How to be a Great Center in Basketball

No position on the floor requires a more diverse set of basketball skills than center. But many people have the opposite belief – that anyone with size and power can dominate the low block. In reality, centers must have the right combination of skill, footwork, toughness, leadership and desire to be great.

Centers also need specific talents that take time and practice to develop:

  • Patience with the basketball
  • A desire to play great defense
  • Above-average passing skills
  • Tough-minded rebounding skills
  • Excellent footwork
  • Leadership

In short, great centers are not made in a day, and dominating the paint can take years of practice and effort. But a great center can turn any team – on any level – into an instant contender. This guide explores the skills it takes to be a great center.

Have Patience

Playing great offense often requires aggression and speed, though this doesn’t always apply to centers. A great center must be ready to hesitate after establishing position on the low block and catching the ball. That extra second can be used to survey the floor and evaluate the situation:

  • Whether or not a double-team is being established
  • Where/how the defense is setting up
  • Locating an open teammate for a pass

A center can also use the extra second to fake a pass to the initial entry passer, or create back-to-the-rim contact with the post defender. A fake pass can also keep the defensive guard from instantly sagging toward the paint; maintaining contact with the defender helps the center know where he is without taking a look. Regardless of what ends up happening, going through this evaluation routine should be a regular habit for centers.

Mental Edge

More than at any other position, being great at center relies heavily on attitude. Centers who become great at any level do so because of their character and desire for greatness.

Passing Skills

Passing skills keep defenses honest, and make it difficult to trap the ball in the paint. For centers, being a good passer means seeing the entire floor, recognizing the tendencies of the defense, and knowing his teammates’ instincts. A big man who is comfortable moving the ball is a major weapon, and can be the focal point of the entire offense.

It’s also important that centers can make the pass after putting the ball on the floor. They continue to evaluate the situation even after making their initial move toward the basket. This is when the defense is most likely to collapse and an open perimeter shooter or cutter to the rim can get free.

Great Post Defense

Post defense starts with great footwork and toughness. Great centers want to always stay between the offensive man and the basket. They don’t give up ground near the basket and they protect the paint anytime the ball enters it.

It’s also important for centers to have a healthy combination of quickness and strength, since this makes it easier to maintain defensive position and avoid silly fouls. Solid positioning makes it easier to grab rebounds as well.

Excellent Rebounding

“One man can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one man cannot make a team.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Hall of Fame NBA Center

A great big man believes every shot that goes up will wind up in his hands. He works the boards tirelessly at both ends of the court, and gives the same effort for shots in the last minute as he does on the opening possession. After rebounding the ball, a great center is looking to quickly outlet the ball to a waiting guard to ignite transition offense, which is one of the keys to being successful on the fast break.

No Turnovers

A great big man chins the ball after each rebound and pass, keeping it secure and avoiding costly turnovers. The ball remains locked with two hands until it is put on the floor, and unnecessary dribbles are always avoided.


In a leadership position, genuine respect is earned rather than demanded. Great centers earn their teammates’ respect in a variety of ways, though chief among them is the fact that they showcase their willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed. Whether it’s scoring, rebounding, or offering encouragement, a good center is willing to help the team out however he can.

Share the knowledge