End the Full-Court Press


Let me start by taking a sword out of your hand. I like Bob Huggins a great deal, and I don’t have anything against West Virginia. Same goes for any other team that runs a full-time full-court press. This is not a personal matter, and it involves no biases, except against boring, sloppy basketball games.

That said, the full-court press is basketball vandalism, and it ought to be eradicated.

I know I am not alone when I say that if every team ran a full-court press, I wouldn’t even watch basketball. If I wanted to see a bunch of people hacking each other, rolling around on the floor and throwing the ball out of bounds, there are any number of Bitty Ball games out there to see.

So you say, “Well, what do you want to do, make the full-court press illegal? That’s hardly fair.” And the answer is no. The rules are fine the way they are. The thing is, the full-court press shouldn’t work as a full-time strategy, and the truth is, it wouldn’t work if the regular rules of basketball were enforced on pressing teams they way they are on everybody else.

For example, if, in a half-court set, you run full speed into an offensive player, knock him into the bench and steal the ball, that’s a foul. But if you picked them up full-court, for some reason they just let that go. A full-court press team will also generally be allowed to climb all the way up the back of a rebounder and get an offensive rebound while elbowing the defender in the head. If you’re a guard on a pressing team, there is rarely a consequence for raking your hands across a ball-handler’s arms or shouldering him off his pivot foot.

This is true at all levels of the sport, except, tellingly, the professional one. In a high school game once (losing, non-pressing side), I got so irritated by this that on a loose ball I straight up threw a shoulder into an opponent like a cornerback making a tackle on a screen pass, then got up and told the ref I had committed a foul and he should call it (he didn’t).

If games involving pressing teams were officiated the way the rest of the games are, the whole pressing team would foul out, and the other guys would shoot 100 free throws. Instead, the press would be a situational tactic, deployed a few possessions at a time by teams needing to change the pace of a game or make a comeback. It would be more like a two-minute drill in football, or a baseball team using a starter as a relief pitcher. It would be a like a defendant pleading insanity. The last resort of the desperate.

As it is, referees are scared of fouling out an entire team, and coaches like Huggins take advantage of that. I don’t begrudge Huggins this. He is exploiting an advantage, and that’s basically what coaching is about.

But that doesn’t make it any less true that the full-court press makes a farce out of an otherwise beautiful game, and much like the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy, the sport would be better off if it didn’t work.