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Illegal contact on a ball handler/dribbler

As you are working your games you may hear several terms from the bleachers that are either outdated, or frankly never really existed in basketball speak – but are coined by fans.


Two of my favorites are:

  • “Call the reach!”

  • “Over the back!”


Well – there is no such thing as a reach – even if there was, how could reaching anywhere be a foul?

What is a foul and often confused in this situation is illegal contact on the ball handler/dribbler.  A really good defender is coached to use their hands and arms to trace the ball, tip the ball, etc without illegally contacting the ball handler/dribbler.  The challenge for officials is to properly penalize illegal contact but not penalize good defense. 


To help with this, be sure to constantly position-adjust yourself to have an advantageous position to see between the offensive and defensive players, the ball handler and their defender to observe any illegal contact that might be caused by either. NFHS Rule 4-23

  • First – look at the defense to assure that they have established legal guarding position. 

    • Both feet down initially, front of torso facing opponent

    • Once obtained, the defender is no longer required to face opponent, may have one or both feet on the floor or airborne, must be inbounds, may move laterally or obliquely to maintain position, can rise within their own vertical plane, and may turn or duck to absorb imminent contact.  

      • This means if the offense does not get head and shoulders past a once legally established defender, the defender is still in a legal guarding position.

  • Secondly – look at the offensive player – do they stay within their vertical plane? Do they violate the verticality of the defender by creating contact with a legally established defender by driving into them or extending a forearm by moving the forearm forward from the elbow into the defender to create space between the ball handler and the defender?  If they do this is a player control foul.

  • Lastly, Hands and Arms – Legal and Illegal Use

    • A defender gets 1 hot stove measure up, if they contact the opponent again with a hand – call the hand check. 

    • If the defender touches the ball handler with two hands – call the hand check or push. 

    • If the defender uses a bent forearm to contact the ball handler with the arm extended from the shoulder away from the body to touch, direct, impede or displace the ball handler – call the arm bar foul. 

    • If the defender “bodies up” and uses their lower body to move forward into a ball handler, call the block.


Remember from "legal guarding position" explained above, the one thing a defender cannot do is move forward and create contact with the ball handler – this is a foul on the defender.


**These are Minnesota adaptations and NFHS Rule 4-24

Tip:  If you find yourself in the Trail position and that first pass comes to the offensive player in front of you, and all you can see is the player’s numbers, you are not in a position to officiate the defender on this play – at this time position adjust, 1 step, maybe 2 steps to one side or the other to improve your angle to look between the 2 players.


Tip: if the player is right-handed, they most likely will go to their right, step left.  If the player if left-handed, step right.


Tip: Try to move to an advantageous position while the pass is on its way to the player in front of you – this takes some practice, but it will get you into position sooner to see the initial play – You are proactive in this manner, rather than reactive.  Most times if the defender creates illegal contact, it will happen as the pass is being caught – If you move prior to the catch, you will be in a position to see the whole play. 

"Call the reach"

"Call the reach"

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