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How to coach and teach the conventional basketball fast break offense

The basketball fast break is the ultimate offensive weapon in basketball. It affords maximum penetration to within a fifteen-foot radius of the basket on all occasions, and its effectiveness is usually determined by the amount of time spent in developing and exploring these fast breaking possibilities.

The foremost objective of the basketball fast break is to advance the ball before the opponents have time to get into their chosen defense. Second in importance is the outnumbering of the defense so that one of the attacking players may get and unguarded shot. In a three-on-two or a four-on-three situation the tactic often results in an unguarded layup shot.

Efficient use of the fast break results in many easy and quick baskets which often demoralizes the best of basketball teams. The fast break is colorful, full of dazzling plays, and a sure crowd-pleaser. Players of all ages enjoy the action because of the speed and sprint with which it is executed.

Even if the defense responds quickly enough to get back into position, the fast-breaking unit is still within a fifteen or sixteen foot radius of the basket, so the player, with one pass or pivot, can set up either a wing player or the middle man or take advantage of a jump-shooting opportunity.

Running a fast break combats the numerous changes in defense that one sees today. Regardless of how well the team or individuals is coached or drilled, such changes can be most confusing. Few high school or college teams have players who can adjust quickly enough to a different defense, three or four times, and know, immediately, what offense to employ. They might, even though it is extreme, call for time out to get instructions from the coach. This is not a practical solution. A much better plan is to get down floor quick enough to eliminate the necessity of worrying about what particular defense the opposition has changed.

An effective fast break puts extreme pressure on the opponents, affecting their offensive tempo and causing their coach to have to adjust his defenses. The break may force the defenders to play a slow and deliberate style of basketball that will adversely affect their own game.

Through a fear of being caught up court, rebounders may drop of the offensive backboard too soon, to the advantage of the fast-breaking team. On the other hand, they may stay too long, in an effort to slow down a break.

Another positive psychological factor is that running the fast break invariably leads to better defense on the part of the fast-breaking team. A successful break stimulates the player’s aggressive defensive play so that they come up with many more turnovers and aggressive rebounds.

If a team is known for its fast break, the opponents will do everything possible to get the team to play a slowdown or deliberate game. If the defensive board is being controlled and the players can get down court quickly the majority of times, the opponents are forced to play a wide-open game.

Kids shoot well today. In order to capitalize on this talent, the offense should get down floor more quickly than the defense. If the best ball handler gets down court, before the defense sets up, he can achieve with one pass what it would take three, four, five, or more passes to achieve in any kind of half court offensive pattern.

Another important advantage of the fast break is that it makes every player a potential scorer. The mediocre player, who would get no more than half a dozen scoring opportunities a game when running patterns, can pick up two, three, or four easy baskets a game if he hustles on the fast break. Lastly, the fast break adds to the game, making it more colorful, interesting, and fast moving, This is the kind of game spectators prefer.

Positions for the basketball fast break

When used selectively, the fast break can take advantage of the varying skills of all players on the team. The players should be in the positions in which they function to the utmost of their abilities.

The best ball handler, best dribbler, and quickest man is in the middle position. The outside lanes, the best shooters who have the most speed, and know how to penetrate on a movement to the basket. Normally, the player who makes the pass to the middle is in the best position to fill the second lane. The opposite forward is usually the player who fills the third lane.

In order to have a successful fast break, these men have to get into their positions as quickly as possible, taking the shortest path down floor. Instant transition from the defensive posture to an offensive posture is essential. The fourth man down the floor fills the trailer position. The fifth man is the safety defender watching the back court.

This system allows all players freedom to free-lance at the end of the fast break. Get the best of  their individual abilities and make the game more fun for the players,. I feel that we should strike a happy medium. If the fast break opportunity presents itself, the players are able to take it and exercise their initiative. If it does not present itself, then continue in a disciplined pattern.

To run an effective fast break, a team has to exert extreme and aggressive defensive pressure. Your players must get into position quickly, forcing violations by the opponent, and stealing the ball.

Starting the basketball fast break offense

There are several ways to start the fast break. To implement a fast offense, possibly the most important thing is to get everyone on the team thinking fast break in the sense of an instantaneous transition from defense to offense.

A pressure man-to-man defense lends itself to the starting of an immediate fast break, because all the men are in ready position, on their toes, playing aggressive defense. This makes the mental, as well as the physical, transition to the necessary positions easier. Every player must be thinking fast break at all times.

Most of the time, the fast break begins with a rebound being taken off the defensive board. Its success depends on how quickly the rebound can be cleared to the outlet. To execute a successful fast break it is necessary to have good positioning with rebounders having certain responsibilities.

Before the game, the forwards should be told whether they are to go to the board strong to get the rebound, box and hold the man off the board without going for the rebound, or box and then go to the basket.

The primary rebounder, generally the center, should also have explicit instructions. The chances are that he would be given the responsibility of making an attempt at the rebound almost every time, rather than boxing out his own man, assuming of course, that he has the inside position and the quickness to get to the board before his defender.

The two outside men should also be given alternatives, depending on who they are guarding and what their men are doing. If one of the guards is guarding a good back-court rebounder who is in the habit of going to the basket, the coach may want the guard to box him out before clearing to the outlet area. Alternatively, he may allow the man to break to his basket to be ready for a long pass, knowing that the big men on his own team are closer to the basket and probably will get the rebound most of the time.

Of course, there is a split second to be gained on the fast break if players can react as soon as they are certain that a man on their team will get possession of the ball. Such knowledge comes with timing and getting accustomed to each other, knowing. If the best rebounder is going up clearly for a rebound with no aggressive pressure on his back, a wing man or even a guard may be able to start down on the break. However, it is most important that he does not leave too soon.

Ideally, the rebounder should release the ball to the outlet before he has even hit the ground; however, this move is too advanced for most grade school players. Once the rebounder has the ball, he must try to pivot to his outside, on the same side the rebound came off, in order to make the outlet pass. Assuming that he is one of the bigger men, he should raise the ball over his head as quickly as possible and hits the outlet with a two-hand overhead pass.

Whenever possible, the best dribbler should get to the outlet position. If possible, this player should not have to box out when the shot goes up. He can try to position himself on the side where the rebound comes off, get out to the side where he is clear of pressure, and make his position known by shouting, "Outlet!"

If he can do this and receive the outlet pass, he can assume the middle position immediately, saving a little time and need for an additional pass. If the outlet pass comes to a guard the coach does not want in the middle, that guard will have to make a second pass to the opposite guard designated to be in the middle. The longer the rebounder holds the ball, the less chance the break has of being successful.

The rebounder should never dribble unless it is to get out of trouble. If the ball is stolen here, it usually results in an easy two points for the opponent. The rebounder should protect the ball by chesting, rather than dribble. If he is getting a sense of pressure on the outside, however, the player can protect the ball along the baseline, and  take one dribble to clear himself of the pressure. If he is being overplayed to that side to the point where a dribble will not do the job, he may pivot to the middle, still trying to make his outlet pass to the same side as the rebound came off.

The pass must be made aggressively. It should never be a lob pass, since that pass gives the defense time to move in, steal, or deflect it. When a player turns outside or inside to get the ball to the outlet man on the same side, he must be aware of the defensive alignment. If the outlet man is under excessive pressure, the player with the ball may give him a backdoor pass; however, the outlet man must be able to adjust for this maneuver.

The primary responsibility of the rebounder is to start the fast break without throwing the ball away. If he is going to sacrifice safety for the sake of starting the break a little more quickly, he is better off not to start the break at all.

The fast break can also be started from interceptions and from violations. In the case of a violation, the official handles the ball, which may slow down the start of the break; however, there is still an advantage to be gained. The new offensive team may get over to the sidelines or jump on the ball so that they can get it into the hands of the official, get it back as quickly as possible, and take advantage of the fast break before the defense sets up. Knowing that the official must handle the ball, the opponents may not get back on defense as quickly as they should.

Another way to start a fast break is after the opponent scores. The coach may assign the closest man or specific men to take the ball out-of-bounds as quickly as possible. Occasionally, a
coach will prefer not to have certain men take the ball out-of-bounds. It is preferred that the player grab the ball as it comes through the net. If the ball hits the floor, he is not doing his job.

After a made foul shot is a fourth time a fast break can be started. It is much like the previous paragraph; except, it is more advantageous since the players can be placed in strategic positions.

A fast break can also start from a fumbled ball, a bad pass, a loose ball, or a missed free-throw.

Passes used with the basketball fast break offense

The length of the pass and the type of pass that will be used to clear the rebound to the outlet man will depend on the defensive pressure on the rebounder and the outlet man. If the pressure on the rebounder is negligible, he can use either the two-hand-over-the-head snap pass or the one hand baseball pass.

The first is the safest and quickest pass since the outlet man are usually no more than fifteen to eighteen feet away from the rebounder at the time of the rebound. As the player gets the rebound, the ball is almost always over his head, since his arms are completely extended. As he comes down, he simply pivots and snaps the ball.

There are but few players who can accurately throw the baseball pass; however, when a player does have good control of it he can throw the ball harder and farther. The farther he can throw it the quicker he can start the fast break. He can throw the "touchdown" should a teammate get down court ahead of the defense, or throw to the outlet man down court, perhaps at the half-court line. If the passer must rely on the two-hand- overhead pass, the outlet man will have to retreat and come much closer.

To make a good baseball pass, the player should make a catcher's throw, that is, from back of the ear. It should leave his hands with a backward spin.

The old Cincinnati continuous fast break and other basketball drills

Many drills that teach the individual skills required to play the game have emerged over the years; however, Ed Jucker, of Cincinnati fame, devised the best drill of them all, which we call the “Old Cincinnati Continuous Fast Break Drill.” I recommend its introduction the first day of practice and part of every practice session, thereafter.

Cincinatti Fast Break Drill


1.    This drill requires eleven players as shown in Diagram 1.

2.      Three players, 5, 6, and 7 take the ball down-court on a fast break.

3.      X1 and X2 defend the break from the tandem position. The player on top challenges the ball, the back player takes the first pass, and the top player drops off to the side opposite the pass.

4.      When the shot is taken, all five players (X1, X2, 5, 6, and 7) become rebounders. Whichever player that gets the rebound makes an outlet pass to the side to either X3 or X4, preferably to the side nearest the rebounder. The other outlet, not receiving the pass, cuts to the middle, filling the center lane on the fast break in the opposite direction.

5.      The rebounder fills the remaining outside lane for the fast break in the opposite direction. It is important that these three fast breaking players quickly get the ball to the middle with the least amount of dribbling as possible and stay widely spread apart. Coach McCutchan always insisted that both players filling the outside lanes keep within one foot of the sideline until reaching the free throw line extended at the other end of the floor.

6.      The four remaining players, of the five crashing the board for a rebound, fill in the four positions, two in tandem in the free throw lane, and two as outlets on the sides.

7.      The drill continues without break until the coach is satisfied with the offense, defense, ball handling, rebounding, passing, dribbling, shooting, and floor positions.

The purpose of this drill is to teach the fast break and the defense against it. This is a foundation on which to build your basketball system. The habits developed by drilling are applied in every situation that arises during the course of a basketball game. From the grade school level to professional the fundamentals of dribbling, passing, shooting, and individual guarding must be automatic.

At the grade and high school level you must rely upon these basic skills; however, you should try to make sliding through, going tandem, boxing out, cutting off a screen, and helping out automatic, too. It requires constant practice to perform these functions without thinking. In my opinion, there are no short cuts to the road of success.

Diagram 2 - Rebounding and fast break drill
  1. Use this drill mainly to practice boxing-out on rebounds. Its other values are self-evident.
  2. The three offensive inside players, 1, 2, and 3 move without the ball.
  3. The coach either shoots the ball or passes to one of the offensive players who takes a shot.
  4. Defensive players, X1, X2, X3, X4 and X5, are in guarding positions, but allow shot to be taken. Defensive players then box out, while offensive players use head and shoulder fakes and roll offs in attempts to get inside positions.
  5. Defensive guards, X4 and X5, first check their men, then move to the points for an outlet, while offensive guards, 4 and 5, try to prevent the outlet pass, or move down the floor for defense against the break.
  6. Inside offensive players, 1, 2, and 3, fight for the offensive rebound, but do not go down court if they lose the rebound.
  7. If the defense rebounds and pitches out, this becomes a three-on-two fast break, with the offside rebounder joining the attack.
  8. Play this as a game, with an offensive tip-in counting two points, and a fast break basket counting one point.


Diagram 3 - one-on-one with offensive pivot
  1. Use this drill to teach man-to-man defense against drive off pivot-screen.
  2. Defender, X1, plays man-to-man on 1. Player 2 can be used as a post for a drive, or 1 can feed 2 and cut off him.
  3. The defender, X1, must fight over the screen set by 2.




Diagram 4 - Two-on-two, guard and forward series, with offensive pivot.
  1. Use this drill to teach guard and forward man-to-man defense without switching. It teaches defensive players to fight over the pivot screen.
  2. Offensively it can be used to tech the guard-forward scissor-cut.





Diagram 5 - Two-on-two, guard series, with offensive post
  1. The purpose of this drill is to teach man-to-man defense of offensive guards.
  2. Pivot player, 3, moves to either three positions as indicated.
  3. The offensive guards 1 and 2 use their different offensive maneuvers to score. Sometimes using 3-man, other times 2-man plays, or 1-on-1 plays.



Diagram 6 - Cut-throat 21 basketball game
  1. The purpose of this drill is to teach shooting under pressure, and to encourage aggressiveness.
  2. One offensive player is matched against two defenders.
  3. Game starts with 1 in possession of the ball.
  4. When 1 gets a shot off, all three players go after the rebound.
  5. If 1's shot attempt is successful, he shoots free throws. On missed free throws all three players scramble for the ball.
  6. If the shooter makes three free throws in a row, he starts at the original offensive position.
  7. Player who recovers a missed shot then becomes the offensive player.
  8. Successful shot attempts count either 3 or 2 points according from where attempted, free throws count 1 point, and first player to reach 21 is the winner.



Diagram 7 - one-on-one with a offensive trailer
  1. The purpose of this drill teaches the two-on-one fast break attack and also teaches the reverse pivot fundamental.
  2. Offensive player 1 dribble drives down court.
  3. When defended by X1, player 1 stops, pivots as illustrated and passes to 2 who is trailing the play.
  4. Should X1 drop off, before the pass, player 1 takes a shot


Diagram 8 - Two-on-one with defensive trailer
  1. The purpose of this drill is to teach continuous effort by defensive trailer against the fast break.
  2. Two offensive players pass the ball back and forth trying to get the defender X to commit to one side or the other.
  3. The offensive players start on the word, "Go!"
  4. The defensive trailer starts on a count of two after the command "Go!"
  5. Play is continuous with players rotating lines.


Diagram 9 - Three-on-two with defensive trailer
  1. The purpose of this drill is to teach players to defend against the fast break.
  2. Coach calls out the name of one of the defensive players. This player becomes the defensive trailer and must run back behind the offensive players and touch the baseline.
  3. As the coach calls the name of the player he wants to be the defensive trailer, he tosses the ball to either one of the three offensive players.
  4. The offense immediately breaks down court in a three-on-two fast break.
  5. The two remaining defenders should take tandem positions. The top player challenges the ball and the back player guards the first pass in the offensive triangle. The top defender then drops back to force the shot from the outside.
  6. Trailer defender attempts to tip-in on the defense.


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