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Adolph Rupp's Seven Cardinal Rules of Defense

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In 1955 Coach Adolph Rupp, the coach at the University of Kentucky who would later retire as one of the most successful coaches in the history of basketball (second among all men's college coaches in all-time winning percentage) wrote an article for Scholastic Coach magazine entitled "The Seven Cardinal Rules of Defense." The article was written to help other coaches teach defense more effectively since Rupp acknowledged that the offenses and offensive players of the day were far superior to any of the defenses at that time.

To prove his point, Rupp asked 5 questions in the article:

1. How do you defend the quick, running one handed shot?
2. How do you guard against the hook shot?
3. How do you guard the pivot man on the step-in-step-out hook shot?
4. How do you guard the running jump shot?
5. How do you stop the dribble-stop jump shot?

Obviously the defensive challenges that we face are much different than those that Coach Rupp faced in 1955 but his Seven Cardinal Rules are still applicable today. Here are those rules along with some excerpts of his explanations.

1. Reduce the number of your opponent's shots.

You've all heard the saying "Take enough shots and the percentage will take care of itself." That may be true so the first thing to do is cut down the number of shots you give the other team.

2. Force your opponents into low percentage shots.

If you can force a team to take hurried, off balance, inaccurate shots, you'll destroy their shooting percentage. And that's the difference between aggressive defense and a defense that permits a team to get good shots. When a coach comes up after the game and says "We couldn't hit tonight," maybe there was a reason.

3. Control everything within 18 feet of the basket.

If you'll draw a circle 18 feet out from the basket and attempt to cut down everything in that circle and then get all the rebounds you'll have a fool-proof defense. I realize this is impossible but the fact still remains - don't give them a shot close to the basket!

4. Eliminate second shots.

A good defense shouldn't permit a team to get second and third shots at the basket since one of these are apt to fall in. The first thing to do after a shot is taken is to see that your man doesn't get the rebound.

5. Allow no easy baskets.

Here Coach Rupp lists several examples of easy baskets but then says that some are due to carelessness and some are due to bad judgment but in a game between two teams of equal ability, an easy basket at a crucial time often proves to be the deciding factor.

6. "Point" the ball on all long shots.

(Rupp says "point" but in today's terminology means "pressure" or "contest.") As the ball is maneuvered on the outside the defensive man on the ball should always play tight. Two of the cardinal rules are to cut down the number of shots and the number of good shots. If you allow good long shooters to get set unmolested, they'll ruin you.

7. Prevent the ball from going into the pivot.

We permit the ball to go to the side of the floor but always try to prevent it from going into the pivot area. The ball is in an extremely dangerous position when a player in the pivot area has possession of it.

These rules were written by Adolph Rupp nearly 60 years ago yet they are still as applicable and relevant today as they were back then. So instead of trying to reinvent the defensive wheel the next time your team needs some defensive improvement, revisit the Seven Cardinal Rules of defense. They worked for the "Baron of the Bluegrass" and they'll work for you too.

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