The following is from Jason Burkiewicz, Head Girls’ Basketball Coach, Annawan High School (IL):
Career – 112-15
- All 15 losses are to top 10 ranked opponents in 1A, 2A, or 3A
- 11 of the 15 losses are by 5 points or less
When I was a player in high school I did not take as much pride as I should of in my defense. I was a three point specialist from the point guard position who focused primarily on offense while occasionally getting a hand in the passing lane or getting a steal out front. However, after becoming a coach defense has quickly become my primary focus and it has become the identity of my coaching style.
My outlook on defense all started to change when I took my first job coaching freshman girls’ basketball at Princeton High School. I had coached boys’ basketball before but had no experience when dealing with girls sports. This was a school in which volleyball was the known sport for girls and basketball was just an afterthought. I could see that our girls were athletic. They could run, jump, accelerate, change direction quickly, and even shoot a little bit, but for the most part when you put a ball in their hands all of that ability seemed to disappear. After teaching the basics I knew about basketball we started off the season 0-12 before going into Christmas break. After seeing my first dose of girls’ basketball for a month and a half I noticed that even the good teams lost quite a bit of athleticism when they had to handle the ball at the same time. Their eyes were down and their passes were not sharp when faced with pressure. So over Christmas break I threw out everything else we were focusing on and I taught my girls a 1-2-1-1 full court press and a 2-2-1 full court press. I figured we were going to use our athleticism when not in possession of the ball and our defense was going to create our primary source of offense. Our first game after Christmas we played a 12-0 team in our conference and beat them having scored forty-five points. Our full court pressure made the game very difficult on our opponent and after we would cover a passing lane and get a steal we would pass the ball ahead immediately to someone going to the basket for a lay-up. This game shaped me and my ideals of girls’ basketball. Today I am a four year varsity girls’ coach at Annawan High School with a record of 112-15 and I attribute a great part of it to our defensive philosophy.
After becoming a girls’ coach I soon realized that when you have a fast male basketball player and put a basketball in his hand, he is still pretty fast, but when you have a girl who is fast and put a basketball in her hand, on average she is quite a bit slower. Therefore I determined that the best place my girls could showcase their athleticism and be aggressive was on defense. I grew up playing in a man to man system. I still teach man to man and we will play it because I strongly believe you need to know good man to man principles in order to play a zone effectively. With that being said I have become a strong believer in aggressive, trapping zone defenses. No matter who we play I always start off in either our 2-2-1 or 1-2-1-1 full court pressure. These two presses are very similar in trapping style and rotations but I teach two because it can be confusing to opposing players just by making a subtle change in alignment. We will also run a 1-2-2 three quarter court press. By throwing different looks at the defense it causes our opposing coach to often times have to use timeouts to show a different way to attack our press. Then I just simply change back to a different one. It is my philosophy that I do not have to coach against our opponents coach but rather I have to outsmart our opponents’ players. By allowing our team the option of changing looks it forces the opposing players to make adjustments because their coach cannot call a timeout every time we switch things up. Also when pressing the girls can really free themselves up to use their speed and athleticism without having to control the basketball. My girls in the past have told me how much they really enjoy playing this up-tempo style of basketball. I find that it keeps them engaged in the game and even takes away from any sort of nervousness that may occur in a big game because of the constant movement that forces them to react more than think. In fact, there have been games where we have had to pull the press off because our opponent was beating it consistently but toward the end of close games when nerves start to kick in we have gone back to it. After making this move we almost always find that in this high pressured situation our opponent cannot handle the same press they did earlier in the game.
If we are not using our full court pressure that drops back into a man defense then we will be using our 1-3-1 half court trap. This has been my go to defense the past couple of season for a couple reasons. We have been able to form great traps because I have had multiple lanky girls with long arms that cause opponents to throw rainbow passes over the top. After we steal these rainbow passes it allows us time to set up for a lay-up whereas our full court pressure sometimes still causes us to make contested lay-ups after steals. The main reason I like this defense so much is because it forces our opponents to not be able to run whatever offense they practice all season long. Against our 1-3-1 we know our opponent is going to show us a 2-1-2 look. Because everybody tries to attack the 1-3-1 the same way it allows our players to recognize what teams are looking for and gives us a huge advantage when anticipating passes.
The last thing I want to mention in our defensive philosophy that is preached and taught every day in practice is, “No Middle.” No matter what we are running defensively rather it is our man to man or any of our zone defenses we never want our opponent to be able to catch a pass or dribble penetrate to the middle of the floor. I feel that too much damage can be done to a defense when the ball is in the middle of the floor particularly at the free throw line. When a good guard can get to this position on the floor too many options become available. They can shoot a nice short jump shot or help can come from either side of the floor allowing the guard to dump the ball off either direction for a lay-up. Instead we want to ball to go baseline, behind the basket, where we can again set a trap. Shooting from behind the basket is not a high percentage shot in my opinion so we want to overplay the hand that the offensive player would have to use to get to the middle of floor, making them go toward the baseline if they put the ball on the floor. When I first teach this concept many fans, coaches, and players will remind me of the old basketball saying, “Never give up baseline.” I respond with, “We don’t give up baseline, we force baseline!” When it is part of your defensive concept it is easy to force a player down there and get a trap. After our rotations there is only one place to pass the ball and it is away from the basket to a wing on ball side. This has been very effective for us and this concept too takes our opponent away from what they want to accomplish offensively because through high pressure, we determine where the ball is going to go, not the offense.