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Basketball Rules

The following rules are a general guide to the most common rules only. If you want further clarification, please go to the FIBA, Basketball Australia or Basketball Victoria website/s. Rules can change and will also vary between different competition and age groups. 
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A game of basketball is played with two teams of 5 players on the court and with 1 to 7 other players on the bench. A maximum of 12 named players in a team is allowed (depending on the competition). For domestic games, Waverley Basketball Club prefer 7 to 8 players per team – 5 on the court with 1 to 2 on the bench (substitutes). The objective of the game is to score in the opposition’s basket/goal/hoop/ring and prevent (by defending) the other team from scoring in your basket/goal/hoop/ring (referred to from here on as “basket”). The game starts with a jump ball in the centre of the court, with two opponents facing the direction of the opposition’s goal. The ball is thrown into the air by the referee and the two opponents jump to tap the ball into play. After an opponent scores, the opposition must pass the basketball in from behind the baseline. Players can only move the basketball around the court by dribbling or passing. The winner of the game is the team who scores the most points in their basket at the end of game time.


Court and Equipment


The court is a rectangle which can vary slightly in dimensions. Generally 28 metres in length and 15 metres in width.

The basketball rings are located on a backboard at each end of the basketball court and are usually 3 metres above the ground.

The free-throw line is usually 3.5 metres from the face of the backboard, depending on the age group.

The distance of the three-point line can also vary depending on the level of basketball being played – 5.5 metres to 7.5 metres.

The semi-circle surrounding the ring has a distance of approximately 1 metre. No charges can be taken within this area. Each ring is a perfect circle of 18 inches (45 centimetres) in diameter.

Basketballs come in a variety of sizes to make playing easier for different ages.
Under 8’s mixed basketball = Size 5 = 27.5 inch (70 centimetres) circumference.
Girls basketball = Size 6 = 28.5 inch (72 centimetres) circumference.

Boys basketball Under 10, 12, and 14 = Size 6 = 28.5 inch (72 centimetres) circumference.
Men under 16+ basketball = Size 7 = 29.5 inch (74 centimetres) circumference.


Clock Timing


A game’s duration will depend on the competition and age group and will generally either be:
1. Two Halves – A game consisting of two halves will usually be 15 to 20 minutes in duration for each half.
2. Four Quarters – A game consisting of four quarters will usually be 8 to12 minutes in duration each quarter.


Half-time can last anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes depending on the age group and level the teams are playing at.

It is normally a shorter time for younger age groups and a longer time for representative and/or professional level teams. Generally, in domestic basketball, the clock will stop on all dead ball situations in the final 1 minute of the first half and final 2 to 3 minutes of the second half. Also, the clock will not stop for the duration of all timeouts. In representative and/or professional level teams, the clock stops for the duration of all timeouts.


Scoring Rules


Each free-throw is worth one point.

Each field goal is worth two points.

Each shot made from behind the three-point line is worth three points. If any part of the player’s foot is on the three-point line when shooting, the shot will be worth 2 points.




A substitution (“sub”) is when the Coach swaps a player from the bench with a player on the basketball court. This is used to allow players to rest and recover throughout the game as well as give all players on the team a chance to participate. A coach is allowed to make an unlimited amount of sub’s throughout the game. A coach is allowed to sub their players on and off the court on any dead-ball situation (after fouls, violations, timeouts, free-throws, etc). A sub is called by asking the scoring table or referee for a ‘sub’ and then waiting for a stoppage in play where the referee will signal and give you time to substitute players.




A timeout is a stoppage in play that allows the Coach to talk to the players and allows the players to rest and hydrate. Each team is allowed to call 1 to 2 timeouts per half (these cannot be carried over from the first half to the second half). The duration of a single timeout is 1 to 2 minutes.

During a timeout, the Coach can make substitutions.


Personal Fouls


Although regarded as a “non-contact” sport, everyone who has participated in or watched basketball knows that is not the case! With 10 players on the court, usually competing at a high intensity and attempting to gain an advantage over their opponent, it’s impossible for there to not be contact throughout the game. What differentiates legal contact from plays and where a foul is called is when a player makes illegal contact with an opponent that results in or is deemed to result in an advantage. When a foul is called, the whistle is blown by the referee and live play immediately stops.


The 6 most common personal foul types are:


1. Reaching In

This occurs when a defender “reaches in” to steal the basketball and makes illegal contact with their opponent. The contact made is usually the defender slapping the dribbler’s arm or wrist.

2. Holding

A holding foul is called when a player uses their hands or arms to limit or prevent an opponent’s movement around the court.


3. Blocking

A blocking foul is called when a player uses their body to limit or prevent an opponent’s movement on the court, without establishing position.


4. Charging

A charging foul is called when a defensive player has established position and an offensive player runs into them. This can happen with or without the basketball.

5. Pushing

A pushing foul is called when a player extends their arms forcefully to move an opponent on the court.


6. Illegal Screen

An illegal screen is called when an offensive player who is setting a screen on a defender has not established position when the opposition makes contact with them.


 Penalties for Fouling


If a foul is called while an opponent is in the motion of shooting the basketball, the offensive player will receive free-throws.

2 Free-Throws = If a player is fouled while attempting a field goal within the three-point line (lay-up, post move, midrange shot, etc).
3 Free-Throws = If a player is fouled while attempting a field goal beyond the three-point line.

If a shot attempted while being fouled is successful, the points for that shot count and they will be rewarded with only 1 additional free-throw regardless of where on the floor the contact was made.


On all non-shooting personal fouls, the team who was fouled receives the basketball at the closest point out-of-bounds from where the foul was made. If a team commits more than the legal number of fouls in a half (9) or quarter (5), the player who was fouled will receive two free-throws for each additional foul. A player is ‘fouled out’ and must spend the rest of the game on the bench after they have accumulated 5 fouls throughout the duration of a game.  


Other Fouls:


1. Technical Foul

A technical foul is called when a Coach or player brings the game of basketball into disrepute and is not made in relation to illegal contact. This could include yelling at a referee, flopping, kicking a basketball, using inappropriate language, holding onto the rim after a dunk, etc. When a player or Coach has received two technical fouls, they will be required to leave the playing area and ejected from the game/stadium.


2. Unsportsmanlike Foul

An unsportsmanlike foul may be a personal or technical foul of a violent or savage nature, or a technical noncontact foul which displays unacceptable conduct or unfair, unethical, dishonourable conduct or any behaviour not in accordance with the spirit of fair play. It may or may not be intentional. This could include actions like hitting, kicking, or pushing another player.


3. Intentional Foul

An intentional foul is a personal or technical foul that may or may not be premeditated and is not based solely on the severity of the act.


Game Violations


When a violation occurs, play is immediately stopped and the team who committed the violation loses possession of the basketball. The basketball is then passed in from outside the court by the opposition at the closest point to where the violation occurred.


Out-of-Bounds Violation

The basketball is ruled out-of-bounds when it touches either: a player, the floor, or an object that is out of bounds. The possession of the basketball goes to the opposing team of the player who was the last to touch the basketball. If the basketball lands on the line, that is still considered out of bounds.

Traveling Violation

Traveling is in place to prevent players from taking more than one step while holding the basketball. This rule also prevents players from moving or changing their pivot foot once it’s been established. In December 2017, the travel rule changed to basically include an extra step. Please refer to the Basketball Victoria website for further clarification.


Double Dribble Violation

A double dribble can occur in two situations:

1. A player dribbles the basketball, picks up their dribble and then dribbles the basketball again.

2. When a player touches the basketball with both hands while dribbling.


Held Ball Violation

When two opponents grab the basketball at the same time and it cannot be gained by a single player quickly, a held ball violation will be called. The basketball is given to each team on a rotating basis depending on the position of the possession arrow.


Goaltending Violation

A goaltending violation is called if an offensive or defensive player makes contact with the basketball while it’s in the downward flight after a shot or if a player touches the basketball when it’s in the vertical cylinder above the hoop. If the offensive player receives a goaltending violation, the basket is called off and their opponent receives possession of the basketball. If the defensive player receives a goaltending violation, the basketball is counted and the defense will then receive the basketball similar to a normally made shot.


Back-Court Violation

Once the basketball has been fully established in the offense’s front court, they are not allowed to cross back over the half-court line into the back-court. If they do, the penalty is a turnover. The only exception to this is if a defensive player was to tap the basketball over the half-court line. Then the offense can sprint back and retrieve it.


Time Violations


3-Seconds in the Key Violation

The ‘three seconds in the key’ rule is used to prevent offensive players from standing in the key for long periods of time. Instead, players must continually move around the court keeping the key open for dribble penetration. Once a shot has been attempted, a 3-second violation cannot be called.


5-Second Inbounds

Once a player passing in from out of bounds receives the basketball from the referee, they then have 5 seconds to pass the basketball in to one of their teammates.


5-Second Closely Guarded Violation

Rarely called, an offensive player in the frontcourt with possession of the basketball can be called for a 5-second violation if they’re being guarded within 6 feet and fail to pass, shoot, or dribble within 5 seconds.


8-Seconds Back Court Violation

After gaining possession of the basketball in the backcourt, the offensive team is required to advance the basketball over the half-way line within 8 seconds. The count is continued if the opposition deflects the basketball but stopped if the opposition takes possession of the basketball.
In some leagues, the time limit is 10 seconds instead of 8 seconds.


Shot Clock Violation

A shot clock is used to increase the speed of the game and prevent teams from stalling the basketball. After taking possession of the basketball, the offensive team has a specific amount of seconds to advance down the court and attempt a shot which makes contact with the rim. The length of the shot clock can vary and will usually be around 24 seconds.

If a shot is taken by the offensive team and the basketball hits the rim, the shot clock is reset to 0 no matter which team takes possession. This rule is used in all professional and some high level representative basketball.



A player is rewarded with a free-throw opportunity after being fouled while shooting the basketball, after the opponent has exceeded their foul limit, or after the opponent commits a technical or unsportsmanlike foul. This results in one, two, or three uncontested shots from the free-throw line, all worth one point each.


Free-throw rules:


Lane Violation – Shooter

The player shooting a free-throw is not allowed to jump or step over the free-throw line until the basketball has touched the rim. Doing so will result in a violation and the basketball awarded to the opposition team on the sideline.


Lane Violation – Non-Shooters

The other 9 players on the court during free-throws must also follow specific rules. The four players behind the three-point line are not allowed to cross over the three-point line until the basketball has touched the rim. The five players lined up on the edges of the key can step into the key as soon as the basketball has left the shooters hands. If the defensive team breaks any of these rules, the player shooting free-throws receives one extra shot if their current shot is missed. If the free-throw shooter makes the shot on a defensive lane violation, the shot counts and play continues. If one of the offensive players breaks one of these rules, the free-throw does not count and the opposition receives the basketball out-of-bounds.


Possession Arrow

The possession arrow is used after every held-ball or when the referees are unsure on an out-of-bounds call. The initial direction of the arrow is determined by the jump ball that commences the game. The team who does not secure first possession of the basketball will receive the basketball at the next jump ball. The possession arrow then alternates between the two teams for the remainder of the game.



Coaches, parents and team members on the sideline must wait until the referee has given permission before entering the court to attend to the injured player. If live play is stopped to address an injury from a player on the court, that player cannot stay in the game and must be substituted. They can be brought back into the game at the next opportunity.



Referees are human! They’re not going to get every basketball call correct. Once the whistle has blown and a decision has been made, no amount of complaining that a Coach, player or spectator does will change it!

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