Merrimack College usually plays a 2-3 zone. One of the challenges of that defense is getting out on shooters. They used a closeout drill to simulate the movement of the ball from the top to the wing to the corner.
There are two important details for an optimal closeout from the x4 defender in the diagram. First, she needs to bump out on 2 with high hands. The Merrimack coaching staff eventually gave 2 the green light to shoot if she could on this initial pass. The second part of the sequence involved x4 retreating back to cover the 3 in the corner. In order to do this successfully, x4 needed to keep the hands high to deflect or at least slow down the pass to the corner.
As x4 retreats from defending the wing to defending the corner, x1 is coming over to defend 2. It was a drill, so the players were probably moving with more purpose than they would in a game where the pass could hypothetically go to the high post or the opposite wing. That said, the movement of x1 must be efficient. Merrimack sprinted to the next spot as the pass released.
Terminology in Closeouts
Merrimack used three codes in the closeout actions to help clarify the types of players they could face during the season. One term is for a player that prefers to catch and shoot, one term is for a player that prefers to drive, and the third is for a player that is more of a hybrid. As the drill evolved, the coaches would tell the defense exactly what type of player that each of the offensive players were on the floor. When that player had the ball, the defense yelled the appropriate code word to inform teammates and coaches of their responsibilities.
The way that Merrimack defended the hybrid players was to close out aggressively on the initial catch and then pop back. If a hybrid player did not shoot on the catch initially and decided to shoot after a jab the coaches were willing to live with it. They reasoned with the players that the percentages of the shot dropping at that point were less than they were on the initial catch. The coaches kept driving home the idea of popping back after a closeout to ensure that the weight and momentum of the defense is toward the rim. It is the first time I heard of the term “pop back.” It is a valuable concept to me since most players at the high school level are either drivers or hybrids.
Raising the Level of Complexity
After keeping the drill confined to one side of the gym, Merrimack went from 2 on 2 with a coach playing offense to 5 on 5 with the 5 offensive players on the perimeter.
The coaches encouraged the offense to beat the defense on a poor closeout. The offense also used skip passes to put the defense in a place it did not see during the initial breakout drill.