I was the kid growing up that didn't have to play defense very much. I could score and do things on offense so I never really was forced to play defense or learn it for that matter. That changed once I started watching the University of Utah basketball team practice.
Rick Majerus was an amazing defensive coach. He prepared those players so well defensively, teams were happy to get an uncontested shot. This report features some of the basic principles & drills that I was able to absorb while observing Coach Rick Majerus work his magic.
Understanding What it Takes
What skills do good defenders have? Can anyone be a good defender? What drills can I do to be a good defender? These are all things I will cover, but let's start with the first one. What skills do good defenders have? The most important skill of any good defensive player is his will and desire to play good defense. It is something that you have to be committed to. That is first and foremost what makes a good defensive player. From an actual skill standpoint, quickness is key, mainly lateral quickness and it can be improved if you happen to be naturally slow.
I struggled with it for years but got better over time through hard-work and effort. Speed is another. People with better than average speed obviously have the propensity to be good defenders. Last, please understand positioning. Good defenders understand where they are on the court and where the offense is going. A good defender understands how to get to spots and contest shots. But let's cover some things we can work on to improve some of our basics.
Quickness and Speed Drills
Understand that people have different philosophies on this topic, but I share what worked for me. Jump rope like crazy. Basketball is all about your legs and jumping rope is good for everything. It helps with quickness, speed, jumping, explosion... and the list goes on and on. I would do one thousand a day. I recommend doing these on a basketball court and not on asphalt when possible. On asphalt you will get shin splints and you don't want shin splints. Trust me - they hurt.
Do some slides. Yes, it does sound terrible and it is for the most part, but do some slides. Stay low to the ground and focus on playing defense. It is just as important as offense so take the time to practice your slides when you aren't with your team. It will pay off.
People ask how they can get faster and I ask them a question back. How do you get better at shooting? You practice. If you want to get faster then run. Run sprints and work on it. Basketball isn't a game of long bursts either, so focus on running some shorter sprints of 50 yards at the most. You should really work on that explosion of your first step so focus on that when sprinting.
Some Basic Drills
Let's cover some simple drills that anyone can use. I've seen drills like this on other Internet sites, but here are some of my takes. Defenders do a few things on nearly every possession. They slide, close out and contest the shot. Think about it. You slide while guarding the ball, you close out on someone when they are going to shoot it and you contest the shot when they go to shoot it. Basic simple defense so let's go over some drills.
Close Out and Slide. This is simple. I start underneath the basket and run toward the top of the key. Once I get within 5 feet I begin my close out. This is done by lowering your stance and having a good base. Close outs are important because you don't want to run toward someone and have them dribble right by you. So make sure that you are closing out on the imaginary player. Once you get to the top of the key, remain in defensive position and slide to either side of the court. Do it again 6 times or until you are too tired to move. It's a simple drill but it forms a good habit.