Press - 3:2 Half Court trap

Objective: The objective of this half court press is to give an unusual defensive look to the other team and to extend the defensive perimeter far enough to frustrate the typical passing lanes used by the opposing guards. It is common to encounter teams that have not played against this press, so they may spend the better part of a half figuring out to get through the defense.

Advantages: The advantages are that it provides opportunities to steal the passes near mid court which make for easy layups. It also is ideal for preventing teams from establishing their rehearsed half court offense. The press easily collapses into a 3:2 zone which may be extended at the coach's discretion.



The Setup

The initial setup is very important. The three players at the top are trappers. The players on the bottom are interceptors and must also protect the basket. Rather than play side by side, one must declare high and guard the middle of the floor. The other back player must take first responsibility for any offensive player near the basket. The back player (Player Y4 in this diagram) must be talkative as he has best view of the play. I call it a 3:2; really, it is more of a 1:2:2 in shape.


Player Y1 is the point. The main duty is to guide the ball to one side or the other. The ball handler must not drive around the point into the heart of the defense.  To help prevent driving up the middle, bring players Y2 and Y3 as close to the middle as needed so that they can "close the door" on a penetrator. If that move is attempted, the nearby ball side defender (either Player 2 or Player 3) must close ranks and prevent the drive. Player 1 must trap on both sides of the court so always follows the ball.


Players Y2 and Y3 have identical roles. They play fairly close to the point initially. They must also stay back from the half court line. The idea is to invite the ball just into the front court in the corner. Once the ball is in the corner, the ball side trapper (Player Y3) advances aggressively and as a partner with the point, traps the ball. trappers must not reach in for the ball. Do not foul. The ball handler has but 5 seconds to make a pass. The pass must be a good one because the other three defenders are watching for it.

The weak side trapper (Player Y2) must drop back to help protect the basket. This is a critical point because Player Y4 and Player Y5 are both moving away from the basket to play pass defense. 



With Player Y2 dropping back, the offense will often use a cross court pass to find Player B3. This is  OK. Cross court passes are inherently dangerous, don't provide a good shot opportunity and recovery is easy.

Here the ball goes cross court, so Y2 returns and Y1 follows the ball and they trap the ball handler. Notice that Y3 must now drop back as the weak side defender and help out down low.  Y5 maintains a pass denial position.


The ball side trapper must close out any attempt by the ball handler to drive past on the sidelines. To avoid a blocking foul, defenders Y2 and Y3 must literally outrace any attempts to drive the sideline by getting to the side of the court first and establish a position that forces the ball handler to change direction back towards the middle of the floor. That forced change of direction is an ideal opportunity to apply a trap.

If B3 manages to get through the trap, Y4 can step up and stop the ball while Y2 helps. Y1 anticipates an interception if the ball goes back to B1. Y3 has a crucial role in intercepting lob passes to B5 or B4. The lob passes should be difficult to execute due to the trapping pressure.



The one pass to give up is a long pass to the corner. If the opponent chooses this pass, there will be time for the closest player to break rank and cover the shot. The pass is long and risky and puts the ball in a place that is both difficult to shoot from and easy to trap the ball handler. If you are going to give up a pass, this one is a pretty good choice for the defense. Once the ball is in the corner, the defense should be collapsed with a defender on the ball and interceptors hungry for the pass out of trouble. Don't allow a baseline drive!

A natural progression is to fall back into a 3:2 (or similar zone). You can also match up man to man by having each defender cover the closest man. If weak side players forget to drop back, you will give up some easy baskets. Sometimes the offense will put one man in the middle and two on the baseline. If they are successful in passing to the middle, they will then be able to relay the ball to one of the people on the baseline. So, put heavy emphasis on preventing the pass to the middle and be sure that weak side players drop back.


Additional Discussion on Basic Half Court Trap Defense

Half court traps are very effective against inexperienced/young teams. You can also use them in leagues that prohibit full court presses. Some coaches may say you should stick to m2m all the time, but you will run into a half court trap eventually so its good to understand how it works.

To teach it, the key is to keep it simple. Don't present all the contingencies at once. Break it down into simple objectives. That way the kids can grow as they learn it. Once the offense breaks the press to a certain point, fall back into your zone or pick up m2m matching up to the closest opponent.

Objective 1: divert the ball to one half of the court. To do this, position a player at midcourt, just shy of the half court line. If you have a bigger, quicker, scary looking player, this is a good position. You want the ballhandler to dribble left or right. To this player's left and right are trappers. They stay further from the half court line, maybe 8-10 feet. They invite the ballhandler in. The scary defender in the middle forces a choice. Once the ballhandler picks a side, allow the ball to cross and then spring the trap. Only two people trap, the scary guy and the side trapper, everyone else intercepts passes.

Objective 2: Teach the kids how to set a trap. The key is to show an easy route for dribbling that is really an illusion. If the trap is obvious, the ball handler will avoid it. Once the dribbler commits, jump into position. Stand wide and strong, hands high. The dribbler MUST be stopped. If the trap fails, the press is over. Don't reach in to tie up the ball. Place your trappers so the half court line, sideline and the trappers are like four walls. If the trap is a ways from these lines, place the trappers front and back so the ballhandler turns from one into the other. The ballhandler has only 5 seconds to get rid of the ball.

Objective 3: Educate your three interceptors about passing lanes. The ball handler will choose the easiest escape. If he/she drove right and was trapped, the most likely pass is downcourt on the right. One of your back defenders must be devoted to that pass. The second most likely pass is back to where the ball handler came from. The unused trapper from the left side is now an interceptor and should come to the middle of the court (or more) to cut off the pass back to the top. The next likely pass will be to the center of the half court. Your remaining interceptor should roam this area looking for passes to steal. To teach this, start action with the ball already in a trap. An effective trap should create a weak escape pass that's easy to anticipate and steal. Above all, don't foul the trapped ballhandler! Did I say that already? A key element for interceptors is to again provide the illusion of safety. They can hide behind the receiver, for instance, and come from behind as the pass is released.

Objective 4: Practice for contingincies, what do we do if ... ? The one pass you can allow is the long pass to the opposite corner. The pass is long enough everyone can retreat to the key while the ball is in the air. What if the ball is successfully reversed to the top? You can decide to continue the press on the other side or retreat. What if the ball gets to the center of the halfcourt? One of your big interceptors will probably covering the ball, so you other big guy (who is likely on the strong side corner) better get back to the basket!

Objective 5: Teach your kids how to beat this press. The more predictable the opponent the easier they are to beat, so your players must know what the opponent should be trying to do.

How to beat this press:

  • Avoid the traps. Approach but pass quickly before the trap springs. Be careful as there isn't much room to operate.
  • If the back coverage is weak or slow, pass over the traps to the corner. If you have two guys deep, one on each side, you can pass to one corner then to the guy coming to the basket from the other corner.
  • Bring one of your big people from down low to just above the key. If you can hit him directly, you have gotten the ball past the big scary guy and the side trappers in one pass. Chances are your other big person down low is now open.
  • The most dangerous moment is when the ball handler crosses halfcourt and the trap is still forming. A quick change of direction or a quick pass to a cutting player will get the ball past your defenses. Your players must be very aware of this.
  • If the trappers aren't aggressive enough, you may try to drive through, but this is the highest risk alternative. If ballhandlers are driving around or through the traps, its time to call of the press.