The 2-2-1 Zone Press was first made popular by Coach John Wooden’s early UCLA teams. This article explains Coach’s basic player responsibilities when executing the 2-2-1.
The objective of the 2-2-1 Zone Press is to force the offensive into certain areas and situations. The diagram below shows where the players should line up as the ball is inbounded.
2-2-1 Player Assignments
X1 is responsible for guarding the player that receives the inbounds pass. Actually, X1 invites the inbounds pass to come to his player. Once his man receives the ball, X1 tries to prevent him from dribbling straight up the sideline. If O1 does start to dribble, X1 attempts to cut him off and make him turn back into a doubleteam coming from X2. When O1 does not dribble, X1 plays tight on-ball defense trying to force a quick lob or bounce pass.
X2, as mentioned above, is alert and ready to doubleteam with X1 should O1 start to dribble. He also tries to discourage the inbounds pass to his side. X2 then attempts to prevent a return pass to the inbounds passer in the middle of the floor.
X3 is responsible for the area from the free throw line extended to halfcourt. He is responsible for preventing a pass to be made in his area, whether from the inbounder or from the first player to receive the inbounds pass. Any slow or lob pass should be intercepted. He is also responsible for stopping the dribbler should he get past X1.
X4 is responsible for covering the middle of the floor during the inbounds. His area is from the halfcourt line to the free throw line; possibly even deeper if and when X2 moves over. This middle, deep area is a big responsibility, especially once the ball is inbounded to X1’s area.
X5 is responsible for the center circle area and will also direct the defense from there. He is also responsible for any offensive player that runs down the floor. X5 is expected to intercept any pass thrown to the offensive end if it is thrown from the free throw line extended. He should challenge the offense to throw the long pass, but no pass should be made over his head as he is the last line of defense.
Note: If the inbounds pass is made to the opposite side (X2’s side) the players roles are simply reversed.
- Players should pressure just enough to prevent the straight pass and encourage the lob or bounce pass as those are more easily intercepted.
- We want to dissuade dribbling, but if they do dribble, we want to force them into a doubleteam situation.
- Sprint back quickly when the ball gets past you.
- When chasing a dribbler from behind, attempt to knock the ball to a teammate who is back further. Don’t foul and don’t ‘steal’ the ball — just knock it out to a teammate.
- If an offense is beating the press with quick passing, change it up. Do not necessarily scrap the press altogether initially; simply convert to a man-to-man press or a different zone set such as 1-3-1, 2-1-2, etc. Apply the same principles, just change the formation.
- Don’t worry about the offense passing backwards. They can’t hurt you by going back towards your basket and, ultimately, they will probably then attempt a long pass that can be stolen.
- The first defender back should take the most dangerous man at that moment. Don’t worry about the outside shooter if there is a player closer to the basket. Don’t give up easy shots. Get back, protect the basket, then get out and challenge.