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Basketball Coaching Drills:
Deny Across the Key



One of those basketball coaching drills that strengthens your inside play, the Deny Across the Key drill teaches an essential low post defensive skill - denying the ball down low in the key. We always tell our post players when they are playing defense to deny, deny, deny - once the offense gets a pass in down low, they've got a big man with the ball five feet from the hoop and it becomes a much tougher defensive game. Denying the defense the pass down low is almost always your best strategy.

And since offensive players don't usually stand still for the entire game, our post players need to know how to move with them, while still denying the ball all the while. That's the focus of this defensive drill - denying the ball as the offensive man moves through the key.


Basketball Coaching Drill: Deny Across the Key
Player Focus

  • Defenders are always between their man and the basket

  • Defenders also always have a hand in the passing lane

    • To accomplish both of these tasks, the defender needs to straddle the offensive player, with one foot on the side of the offensive player, slightly to the rear, and the other foot slightly in front; the hand in front stretches out ahead of the offensive player, in the area where the pass would come to him; the hand in back is on the offensive player - not grabbing or pushing, just touching enough so that, when the offensive player move, the defensive player knows about it

  • Players must always use their peripheral vision - they need to know where their man is always, but they also need to know where the ball is and what is happening in the rest of the court, so they can adjust their position when necessary and quickly get ahead of their man when he moves





Basketball Coaching Drill: Deny Across the Key
Set Up

  • Players are set up as in the diagram - 1 offensive player being guarded by a defensive player on the wing; 1 coach on either side of the key, high up - one ball with one of the coaches

  • The defensive player denies the offensive player the pass; the offensive player moves, fakes, cuts to get open - but cannot cross into the key until the coach passes the ball across to the second coach
basketball coaching drill - deny key 1


Basketball Coaching Drill: Deny Across the Key
The Cut Across the Key

  • The coach passes the ball across to the opposite coach

  • The offensive player cuts straight across the key looking for the pass

  • The defensive player moves with the offensive player, denying his man the ball as they move through the key

  • The aspect of this movement that needs to be focused on is the moment or two when the offensive player's cut puts them in the position of being open for a pass - when the ball is swung to the opposite coach, the defensive player will find himself momentarily on the wrong side of the defensive player

  • To solve this, when the offensive player is cutting through the key, the defensive player needs to turn his body, opening so that he faces out to the half, then turn again so that he is denying the ball on the other side

  • For a moment the defensive player will lose sight of his man (when he opens to the ball) - this is the lesser of two evils, because if he were to turn into his man while changing his denial stance, he would lose sight of the ball, which would mean he would have no idea what is happening on the rest of the court. Better to lose sight of his man for a moment than lose sight of the ball.
basketball coaching drill - deny key 2



Basketball Coaching Drill: Deny Across the Key
The Incorrect Way to Adjust the Denial Stance


basketball coaching drill - deny key wrong

  1. Before the pass is made across court, the defensive player is in good denial position, with one foot slightly ahead and one foot to the side of the offensive player, and a hand in the passing lane.

  2. But once the pass is made, if the defensive player were to remain in this stance and move with his offensive man, he would end up between his man and the ball - and the offensive player would have a clear path to the basket - not what we want!


Basketball Coaching Drill: Deny Across the Key
The Correct Way to Adjust the Denial Stance


To adjust properly, so that the defender is always between his man and the basket, he needs to pivot 180 degrees as the man moves through the key. Throughout this movement, remind the defensive player that he cannot trail the offensive player, ever - he must always be in position to stop the pass.


basketball coaching drill - deny key correct


  1. The defensive player is in good denial position at first, and when the pass is made, he remains in that position, even as the man moves into the key. The defensive man doesn't change his positioning until the offensive player reaches about the center of the key.

  2. At the center of the key, the defensive man begins the pivot, pivoting on the inside foot, turning so that he is facing outward where the ball is. He will lose sight of his man, so to avoid losing him, he needs to use his hands to feel where the man is - not to grab or push the man, but just to know where he is. The pivot is quick, so this shouldn't take more than half a second.

  3. Now on the other side of the key, the defensive man completes the pivot, stepping around with the other foot to get back into denial stance, again with one foot ahead and one foot slightly behind, and a hand in the passing lane.



Basketball Coaching Drill: Deny Across the Key
Back to the Drill


So, the drill is simple:

  • the defensive player tries to constantly deny the pass in to the post, pivoting and fighting for position every time a cut is made across the key

  • the offensive player flashes back and forth across the key, trying to get open for the pass

  • the coaches pass the ball back and forth looking to pass in to the post

  • eventually, even if a clear passing lane doesn't present itself, one of the coaches must pass in to the post

    • either the defensive man knocks the ball away (what we want to happen), or

    • the offensive player gets the pass and takes the ball hard to the hoop - the defensive player tries to stop him



Basketball Coaching Drill: Deny Across the Key
A Few More Points


The entire movement should only take half a second, though players worry about their man faking them out and changing direction during that half second they lose sight of him. Usually in the game, this won't happen as the offensive player is focused on cutting hard to the spot he is supposed to be in - changing direction slows him up.

When they are running the drill, the offensive man needs to be kept honest, cutting hard as they would in the game, and the defensive man can't be afraid of being a little physical, stepping in the offensive player's way if he tries to change direction. The major focus here is for the defensive player never to lose sight of the ball and to always stay in between his man and the basket while denying the ball.

This is a solid basketball coaching drill that teaches a necessary skill for post players - if they can't keep the ball out of their man's hands, they're going to have a very difficult game. Keep them aggressive, and remind them never to let the offensive player dictate the game - they need to be one step ahead throughout the game.



More Basketball Coaching Drills for Defense here


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