Notre Dame's Johnny Dee favors the bounce pass out to the first man. He thinks there is less chance for an interception that way. "The basic fundamental of the zone press is that it is going to play the ball," he says. "So we want to overload the zone and try to set up screens to break a receiver loose. I bring a third man to the ball to get four against three in the backcourt."
Louisville's Peck Hickman warns, "The team that presses the panic button against the zone press is the team that gets whipped by it. So it is of primary importance to retain your poise. For instance, if one of our big men is shut off by two guards, we tell him to take the five-second penalty of a jump ball rather than throw a bad pass. Then he still has a chance to control the jump. That's better than giving up two points. Technically, we will try for area passes—passes into specific areas designated beforehand—and avoid throwing the cross-court pass. We also will screen to get receivers free from a defender, and we want our men to be cutting at angles at all times."
Loyola's Ireland, who uses the press himself, says he is not worried about it at all: "We had no trouble handling the UCLA press last year. We only lost the ball three times because of the press and picked up about six to eight baskets against it. We would have lost the ball three times against any defense. It's easier to crack a pressing defense than an ordinary one, because the defense must cover more floor area."
A corollary to this view is the opinion of Villanova's Jack Kraft that "the team that presses will often get upset if this tactic is turned against it. You'll see it happen many times—throw a tough zone against a pressing team and they'll panic." Kraft, highly respected by coaches for his well-coached squads, also takes positions directly opposed to those generally accepted on three points: use of the dribble, passing and avoidance of the sideline areas. He encourages his players to dribble the ball. "The first thing we want to do is break down their front line and then attack the basket under normal fast-break conditions," he says. "The less passing you do the less chance there is for losing the ball. I like my best ball handler to bring the ball up along the sidelines, because that makes it more difficult for the middle man to double-team. I keep my other guard behind the ball as a trailer for a safety pass, and if he gets the ball his move is to the other side. What this does is spread the middle man so that we can get the ball to the middle from the sideline. When we arrive there, then we have three-on-two, and that's the way we want to be against a zone press. That should finish it.
"The second phase of our play—and the most difficult to get across to our players—is that you must attack the basket quickly. We don't want to give the opposition time to regroup into a normal defense. But you'd better have the ball handlers against the press. If you haven't—forget it. Don't even show up."
Because he agrees with that last statement and possibly because he is a frequent user of the press himself, DePaul's Ray Meyer spends more time preparing to meet it than most other coaches. Hoping to develop player confidence as well as technique, he devotes two full weeks of preseason practice as well as part of every week during the season to playing against it. Meyer has several drills specifically designed to combat presses. His men work diligently on dribbling, releasing the passer and staying away from the man with the ball. "The idea behind that maneuver," he explains, "is to isolate the man with the ball in a one-on-one situation. It is very difficult for one man to take the ball away from another without fouling."
Meyer welcomes a zone press because, he says, "We operate on the theory that we can pass faster than our opponents can run." His rules are: keep the ball in the middle to avoid being trapped on the sideline; once you lose your dribble, get rid of the ball because you can be double-teamed; do not bring your man close to the man with the ball.
So go the arguments. Every coach in the country has an opinion, all the way from Frank McGuire's "Just get better ballplayers" to complicated maneuvers involving overloads and split-second screens. It is all music to John Wooden. "As long as so many coaches feel there are so many ways to beat the zone press," he says, "that means no one is really sure. It is evidence that the press is hard to beat."