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The Pack-Line Defense


What is “The Pack-Line”?

The “Pack-Line” is an imaginary boundary that is one step inside of the three point arc (17’ from the basket). The only player outside of that line is the player defending the ball. All other players are inside the arc. Our goal is to always be in help (gap) mode. We like to say, “Our positioning is our help.” Then, when the ball is being passed to your man you must “explode-out” of this position and close-out properly on the ball with high, active hands.


“Stats are for Winners!”

The effectiveness of the Pack is directly correlated to three key statistics:

  1. Defensive Field Goal Percentage

  2. Rebounding Margin

  3. Fouls Per Game

We obviously want to force our opponent to take contested, long shots that they do not want to take. Then it is vital we complete the stop and get the rebound. Finally, this defense is designed to reduce the number of lay-ups and freethrows our opponent gets.


Know Your No’s

  1. No Paint

  2. No Baseline

  3. No Rhythm Shots

  4. No Direct Drives

  5. No Fastbreak Layups

  6. No Second Shots

  7. No Fouls


7 Teaching Areas

We teach seven areas in relation to team defense:

  1. Talk System

  2. Transition Defense

  3. Stances On Ball

  4. Stances Off Ball

  5. Low Post Defense

  6. Screening Game

  7. Block-out


Teaching Area 1 | Talk System

Our ability to communicate as a team is as important as anything we do. Therefore, the language we use to teach and talk the defense in practice and games must be clearly defined. For starters, everybody needs to know our most basic terminology:

  1. The Pack Line: A line one step inside of the three point arc.

  2. Rule of the Pack Line: If your man does not have the ball you have both feet inside this line!

  3. The Post: Low block (one step extended out from the three second lane) up past the “Landmark” to the next freethrow spot. This area extends across the lane to the opposite side as well.

  4. Ball: Call “ball” when you are on it. We like to “talk our defense”.

  5. Man: Call “man” in transition to communicate assignments.

  6. Gap: Call “gap” when you are one pass away.

  7. Help: Call ‘help” when you are two passes away.

  8. High & Low Hole: The “wall” built with help two passes away.

  9. Screen: Call out all screens early, loud and often (ELO). For example, “screen left!” or “screen right!”

  10. White: Call “white” when you go to a dead front position in the post.

  11. Blue: “Blue is what we do.” Call “blue” when the player you are guarding goes to ball screen. Show hard until your teammate chases over the screen and recovers.

  12. Red: Call “red” if we decide to trap ball screens. Show hard and maintain aggressive feet. They should be toe -to-toe and knee-to-knee with your teammate!

  13. Green: Call “green” if we decide to go under ball screens. “Push up” the screener and allow your teammate a clear path under the action.

  14. Fire: Call ‘fire” if we are looking to trap when ever and where possible.

  15. S-V-P: Stance. Vision. Position. The heart of our defense!


Teaching Area 2 | Defensive Transition

We always fastbreak on defense. But first, we must emphasize our offensive board coverage (OBC). Then, if we do not secure the offensive rebound, all five players must get into the habit of always sprinting back. We consider your first three steps “out of the gate” as the most important. Guarding the basket is our number one priority and then stopping the ball. Once back, all five defenders need to establish ball side and help side position. The following rules apply to our OBC and defensive transition philosophy:

  1. (#3), (#4), and (#5) always go hard to the offensive boards.

  2. (#2) positions himself for the long rebound. This is also known as the “Halfback” position.

  3. (#1) is responsible for protecting the basket (“Fullback”). However, if (#1) penetrates to the basket, both players occupying the wing positions immediately get back for defensive balance. This is our "Point Penetration Rule".

  4. Talking and pointing is key to any successful transition. Know where the ball is! It is the responsibility of our guards to begin this process, but all five players should join in. Not only does this act equip us to be on assignment and build the wall so to speak, it can be very intimidating to our opponent.

  5. (#3), (#4), and (#5) sprint back to the lane, locate the ball and their man. We do not tolerate anything but a dead sprint in transition. Get ahead of the ball! We are intolerant of back pedaling, buddy running (remaining side by side with your match-up) and/or pouting after a missed shot or turnover.


Teaching Area 3 | Stances on the Ball

Our ultimate goal on defense is to create a ‘Toughness Wins’ identity! The Pack allows us to be physical with the ball and positions the help to take charges and dive for loose balls. Our toughness is not only about playing physical, but in having the mental edge as well. You trust the system! With all of your teammates properly positioned, you are able to confidently “guard your yard” (to pressure and contain the ball three feet in either direction).


Ready Stance

  1. Utilize against your opponent when he has yet to dribble. You always arrive on the catch with high, active hands to take away “shot thought”. Maintain a low center of gravity with your toes pointing toward the pack line.

  2. Keep one hand at all times tracing the ball (6” zone). The other hand remains active as well. As a reminder, our ability to pressure the ball is the cornerstone of our pack line defense!

  3. Keep your back straight, head up and maintain an arm’s length spacing. In order to do this you will need to move “in and out” according to the location of the ball.


Point Stance

  1. Utilize against your opponent when he is dribbling. We do not give up straight line drives, nor do we allow dribble penetration to the freethrow elbows!

  2. Make the “first hit”, stay in your stance and position your lead hand out and above your lead foot. “Chop” it up and down as you push-step.

  3. With you trail hand, keep your palm up (dig up at the ball and avoid slapping down).


Stick Stance

  1. Utilize against your opponent when he no longer has his dribble.

  2. Let your teammates know he is "dead", step into his space and hand trace the ball.

  3. Pressure with high, active hands; however, do not reach or come out of your stance!

For additional information see Individual Defense.


Teaching Area 4 | Stances off the Ball

Good players instinctively "jump-to-the-ball/gap” and in doing so "travel at the air time of the pass”. This fundamental movement is mandatory for the success of our team defense. By maintaining a good stance and jumping to the ball/gap you ensure proper position to help stop dribble penetration, jam cutters and/or post flashes.


Gap Stance

When you are one pass away from the ball, assume the "Gap Stance".

  1. This stance requires you to get in the gap and maintain ball-you-man position (one step off of the imaginary line that connects the ball with your man).

  2. Stay low with your toes pointing toward the pack line, and your butt is almost always squared to the basket.

  3. "Quick head" when your offensive man back cuts to the basket. You will momentarily lose sight of the ball, but not your man.


Denial Stance

When the ball is dead and you are one pass away on the ball side, assume the "Denial Stance". Special note: The “gap stance” is our default pack line position, however, special situations may require a “denial stance” such as a dead dribbler.

  1. This stance requires you to maintain ball-you-man position and deny the pass to your opponent.

  2. Stay low with your ear at chest level, lead hand in the passing lane (palm facing the ball), and your trail hand brushing the offensive man.

  3. "Quick head" when your offensive man back cuts to the basket.


Help Stance

When you are more than one pass away from the ball assume the "Help Stance". When the ball is on one side of the floor, help assumes the high and low hole positions. We often term this as “building the wall”.

  1. Point one finger at your man and one finger at the ball. See your man and the ball. To do so, you will need to sink to the level of the ball.

  2. Get to the “high hole” or “low hole”. Have at least one foot in the lane when the ball is above the key and get both feet in the lane when the ball is below the key.

  3. When your defender flashes, be in position to "jam" him with your forearm. Do not allow him to cut across your face!


Close-Out Stance

When you advance toward a free man with the ball, assume the "close-out stance".

  1. Sprint the first two-thirds and then chop step the last one-third of the distance. Our goal is to always arrive on the catch!

  2. Hands should be high and active, disrupting shot thought.

  3. Keep your weight back and be ready to “guard your yard”!


Teaching Area 5 | Low Post Defense

The Post Defined: Low block (one step extended out from the three second lane) up past the “Landmark” to the next freethrow spot. This area extends across the lane to the opposite side as well. When your man is in the post, you are constantly fighting to “win the footwork war”! It is your goal to keep them from having two feet in the post.


White Defense

When the ball is above you, be positioned on the high side of your man. Three-quarter front the offensive player by keeping your outside hand in the passing lane and trail hand down low. When the ball is even with or below you, step through and assume a dead front position – also known as “white defense”. Be prepared to disengage (“pull out the chair” so to speak) when the offense successfully seals you. If and when the ball enters the post:

  • Create a gap (step back) if the offensive man receives the ball on the landmark or above. Do not allow him to "sit down" on you and establish position.

  • “Wall up” when defending a shot. Maintain your balance, extend your arms fully (do not swat down on the ball), and walk into the shooter with short, choppy steps.


Choke the Post | Double Down

When a pass is made from the outside to the inside or as a result of penetration.

  • Post Feed: Reverse pivot (most often with your butt to the dead corner), sink to the level of the ball, and dig up with your inside hand.

  • However, when it comes to actually doubling down on the post we prefer to do this from the top.


Cover Down

  • Baseline Drive: Low hole help stops penetration and the high hole defender covers down “wide” to help the low hole.

  • This action is what we call “helping the helper”.


Teaching Area 6 | Screening Game


Off Ball Screens

For the longest time we have always taught defenders to “get off and go under” the screen. As a result, we found our defenders getting pinned down too deep in the paint. Therefore, “who” you are guarding (his game) as well as “where” the screen occurs, relative to the pack line, are key in this decision making process. Bottom line: Do not get screened!

  1. Over: If you are getting screened, bump your man away from the screen and fight through (“blow up the screen”); or at worst, chase the man over the screen into help. Who is this help? Your teammate guarding the screener needs to jump to the ball and stay even with his man so that he is in position to help on the tight curl. He also has to see the cut and open up with hands high to protect the rim if there is a back cut.

  2. Under: As aforementioned, the gap created by you and your teammate jumping to the ball should provide proper spacing for you to go under the screen if warranted.

  3. Push-up: Not only will you go under the screener, but also under your own man. This is more common guarding a ball screen (“pushing up”) but nonetheless could be a scouting report adjustment.

On Ball Screens

As with off ball screens our default strategy is to “fight through/over” ball screens. However, due to scouting report tendencies it is to our advantage if we are able to adjust accordingly. This is only possible with an “ELO” talk system:

  1. Blue: More times than not you will go over the ball screen and then under your teammate who is showing hard. If you are guarding the screener stay attached to your man, but be ready to show (a.k.a. hedge) hard and force the dribble high. The third defender in the low hole has to help with the roll.

  2. Red: A very aggressive mode to defend a ball screen. You and your teammate need to maintain toe-to-toe and knee-to-knee alignment.

  3. Green: Another option is for your teammate to “push-up” the screener and allow you to not only go under the screener, but your teammate as well. This is a savvy play if used judiciously.

  4. SOFO: This is a means in which you can quickly get under a screen and recover. Upon contact: Spin Off First Object.

  5. Switch: We switch all guard to guard ball screens as well as dribble hand-offs.


Teaching Area 7 | Blocking Out

The last phase of team defense is rebounding. As a team, we emphasize all five players to go hard to the boards. But first, for us to reach our full rebounding potential, we must learn to block out on-the-ball and off-the-ball:



Extend straight up and pressure the shot. Meanwhile, call out "Shot! Check!" to alert all of your teammates. Find your man (forearm bar), make a hit (forearm bar up with an inside step), and then pursue the ball.


Simply said: Hit & Get! or Bump & Jump!



This is the most difficult position to rebound from because, in most cases, your man is the greatest distance from you. When the shot is taken or you hear a "Shot! Check!" call, move laterally from the "equator" to the lane line and meet the offensive player crashing the boards. Keep your hands up and maintain active feet.

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