Ball-press for the defense

641030.png

Ball-press for the defense

Of all the high school basketball coaches I've ever met, Vergil Fletcher was the most innovative and perceptive of them all. He was the definition of visionary. He invented the ball-press defense and made it famous. So why don't more coaches employ the 1-2-2 zone press today?

"I don't know," said Lincoln coach Neil Alexander, who has been teaching the ball-press for 25 years. "It is successful for us. We spend a ton of time on it. There are too many options in college so they don't run it. But I'm stubborn. I won't change."

Alexander learned the ball-press from Loren Wallace, who coached at Lincoln and Quincy. Wallace learned it from Fletcher. They made it work. Fletcher won 792 games and two state championships. Wallace won 682 games. Alexander has won more than 600.

So why don't more coaches employ the ball-press? Even coach Bob Bone, who played for Fletcher and later coached at Collinsville, chose not to use it. The only schools in Illinois that currently play the ball-press are Lincoln, Rockton Hononegah, Moline, Mounds Meridian, Nokomis, Vandalia, Highland Park, Homewood-Flossmoor, Curie, Jacksonville and Warrensburg-Latham.

"It doesn't surprise me," Alexander said. "In high school, people don't want to commit to it. I believe in what Bob Knight said. If you believe in something, do it right. Some coaches do a lot to confuse you. We want to play our defense the best we possibly can. It is all about effort. Kids just have to worry about being in the right spot at the right time.

"We spend half a practice working on defense. What I like about it is we have to do it together as a team. In the man-to-man, you have a lot of breakdowns. We have daily drills that we work on. We have used quick kids, slow kids, smart kids and not-so-smart kids, kids who understand the game. Kids know they have to play it here. We work on foot speed every day."

Alexander and Steve Kimbro grew up together in Fillmore, 12 miles south of Nokomis. They played for Loren Wallace at Nokomis in 1971-72. Today, Kimbro coaches the ball-press at Nokomis. Alexander went back to it at Bushnell-Prairie City in 1987, when the three-point line was adopted.

"I started to go to the ball-press to put more pressure on," Alexander said. "I had a group of kids who couldn't plan man-to-man so I went to the ball-press and won 23 games. From then on, I stuck with it."

Alexander recalls sitting on the steps of Huff Gym in Champaign during a state tournament and talking to Springfield Lanphier coach Craig Patton, learning his concepts of the ball-press. Patton had been an assistant to Wallace at Lincoln. Alexander also learned the defense from one of his own assistants, John Welch, who also had worked with Wallace.

What is the ball-press? And what does it take to be effective?

When Fletcher arrived at Collinsville in 1946, he ran a screen-and-roll and a 1-2-2 offense and a man-to-man defense.

"I didn't like to run a lot because we weren't fast. But we weren't slow, either. I played man-to-man defense. Against big teams, however, I went to a 1-2-2 and opponents tried to hold ball on us," said Fletcher in an interview in 2002.

"So I introduced the zone press, the ball-press in the early 1950s. The emphasis is on the ball. Former St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca saw me demonstrate it at a clinic and said it wouldn't work in college. Then he began using it the following year. Former UCLA coach John Wooden used it, too."

Fletcher's 1965 state championship team, led by Dennis Pace, played the ball-press as well as it could be executed. "They had a great desire to play and worked so well together. They set a school record for creating turnovers while averaging only five per game," Fletcher said. Pace later played at Illinois and was the only major college recruit on the roster.

In explaining the ball-press, Fletcher said: "The element of surprise can spell the difference in basketball. Pulled at the right time, an unanticipated move can turn a game around. Especially devastating in this respect are full-court presses in general and the full-court zone press in particular. A good full-court zone press is particularly valuable to the coach. Since its execution is similar to the regular zone, it can be easily learned and thus save valuable practice time. In addition, it capitalizes on two other regular zone advantages--pass interceptions and the anticipation of play development."

According to Fletcher, the trick to executing the ball-press successfully and constantly was for the defenders to understand where the ball was going once an offensive player had possession of the ball and was in a particular spot on the floor. Trapped, his options were limited and the defenders were keenly aware what they were.

"We have a man-and-a-half on the ball," Alexander said. "To be effective, you have to have five guys who are moving. The ball-press isn't a one- or two-man defense. They have to be aware of where the ball is on the court. They have to get to a point by physically being there and thinking of a passing lane.

"You have to have kids who want to play hard all the time. They can't take a break. If one guy quits, you have a hole in the defense. Every year, I get four or five coaches in the ball and four or five in the spring who want to talk about the ball-press. But all of them want to use it as a change of pace. I tell them they are wasting their time. They have to commit to it full-time. Kids have to believe in it."

Lincoln has been running the ball-press since Loren Wallace introduced it in 1976. "It's been here ever since. It has been a staple here and it's won a lot of basketball games. Our kids believe in it. So do our fans. But you must commit to it. A lot of people won't do that," Alexander said.

Roy Condotti, who coached at Westinghouse and Homewood-Flossmoor, used the 1-2-2 zone press for several years. When he served as Frank Lollino's assistant at Westinghouse, they developed their program around baseline-to-baseline pressure.

"We liked that style of play, the pressure, being the aggressor," Condotti said. "Not a lot of teams were doing it. The 1-2-2 is a safer form of the full-court press. It creates a style of play that allows you to direct traffic and dictate tempo. It isn't as simply as putting five guys out there. A lot of people don't do it because there is a lot to it.

"You need a method to your madness. There are specific responsibilities and breakdown drills for each one. You want to dictate where the ball is going. Five guys have to act as one. If one makes a mistake, it doesn't work. You have to commit to it fully. When we pressed, our defense was our offense.

"You need speed for full-court pressure. So you have to be willing to get beat in it. But you can't abandon it. You must commit to it, for better or worse. It is a mentality for the kids. Aggressive kids like it."

How White Sox players managed the 'chaos' of Thursday's record-setting rain delay

How White Sox players managed the 'chaos' of Thursday's record-setting rain delay

MINNEAPOLIS -- Some guys played cards. The soccer ball got kicked around in spite of the close quarters in the visiting clubhouse. There was dancing. A magic trick or two was attempted. A few players even tried to get in a nap.

White Sox players found myriad ways to keep themselves occupied during Thursday’s draining 4-hour, 50-minute rain delay -- the longest in Minnesota Twins history.

Yet despite not knowing what time the game may start, White Sox players found a way to overcome the uncertainty and stay engaged. Similar to May 26 when the first game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers was cancelled, the White Sox figured out how to go from zero to 60 in mere seconds. Though there’s no exact formula for success, the White Sox seem to have figured out a way to endure the elements and get out quickly. On early Thursday evening, the White Sox overcame the rain and misery to jump ahead of the Minnesota Twins en route to a 9-0 victory at Target Field.

“We keep it real loose whether,” veteran third baseman Todd Frazier said. “We have a good time. We enjoy each other’s company. Win lose or draw, tomorrow’s a new day. Today we kept working hard and we knew we had a game to play and eventually we were going to play it. We turned it on at the right moment.”

Jose Quintana saw so much of his iPad that eventually he had to turn it off out of sheer boredom. Thursday’s starting pitcher was almost able to complete two feature-length movies during the rain delay. Quintana, who excelled with nine strikeouts in 6 2/3 scoreless innings, watched ‘Fast and Furious 7’ and ‘Get Out’ on his iPad during the delay.

While he liked the action movie, Quintana wasn’t as fond of the latter, though he admits he’s not a big fan of horror movies.

[VIVID SEATS: Buy your White Sox tickets here]

“I think it was bad because too much time in front of the iPad,” Quintana said. “It made me bored.

“I just tried to stay relaxed, focused on the game. … Tried to come back and work a little bit. It’s a little hard, but we don’t have control so stay focused on the game.”

Whereas the White Sox determined when they played last month at home -- they cancelled Game 1 of a doubleheader at 1 p.m. and pushed the second game back to 8 p.m. because of rain -- this time was in the Twins’ hands. The forecast called for rain all afternoon before things cleared up around 5 p.m.

While the White Sox were in limbo as to when they would play, they had a pretty good idea that eventually they would.

“It’s miserable,” Frazier said. “You try and find some things to do, play cards, hang out with the guys. If you had a set time it would help. But we came out banging in that first inning. It’s huge.”

White Sox manager Rick Renteria is impressed with how his team has handled both long days. The White Sox also defeated the Tigers 8-2 on May 26th. While Renteria and his coaching staff spent a lot of his time preparing for their upcoming home series against the Oakland A’s, he’s pleased with how his players managed themselves through the uncertainty.  

“They’re the ones who are dealing with the chaos,” Renteria said. “They’re the ones who play the game and who have to have their minds to be ready to go out and perform. They’ve been able to respond well. It’s part of who they are, their character, and hopefully it’s something they continue to be able to do and build on.”

Jimmy Butler's trainer is certainly not happy about trade

Jimmy Butler's trainer is certainly not happy about trade

No hard feelings from Jimmy Butler's camp, right? 

Wrong. 

Not long after the three-time All-Star was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, his trainer broke Twitter. 

 

It's not explicit, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who Gaines was tweeting about. More so, Gaines sent the harsh takedown from France, where he presumably is vacationing with Butler. 

It was reported that Butler wanted to stay in Chicago. TNT's David Aldridge even detailed that he rebuffed the opportunity to re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers if he was traded there. 

Obviously, emotions are running high.