I spoke with Coach Tanglis on box outs and close outs. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to sit as a fly on the wall at Coach Tanglis’ practices. The themes of boxing out and closing out are always front and center. He told me bluntly that boxing out and closing out are extremely boring. He also conceded that they are essential to defense and you must do them every day.
Consider how much time is spent on shooting. Coaches will tell players to make and take hundreds of shots during the summer. Then, the season comes along and coaches still need to be sure that players are getting in reps, so time is built in every practice for shooting. To paraphrase Coach Tanglis, every possession with a shot requires a box out. It begs the question, how can you not spend time emphasizing box outs every practice?
In box out drills, the concept is simple to execute. Players know their job and focus on that in isolation. And for youth teams, it is a great idea to focus on the singular idea of finding the offensive player before finding the ball. At the higher level though, there are so many more elements to consider. Players need to recover from help positions, know how to get in position after screens, anticipate a potential outlet pass and transition opportunity, etc. After doing a box out drill, Coach Tanglis said it will deteriorate once the situation goes live.
For this reason, his team will try to stat offensive rebounds in practice. They also will show the film of players missing box outs. During the film, Coach Tanglis often will not say anything and let the players speak up and own their missed box out. Again, he is an advocate for making players accountable. On occasion, he will show a player getting a defensive rebound where the player he was guarding was also in position to get it. He does not want the players to be results oriented because the reality is if the offense and defense have a 50/50 shot at a board, at some point the team will get burnt.
Box Out Technique
Coach Tanglis prefers to keep it simple. The only thing he really teaches players is contact and turn. Other steps sound great on paper, but the reality is that the situations that players face in rebounding the ball often makes extra steps impossible. He even takes this philosophy to a higher extreme by focusing solely on contact against players that they have scouted that are elite rebounders. Contact takes priority over everything else. If you hit them early, they will start to jog back. If you miss them, it could be a long night.
Additionally, Coach Tanglis is a proponent for working on free throw box outs in practice. Too often the defense is ignorant of their responsibilities. Players fail to communicate who will box out the shooter and who will pinch. Players that have the position will fail to get any contact. As a result, he also tells his offensive players that there is an opportunity for an easy basket. Occasionally, one forward will screen the defender trying to box out to make it easier to rebound.
One thing that coaches fail to account for is that there are always going to be multiple closeouts in a defensive series. This means that one player’s inability to keep the defender in front and contest a shot is all it takes for the defense to get broken down.
Coach Tanglis has a very simple drill that I have used for years which he calls Fundamental Lines. Two lines facing each other will pass back and forth. Once a pass is made, the passer must close out on the ball. It is a solid drill for teaching the basic close out technique (and various rip moves offensively), but similar to box outs players need to experience live situations to truly benefit from the skill in isolation.
To teach close outs in game situations at practice, Coach Tanglis will often start a shell drill with a skip pass or other situations that force long close outs. North Andover players force the offense away from the middle. For other teams, the emphasis might be to force the player to the weak hand. In any case, getting there is only part of the concern. The point is the defense should anticipate what the offense will do next. Too many players think that the close out ends with getting out to the offensive player, but making sure the offenses next move is where you want is the hardest part. If for some reason the defense gets beat off the dribble in shell drills or even in full court, Coach Tanglis told me it is always the result of a poor closeout.