If there is one thing that drives basketball coaches crazy, it’s seeing the ball passed into their team’s center and then watching that center lose the ball because he cannot catch an incoming pass in traffic. This destroys the confidence of the big man’s teammates to pass the ball to him. So, the big man feels like a second-class citizen, not a part of the action. So, he must work on this most basic of all skills … catching the ball. It’s a 4-step process and it’s not that hard to learn, though it takes lots of practice and lots of contact.
1. Get position. Know where you want to post up. Is the defender there first? Then FIGHT for position. No, do not commit a foul. But work for position. Use the ‘step-over’ to simply step around the defender’s foot and … BOX HIM OUT. Yes, just like a rebound. Get low, in a crouch. Use your rear and, your legs. Be careful with the elbows. Duck under his armpit for inside position … just like going for an offensive rebound. It’s hard work but teammates recognize the effort and repay that with incoming passes.
2. Use the ‘One-Two’ Technique. That is, as we see in the photo below, of our Joe Barry Carroll, in 1984-85, hold the defender off with the left elbow (no foul) and SHOW A TARGET with the right hand. Then, just as the ball is about to arrive, bring the left hand into play. You can’t have both hands out at the start or you can’t box out the defender. So, hold him off until the last possible instant, then move the off hand into play with all due quickness. This lets you (a) box out with one hand and (b) catch with two hands.
3. Snatch the ball. Don’t wait for the ball to arrive. That’s being PASSIVE. You want to be ACTIVE. So, move TOWARD the incoming pass, perhaps with one step. But, move TOWARD THE BALL. Then, SNATCH that ball … AS THOUGH IT WERE A REBOUND. If you don’t the defender will bump you and you’ll fumble the pass. Or, the defender will grab your arm or slap your hand … no call by the referee … and the ball will fall to the floor. So, RIP that ball out of the air with BOTH HANDS.
4. Hold the ball ‘over-under.’ That is, one hand ON TOP of the ball and the other UNDER the ball! Why? Because the defender will slap down or slap up to dislodge the ball. If he does either, he (a) will not dislodge the ball and (b) will commit a slapping foul that the referee will see and hear. He will never slap the ball from left to right or from right to left. The also let’s you have the ball in a good position to dribble, pass or shoot. Most of all, it gives you confidence that you are not going to lose the ball.
The center, especially the young center must (a) have confidence in himself, (b) inspire confidence in his teammates to pass the ball to him and (c) let the other team know they cannot strip the ball from him, cannot upset him, cannot intimidate him. If he does these four things, he will see how easy it is to catch the ball and he will see more incoming passes as a result. Yes, his coaches must drill him on these things. He’ll take contact and he’ll not be bothered by that contact. The rule: Snatch the ball = Catch the ball.