Offense wins games, but defense wins championships. This phrase is more apparent today as programs spend hours breaking down film of opponent’s offenses in an effort to slow them down. Similar to other teams that shift defenses throughout the game, Dale Brown’s Freak Defense allows you to spend more time focusing on your team without centering all of your attention on the opponent. I had the honor of learning this system from the LSU legend himself several years ago and was shocked it wasn’t being used more often, especially in the college ranks. This philosophy is the chameleon of basketball defense, as teams constantly change defensive looks based on what the offense decides to do on a given possession. This method can be used situationally or for entire games.
I personally do not teach this system to players until they are in AT LEAST the 10th grade. I believe players must develop an understanding of man-to-man principles first. This will make them better individual players overall and help prevent confusion or large holes in zone defense. The Purpose of this defense is to do something the offense cannot prepare for because the defense appears the same but gives different looks every possession. Below are the layers I’ve used to teach this system in the past.
Layer One: Man-to-Man
• First and foremost, I believe this system works best when your team understands basic man-to-man defensive principles
• If players understand how to “jump to the ball”, it makes your team much more difficult to score on once the zone is introduced
• Regardless if you teach pack line, no middle, trapping principles, etc. this defense can be adjusted accordingly to fit ANY level of Basketball IQ, athletic ability, or height/length on the roster
Layer Two: Basic Zone Defense
• Before teaching this system, you need to know if your players can switch between various defenses throughout the game such as: 2–3/2–1–2, 3–2/1–2–2, and 1–3–1
• If you use junk defenses, such as Box/Diamond and 1 or Triangle and 2, those can also be very effective when teaching the Freak as well.
Layer Three: Shifting Coverages
• The next step is to determine how you want your defense to shift.
• There are two types of shifts, Single Shift and Double Shift:
o The Single Shift means your base zone defense shifts into another regardless of where the ball is passed
▪ For example, if a 2–3 zone is your base, you may shift into a 1–3–1 regardless if the ball is PASSED to the left or right side of the floor.
23 to 131
131 to 23
***IMPORTANT: Once the offense makes their first pass to either the wing or high post, you stay in that defense for the entire possession and this also INCLUDES giving up an offensive rebound if the offense decides to reset their attack
• On any dribble entry or a situation where there is no clear entry pass, you have the option to shift defenses or stay in your base coverage
• On a high post entry, your team should either switch to man coverage or stay in your base zone defense
o The Double Shift requires you to have two other defenses to switch to based on where the pass goes
▪ For example, if a 2–3 zone is your base, you may shift to a 1–3–1 zone on a pass to the LEFT but you may shift to a 3–2 zone on a pass to the RIGHT
23: Left pass 131, right pass man to man
13: Left pass 23, Right pass man to man
• The Freak allows you to shift into a man-to-man coverage as well and works best when starting in a 2–3, 1–2–2, or 1–3–1 zone
Layer Four: FLIP FLOP
• In the event that the offense begins to figure out the Freak Defensive pattern, you can simply switch the defenses you would use on a certain side
o For example, the defensive shift from 2–3 zone to 3–2 zone on a pass to the RIGHT will now be the shift for a pass to the LEFT and the defensive shift from a 2–3 zone to a 1–3–1 zone on a pass to the LEFT will now be the shift for a pass to the RIGHT
• You can also change the base defense when this occurs
o For example, the base defense can be switched from a 2–3 zone to a 3–2 zone.
Layer Five: Full Court Pressure and Other Times to Change Defenses
• If you’re a team that uses zone presses such as 2–2–1 or 1–2–2, it is best to drop back into your base zone coverage unless rotation forces you into playing man-to-man
• If you do decide to zone press, DO NOT use the Freak Defense when you drop back into the half-court as rotations tend to get thrown off once the press is broken
• Here are some ideas as to when you can change your base defense:
o Own Made/Missed FG
o Own Made/Missed FT
o Opponent scores 3 times in a row
o Change every X amount of minutes
o Change based on who calls timeout
▪ For example, you could change defenses if the other coach calls timeout, but you keep the same base defense if you call the timeout
Layer Six: Guarding the Star Player
• When dealing with players who can change the momentum of a game I’ve found it very effective to use the Freak when the one or two most important players are on the floor
o This is usually the time to use your junk defensive package to shake things up. Your team has the option to either start out in your junk defense or shift into it out of another base coverage.
o For Example, a 2–3 zone that shifts into a box/diamond and 1 or triangle and 2
o For this aspect, decide what to do when the star player is on/off the floor as well as when they dribble across half court versus when they are off the ball. As always, the rules of where the ball is passed or dribbled still applies.
The beauty of the Freak Defense is that teams in your conference will have to create plans to attack every defense in your arsenal as opposed to a single defensive package. It also takes away their confidence offensively because they aren’t sure how to attack you. If a player is hesitant against your defense, then you have the edge. More importantly, every coach begs for communication on the defensive end and this defense forces players to do exactly that.
If you have any more questions regarding how to install Dale Brown’s Freak Defense with your specific personnel or would like to see diagrams of the system, feel free to email me at email@example.com or Direct Message via Twitter to @Kj_the_scout.
*Go to Youtube and search for the 1986 LSU Tigers final four team if you would like to see FULL GAME FILM of the defense being used!