Higher Level Basketball


By Rob Raque

Former men's assistant coach, Bellarmine College, Louisville, KY

Pressure your opponent. Create turnovers that lead to easy baskets - all without being burned by giving up open shots. The wish of virtually every coach is to create some offense from his/her defense, while limiting the risks they have to take. Of course, that is a difficult, sometimes improbable, balancing act as most pressure is high risk/high reward. If you want to create some easy offense through pressure, but are concerned about the chances you take in pressure defense, the 2-1-2 three-quarter-court press may be for you.

In my four years at Bellarmine, we encountered and solved, with much success, all types of pressure with one exception - the 2-1-2. It is a press you don't see that often and is hard to prepare for. The 2-1-2 has three key benefits: (1) it allows you to pick your spots, to take chances and to be aggressive, while keeping good protection in the defensive frontcourt; (2) you don't need great athleticism or size to benefit from the press (although each enhances the press's effectiveness) - therefore, it can be used at any level; (3) it covers the middle passing lanes quite well, thus discouraging probably the most preferred and used attack vs. pressure. This press does require some patience and discipline, as you are letting the offense work itself into trouble by limiting both their available options and time for decisions.


Generally speaking, your goal is to put pressure on the offense to accurately & precisely read, and patiently attack the 2-1-2. You want the offense to force their press attack by ensuring that there are no clear decisions available. (The only exception being when playing only for a steal, i.e.-desperation) Specifically, your goals are to:

  1. Take the opposing offense out of their rhythm (disrupt/slow their press attack).
  2. Force your opponent to take time off the clock in the backcourt (essentially, make the offense waste time on the dribble in the backcourt) while trying to figure out what press, and what type of coverage in the press, you are playing - causing the offense to be timid!
  3. You want to force at least one of the following:
    a) a "read" mistake by the ballhandler, who then takes off on the uncontrolled, speed dribble up the sideline;
    b) backcourt passes to be made late/later in the 10 second count -- especially reversal passes to the opposite wing;
    c) passes into the trap zones to be short in distance (thus more easily trapped ON THE PASS) and/or leading the wing receiver into a sideline speed dribble;
    d) a trapped man to throw what we call "window" passes (forced passes into tight openings) to the "dead-spot" area (crosscourt, diagonally opposite, beyond the front line of the press) or deep sideline areas. These forced passes, especially out of traps - are the ones you must anticipate and steal.


  • Teams with strong ballhandling point guards, but no other confident ballhandlers. Typically, these teams rely on the point guards to extract them from troubled situations.
  • Teams who like to put their best ball handler in the middle of the press attack - especially in the second line.
  • Teams with poor ballhandling frontcourt people (even better, if also poor passers).


Front men - usually your guards -- these players must be quick, agile, patient and possess some savvy. Players at these positions can not "jump the gun" and must know how to bait the man with the ball. If you can put players with some size here, it is a HUGE plus!

Middle man- usually your 3 man or your best athlete -- he is the "quarterback" of this press. Must be quick and be willing to work very hard! He also needs good court vision and the ability to anticipate. Above all, he must be patient! (Some size in this position is a great advantage).

Back Men - usually forwards, center -- should be your best basket protectors and very good anticipators, who can read and react ACCURATELY.



II. Front men must not get split, allowing ball to be dribbled between them. One man must influence the ball to his side of the floor. Do not end up with both men on the ball!

III. All 5 spots must be patient. It is important to know what coverage you are playing within the press and stick with the objectives of that coverage. Players must get a feel for picking their spots to be aggressive and take chances. Again, you are relying on the offense to panic or force itself into bad situations. NOTE: This facet will be helped a great deal by any scouting on the opponent's press attack tendencies.

IV. Each player must be willing to see two people at once, splitting their vision between receivers off the ball. This should allow players to anticipate better and react accordingly.

V. The coach must clearly define the coverage areas, types and responsibilities. You have some room to tweak this press to situations and personnel, but you must clearly define the following: who has middle-pass denial responsibilities; who traps where; who plays the "dead-spot" area; and who has basket protection.

VI. Although you are not initiating an attack as in other pressure (such as a 1-2-1-1 on ball press), players must stay low and keep their feet active. They must move ON THE PASS, NOT AFTER the pass. Positioning and readiness allow you to gain an enormous advantage in creating difficult angles and "reads" for the offense.

VII. On any pass out of, or over, the press, players MUST SPRINT back toward the middle of the floor, favoring the ballside, middle for protection first. Once in the key and lane area, they can fan out, recovering to their men (if in man to man) or to their position (if in zone).


  • All coverages are zone based.
  • Coverages can be called (our call designations are in quotes) or you can simply "key" them by how the front line defender plays the ball.
  • It is IMPERATIVE that you play coverages well. So, if you do not have the personnel to play each coverage below, DON'T! Ideally, you want to play as many of the coverages as possible and mix them within your game plan to allow for as much confusion in the "reads" for the offense as possible. They should set up each other quite well.
  • Keep in mind as your overall view of the 2-1-2: The main source of uncertainty for the offense is caused by you trapping only at opportune times, thus the defense stays clear of giving up high percentage shots. Traps seem to occur randomly. Therefore, it isn't essential to create a trap each possession. You are playing a game of percentages. Don't let your team get overanxious to create traps that aren't there - LET THEM HAPPEN!
    In this press, turnovers beget more turnovers and uncertainty!
  • FALLBACK DEFENSE: What you fall back to is entirely up to you, your personnel and the situation. This press is conducive to man, zones and match-ups as fallback defenses.
    IMPORTANT NOTE: You can continue to trap in the frontcourt, such as the corners or upon reversal, if you would like. These are individual decisions based on your style of play and personnel.
  • Just as a good offense uses spacing, it is essential you "space" well defensively in this press - you want your off ball defenders & non-trappers to be in position to play two potential receivers each, while also being in position to fill interceptor or goalie duties on a trap.
  • The front men are "on a string" (in an inverse relationship) with each other; when one steps up to influence the ball, the other must quickly drop towards middle help responsibility. (Their pick up point for the ball should ALWAYS, regardless of coverage, be a point between the free throw line and midway into the key circle).


The safest way to play. You may or may not create a trap in this coverage. You are consciously letting the offense choose its initial method of attack, then playing off that choice to limit their options. Ideally, you will bait them into taking more time early in the backcourt, on the dribble, to read the press -- then try to beat the 10 count on a speed dribble, or with a ball reversal, late (6+ seconds) in the count. This coverage is keyed by the on ball guard "giving", or yielding (couple of steps leeway) from the pick-up point to near the old hashmark area. This defender should be retreating diagonally (imagine a 60 angle) at the same speed as the ballhandler is advancing. The idea is to coax the ballhandler into feeling that he can take things into his own hands and try to dribble through, or around, the pressure.