Pre-Practice Drills: Setting the Tone for Success

By Rory Hamilton

basketball pre-practice drills

The 15-20 minutes before official practice begins are crucial, and having a routine of pre-practice drills can help set the tone for success.

Designing and organizing a successful daily practice plan may be the most important quality of any successful coach. Practice plan design, time length, and goals may be differ for each coach, but I think all coaches would agree that practices need to be efficient and effective. It is my goal in this post to provide pre-practices drills, ideas and concepts that help coaches design better practices next season.

Now you may be asking yourself: What exactly is “pre-practice?” Don’t worry – I felt the same way several years ago until I attended a Wichita State men’s basketball practice under then head coach Mark Turgeon. During the Shockers’ pre-practice drills segment, players were focusing on footwork, shooting, ball handling, passing and position work. This lasted for about 15-20 minutes prior to the official start of practice. Once this segment was over, the team did its dynamic stretching, huddled at the center of the floor and proceeded into a traditional basketball practice.

To clarify, pre-practice is the 15-20 minute time block prior to the beginning of official practice.

The first thing I would recommend this summer is to sit down and think about what you would like your team and players to accomplish during the pre-practice segment. Here are our goals for pre-practice at Norman North HS:  skill development, offensive breakdowns, shooting mechanics/drills, dynamic stretch, quote for the day, and emphasis for the day. We may not be able to hit everything each day, but our staff will mix and match weekly to target all areas of our pre-practice goals. Next, I’ll share some of the drills we use during our pre-practice routine.

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Pre-Practice Drills for Skill Development

Diamond Drill – Beat the Press

Diamond Drill Beat the Press

Players will perform live ball moves at each cone followed by a finishing move at the rim. Once a layup has been made, the players then complete a “beat the press move” to half court. Players alternate going right and left at the first cone. We teach the following finishing moves around the basket: 2-foot power layup, vicious pivot, shot fake finish, and donut move. Once a player has completed their layup, players then complete a beat the press move. We teach our players the following beat the press moves:

A. Go Hard-Stop Change

B. Glide-Glide Explode

C. Go Hard, Rocker Change


X Passing 3 rows

X passing is a drill we use to simulate several key components to our 4 Out 1 In man-to-man offense. In this drill we are working on the following key concepts:

9 Drills to Build a Stronger Defense This Season

  1. Creating a lead on the wing
  2. Passing with the correct hand and communicating with our hands (break open to wing and show outside hand)
  3. Establishing triple threat on a catch (rips and sweeps)
  4. Post players posting above the Block on the 1st hash
  5. Feeding the post with a bounce pass or overhead pass to their numbers
  6. Post players catching with 2 hands and 2 feet, and “chin and check middle”
  7. Last, but definitely not least is communication – we call names on every pass, every time

Drill starts with a pass from the slot area to the wing player creating a lead using a v-cut and showing outside hand to the passer. On a catch, the wing player establishes a triple threat position using either a low sweep or a vicious pivot. The wing player must fake a pass to make a pass before throwing ball into the post. Post player should call out the player’s name. Easy rotation rule: follow your pass! On a low post catch, we teach chin and check middle in case of double team. Then post player fans the ball out to the opposite slot area. While the ball is in the air from the post to the slot, the wing creates a lead and uses v-cut to get open showing outside hand. Wing player fakes a pass to make a pass and then passes into post and drill continues in same manner. Drill can continue for a certain time frame or number of completed passes.

Follow the Leader Finishing

Follow the Leader Finishing

Follow the leader is a drill I picked up from Lon Kruger while attending a practice at the University of Oklahoma.  The purpose of the drill is to work on proper footwork, creating leads to get open, and shooting. There are two ways we will use this drill. The first is where all players line up at half court with a basketball. Each player will pass to a coach and then sprint to receive a pass on the wing. We emphasize catching the ball with two hands, two eyes, and using a 1-2 stride stop. Follow the Leader Progression (all catches are taught using 1-2 footwork) will be run on both sides of the floor.

1. Shot fake, long step, 1 dribble lay-up

2. Shot fake, crossover step, 1 dribble lay-up

3. Shot fake, long step, 1 dribble jump shot

4. Shot fake, crossover step, 1 dribble elbow shot

5. Catch and shoot 3pt shot

Drill can be run where players start along the baseline and will pass to the coach at the top of the key make an “L” cut or “V-cut” to get open on the wing, showing outside hand to catch ball. On the catch the players following same follow the leader progression.

PTO Drill

PTO Drill

One of the drills we use to teaching spacing and movement off of dribble penetration is a drill we call PTO (Penetrate Throw Out). My high school coach Dan Buchanan in Goddard used the acronym PTO and I still use that terminology today.

PTO Drill Setup: Minimum of 8 players positioned in the slot and wing areas. Players use attack dribble and get two feet in the paint going to their right or left. Once in the paint the players utilize a quick stop and pass with their outside hand to the next line to their right and then follow their pass and the drill continues.

Drill emphasis:

1. Get into the paint in at most two dribbles

2. Call out names of the receiver

3. Pass with correct hand away from the defense

Pre-Practice Drills – Offensive Action Breakdowns

41 Motion Shooting


41 Motion Shooting is shooting drill we do daily to emphasize the screening and cutting action in our 41 (4 Out, 1 In) motion offense. It incorporates the reads off of a down screen (tight, curl, reject, slip and space) as well as reads off of a flare screen (flare and slip). We also emphasize our “2nd cutter” concept where we always have an inside cut and an outside cut. It’s important to communicate with our hands: inside hand = inside cut and outside hand = outside cut.

We run this drill for about one minute per each cut. Drill begins with 1 sprinting to set a down screen. We emphasize a great screening angle and communicating the screen. Above, player 8 rejects the screen and back cuts, 2 passes to 8 for a layup; 1 snaps back showing hands to passer as our 2nd cutter. Immediately after 2 passes to 8 (previous frame), 2 sprints to set a down screen for 7. On this side, 7 uses the screen and makes a tight cut to the slot for the 3pt shot. 3 passes to 7, who shoots (we emphasize catching with a cheat step and stepping into the shot).

Now let’s look at the next two pairs of cuts: 3 sprints to set a down screen for 1. 1 tight curls the screen. 4 passes to 1 attacking the basket and screener shapes back to the ball as our 2nd cutter.  In our final screening action, 4 sprints to act like setting a down screen, but 2 sets a flare screen for 4. The 2 then flashes to the basket in case the defense switches utilizing our 2nd cutter concept. We normally run this drill for 1:00 for each type of cut, or some days just spend 2-3 minutes working on a single cut.

Skip Pass Zone Shooting

Skip Pass Zone Shooting

Skip pass zone shooting is a drill we use to practice throwing skip passes against a zone, as well as penetrating the gaps of a zone. You can have the defense set up in a box (even front zone) or diamond (odd front zone). Players can be aligned in accordance with your zone offense.

In this illustration, players on offense fill the slots and wing area with extra players behind the 1 if needed. The drill begins with the 1 making a skip pass all the way to opposite wing. On every catch, we make our players fake a pass before making the next skip pass. The next pass goes from the wing to the opposite slot followed by a slot to slot pass. The last pass comes from the slot back to the original passer, and from here we utilize one of our zone offense concepts: driving inside shoulders of the zone defenders and kicking to open player. Starting along the baseline, each player drives into a gap of the zone all the way around until the opposite corner player shoots the ball and gets the rebound. The drill continues until a certain number of makes or a designated time frame.

High-Low Passing

High-Low Passing

High-Low Passing is a shooting drill that incorporates shots out of our High-Low offense. We use the drill to simulate the shots and reads we get within the offense. The drill can be run on both sides with guards starting on the wing and two post players at the top of the key and strong side block. Drill begins with a quick ball reversal to either a coach or manager. The first pass is to the guard coming off a baseline rub screen for a layup. The second pass has several options:

A.  Shot at the top of the key

B.  High-Low pass (shown in diagram)

C.  Post Direct (if defense switches)

Shooting Mechanics Drills

Shooting Progression

Our shooting progression at Norman North uses a simple approach aimed at building muscle memory and consistency. Our drill package includes the following:

  1. NBN Shots–Some coaches refer to these as rim flips as players shoot the basketball with only their shooting hand 2-3 feet away from the basket. The objective of this drill is to perfect players’ release of the basketball. We as coaches make sure players have correct follow through and the basketball spins properly.
  2. Form Shots–Players now add their guide hands on their shots and look to continue to build muscle memory. We emphasize players extending elbow above eye and using legs all the way to toes. These shots much be from inside the paint.
  3. Step Back Shooting–This is the last and most important drill we use to teach shooting. Players partner up and the first shooter starts 2-3 feet away from the goal. The shooter gets what we call “shot ready”—a balanced base with hands and feet ready. The shooter receives the pass and shoots it and either makes or misses it. On a make, the shooter takes one big step backwards and looks to receive another pass. If the player misses the first shot, they get a second attempt at the same spot. If a second shot is missed, the players switch roles. As long as the shooter continues to make shots without missing two in a row, they keep moving back. We’ve had players almost reach half court during the drill which can be fun. The goal of step back shooting is to build a consistent release and building muscle memory.

Pre-Practice Drills – Shooting

KU Shooting

KU Shooting

KU Shooting is my favorite shooting drill we do at Norman North. I first saw it run by Roy Williams and the Kansas Jayhawks several years ago. I love this drill because it incorporates footwork, passing, conditioning, teamwork, and communication.

KU Shooting Drill Set-up: 3 players at each goal with two basketballs. First player receives a pass and shoots a 3pt shot. The passer closes out and lightly contests the shot with a high hand. The passer then turns around and receives the next pass while the 3 closes out and lightly contests the shot. 1 gets rebound and is the next passer and the drill continues. After the last shot from the corner, the players then move to the wing area and repeat the drill. Drill repeats at all 5 cones on the perimeter until all players have shot from all five spots. Once players have shot 3pt shots at all 5 spots we then go back around and perform the following:

A. Shot fake, 1 dribble right jump shot

B. Shot fake, 1 dribble left jump shot

C. Shot fake, layup right

D. Shot fake, layup left

Olympic Shooting


Olympic Shooting is a drill we took from Vance Walberg’s daily 45 drill package for the dribble drive offense. We’ve modified it a little for our program over the years and it’s a great 3pt shooting drill. The drill starts in the corner with three players and two basketballs. The players will shoot, get their own rebound and pass to the next player in line. The team of three players has a goal of making 7 shots at each of the 5 spots on the floor in four minutes. Adjust the number of makes at each spot higher or lower as needed. If a team doesn’t meet the required goal, then the group has extra conditioning.


As you begin preparing for the upcoming season, I hope these pre-practice drills and ideas help you prepare for and ultimately have better practices. If you have any drills or other ideas you would like to share, my email address is and on Twitter @TwolvesHoops. Happy Hoopin!!

More posts from Rory Hamilton: Keys to Attacking a Match-up Zone | Set Plays to Attack Switching Defenses

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Rory Hamilton

Rory Hamilton has 21 years of basketball coaching experience at the collegiate and high school level. Coach Hamilton is the current girls basketball coach at Norman North High School. In 5 years his team has posted a 85-49 record, won four mid-season tournament titles and appeared in five 6A area tournaments. In 2019, Norman North won the silver ball losing in the 6A state championship game to Norman High School. Coach Hamilton was named Central Oklahoma Conference girls coach of the year along with earning Oklahoma Girls Basketball Coaches Association Large Class All-State coach. Prior to Norman North, he served as the head girls coach at Mount St. Mary Catholic High School in Oklahoma City, OK. In seven years at MSM, he posted a 108-75 record and is the winningest girls coach in school history. Coach Hamilton led the Rockets to three consecutive 4A state tournament appearances. In 2011-2012, the Rockets had a 20-7 record and made it to the state tournament for the first time in school history. The next year in 2012-2013, the Rockets posted a 25-6 record and earned the silver ball, losing in the 4A state championship game to Fort Gibson. In 2013-2014, the Rockets posted a 23-7 record and lost to Anadarko in the 4A state tournament semifinals. Coach Hamilton was named Central Oklahoma Conference coach of the year three times and was selected to coach the Little All-City all-star game three consecutive years from 2012-2014. Coach Hamilton has coached 6 NCAA Division 1 players, 6 NCAA Division II players and several playing at the NAIA and NJCAA levels.
March 15, 2018 – San Diego, CA, USA – SAN DIEGO, March 15, 2018 | Wichita State’s Darral Willis Jr., center, Brett Barney, right, and Rauno Nurger share a laugh during Wichita State’s practice for the NCAA tournament at the Viejas Arena in San Diego on Thursday. | Photo by Hayne Palmour IV/San Diego Union-Tribune/Mandatory Credit: HAYNE PALMOUR IV/SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE/ZUMA PRESS San Diego Union-Tribune Photo by Hayne Palmour IV copyright 2017 (Credit Image: © Hayne Palmour Iv/San Diego Union-Tribune via ZUMA Wire)

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