Getting Open -- How to Evade Defenders

By Brian McCormick

I watched a number of high-school girls basketball games this weekend, and girls struggled to get open.

Most of the top teams pressed, and the most difficult part of breaking the press was the inbounds pass. Seemingly every team attempted to inbound the ball using the same tactics, and these were easily defended. The players were ill-equipped to adjust when their press break did not work, and coaches had to call out another press break (and another) or use a timeout to draw up a new press break (link).

The standard tactic against a press was to put the two guards at the free throw line, either across from one another or in a stack, while the two posts stood in the corners at halfcourt. When the guards started on the elbows, one screened for the other. When they started in a stack, one cut in one direction, and the other went opposite. Regardless, one guard ran in the direction of the right baseline corner, and the other ran toward the left baseline corner. When they were not open, the post opposite the ball cut to the middle of the court.

Nearly every team breaks a press in a similar manner; we did the exact same thing when I played 25 years ago. Whereas I would use a different tactic, the tactics were not the problem. The problem was the inability to evade her defender.

As I have written, my two basics of offensive basketball are disorganizing the defense and spacing. Spacing is an individual and team concept. Individually, spacing simply means to create as much distance as possible from oneís defender. This is evading. This is the same basic premise as playing tag.

If we took away the ball, and I told the players that the black team was it, and the white team was not it, would the white team make the same straight line cuts to the same exact spots every time as they do in their press break? Why not?

I am 100% serious when I say that teams who have players who cannot get open do not play enough tag. Watch any group of five year-olds play tag. They understand the concept. They have evading skills, which essentially are ways of combining deception and explosion to maximize the distance from another person. If five year-olds playing tag have these skills, why is it so hard for 17-year-olds to use these evading skills in a game of basketball?

One reason is that many children lose these skills because they stop playing unstructured games. Rather than learning to evade generally, they learn specific moves for specific situations. They learn v-cuts and L-cuts. They learn to cut from A to B in press break 1, and from C to D in press break 2, but they forget the basics: deception, explosion, evasion, spacing. Coaches narrow the attention of players to focus on specific movements in specific situations, and under pressure, players forget about the movements that used to be childís play.

I donít use a press break, but there is nothing inherently wrong with press breaks. However, if players cannot get open to receive a pass, no press break is going to work.

The solution is not to add more press breaks or to make the press break more sophisticated; the solution is to practice getting open: basic evasion skills using explosion and deception. Itís not a hard skill; children have been practicing it forever.

This article is from Brian McCormick's Hard2Guard Newsletter. To subscribe, visit

Related Pages & Helpful Resources

Basketball Press Offense: How to Break Any Type of Press and Avoid Turnovers -- Press Breaker Drills, Offense, and Strategy

Reduce Turnovers With The Line Press Breaker

Universal System of Attacking Presses DVD

Leave your comments, suggestions, and questions below...


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Daren Carlson says:
10/26/2014 at 7:14:12 PM

Along these lines I use the" 3-lane drill" with my middle school team. Divide court in three sections long way on court. Go 3v 3 . Offense must stay in lane and cannot dribble. use cuts and deception to get open and score at other end. Kids enjoy the challenge and tends to make them be creative with cuts.


Sane says:
10/22/2014 at 8:32:39 AM

I love the keep away drill which fosters both defensive denial, and offensive elusiveness. You can allow the offensive player two dribbles or three depending on skill level of team. This develops both the offense and defense.


Mike Brown says:
10/21/2014 at 4:04:29 PM

@ Sane

The concept that he is speaking of is getting open. Not a press break. I know he uses the press break as an example but it really is about getting open. If he used offensive sets instead of press break would you be saying this is a gym class activity?

I've coached from K-10th grade. The younger the player is the more you should let them get open on their own. I coached 4th grade girls last year and we never screened on the offensive side. However, teams screened against us to get their players open. But when we pressed them, we could press the last minute of the game, they couldn't get open w/out a screen. I believe this is his point.

With the younger teams we play ball tag to begin and end practice. It gets the players passing and cutting and it also gets the players trying to get tagged used to finding the open area. The point of it is to get every player moving and not standing around.


Josh Perkins says:
10/21/2014 at 1:23:41 PM

I am a youth coach (5th grader boys), and have struggled with how to explain (or for them to grasp) how to get open. And I love this idea.


Such a great idea using keep away as a tool, I will be implementing this strategy (game) at my next practice.


Sane says:
10/21/2014 at 8:47:13 AM

This sounds like gym class and busy activity. If a team is functioning as a team then at a minimum the inbounds man has to know where everyone is, and hopefully were everyone is headed. Tag might keep you away from a player but you also have to get the ball. After you get the ball, you must now prepare to possibly be trapped. Tag sounds a team building activity. Does my inbound man know where these tag players are going. He has 5 seconds to figure it out.


Jeff Haefner says:
10/20/2014 at 10:42:04 AM

JM -

I a completely with you and have found the same thing!

With our youth teams we play a lot of tag, keep away, and no dribble passing games (3on3 or 4on4 full court no dribble).

Now as 4th graders when they play in games I am finding that our players are flash cutting, L cutting, backdoor cutting, etc all on their own. They just figured it out. There is no offensive structure other than keep your spacing (big emphasis) and get open. Amazing how good they are getting with their free form motion offense.


Jeff Haefner says:
10/20/2014 at 10:35:03 AM

CD -

I can't speak for the author as I'm not sure if he has any structure to his press break. But I would think you'd want to give them a little structure. For example, you could have two guards up and two bigs deep. Then have them get open. Or just have one guard up to get open. But then it can be just spacing and playing.

And Bruce eluded to, you might just run your fast break offense. Players go to spots and then guards cut back and get open if needed.

Regardless of whether you run a press breaker or not, playing tag will help teach players to get open and be elusive. The actual type of press break is irrelevant in that regard.


JM says:
10/20/2014 at 10:28:58 AM

I totally agree about coaches (especially at the youth-rec level) trying to over-structure the game. I coach youth girls and youth boys, and sometimes I will start the practice with a warm-up game of "keep away": no rules, no mandatory dribbling, no shooting. Just split into two teams and keep the ball away from the other team for 5 minutes using the whole court. It's amazing how kids just naturally start "v-cutting", "L-cutting", etc., creating separation on their own without a coach telling them how do it! And it gets the kids warmed up and ready for practice, usually with smiles on their faces!


Bruce Aulabaugh says:
10/16/2014 at 7:37:41 PM

I think I understand the concept being espoused but I also don't know how it would be taught in a fully free form fashion because of the risk that players would congest at times and that onward passes wouldn't be available if there were no 'rules' about who would be up-court and who would be back-court and who if anyone can set ball-screens (if that is part of your approach).

To me, 'no set press break' means having an integrated fast break/ press break. The integration is that the press break evolves out of the standard fast break in-bounds pass, initial court positions and lane running assignments. This includes the in-bounder running the baseline if needed to shift defense and includes 'over the top passes' to deeper targets cutting back into space created by the initial set up positions/ lane running. Once the ball is inbound we have simple rules about the next set of cuts to do three things: maintain spacing, get a target directly up the line and being ready to reverse the ball if up the line target is covered. These cuts generally result in '3 near targets including the reversal man' and '1 far target (deep man). This 3near-1far arrangement is nearly a universal outcome of the best press-breakers: see Coach K's video on Breaking the Press or Will Rey's video on Universal Press Breaker (which has good content but is too complicated for many youth teams).


CD says:
10/15/2014 at 11:28:08 PM

I really love this idea of no set press break. I just don't fully understand how to use it. Are you saying tell players to just get open? How would I implement this?

Thank you


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