Hunting Pitch Ahead Passes

Updated: Sep 28, 2019

From the moment that a defense gains possession of the basketball the hunt for a pitch ahead pass begins.

The pitch ahead pass represents the best chance for the basketball to beat the defense down the floor. The second a defensive rebound is secured the player with the basketball should have his eyes up the floor looking for a pitch ahead opportunity. Teams that are willing to consistently pitch the ball ahead will also find that their sideline and rim runners are more eager to sprint knowing there is a good chance they will be rewarded.

The First Three Steps are the most important aspect in making the pitch ahead pass a staple of your transition game. As the basketball is rebounded we are expecting that a 4/5 man is putting his head down and sprinting towards the rim. At the same time we are expecting two perimeter players to put their head down and sprint to the nearest corner. If any of those players have created separation from their defender it is up to the player with the basketball to deliver an on target pass.

Pitch Ahead Teaching Points

We believe that the simple transition principles are the more effective ones. In asking players to consistently pitch ahead there are a few things teaching points that we would like them to take into consideration when deciding to deliver their pass.

Pitch Ahead Options for the Basketball

1. Hunt the Long Outlet Pass:

Rebounders need to get their eyes up immediately and hunt for long outlet passes that may turn into baskets. By long outlet passes we mean beyond the traditional free throw line extended area.

2. Eye Contact:

The passer needs to make eye contact with the sideline runner before he makes the pass. We are asking the sideline runner to turn and sprint their first three steps, so we must make eye contact first before delivering that pitch ahead pass.

3. No Late Pitch Aheads:

One aspect of pitching ahead that should be avoided is the idea of 'Late Pitch Aheads'. We are using the half court line as our guideline for what is considered a late pitch ahead. By design if we cross half court and still have not made the pitch ahead pass then we would like the ball to be attacking the middle third rather than being passed to the corner.

Negatives of Late Pitch Aheads:

1) They don't create advantages for the Offensive Player (Short Closeout)

2) It can potentially 'Side the Basketball' vs a Pressure Defense

Option #1: Ball Side Pitch Ahead

Option #2: Rim Runner or 1-2-5

Option #3: Pitch Opposite

Trae Young Pitch Aheads:

Return Pass from the Pitch Ahead

Another benefit of the Pitch Ahead is that it can "Flatten the Defense". With a 'Flattened Defense' players trailing the play can now be presented with Catch & Shoot and Closeout situations. Hopefully, the player who received the pitch ahead pass has scored it, but if they haven't (and they haven't entered it to the post), then they should return to the pass to where it came from.

Pitch Ahead Progression

1) Score it

2) Enter into the Post

3) Return Pass

Players who pitch ahead should follow their pass into the slot, ready to attack (or shoot) when/if a return pass is delivered to them.

Pitch Ahead - Return Pass: Return Pass Three Pointers

Concluding Thoughts

Pitching ahead is one of the core principles for good transition teams. Getting your players to sprint the floor, and convincing your guards to reward that sprinting with the pitch ahead pass will vastly improve your transition numbers. Establishing a few principles on when it's too late to pitch the ball ahead will also allow you to keep the basketball in the middle third and stay on the attack.

Further Reading on this topic:

Video playlist by @RadiusAthletics on Michigan State's Transition Game:

Article on Trae Young and the "Pitch Ahead Opposite" Pass:

@BballImmersion Podcast with Coach Bill Wuczynski on Pitching Opposite:

I also Recommend scrolling through #TransitionOffenseTips on Twitter. It is a endless treasure trove of recommendations.

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Michael Lynch

Boys Basketball Coach

Leicester High School

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