The shortest person ever to play basketball professionally in the U.S.A. was was Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues who was (and is) just 5’3”. Now, admittedly, if you want to be a basketball pro, it helps (a lot) to be tall, but if you just want to play for fun and fitness then height’s just a handy bonus rather than a deal-breaker.
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Why Get into Basketball?
Even though the games look very different, the appeal of basketball is pretty similar to the appeal of five-a-side football. At a beginner level, it’s easy to learn and a lot of fun. It’s also fast moving and will keep you fit. Unlike five-a-side football, however, there is a lot of scope for serious players to move forward and even turn pro. Right now Luol Deng of the Los Angeles Lakers is the only UK-born player in the NBA but with the ever-increasing popularity of basketball in the UK, it’s only a matter of time before that changes.
The Kit You’ll Need
When you’re just starting out in basketball the only personal equipment you really need is basic gym kit and a decent pair of trainers. Even at the beginner level, it is worth spending a bit of money on proper basketball trainers so you get the benefit of the cushioning they offer.
High-top basketball trainers provide support right up to the ankle, but are slightly heavier than mid-tops. Basically, it’s purely a matter of taste which you prefer. As a minimum, you absolutely must have proper sports trainers (as opposed to fashion trainers).
Additionally, you’ll need the game equipment of an appropriate ball and two baskets, preferably with boards behind them. Some venues will provide these but if not they can be bought from any sports shop and many mainstream retailers and are very affordable.
Finding People to Play With
Even though basketball is historically associated with the U.S., it’s now one of the most popular team sports played in the U.K., especially amongst younger people, so there’s usually plenty of options for getting a game together.
If your mates like to play sport, then you could just put a group together (you only need 10 people) and find, hire or improvise a court. If you’re keen to learn how to play the sport properly, then check your local listings for clubs or head to the official sites for basketball in England, Scotland, Wales and NI.
Team And Court Finder
Finding Somewhere to Play
Basketball is now so popular that most larger towns or cities in the UK have designated basketball courts. Some of these are informal, outdoor courts where people just turn up and play, others are in official sports facilities. Even where there are no specific basketball courts, sports facilities will often add the relevant markings to multi-purpose courts and players can just set up the hoops as they need them (or they can if you ask nicely).
Markings on a Basketball Court
There are two reasons why you should learn about the markings on a basketball court. The first is that so you know where people mean when they talk about them. This is a prerequisite for understanding both rules and strategy. The second is that it will allow you to create your own basketball court if need be.
If you really can’t find a proper court, it’s fairly easy to improvise one. Basketball courts are quite small, even NBA courts are only 28.7m by 15.2m and you really don’t have to be that precise, about 28M by 15M would be absolutely fine.
Really all you have to do is find some way to highlight the long and short sides of the court (known as the sidelines and the baselines) and the centre circle. As its name suggests, this has its centre point in the exact centre of the court and its radius is 1.8M. It’s important because it’s the place where a game starts.
The baskets are positioned about 1.2M from the baseline with the centre of each basket being on the same, vertical line as the centre point of the centre circle.
If you can leave permanent markings, then you might also want to mark out the free-throw lines, the free-throw lanes and the three-point lines (sometimes known as the three-point arcs).
The free throw lines are 3.6M in width, i.e. the same as the diameter of the centre circle. They are also positioned on the same vertical line as the centre circle and are 4.5M from each baseline. The free throw lane is the rectangular area connecting the free throw line with the nearest baseline.
The three-point lines may be more of a challenge, especially since different basketball authorities can’t agree on what size they should be, but essentially you want them to start on the baseline about 1.5M from the sidelines. The lines coming out from the baselines are straight for about a metre and then curve to meet about 1.5M in front of the centrepoint of the free-throw line.
Player Positions in Basketball
There are only five positions in basketball and in principle there is one player for each position. In practice, however, rather like with football, there is a growing tendency to have each player learn a core position and a secondary position.
A key point to understand is that basketball does not have offensive and defensive positions as most other sports do. If a team has the ball its players are considered to be the offensive players and if it doesn’t they are the defenders. In other words, the same player will be an attacker or a defender according to whether or not their team as the ball.
Here are the five main positions
The centre is usually the tallest player on the team (which can be saying something). Their default playing area is right beside the basket, where they fight for rebounds, which provide their main scoring opportunity. Defensively, they aim to block the opponent’s shots and passes.
Centres to study - Shaquille O’Neal, Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gobert
Power forwards aim to score from both near the basket and the midrange. Defensively, they will also mark the opponent’s shooters if they get near the power forward’s basket.
Power forwards to study - Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, Paul Millsap
Small forwards tend to be shorter than the power forwards but they still need to be tall enough to be difficult to defend against. They also need to be fast and agile because their role is to look for any player who needs help and be there to provide it, whatever it is.
Small forwards to study - Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard
The shooting guard has the job of getting the ball down to the opponent's end of the court and helping the other players set up offensive moves. They also do a fair bit of shooting themselves and are a threat from anywhere on the court.
Shooting guards to study - James Harden, Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal
The point guard is always on the ball, literally and figuratively. Their aim is to direct the play to the best advantage of their team and to create opportunities for the main shooters. Some point guards have great shooting skills themselves and frequently take long shots.
Point guards to study - Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul
NB: Even though there are only five players on the court, a full team for a professional game can have up to 12 players in it (depending on the league) and players are frequently substituted to allow them to rest and recover from the intensity of the game.
The Basic Rules of Basketball
You don’t need to memorize the entire NBA rule book. Just learn the basics of how the game is played and what is expected and you can pick up the details as you go along.
Getting a game started
An official stands in the centre circle and tosses a ball in the air.
Structure of a game
One of the interesting points about basketball is that the structure of a game can vary depending on the league. The NBA has four quarters of 12 minutes each with a 15-minute break between the second and third quarters. NCAA (U.S. College) basketball has two 20-minute halves with a 15-minute break in between them.
If you’re setting up your own game, you can set your own timings, just remember that basketball is a very fast-paced game so if in doubt go for shorter periods of game play. If you’re playing in a club, they’ll tell you the format they use.
Obviously this is by putting the ball through the basket, the exact system is:
1 point for a free throw
2 points for a throw made within the three-point line (arc)
3 points for a throw made outside the three-point line (arc)
A key point to understand is that in basketball, fouls are cumulative, in other words, unlike football, the referee may not stop the game straight away. Instead, they’ll wait until a team reaches a certain number of “naughty points” and then penalize them. This does help to keep the game flowing quickly.
The main way to foul is to be over aggressive with the other players. As a result, it’s the team which is on the defensive which is most likely to commit fouls as they fight for the ball. In principle, however, all players need to “play nice”.
The other main fouls are kicking or punching the ball with your fist.
Touching the ball as it is going down towards the basket and usually touching it while it is on the rim of the hoop, although some games do allow this.
Video guide on basic basketball fouls
Rules when you have the ball
The ball must be kept within bounds (i.e. on the court)
When the offensive team goes into the defence’s half court, they must stay there until they have either scored or lost the ball.
Players can move with the ball as long as they bounce it with one hand while moving both feet. (This is called dribbling).
The hand used to bounce the ball must stay on top of it.
If a player puts both hands on the ball then they must stay on one spot, although they can pivot on one foot. In order to progress they must pass the ball to another player.
Basketball games often look like complete and utter chaos. In actual fact, they are very organized chaos and at pro level there’s a whole lot of strategy going on. As a beginner, here are the basics of what you need to know.
When your opponent has the ball, your top priority is to stop them getting it into your basket and your second priority is to get it off them.
There are two approaches you can take to doing this. One is zonal defence and the other is person-to-person defence.
Zonal defences work best inside the three-point line because it’s easy for multiple players to surround the person with the ball and make it very difficult for them to shoot accurately. It does not, however, work very well against shots taken from further out. That’s where person-to-person defending comes in.
These days, many teams will use a mixture of zonal defence and person-to-person defence. Usually they will have four players create a box to defend a zone, while the fifth marks a specific person, normally the opponent’s most dangerous player.
NB: In basketball, spectators will do everything they can to help their team and that includes trying to distract the opponent when they are on the attack. It is perfectly standard for spectators near their team’s basket to shout, wave and basically do anything they can think of to try to distract the attackers. This isn’t them being mean, it’s just part of the fun.
Possibly the single, biggest reason that basketball games look so chaotic is that a lot of offensive strategy is, basically, about creating confusion so that defenders don’t know what to do. For example attacking players will try to block defenders from seeing what is going on, so their team-mates have time to pass the ball around and move it down the court, or score.
Teams will also adjust their strategy according to whether they are ahead or behind. If they are ahead, they may be quite happy just to toss the ball around the middle of the court. If they are behind, they will need to do everything they can to push forward and may have to take risks they might have preferred to avoid if circumstances had been better.
At more advanced levels, teams will adjust their strategy according to their opponents. This goes for the defence too, but is probably most noticeable in the offensive.
Basketball players are famous for their jumping skills, but actually they are real, all-round athletes. This means that it does help to be reasonably fit before you play in a proper game. The good news is that a lot of the drills which will help you to develop your basketball skills will also help you to improve your fitness.
The five key basketball skills are: dribbling, passing, shooting, rebounding and defending. It’s easy enough to grasp the basics of any of them but even most pros only excel at two, maybe three out of the five. True all-rounders, like Michael Jordan, tend to become not just pros, but legends.
Dribbling has to be performed with one hand, but you should learn to do it with both your left and your right hand for maximum versatility. You also need to learn to do it with your head up, so you can see where you’re going (and where the other players are).
The best passers can literally pass without looking. This isn’t just a cloud-pleasing trick, it deprives your opponent of clues about your intentions.
This is how you score points and that’s how you win games. Good shooting is all about proper preparation (squaring up to the target, shooting from your fingertips, keeping your elbows tucked in and putting plenty of backspin and arc on the shot) and following through as you let the ball fly.
Rebounding looks like it is all about jumping, but actually a lot of it is about courage and determination. You have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to get the ball, even if that means crashing into the board and using sheer strength and stubbornness to keep your opponent off it.
You have to score points to win games but if you can stop your opponent from scoring then the worst you can do is draw. Just as footballers can go into striking slumps, so basketball players can go into shooting slumps. Unlike attacking footballers, however, they can still contribute to their team by working defence. The main skill of a defender is, essentially, to give their opponent as much grief as they possibly can - without conceding a foul.
That's it, thanks for reading and I hope you've learned something along the way! As with anything the hardest part are those first steps onto the court and anything after that seems simple. The key is to remember why you wanted to start in the first place and imagine completing those goals and beating them in 1, 3 or 6 months time
As usual, all comments are welcome below - Happy fitness 🙂