A full-court press is a basketball term for a defensive style in which the defense applies man-to-man or zone defense to pressure the offensive team the entire length of the court before and after the inbound pass. Some presses attempt to deny the initial inbounds pass and trap ball handlers either in the backcourt or at midcourt.
Defenses not employing a full-court press generally allow the offensive team to get halfway down the court (a half-court press) or near the basket before applying strong defensive pressure.
A full-court press takes a great deal of effort, but can be an effective tactic. Often when teams are behind late in a game, they will apply full-court pressure as a means of attempting to produce turnovers as well as tire opponents. Certain teams, such as those coached by Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan, are known for applying full-court pressure during most of the game (this was especially evident for Pitino's Kentucky Wildcats championship squad in the 1996 NCAA tournament). Presses are especially effective against teams with poor ballhandlers, shallow benches (since players become more fatigued when being attacked by a press), or slow, deliberate offenses (since taking the ball up the court can waste a substantial portion of the shot clock). Once a press is broken, however, the defensive team is vulnerable to a potential fast break or open three-point opportunity since defensive players may be caught behind the play.
Effective press breaks employ quick passing more often than dribbling to advance the ball up the floor. Short, quick passes are less prone to turnovers than either long passes or dribbling. Another effective way to break a man-to-man press is to pass to the center. Most presses keep a "last man back" (usually the center) whose job is to disrupt a potential fast break resulting from the press; this may leave the offensive center unguarded and able to receive a pass near midcourt or near the basket for an easy score.
Arkansas's coach Nolan Richardson called his version of full court pressure "40 minutes of Hell." VCU's current coach Shaka Smart calls his form of full court pressure "Wreaking Havoc" or "Havoc Ball".
- Wichita State University Gene Johnson (Basketball Coach, 1928-33)
- How David Beats Goliath - Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker, May 2009 (article on the history and effectiveness of the full-court press)