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Basketball Rules You Should Know

Basketball Rules You Should Know

Basketball rules interpretations can often be very controversial.  Whether you are new to the game or a coaching veteran, it is always worthwhile to take a look at the basketball rules and how they should be enforced.  While it may seem foolish to study something like basketball rules, you may be glad you did so when that totally unique situation occurs.  I also think it’s particularly valuable for youth basketball coaches and those coaching at lower levels of high school basketball, because this is where you often have officials that may not fully understand the rules.  While I don’t ever suggest arguing with an official, knowing the basketball rules could one day help a call go in your favor.

Basketball Rules You Should Know

I found a nice resource that has 25 misunderstood basketball rules that coaches and officials should know.  Here’s a rundown on a few of these misunderstood basketball rules (in no particular order).  Note: These rules apply specifically to high school basketball, not college or professional.  Be sure to check out that website for the full list of misunderstood rules. 

  • You can’t be the first player to touch the ball after coming inbounds.  This is FALSE.  As long as you have reestablished yourself as inbounds, or in other words nothing is touching out of bounds, than you may be legally be in possession of the basketball.  The confusion from this rule likely stems from football where they have rules on being the first to touch the ball after going out of bounds.  In basketball you just need to be inbounds to be able to legally possess the basketball.
  • You cannot be called for a travel while dribbling.  This is TRUE.  While there may be times where a player appears to take many steps in between dribbles, the basketball rule book clearly states that a player cannot travel while dribbling the basketball.
  • A kicked ball must be intentional.  This is TRUE.  For it to be a kicked ball it must be intentional and can be called for hitting any part of the leg.
  • You cannot rebound your own air ball on a shot.  This is FALSE.  You may, as long as the official deems the shot to be a legitimate attempt to score rebound your own air ball.
  • The basketball cannot travel over top of the backboard.  This is TRUE.  The basketball may not travel over the top of the backboard, it can however travel behind the backboard (with a pass for example) as long as it does not come in contact with any of the structures holding up the backboard.
  • You cannot move during a dead ball inbounds situation.  This is FALSE.  You are limited (3 feet horizontally) but you may in fact move without a violation within those parameters.  There is no rule on depth.
  • The sides, top and bottom of the backboard are considered out of bounds.  This is FALSE.  Those areas are considered in bounds, but s mentioned earlier if the ball travels over the backboard that is considered out of bounds.
  • A ‘moving screen’ is only a foul if there is contact.  This is TRUE.  No violation occurs unless contact on the moving screen has been made, in which case a block may be called.
  • When an airborne player commits a player control foul, his/her shot attempt, even if successful does not count.  This is TRUE.  Regardless if the foul was committed before or after the shot, the basket does not count.
There are several other very good rule interpretations that you may wish to be aware of as well.  Please check out the full list here.

NFHS Basketball Rule book and recent changes

NFHS Basketball Rule BookHere is the official basketball rules book from the National Federation of State High School Association for 2011-12 along with links to rule changes for 2012-13 and 2013-14.

2011-12 NFHS Basketball Rules Book (PDF)

2012-13 NFHS Basketball Rules Changes (PowerPoint)

2013-14 NFHS Basketball Rules Changes (PDF)


Basketball rules interpretations can often be very controversial.  Whether you are new to the game or a coaching veteran, it is always worthwhile to take a look at the basketball rules and how they should be enforced.  While it may seem foolish to study something like basketball rules, you may be glad you did so …

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  1. Hi Coach Pintar,

    By chance do you know how these rules correlate to FIBA rules? They all seem similar but the first and last rule make me pause> And I should probably know the answer as I ref some too, but I never claimed to be great at it.



    • Unfortunately Ray I do not know how much they correlate with the FIBA rules. If you click on that link however it explains where in the NFHS rule book you can get the rule that applies to high school basketball. I’m not an official and I’m definitely not an expert I was just referencing what looks like a good resource. Are you primarily officiating using international rules? If you find something that appears incorrect and can confirm it please let me know.


  2. Ray – there are some instances in FIBA where you can count the basket on a “charge” call. It would actually be a push and the possibility of shooting the penalty free throws at the other end.

  3. Thank you for the feedback gentlemen. Justin – thanks for the direction on which way to go. Bob- that is exactly what I am thinking about as I think I have called that foul, thanks.

    I am a Saskatchewan small town Sr. Boy’s coach who ref’s because that is what you do to make programs go. We use FIBA rules with a few tweaks like the shape of 3-second key(trapezoid vs rectangle) but it sounds mostly the same to me.

    Your website is going to make me and my team better. Thank you!


  4. Scene: player is about to take foul shoots. An opposing player walks behind him and as close as permissible speaking very loudly ostensibly to his teammates, but with the real intent of distracting the shooter. Is this a violation or technical foul?

    • This would be a free throw lane violation for disconcerting the free thrower Rule 9-1-3c. If free throw is unsuccessful, a substitute throw would be awarded.

  5. I have a situation that I’d love to get clarification on from officials who know the answer.

    SCENARIO – Team B has the possession arrow as the 3rd quarter ends. After the 3rd quarter ends Coach from Team A gets a technical foul. To start the 4th quarter Team B is awarded the two shot technical plus the ball. What should happen with the possession arrow in this scenario? What if Team A had the possession arrow as the quarter ends, now who gets the possession arrow? My belief is that the possession arrow should flip regardless of who got the technical and who gets the ball but I haven’t heard a concrete explanation on this.

  6. Q: If a player is fouled and hurt the coach and trainer both are called to the court. Another team mate is called from the bench to take her free throws during a state champion ship playoff game can the player immediately re-enter the game right after the free throw are made?

    • Unless the rule has changed recently here is what I have found. My interpretation is that the player can re-enter the game after the game clock has started, but not prior to that point.

      Rule 8-2: The free throw(s) awarded because of a personal foul shall be attempted by the offended player. If such player must withdraw because of an injury or disqualification, his/her substitute shall attempt the throw(s) unless no substitute is available, in which case any teammate may attempt the throw(s) as selected by the team captain or head coach.

      Case Book 8.2 includes Situation A and Situation B which offer twists related to the rules that a withdrawn player cannot re-enter until after the game clock starts, and whether two separate substitutes can enter to sequentially attempt the 2 free throws for the injured player, if that’s what the penalty called for.

      8.2 SITUATION A: A1 is unable to attempt either of the two free throws awarded because A1 was injured during the play. A6 enters, replaces A1 and attempts the first free throw. A7 reports and enters to replace A6.

      RULING: A7 must return to the bench and A6 remains in the game to attempt the second free throw. Since A6 replaced A1, A6 must shoot both free throws, unless A6 is injured or disqualified before attempting the second free throw. If this situation involved technical foul free throws, A7 would be allowed to enter and attempt the second free throw. (8-3)

      8.2 SITUATION B: A1 is fouled and will be shooting two free throws. After A1’s first free-throw attempt, B6 (Team B’s only remaining eligible substitute) replaces B2. A1’s second free-throw attempt is unsuccessful. During rebounding action for A1’s missed second free-throw attempt, and before the clock starts, A1 pushes B3 in the back causing B3 to roll an ankle. Team B is in the bonus. B3 is unable to immediately continue playing. Team B requests and is granted a time out in order to allow B3 to recover from the ankle injury so as to remain in the game. B3 is still not able to play after the time out has ended.

      RULING: B2 may return to the game and replace B3 and shoot B3’s free throw attempts despite having been replaced since he/she is the only available substitute. (3-3-4)

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