play man to man defense and develop the offensive skills necessary to be able to function against man to man defense.

Over the past three years I have been coaching at the high school level and I can certainly support the view that zone defence’s, while being beneficial for short term wins, certainly turn junior games into a very boring spectacle and do more to hide the inadequacies of a team than give the team with the more skilled players the best chance to win. Players are forced into taking shots that are outside their effective shooting range while the zoning team basically learn how to stand in the key and take up space. Not the best for the development of both teams.

Zone defences are an effective tactic at the senior level and certainly in a well-structured development program players certainly need to be taught how to play different types of zones defence’s. Introducing zone concepts at the under 16 age group and above, when players are capable of shooting the ball from the three-point line, is certainly a better approach.

The VJBL have provided great leadership with the decision to ban zone defences and should be congratulated on the initiative.

As well as introducing the “no zone” rule the VJBL also ran a series of free coaching clinics for all coaches who coached in the competition and I was commissioned to run these clinics. These clinics have been conducted at various regional points around Melbourne each year since the rule was introduced and have been attended by hundreds of coaches.

While most coaches would be familiar with the general concepts of man to man defense I think it’s worthwhile identifying some areas of man to man that might require greater emphasis. These observations are probably a result of both my frustration with coaching at the high school level and my frustration with the smothering defense that Serbia applied to the Boomers at the Olympic Games. If we can get these things right in our junior competitions, then maybe our players will be better equipped to compete at the highest levels of the game. Anyway these are the things I think we need to emphasize more;

  • Pressure on the ball – When playing on ball defense players are often in a reasonable stance but are not close enough to put pressure on the pass or the shot. If a player isn’t close enough to reach out and touch the ball, then they are too far away. An offensive player who can feel the presence of a defender is far more likely to make an error in decisions or skills.

  • Lateral movement – Junior players need to be well drilled on how to move laterally and how to maintain a chest to chest relationship with the player they are guarding if they are dribbling the ball. A quick start is a big help but being able to maintain several lateral slides to stop forward movement by a dribbling player is an essential skill for players wanting to move to the elite level.

  • Blocking out – The final act of defense is to block out, all five defenders should move to take up space and make contact with offensive players once the ball has been shot. Most players – on defense and offense – watch the ball travelling through the air on a shot and wait until it has missed and rebounded off the ring before they start to move. Elite players move to block out the moment a player has released the ball.

  • Use of an arm bar – It is legal for a defender to make space and hold their ground using an arm bar to make contact with the offensive player. The arm bar can be used to stay ball side of a cutting player, to hold ground in post defense and to assist with blocking out. Most junior players have not been well drilled on how to make contact and hold ground using an arm bar

  • Great help off the ball – anytime the ball enters the area of the wings (the area around the three-point line at the foul line extended) all defenders on the opposite side of the court should be heading for the split line (the imaginary line that runs down the middle of the court from basket to basket) this is generally the minimum spot they should move to so they can help protect the basket if the on ball defender gets beaten. This spot also puts them in a great position to stop their player being able to cut between them and the ball.

  • Defensive triangle – relative anytime players are playing off ball defense. When the ball is in the middle third of the court the split line is not a relevant reference point. Players should now be in a good triangle with vision on their man and the ball with their back facing the imaginary line between the ball and the basket.

  • Talk – all defenders should be constantly communicating; coaches need to not just ask players to talk but should tell players what they want them to say. “help right” “screen left, get over” whatever it is don’t just ask them to talk, let them know what you want them to say. Great talk adds significant strength to a team’s defensive presence.

  • Full court pick up – Players who can defend the length of the floor, understand the concepts of surprising ball handlers, shooting gaps and rotations are well on their way to being fundamentally sound defenders.

There’s just a few tips that might help make a difference. If you aren’t familiar with some of the terminology used above, then maybe visit my YouTube site where there are several videos showing both introductory and advanced defensive drills. I’m also easy to contact via email or Facebook if I can help at all.

The VJBL have shown great leadership with the implementation of the “no zone” rule, hopefully other State associations around the Country will follow.

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