One of the most important and underappreciated aspects of the game of basketball is defense. As it has been said, "Offense wins games, but defense wins championships."
Michael Cooper, a key asset to the 1980s Lakers dynasty and holder of five NBA Championship rings, was the best defensive player in the NBA for years. Although he never received the attention or accolades offensively of a Magic Johnson or a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Cooper was the one doing the dirty work...playing end-to-end in-your-face defense which no doubt was a huge part of the championship dynasty.
Another storied basketball program, the University of Maryland (both men's and women's), focuses on the importance of stopping your opponent, forcing turnovers, and capitalizing on other's mistakes. The Maryland Anticipation Drill was submitted by Katrina Colleton, a former guard for the Miami Sol who one of the best defensive players in the WNBA. During Colleton's four-year college career at Maryland, her team was ranked in the top 10 nationally and at times held the No. 1 spot in the nation.
The Maryland Anticipation Drill will help any player with their defense and can help players to get more steals, work on lateral movement (side-to-side) and foot speed. The purpose of the drill is to simulate the action of guarding a player off the ball as one of their teammates tries to pass to your man. This drill will help players to anticipate a pass, jump into the passing lane, and steal the ball.
The Maryland Anticipation Drill
Needs: 4 people, 1 ball
Setup: 1 offensive player on right block, 1 offensive player on left block, 1 offensive player at the top of the key (free-throw line) with ball, 1 defensive player one step ahead of the two offensive players on the blocks toward the middle of the triangle created by the 3 offensive players.
The defender should stand in the defensive "ready" position (defensive stance) with hands ready and focus on the person with the ball. The offender with the ball throws the ball to the person on the left block. The defender must anticipate the throw and step into the passing lane and catch the ball before it reaches the offensive player who is being passed to. Once the defender catches the ball, pass it back to the person in the middle who will then throw it to his/her teammate on the right block. Again, the defender should anticipate the throw and (while in defensive stance), step into the passing lane and intercept the pass.
Practice this drill several times. At first, the defender should know which block the player with the ball will pass to, anticipate the pass, and intercept the ball. As the players become more experienced and better at anticipation, the passer should throw to either block without letting the defender know where he/she will throw the ball. It is very important in this drill to work on proper footwork, that is to use either a cross step or a slide to get into the lane. Make sure to rotate so that each of the four players in the drill has his/her turn as the defensive player.
Remember: The idea is to STEP INTO the passing lane and anticipate the pass in order to get a steal. DO NOT run toward the players who are being passed to.