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Bremerton boys basketball team mastering art of full-court press
With his arms reaching for the rafters and feet popping off the floor, Jarell Flora smothered the inbounds passer.
The opponent faked left, right, then forced a pass to a teammate, who was swarmed by two ball-slappers, losing possession. After a brief scramble, Flora secured possession under the hoop and dropped in an uncontested lay-up.
Welcome to the Bremerton High School boys basketball team's version of the full-court press.
"Some people say they don't really like it because it's kind of like a track meet because we're running a lot," Flora said. "But I don't really look at it that way. I just look at it like a regular basketball game."
Flora, a senior who leads Bremerton in scoring, attributes the Knights' success to the full-court press, an up-tempo, in-your-face defensive scheme aimed at disrupting the opponents' offensive flow.
It requires speed, anticipation and conditioning, utilizing all 84 feet of the floor.
The Knights (6-3 overall, 6-1 league) are turning heads with their full-court approach to the game.
Coach Casey Lindberg uses the press to compensate for his team's lack of size — Flora is the tallest player at 6 feet 2 inches — but also to capitalize on the team's speed and athleticism.
"You have to base your style of play on the type of kids you have," Lindberg said. "If I had three kids that were 6-foot-8 and big and slow, then obviously we wouldn't play the way we play. You have to kind of mold your style to where your players are."
Lindberg has a group of versatile, quick players who get up and down the floor faster than any in the league.
The Knights have lacked size for the better part of Lindberg's 10 years at the helm, he said, so the full-court press is nothing new. But the difference between this season and seasons of the past — the Knights have not won the league title since 1999 — has been the players' willingness to buy into the system combined with their ability to execute.
"You want the kids to buy into the fact that they are going to have to play that full-court game to be successful," Lindberg said. "What I always tell my kids is, 'Play your game. Don't play their game, play our game.'"
Lindberg didn't detail his varying full-court schemes, but he said the Knights will have three or four full-court presses as well as a half-court press and half-court trap in place by season's end. Having multiple formations, he added, keeps the opponent off balance.
And when the opposing coach makes an adjustment to the press, so does Lindberg.
"They are going to see something different when they come out on the court," he said. "It's kind of a game of cat-and-mouse, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. But that's what makes coaching fun."
The press begins following each Bremerton score.
Rather than dropping back and waiting for the opponent to dribble the ball to their end of the court, the Knights pressure the inbounds pass and try to deny the other team the ball. When — and if — the ball makes it into play, two Knights swarm the ball-handler, creating a double-team, or "trap."
Anticipating where the ball will go — and where the opposition will set up to receive the ball — is the key to generating steals off the press.
Save for foul trouble or a blowout score, Lindberg prefers to run the press as much as possible.
"It's not just something that you do sometimes," he said. "It's kind of like a piece of mind. This is our identity and this is how we're going play. Regardless of what defense we're in, we're going to try to put pressure on people."
During a victory over Port Townsend High School in December, Lindberg remembers, the Knights let a 20-plus point lead slip to 16 in the third quarter. So he changed the rotation, subbing in the starters, and the team generated four turnovers and eight points off the press in less than a minute, bumping the lead to 24.
"Bremerton is tailor-made for it, especially this year's team," said Olympic coach Devin Huff. "Not only are they quick, but they move well laterally and they play long."
The spurts often come in the second half, when the Knights rely on conditioning to outlast their worn-down competition.
"That's when you try to get more intense, from them getting tired. You just try to finish them out," Flora said."They'll get winded real easy, and we just run and gun, pretty much."
With the season moving forward, Lindberg is not only pleased with the team's execution of the press but also the way it's handled success.
The highs following victory have never been too high, and the lows following defeat have never too low.
"They are very matter-of-fact about it, really, which is kind of rare for high-school kids," Lindberg said. "We're not finding ourselves having to be psychologists and trying to figure them out. They are doing OK."