STEPPING UP: My Take: Full- and half-court presses the new standard for girls’ basketball

Published 11:07 am Friday, March 14, 2014




The full and half court press have become the norms and universal defensive strategies implemented by high school girls’ basketball coaches.

In fact, it’s become such a standard for winning that it has essentially lost its luster in terms of advantage. The execution and success rate of the press is now solely dependent on the athleticism and agility of each individual team.

In other words, if a defense has the quickness to consistently force extended traps on the opposite end of the floor, there’s a good chance that team trumps the opponent physically, and that team will likely control the tempo of the game.

Head coach Michelle Leathers’ Northside team lives and dies by the press, especially late in games. Finishing with an 11-12 record, the young and relatively inexperienced squad was outmatched physically and spent a good portion of their season struggling to contain opponents.

And the Seahawks are not only young, but lack depth at the guard position, an asset that seems to be ubiquitous among most successful teams this season.

Riverside is one of those teams. Head coach Kirby Maness has 11 players on his squad capable of handling the ball on offense and pressuring the opposition on defense.

“We generate a lot of our offense coming out of our press,” Maness said. “We make sure we’re moving and constantly putting pressure on teams to the start of the game to the end. We throw a lot of different looks at people. We have very talented girls that move very quickly and cause a lot of pressure.”

The result? The Knights are headed to the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill today at 12 p.m. to take on perennial powerhouse Bishop McGuiness in the North Carolina State Tournament Championship. Riverside also happens to be unbeaten, a perfect 29-0, defeating its opponents by an astounding average of 31.6 points per game and forcing about 28 turnovers each contest. Much of the defensive success can be attributed to the correct and athletically superior execution of the full-court press.

The Knights’ defensive athleticism makes them an elite girls’ basketball team, but it’s their ability to convert defensive pressure into turnovers and turnovers into baskets—all without the ball crossing half court—that makes them one of North Carolina’s best high school basketball teams.

Head coach Greg Rowe’s T.E.A.C.H. team executed the press in a similar fashion. Without a true forward on its roster, the Trailblazers lost just two games in the regular season by keeping the ball on their opponents’ end via an aggressive full-court press. For Rowe’s team, conditioning was the No. 1 priority each practice.

Riverside and T.E.A.C.H. generate defense through the backcourt, making the guards the most valuable assets on the floor. As this defensive scheme becomes more conventional among girls high school basketball teams, the need for defensive-minded forwards is naturally becoming obsolete. The fact is, height—traditionally the most relished physical basketball trait—is becoming just a number, as teams are now capable of being competitive with an undersized, conditioned and guard-heavy roster and a full-court press.