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Basketball legend discusses out-of-bounds plays

This is an excerpt from John Wooden's UCLA Offense by John Wooden & Swen Nater.

The one time the team in possession of the ball is at a numbers disadvantage is when inbounding the ball. With the passer out of bounds, the defense has a five-to-four advantage on the offense. Therefore, I've always emphasized that the chief purpose of out-of-bounds plays is to enter the ball safely so that the offense maintains possession and evens out the on-court player matchups to five on five. Teams that are inclined to want to accomplish much more than that will try to force the ball to a particular player and often commit turnovers doing so. For that reason, players should be discouraged from making a quick score the primary objective when they inbound the ball, unless the game or shot clock dictates otherwise.

Simply getting the ball into play to run the offense might not provide the same immediate gratification of a made basket, but neither does it exact the penalties associated with turning the ball over to the opponent. If the team is well drilled and confident in its offensive attack, as it should be, then it is best to forgo the risky pass that might lead to a basket, and instead run the primary plays and options of the offense. Attempting to stop several cuts, screens, and passes for 20-plus seconds is much more taxing than defending a single play. And, remember, the offense is attempting to run that play at a four-to-five player disadvantage.

Establishing the priority of initiating the offense safely when inbounding the ball does not diminish the scoring value of out-of-bounds plays. Some players and teams do a poor job of defending in those situations and almost invite the offense to exploit their weaknesses. In that case, an offense is negligent if it fails to look for a quick strike for a score. In fact, the players should always look for the score. Inbounding the basketball safely is contingent on creating catch-and-score opportunities close to the basket, because this collapses the defense, opening up the outside.


Veteran coaches and teams will be familiar with most of the standard out-of-bounds plays, and those teams will make it difficult for the offense not only to score but to even inbound the ball. To maximize the chances of inbounding the basketball safely, the inbounder must be chosen carefully. As mentioned in full-court pressure release, I recommend that one player and one substitute be selected and trained to take the ball out in all situations—under the offensive goal, on the sideline, and under the opponent's goal.

Qualifications for the inbounder role include adequate height to see over a defender who might be guarding the ball, good court vision to size up the defense and spot a teammate breaking free, and unshakable poise to keep cool all the way to four and a half seconds on the referee's count. The inbounder should have a very keen sense of time. Ideally, the offense would never be required to expend a time-out because of an inability to enter the ball into play within the allotted five-second period. But when the only alternative to a time-out call is a likely turnover, the inbounder must be capable of asking the official for time before committing a time violation.

The inbounder should stand about three feet from the out-of-bounds line to allow some space between himself and the defender. When his teammates are in position, the inbounder signals to start the play. The cue that sets the play in motion might be an oral one such as shouting a number or name, a physical one such as lifting the ball overhead, or a combination of the two such as slapping the ball.

It was my experience that coaches typically have many more out-of-bounds plays in their playbooks than can be learned and executed proficiently by their players. Goodness gracious, there are not enough games in a coaching career to run all of the ones we think are good! And, it serves no purpose to teach dozens of out-of-bounds plays for every possible contingency if players are too confused to run them.

The key is to keep it simple by identifying a small assortment of plays with options that will work in most situations and take advantage of the team's strengths. Then it's essential that the coach teaches those plays well and that players become proficient at reading the defense and executing the plays instantly, under pressure. For the most part, I used only two alignments for under the basket and sideline inbounds situations. However, the options available and player initiative to break the pattern when they see openings provide sufficient variety to be effective at all levels of competition.

All plays presented are illustrated from the left side of the floor, but they can and should be practiced and run from both sides. And, to avoid a forced pass or shot attempt on any play, each diagram indicates how players can transition smoothly into the high-post offense when a play is voided by the defense.

This is an excerpt from John Wooden's UCLA Offense.

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